HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 cc20-1W
Mr. Waterson

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) on what basis the then Secretary of State determined that Mr. Richard Desmond was a fit and proper person to control Express Newspapers; [61479]

(2) what account was taken of the nature of pornographic websites controlled by companies associated with Mr. Richard Desmond when the Secretary of State was considering whether to refer the acquisition of Express Newspapers by the Northern and Shell Group; [61528]

(3) what factors the then Secretary of State took into account when determining the non--competition issues concerning the acquisition of Express Newspapers by the Northern and Shell Group. [61480]

Ms Hewitt

Since 1984 it has been the policy of successive governments that the primary reason for making a reference will always be the impact of a transaction on competition.

Further, since October 2000 it has been the stated policy of this Government to accept the advice of the Director General of Fair Trading on whether or not to make a reference in all but exceptional circumstances.

In this case my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State had regard to the advice of the Office of Fair Trading on competition factors.

In addition, the fact that Mr. Desmond had adult business interests was drawn to my right hon. Friend before the case was considered and the views of the Home Office, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and a range of third parties on non-competition issues were considered. We did not investigate further Northern and Shell's websites. There was no suggestion that these sites were illegal. The laws on obscenity apply to all publications and to the internet.

My right hon. Friend therefore took into account all factors which appeared to be relevant at the time before deciding that there was no reason, on competition or non-competition grounds, to refer this case to the Competition Commission.