Lang to decide court fate of `Economist'

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The Government was today deciding whether to enforce a 3pm deadline for the Economist magazine to return a confidential document or face High Court action.

The deadline was set on Friday, after details of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on the electricity industry were leaked in the current issue of Britain's foremost business magazine. The document recommends that National Power's pounds 2.8bn bid for Southern Electric, and PowerGen's pounds 1.95bn bid for Midland Electric should be allowed.

In a letter to the editor, Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, threatened to take out an injunction against the magazine unless the report was returned and an undertaking given that it would not disclose any information obtained from it.

Last night, a spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said the Government was aware that Adam Raphael, the article's author, had said the Economist had "no intention" of handing back the report.

Apparently backtracking from the strong wording of Mr Lang's letter, he said the DTI had received a reply from the Economist, and the Government would consider its contents before deciding whether to pursue the injunction.

Mr Raphael said the Economist would neither be returning the document nor giving any undertaking. "The information is now in the public domain ... For us to make an undertaking like that would be ludicrous."