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Volume 521: debated on Thursday 20 January 2011

14. When he expects to reach a decision on whether to refer to the Competition Commission the News Corporation bid for BSkyB. (34715)

As a former Minister with responsibility for competition in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, I know that the Secretary of State will want seriously to consider the evidence and not to prejudge what should be done in this case—unlike his predecessor. However, does he agree that given his own very high-profile comments about Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB, it might be sensible in this case, in which justice needs to be seen to be done as well as to be done, for him to hand over the decision to someone who will be seen to be more impartial, if not actually more impartial?

This is not a decision about Rupert Murdoch or his business; it is a decision about whether a specific transaction will affect plurality. I am approaching that decision with total impartiality and following strict due process.

What purpose does the Secretary of State believe is served by ministerial discretion on such decisions when Parliament could instead empower the Competition Commission to instigate such investigations on its own initiative?

Ministerial discretion is restricted to what is reasonable and fair in the eyes of the law. The process was set up in the Enterprise Act 2002 by the previous Government. It is incredibly important that due process is followed at every stage. We will publish exactly what we have done and whom we have met at every stage of the process when I make my decision, in order for Parliament to be able to scrutinise the process and ensure that it has been totally fair and impartial.

I am sure that the Secretary of State would accept that the Government’s handling of this quasi-judicial responsibility has been nothing short of a constitutional disgrace. The Business Secretary was stripped of his responsibilities because he

“declared war on Mr Murdoch”,

the Culture Secretary is on record as saying that he sees no problem with this particular deal, and the Prime Minister has now been found tucking into turkey in the middle of the process with the chief executive of News International. What breathtaking arrogance and contempt for their constitutional responsibilities!

Will the Secretary of State now tell the whole House whether he intends to meet any of the concerned parties before making a decision on this referral? Will he also release the Ofcom report—he has the ability to do so—in advance of making his decision, so that the House can be reassured that his judgment is impartial?

I remind the shadow Culture Secretary that when the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) made the decision on the Sky ITV purchase he published the Ofcom report when he announced his decision, so I am doing nothing different to what he did. On the issue of impartiality, I say this:

“Rupert Murdoch”—


“been a force for good in improving the quality of broadcasting for British consumers”.

Those are not my words, but those of the shadow Culture Secretary. I wish that he would stop sucking up to the Murdochs.