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Times Newspapers Limited

Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 23 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many representations he has now received about the continuing dispute at Times Newspapers Limited.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further talks he has had with the management of Times Newspapers Limited.

Since March last year I have received 32 letters about the dispute at Times Newspapers Limited from Members of Parliament, trade unions and others. I have also had discussions with the parties, most recently on 13 and 15 December when I held joint meetings to seek an agreed basis for further negotiations.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, if Times Newspapers closes permanently, the secondary unemployment effects could involve well over 10,000 people and that this is a serious matter? Does he recall that about 13 years ago, Lord Thomson pledged to the Monopolies Commission the whole of his considerable personal wealth in this country to continuing Times Newspapers in being? Since he has taken nearly all that personal wealth to Canada—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is dead."] Since nearly all that wealth has gone to Canada, is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government bear a heavy responsibility to make proper arrangements if the titles of Times Newspapers, which are all they own, are sold to someone else?

I certainly accept that permanent closure of The Times would have serious secondary effects on employment in a number of places, including Odhams Press. It is, of course, the aim of the Government to seek to keep as many titles as possible in existence. I refer, of course, to newspaper titles. It is our aim to keep as many in existence as possible, in the Provinces as well as on Fleet Street. All my efforts so far to bring about an agreement between the parties have not succeeded, but we have defined a way in which negotiations could proceed to resolve the dispute and I urge the parties to implement that agreement.

As a month has gone by since my right hon. Friend's last discussions with the management of TNL, is it not time to draw in the parties, because, with every week that goes by, more people are being dismissed and many of them were not parties to the original dispute? Is it not clear that we are losing two great national institutions in what is really a management virility symbol?

I do not think that I could help in achieving my hon. Friend's first suggestion by endorsing his second proposition. The dispute is very complicated and it is only too easy to apportion blame to various parties. That is not what I am trying to do. We have agreed a way of proceeding to negotiate to remove many of the barriers to the recommencement of publication of The Times. That is what I want to do as speedily as possible.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, in many parts of the world, The Times, because of its special tradition, is regarded as very much more than a newspaper and that its continued nonappearance is doing great harm to Britain as a whole?

Yes, I accept that, and I would regret any dispute which prevented anything which carried the name of good British products and British contributions abroad from continuing. We shall not see The Times back in production, in the way in which the hon. Lady and I would wish to see it produced, without resolving this industrial dispute.

Is not the main reason why The Times is not being published that the management has gone on strike? With the support of Conservative Members, will the Secretary of State summon the chief executive of that newspaper and instruct him and his colleagues to end this strike as a contribution to settlement of at least one of our industrial disputes?

No. I do not think that I shall summon the unions or the management to end the dispute, but I will call the attention of my hon. Friend, and many others who are seriously interested in the dispute, to the degree of agreement that was reached in the talks in my Department. I know that my hon. Friend and others have some influence with the parties concerned and may help me to persuade them to go along the lines of that agreement.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we support the true and real efforts that he has made to bring about a settlement to the dispute, and that we shall go on supporting him? If the time is ripe now for a fresh initiative, will he please take it?

Yes, I will watch for any occasion when a direct initiative from me or from ACAS might produce an advance along the lines that I indicated previously.