Did Margaret Thatcher lie to the House of Parliament?

Profile photo of former Prime Minister Margare...

Profile photo of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In January of 1981, Margaret Thatcher met with Rupert Murdoch. He made her an offer that she was eager to accept. She would encourage his bid to take over the Times with a merger and in return, she would get his unstinting support.[1] Both sides benefitted. However, to make the deal, though, she acted improperly.

To defend the deal did she act dishonourably?

Did she lie to the House of Commons? Here is the transcript her Tuesday 20 January 1981 exchange at PMQ http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/104552

Mr. Foot

In view of the very strong rumours that The Times and The Sunday Times may be acquired by Mr. Rupert Murdoch, will the right hon. Lady give an undertaking that if that were to occur she would immediately refer the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? Will she undertake that she will ask the commission to report with extreme urgency, in view of the threat to those newspapers and their possible extinction in March?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend [ John Nott] [2]the Secretary of State for Trade has so far received no application for consent to transfer The Times newspapers. If he does receive such an application, he will have to consider the newspaper merger provisions of the Fair Trading Act 1973.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady go a little further in trying to protect the position of some great newspapers in this country? Does she recollect that when Lord Thomson—Mr. Roy Thomson as he was at the time—acquired The Times alone in the first place, that acquisition was referred to the Monopolies Commission and pledges of independence had to be given? Will she tell us clearly that the Government will refer the matter to the Monopolies Commission for an urgent report on the matter, in the interest of the newspapers and all their customers in this country?

The Prime Minister

I do not think it advisable to say precisely what one would do before an application has even been received. We shall wait to see whether the Secretary of State receives an application and then we shall apply the law as it is, and apply it precisely.

Did Thatcher purposefully mislead Parliament to cover the deeper dishonesty?

Margaret Thatcher had met with Rupert Murdoch on 4 January 1981 to arrange for the deal to go ahead. She would support him.[3] Harold Evans describes this period.

 In an exploratory meeting Murdoch and his counsel Richard Searby, heard Biffen reaffirm his obligation as secretary of state to make a referral under the act…..

Biffen had barely got a toe under his new desk when he was diverted from the pressing issue of Times Newspapers. He was compelled to leave for India on 16 January…..

Thomson had submitted accounts to the Department of Trade on 19 January when Biffen was in India. By the time he returned, the Sunday Times accounts had been adjusted to show a diminished value.

On 20 January, Murdoch’s application was already in progress and she knew she would support it. She had reshuffled her cabinet to ensure John Biffen would consider it. When she spoke to Parliament, he was already considering whether the referral needed to be made. If the papers were not a going concern, the minister could bypass the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. However, he could only be considering that question *if* Murdoch had begun the process. Murdoch had lobbied for it on 4 January. After January 5th, when Biffen was responsible, Murdoch met with him informally. Thomson submitted their accounts on 19 January. These events indicate the request was already in progress.

In spirit and in word, a deed done in secret with a dishonest intent.

The evidence suggests that Margaret Thatcher misled Parliament in spirit, if not in word. As with all these dealings, we notice a certain lack of probity and transparency. We see that Rupert Murdoch’s power comes from a decision made in secret and defended dishonourably. Margaret Thatcher had already decided what to do before the application had been received. If she misled Parliament, it furthered her interest and Rupert Murdoch’s interests at the public’s expense.


[1] Thatcher wanted Murdoch’s support to deal with her political opponents and ensure support for her policies.

Times Newspapers would have been much on Thatcher’s mind, too, since, whoever prevailed, a change in ownership of Britain’s two leading newspapers would have political consequences. In 1981-2, she was at a low point in her premiership, in the depths of a deepening recession, with the Social Democratic party yapping at her heels on the left, and, on the right, former Prime Minister Edward Heath, ungrateful at being relieved of the cares of leadership. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/apr/28/how-margaret-thatcher-and-rupert-murdoch-made-secret-deal

[2] The annotation is wrong. John Nott was not Trade Secretary. He was the Secretary of State for Defence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Nott John Biffen was the Secretary of State for Trade on 5 January. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Biffen He was in post after the reshuffle. The reshuffle came after Thatcher’s 4 January meeting with Rupert Murdoch.

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/apr/28/how-margaret-thatcher-and-rupert-murdoch-made-secret-deal



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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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One Response to Did Margaret Thatcher lie to the House of Parliament?

  1. Philip says:

    It seems yes. It’s beautifully exposed in this new full movie; ‘The Hillsborough (Disaster) Ripple Effect’. Link at the trailer: https://youtu.be/fybFqbQb078

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