HC Deb 28 April 1948 vol 450 cc563-6

Considered in Committee [Progress, 22nd April].

[Major MILNER in the Chair]

Question again proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make provision for inquiry into the existence and effects of, and for dealing with mischiefs resulting from, or arising in connection with, any conditions of monopoly or restriction or other analogous conditions prevailing as respects the supply of, or the application of any process to, goods, buildings or structures, or as respects exports, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of—

  1. (a) the salaries and other remuneration paid to the members of, and any other expenses of, the Monopoly Commission constituted under the said Act; and
  2. (b) any expenses incurred by the Board of Trade or any other Government department in carrying the said Act into effect."

12.47 a.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

This is a Financial Resolution connected with a Bill of some considerable importance, and it will be seen that under (a) there is reference to salaries and other remuneration paid to the members of, and any other expenses of, the Monopoly Commission. We are entitled to know before passing this Motion what is the Treasury estimate for these salaries, and also approximately the number of persons who will be on the staff that it is proposed to establish. The Government must have some sort of estimate of the expenditure and of the staff numbers. Some preliminary estimate must have been made, and I should like to know what burden will fall on the taxpayers of the country for this service. There is also paragraph (b), which deals with any expenses incurred by the Board of Trade or any other Government department in carrying the said Act into effect. Is there any estimate by the Treasury of what expenses are likely to be allowed for this charge? These are ordinary questions on which information is usually given to us on these occasions, and I would like to ask for the information.

12.50 a.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I am sure the hon. Member will realise that it is not possible at this stage to give any very definite idea of what the cost of operating the Monopoly Commission will be. We have estimated that the figure is not likely to exceed £50,000 for the salaries and other expenses to which he has referred. How much it will be exactly, or how much less than that estimate, it is impossible to forecast. It is impossible to say how many cases it will be necessary to refer to the Commission. If the hon. Gentleman has studied the report published yesterday on building materials, he will find a number of cases which it might be appropriate for me to refer to the Commission, but until I have had time to consider them, and any other cases which might be submitted to me, I cannot say what size of staff will be necessary or what the total salaries will be.

I cannot even give any indication of what the salaries of the chairman or other members of the Commission will be. We still have to see what kind of person will be appointed chairman, and the salary might be conditioned by that—whether, for instance, it will be a full-time or part-time appointment. The same considerations apply to number of staff. We do not envisage the Commission having a large staff; a secretary and assistant secretary, and one or two people to help them, but nothing like the size of staff that has been found necessary in some other countries to deal with monopolistic practices. The question of the expenses incurred by the Board of Trade is again, I am afraid, a matter that we shall only be able to see as we go on. It will be kept down to the very minimum, subject to this—that this Commission is going to do this job, it is going to have cases referred to it, and we must see that it has the money and the staff to do the job properly. I have given an outside figure of what we think may be the cost, but when the hon. Member talks about the burden on the taxpayer, I am sure he will agree that the burden on the taxpayer in his capacity of consumer might be several times greater if we were not going to deal with these things.

12.54 a.m.

Mr. C. Williams

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the courtesy of his answer. He will have noticed that I did not ask for the salary of the chairman of this Commission. I refrained from doing so deliberately, because I did not want him to get into any trouble with the Secretary of State for War. I thought it would be tactless if I asked that. The right hon. Gentleman has, broadly speaking, laid down a figure of £50,000 as what he thinks will probably be the maximum. I am glad that he has done so, because all too often we are told, "I do not know, it may be almost anything." What he has said will, I think, almost tie the Commission to that maximum. I agree with him that if we are to have this Bill it is obvious that we must have first-class people to work it and a reasonable staff; but there has been a tendency in these matters to have almost limitless staff, and unless someone takes an interest in the matter the ordinary Government, and this Government especially, are likely to appoint too many, to go absolutely haywire in appointing staff and officials. I am prepared to leave it at that tonight.

Mr. Wilson

I thought the hon. Gentleman had finished speaking.

Mr. Williams

I really had nothing more to say, but if there is to be an argument on the merits of the framing of this Resolution, I may have something more to say. Otherwise, I am quite prepared now to let it go.

Mr. Wilson

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his explanation. I should like to assure him, in case he is in danger of losing any sleep over this, that I am in no danger at all of getting into trouble with the Secretary of State for War on this matter. Because I know the hon. Member's concern about the level of salaries paid, I should like also to assure him that, although I am anxious to get the best man available for the job, and to pay a right and proper salary for the job, what I shall pay will be but a small fraction of the sums paid to the chairmen of some of the monopolies that may well be investigated. Certainly, there will not be any comparison between the salary of the chairman of the Commission and that of some of the heads of the cartels and price fixing rings.

Mr. Williams

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want to cross swords with him over this matter, but I assure him that I shall not lose sleep over the iniquities of the Government, for if I were to do so, I should never get any sleep at all.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported this day.