As the House will know, Sky announced on Friday that it had received an approach from 21st Century Fox to acquire the 61% share of Sky that it does not yet already own. The announcement made it clear that the independent directors of Sky and 21st Century Fox have reached an agreement on price. However, the offer is subject to further discussion, and Sky has advised that there is no certainty at this stage that an offer will be made. The terms of any deal will obviously need to be agreed by the non-21st Century Fox shareholders of Sky. The announcement also said that under the takeover code, 21st Century Fox is required to set out its intentions by 6 January 2017.
The Secretary of State has powers to intervene in certain media mergers on public interest grounds, as set out in the Enterprise Act 2002. Government guidance on the operation of the public interest merger provisions under the Act indicates how the intervention regime will operate in practice and the approach that the Secretary of State is likely to adopt in considering cases. Any transaction will be looked at on its merits, on a case-by-case basis. The guidance makes it clear that the Secretary of State will aim to take an initial decision on whether to intervene within 10 working days of formal notification of the merger to the competition authorities, or of the transaction being brought to her attention. No such formal notification has yet been received.
The role of the Secretary of State is a quasi-judicial one, and it is important that she acts independently and is not subject to improper influence. It would be inappropriate for me or the Secretary of State to comment further on the proposed bid under the Act. In the light of Friday’s statement and given the role of the Secretary of State, the Department is putting in place procedures to ensure that her decision-making process is scrupulously fair and impartial should a decision be necessary. This will include guidance for other Ministers and officials on dealing with the parties to the bid or any other interested parties. We are of course aware of the wider interest of Parliament in these matters, and we will keep the House updated as appropriate within the legal framework.