§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
I beg to move, in page 1, line to leave out "may appoint not more than two," and to insert" four."
I think that the idea of both sides of the Committee is that we should do all possible to speed up the reports of the Monopolies Commission. As the President of the Board of Trade has said, that is not with the intention of rushing the work. We do not want reports so hurried that there is not thorough examination. The idea is that there should be more reports produced in the same time. It has been said that we should treat industry fairly in this respect and that, if we have one Commission looking into one industry, it may so happen that a practice in that industry also operates in another industry.
It would be wrong to penalise one industry or make sure that it carried out its work in the public good without ensuring at the same time that a similar industry was prevented from carrying out an undesirable practice. We feel that with the general reason that these unfair practices should be stopped, this is an additional reason why there should be some way in which the Monopolies Commission can get more rapidly to work. We are of opinion that that can be done by having more than two deputy chairmen. We think that the President of the Board of Trade has moved in the right direction in making the number of the Commission 25 instead of 10. So far 14 references have been made to the Commission. 13 specific ones and one general, but it has taken 4½ years for the Commission to produce six reports. We know from what the chairman of the Commission himself hinted, and as the President of the Board of Trade, no doubt, can say, that many other industries have to be referred to the Commission.
Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) was 2389 quite right initially when he said that we would start with a single Commission, because the ground to be covered was new; we had to have a prototype. The examinations, the experience and the work performed have enabled us to see how the Commission can work. As my right hon. Friend has said, the previous Government indicated two years ago that they would reconsider the Commission. It is now general knowledge that what we had in mind was a reorganisation of the Commission in such a way that more than one Commission could be at work.
The Government have increased the number of members of the Commission and have suggested that there should be a panel system, all of which will operate beneficially in speeding up the Commission's work, but there are still limitations. As the President of the Board of Trade has said, a good many of the part-time members will have other interests. This means that they are not always fully available for the work of the Commission. Indeed the chairman, in evidence before the Select Committee on Estimates, said that one of the reasons why they had not been able to do more work was because the whole-time members had to accept the full responsibility. Now, the panel system is being introduced, which delegates that power, but it might happen, as the chairman has said, with people in different parts of the country and heavily engaged in their other work, that they could not always get together, and there could not be continuity.
What we suggest, therefore, is to have continuity in the sense that there is a person who will be chairman of the panel and who will be a permanent chairman. This chairman or deputy chairman should, as the President has said, be of the calibre of a National Insurance Commissioner or a county court judge, and should be the full-time chairman of one of these panels. For these reasons, we on this side feel that our proposal would facilitate and speed up the work of the Commission and would achieve that effective job that we all desire by having the panels, not only in existence, although limited by reason of part-time work, but with a chairman who would have the full-time responsibility of direction and coordination and of ensuring that the panel conducted its investigations, with several groups working at the same time.
The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thoneycroft)
I am glad that the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) began by emphasising the common objective which we all have in our approach to the Clause and to the Bill generally. That is, that we should devise the best methods that we can to ensure that the work of the Commission, while not deteriorating in quality, is accelerated somewhat in speed. I doubt, however, whether the Amendment would be a satisfactory way of tackling the problem.
In effect, the Amendment would delete that part of the Clause which makes it permissible to appoint two deputy chairmen and would replace it by a provision which makes it mandatory to appoint four. We should remember that the post of a deputy chairman is both permanent and pensionable. In the first place, it is a quite formidable task to find these men, and when they are found, although there may be variations in salary, they are for all practical purposes treated in the same basic way as the chairman of the Commission. Therefore, we do not want to create more permanent and pensionable posts than are essential for the job which we have in mind.
The chairman, of course, not only is free to preside over a group, but it is desirable that he should sometimes do so. I do not hold the view that the chairman's job should be more or less an administrative job at the centre. If he is to be kept in day to day touch with the work of the Commission, it is right that he should participate in that work. It may be that he would take some of the more difficult inquiries, but that he should take inquiries is right and desirable. The Committee probably share that view.
My next point is that a full-time deputy chairman can preside over more than one group. There is no reason why he should not do so, and it is very probable that he will. He is, after all, devoting the whole of his service and his working life to this task. He is aided and assisted by part-time members, and there is no reason why he should not preside over more than one group.
If it is made mandatory to appoint four deputy chairmen, there will be quite 2391 a period of time when we have some deputy chairmen in permanent and pensionable positions without any real work for them at that stage to do. It would be wrong to assume that we can build up the Commission in a short time to 25 members. We had better proceed carefully and by stages, watching all the time that we get men of the right and best calibre for the difficult task that is entrusted to them. I hope I have assured the Committee and the right hon. Gentleman that it is our desire—we share it with him—to see that the work of the Commission is speeded up but that we believe that permissive power to appoint two deputy chairmen will give us all the facilities which we at present need.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I found the answer of the President of the Board of Trade rather disappointing. He began by saying, quite rightly, that we all want to accelerate the work of the Commission. After all, the present Government have now been in office for about two years, and there have been some rather scandalous cases about monopoly. I need not go into them now, but there is a matter about London builders which requires investigation and there is a question about matches which has to some extent received it. I thought that the sense of the House and of this Committee was that it was an urgent question.
What is suggested in the Bill is that the President of the Board of Trade shall be obliged to appoint a chairman. No one disagrees with that. Beyond that, however, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has pointed out, he is under no obligation to go. He need not appoint any deputy chairmen at all When he does appoint them, although there are going to be up to 25 members of the Commission he may not appoint more than two deputy chairmen.
The President says that the Chairman can act as chairman of the groups contemplated, and that, he thinks, is a good thing. He appears to contemplate one group at a time, and that rather shocks us. I should have thought that one of the main objects of this Bill, and one of the most useful purposes it could serve, would be to facilitate the conduct of a number of inquiries at the same time. It is obvious that the chairman, both as 2392 a matter of being only in one place at a time—a limitation which is imposed on most human beings—and also as matter of following and conducting what is being done by these groups, ought not to try to act as chairman of more than one at a time.
I was hoping that, without bringing in an entirely new Bill, the Government were seeking, by a supplementary Measure of this sort, to appoint a number of Commissions where there used only to be one. I thought that that was the intention of the group arrangement. If, under the previous Bill, there was one chairman and one Commission, and there is now going to be a number of groups acting, in practice, as Commissioners, they ought normally—I do not say always—to have a proper chairman. I mean by that someone who is, from the nature of his position, well acquainted with the work that the Commission are doing—not only in regard to the case immediately before them but to any other cases—and a man who has, for the time being, made it his calling to be a deputy chairman of the Commission, and is properly regarded as holding a pensionable office.
There are two things which I fail to understand. First, what has the President in mind? Is he to have only two groups, and is that the reason why there are going to be no more than two deputy chairmen? That does not seem to be the case, because he suggested that the chairman should flit about from one place to another. Let us hope we are not going to have that. If we are going to have, as we suppose, something in the order of five groups, let us have a proper deputy-chairman for each one.
I see no reason why the chairman should be confined to administrative duties. He, too, can take the post of chairman of a group from time to time. It has to be borne in mind that the original Act provides for a good deal more than specific inquiries. It provides, under Section 15, for the investigation of matters which are referred to in the most broad terms, such as the general effect on the public interest of practices of a specified class. I should have thought that that was an exceedingly important function, and one which the Commission, so far, from lack of personnel and opportunity, have not been able to carry out to a very large extent, if at all.
2393 I regarded the proposed body as something rather in the nature of the Estimates Committee of this House. They have done most valuable work, and are one of the most useful bodies we have in the House. They function by means of a number of sub-committees, which seem to me to correspond very closely to the kind of groups envisaged in this case. If those sub-committees were going to carry on a continuous job, I should have thought a deputy chairman—in a quasi-permanent position—for each group was a very distinct advantage. It is an arrangement which we cannot have in Committees or sub-committees in this House because of the peculiar position of our Members and their other obligations, but in the case of an independent body of this sort I should have thought there was everything to be said for it.
I should not have quibbled with the President if he had said, "This is rather too many; I do not want four, but I am prepared to undertake to appoint so many others, and to take powers to appoint them." If he had promised that he would definitely appoint only two or three, because, for the moment, he could not see his way to find suitable people to fulfil these very responsible positions, and would like time to look around a bit and appoint some more later, I should have been perfectly satisfied, and would have appreciated the point of what he said, but to leave the position as it is at present, with no obligation to appoint a single deputy chairman, and with a limit of two on the number which can be appointed, seems to indicate a rather casual approach to this problem, which I am sure the President really has not got.
He ought to consider what people will think about a Government which have been in office for some time, have seen some rather scandalous happenings, have taken a couple of years to do anything about them, and, when they do act, are prepared to have groups up to quite a considerable number and intend to use those groups as a series of commissions—and then refuse to give them the necessary staffing by way of a permanent or quasi-permanent whole-time deputy chairman.
I wonder if the sinister hand of the Chancellor can be detected here? Has 2394 there been some quibbling over the question of pensions? Do we prefer to save what is not a very large sum of public money, by economising in the number of deputy chairmen, and to leave it to the unfortunate consumers, whose interests this Bill is intended to protect, to pay for the Tory economy campaign by submitting to monopolies longer than they need do? I hope that the President will think again about this matter.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
I am not merely dismayed, I am positively appalled, at the attitude of the President of the Board of Trade. When I listened to him last week I felt that this Bill represented a sincere attempt, not to continue the pilot scheme of the original Act but to widen that Act, and make it something more than a pilot scheme. I thought that the decision of the Government was based upon the experience we already had.
Hon. Members will recall that when I spoke on Second Reading I said that I did not unduly criticise the present Government for the results, because they were rather similar to those obtained under the 1940 Act of the Labour Government. I did assume, though, that when this Bill was brought in it would make a genuine attempt to widen the activities of the Commission.
I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary is with us this morning, so I dare not refer to the word "bottleneck," for fear that he will broaden out on that subject in the way he did last week, but if we follow the suggestion of the President of the Board of Trade—I do not know what other words the hon. and learned Member can suggest—I can see no alternative to "bottleneck." This is not only to be a bottleneck but an attempt at strangulation, which is rather topical at the moment.
Everything depends on the approach one makes to this subject. If the President thinks that we are dealing with a quite minor problem and can take an odd industry here and an odd industry there, which is working against the public interest, and that is all there is to it, I do not agree. I am predisposed to think that there is a very wide field of monopoly and restrictive practice in the business of this country.
2395 11.30 a.m.
I think I also made clear, and I say it again at the cost of repetition of previous speeches, that I do not see much real private enterprise in the country's economy. The practice of the large organisation is growing and restrictive practices come into being accordingly. I know that it would be out of order to refer at any length to the proposed new Clause which is in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon).
I can give the hon. and learned Member due warning that I will support it fully and possibly embarrass him in the process. Suppose that the proposed Clause is agreed to and we have a real survey of the whole of restrictive practices of this country and find that the fears of hon. Members on this side of the Committee are justified. Is the President then still to insist on having the one chairman? That is not the way to tackle the problem. I am not suggesting that we should widen out to a whole series of commissions at this stage, but surely experience shows that there is enough work to do to justify the Royal Commission.
The President said that he did not want to see the chairman acting as an actual operator, but purely as an administrator. I think there is some merit in that argument, but it is not a question of what we want; it surely is a question of what the disease demands. In some ways, it is analogous to the position of a hospital. If there are dozens of surgeons operating, however much one may dislike it and however much the superintendent wants to be a practising doctor, he is often driven by circumstances to become an administrator. I visualise the chairman as being a part operator and part administrator. I think the Government are wrong to resist the Amendment, which is reasonable. If they cannot accept it, they should agree to modify it.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I thought the President of the Board of Trade was adopting a very proper Parliamentary style in replying to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) on this matter and he was extremely courteous in the way in which he put his case. All the same, I thought he was 2396 concealing a sort of complacency about the underlying problem that the Monopolies Commission will have to face and that the chairman who is to be appointed would have to face. That was not altogether fortunate.
I assure the President, speaking with the interests of the Co-operative movement in mind, that there is a mountain of complaints regarding monopolistic practices ready to pour in on him as soon as there is justification for thinking that action will be effectively taken. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) pointed out the action of the Government in regard to such things as matches and other questions that have been touched upon. When we consider the failure of the Government to indicate any sort of action about the challenge facing them from the Lloyd-Jacob Report on Retail Price Maintenance we see the necessity for making this procedure effective.
Whether it be the hand of the Chancellor which is laid heavily on the question of pensions or stipends for chairmen or not, I do not feel that the point of view of the President is adequate to meet the situation which faces us. We regard this as a first-class issue and it should not be rushed simply because this is a Friday morning and there are not many here to listen to the debate. That is no reflection on the seriousness of the problem facing traders and others in this matter.
If one were assured that two deputy-chairmen would be adequate for what I know are the many potential complaints waiting to become actual complaints, I should not have very much more to say on the subject. But I am certain that an effective sub-commission to deal with each case as it comes along is necessary, plus an effective chairman whose whole mind can be given to the inquiries. They are very difficult and he will have to meet very skilful persons backed by very capable persons who may not be putting but concealing evidence. I am sure that my hon. Friends are correct in pressing strongly for this proposal to be reconsidered by the President.
I think the President would have a better chance of getting forward with the other Amendments and making much more rapid progress if he could satisfy us on this point. I press him to look at it again; it is a reasonable Amendment. 2397 The money which will have to be spent on the proper support of the chairman we are proposing is nothing compared to the amount of money which is filched from the community by the people engaged in the practices into which we want effective inquiry.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
I share the disappointment and dismay of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). Indeed, I share the "appalledness," or" appallment," of my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines)—no doubt the hon. and learned and pedantic Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to help us on that point. Whatever the word I should use is, I think that all hon. Members on this side of the Committee share it.
It was really a shock to a lot of us when the Minister said that if four deputy-chairmen were appointed there was a real danger that they might not have enough work and would be spending some time without any definite reference or work before them. That does throw doubt on the keenness the right hon. Gentleman has said he feels about speeding up the work of the Commission to the rate which all on this side of the Committee want. Surely he has a very large number of references awaiting submission. He may not have decided in his mind whether all those potential references listed in the annual reports are appropriate for reference.
In many cases, I have no doubt, he has not even considered whether they are appropriate, but he has to chose those which in his view are most urgent. Surely he would agree that there is this long list published year by year and in addition, no doubt, he could find 100 or 200 other cases for inquiry. We have always understood the only bottleneck—with due regard the Parliamentary Secretary—is the ability of the Commission to deal with the references which the President, no doubt, would like to submit to them.
I do not want to take up time in outlining possible references; a number were mentioned on Second Reading. Perhaps I may tell the Committee that since my speech on Second Reading the Proprietary Articles Trade Association has written drawing attention to a statement they had published about hand cream 2398 because my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross) referred to the case in the House two years ago.
They said, on that occasion, that it was not their practice to insist that shopkeepers sell at an increased price any goods which they had in stock and had bought at a lower price. To that extent they said that my right hon. and learned Friend, and, by implication, I myself, were wrong in what we said. If that is so, I accept what they say, but that does not in any way affect the argument about the snooping going on under the aegis of the P.A.T.A. and similar bodies, nor does it weaken the reference I made to the notorious tyre case in Aberdeenshire, which, I think, shocked hon. Members on both sides when it was referred to last Friday.
Whatever the merits of individual cases there is undoubtedly a very large number awaiting reference, and we thought that when the Bill was commended to the House by the President last Friday it was his hope that there would be a substantial speeding up in the work of the Commission by greatly increasing the number of members and also by the system of working in groups. We were a little dismayed by a phrase used by the Parliamentary Secretary. Perhaps he could tell us today that he had not really thought it out very carefully. He said that the effect of the Bill would be that rather more subjects would be dealt with than there were at present. I think that, on reflection, he will agree that the words of his right hon. Friend indicated that there would be not only rather more subjects but many more subjects than at present.
The idea of the group system, as I understand, is that each group should act, in effect, as a Monopolies Commission in cadre, and that is why the purpose of this Amendment is to enable each group to be presided by one of the deputy-chairmen or the chairman himself. We do not want the chairman to be a purely administrative head, but we hope that he will take over some of the more important references.
It may be appropriate that a general reference made under Section 15 should be looked after by a group under the chairmanship of the chairman of the Commission, though that is not for us 2399 to decide; that is a matter for the Monopolies Commission; but I think it would probably be appropriate and I think the chairman would probably so decide. If it were possible for each group to be presided over by a permanent group chairman chosen from one of the deputy-chairmen or the chairman of the Commission that would undoubtedly speed up the work.
We understand—and I hope that the President will confirm this—that each group will have more than one reference on their plate at a time. I am sure that is what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind because of what he said about the various stages of the references, that a group would start off the work, remit detailed investigations to the staff, and to others who might be specially brought in as suggested by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir I. Orr-Ewing) and his Committee, and they would go back to that particular reference when that investigation had been carried a good deal farther, and, meanwhile, they could be dealing with other stages or another reference.
Each group could have four or five references at a time in the same way as the Commission as a whole has four or five references at a time. Then, of course, to have a full-time chairman of that group's activities would greatly help to direct the work, and, of course, he would also be able to check the work done by the staff.
There is another reason, and it is one, which, I think, will commend itself to the Committee and particularly to hon. Members opposite. To have a full-time deputy-chairman as head of each group would give additional authority to the group's findings. We recognise the cause of the right hon. Gentleman's hesitancy about this group system. He has, perhaps, been rather worried whether industry would feel that on such important questions as this the findings should be made by the Commission as a whole rather than by a particular group.
I can understand his doubts, although I do not myself share them. I think these groups will do a perfectly good job and will be perfectly fair to industry, but it would give a little more authority to the findings of the groups if each were presided 2400 over by one of the full-time deputy-chairmen or the chairman himself.
There is a further point. The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), I notice, has an Amendment down. He will not get any support from this side of the Committee for it. What, I think, lies behind that Amendment is a feeling that too small a group would not carry conviction with industry as to its findings and that it might not be completely fair to industry. I think he probably feels different groups may get out of line one with another and that it may happen that one group may be much tougher in dealing with particular types of restrictive practices than another group.
I do not share his doubts, but I think that that is what is in his mind, and I think that in so far as there are those doubts abroad it would be very valuable to have large groups supervised and presided over by one of these full-time deputy-chairmen. The idea is that there could be a kind of steering committee presided over by the chairman himself, consisting of the deputy-chairmen, and that steering committee, meeting regularly, would, of course, ensure that all the different groups worked on the same lines, that there was no danger of one group's adopting a more tough attitude than the rest, and equally there would be no danger of one group's adopting a less tough attitude than the rest.
I can think of few things that would so ruin the work of the Monopolies Commission than if we got different groups bringing out different kinds of reports on similar restrictive practices. It would be extremely unfortunate if, say, Group A brought out a report condemning with fairly general arguments, say, the system of collective boycott in a particular industry and we then found Group B, examining a precisely similar arrangement in a different industry, were much more mild in their condemnation, or did not condemn it at all.
Moreover, we all hope that the publication of a report condemning a practice in one industry will be taken by many other industries, not, perhaps, themselves subjects of references to the Commission, as a signal that they should drop their own similar practice. That hope would be frustrated if we found certain groups being must less tough in their recommendations than others. I think that danger 2401 would be eliminated if the President were to work on our proposal of having these four full-time deputy-chairmen to assist the chairman.
One of the reasons the President gave for asking the Committee to reject this Amendment was that this was mandatory. He said it would mean he must appoint four. I still think that is right. I think he ought definitely to appoint four, and that is the view of all of us on this side of the Committee, but I wonder whether he would be prepared to consider an alternative. Would he be prepared to say to us today that he will look at this matter again and, when the Bill reaches another place, cause to have there inserted an Amendment which would not make it mandatory to appoint four but make it permissible to appoint four?
He can rely on us at various times in the future to go on pressing him until he does appoint four, but if he finds something objectionable about the suggestion that he shall appoint four and prefers words saying he may appoint up to four I think we could be made reasonably happy by that; though not as happy as if he got up now and said he had been so moved by the arguments from this side of the Committee that he would accept the Amendment. We hope the President will tell us that he accepts our arguments and our Amendment, or will follow the procedure I have suggested to give effect to the purpose of it.
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
May I start off by assuring the Committee that I found nothing objectionable in anything which either of the two right hon. Gentlemen has said or in anything that other hon. Members who have contributed to the debate have said. It is not that it is objectionable; it is that after careful examination I have come to the conclusion that I do not need more than two and I am not likely to need more than two deputy chairmen.
I think that the argument of the right hon. Gentlemen and of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who put the same point, does rest on the argument that we cannot have a group unless we have a deputy-chairman in charge of it. That is not so at all. We do not need a permanent deputy-chairman in order to have a group. The chairman himself not only 2402 can—and it is entirely a matter for him—preside over some groups of a more important character, but the deputy-chairmen also, bearing in mind that many of the people who serve are part-time, can almost certainly preside over more than one group. It is not necessary to have a man designated as a permanent deputy chairman in order to preside over a group.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, all these matters can very largely and quite properly be left within the general charge and discretion of the chairman himself, who may well decide that a particular member of the Commission, not a deputy-chairman but a man of considerable experience, and I think that we all agree that the members of this Commission are men of very considerable experience, may well be selected by the chairman to preside over a particular group in a particular case.
If we have four deputy-chairmen as well as a full-time chairman, that does rather imply that we have to have five groups, but if we have five groups with a Commission of 25, that means that they are limited to five members for each group. I do not want to anticipate what the chairman may decide in this matter, since it is and must remain a matter for the chairman to decide what size groups he wants. He may decide in some cases that five on a particular inquiry is too small a number, but he might want a larger number, and he could not in that particular period have five separate groups sitting.
I have listened with great attention to the eloquent statements made on this point, but I do hope, bearing in mind the point I have made and the fact that there is no bottleneck here at all, but a maximum of conduit pipes which can be created for this purpose, that the Amendment will not be pressed.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Would the right hon. Gentleman answer this point, although I do not expect him to agree with me? I appreciate that he might not find it necessary to have as many deputy-chairmen as suggested, but is he quite satisfied that he wants to prevent himself appointing more than two?
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Why would the right hon. Gentleman find four a positive embarrassment? Perhaps he would explain that phrase. I wish to ask why, in the statement he made, with an appropriate glance in the direction of his Parliamentary Secretary, he said there was no bottleneck here? What exactly did he mean by that? Did it mean, as it would appear from the words he used, that there will be no bottleneck now that he has got his five conduit pipes, or whatever he calls them, and that he will be able to make all the references which he feels ought to be made to the Commission as it is being constituted by this Bill, or was he meaning—and perhaps one may have drawn this meaning from his words—that there is no bottleneck today? Surely he would agree that there is a bottleneck in which the Commission cannot handle all the references which we should like to see submitted.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
There is no bottleneck by reason of the fact that it is permissive to appoint up to two deputy-chairmen. With regard to the possibility of a further two, there may be a deputy-chairman not being used at a particular time, and that is a matter for embarrassment. We have the facilities for starting these groups without them.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I beg to move, in page 1. line 9, at the end, to insert:(2) The chairman and any deputy chairman of the Commission shall render whole-time services to the Commission and accordingly they shall devote themselves exclusively to the performance of their duties as such chairman or deputy chairman, as the case may be.As we came into the Committee this morning, I ventured to suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that anybody who made a long speech on this thoroughly inadequate and miserable Bill would be attaching to it an importance which it clearly does not deserve, so I shall be very brief.
The main points which I want to make have been made by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the previous discussion, because they consistently talked about a whole-time chairman and deputy-chairmen, and as the President of the Board of Trade is determined not to have the kind of thoroughly efficient working Commission which we want to 2404 have but a Commission that can be held back and a brake put upon its activities by the President, there does not seem to be much point in labouring the Amendment which I am moving.
Our purpose has been to give practical effect to the main recommendations of the Estimates Committee within the context of this Bill, which, in itself, is extremely limited, as I have said. The Estimates Committee and everybody else who has spoken about this subject is agreed that the panel or group system of inquiry is desirable, and the best way of getting on with the work, getting some inquiries under way, and finishing them in a reasonable time. That is accepted by the Government, and it is implicit in the increase of the size of the Commission.
In our view all this necessary work of inquiring into monopolies and restrictive practices cannot be done entirely by a spare time Commission. We would like to see what we suggested in the previous group of Amendments—a larger group of whole-time members who are there to see that the job is being done, that inquiries are started, that progress is maintained, that the staff is getting on with the job of making inquiries which are submitted to them for staff work, and generally to speed up the work and expand the area of the inquiries. I was rather shocked that the President suggested that if too many inquiries were under way at once it would be embarrassing.
§ Mr. Darling
In preventing this spare-time Commission being strengthened to speed up the work and extend its activities by the whole-time members we have suggested, his suggestion on that point rather appeared to us to be that he does want the work of the Commission to be limited in some way. I do not think that anything that he can say now will get rid of the impression we got from his previous remarks.
It has been generally agreed that up to now the reports have taken too long and that the field of inquiries has been too restricted. We think it desirable to give approval to the group system or panel system, and that the best way to do that is to have a number of full-time 2405 members. This Amendment refers only to the chairman and deputy chairmen, and we do not think that, even with the limited activity which the President of the Board of Trade wants, the Commission can work even in these circumstances unless the chairman and deputy chairmen are giving full-time service to the work of the Commission. They may occasionally have to help the expert assessors which we shall suggest.
This immediate Amendment asks for a whole-time chairman and whole-time deputy chairmen. The Bill is so small so miserable and so limited in its scope that there is not much point in labouring the observation. Obviously, if the chairman and the deputy chairmen are not to give whole-time service to the Commission and it is to be largely a spare-time Commission, it will merely prove the correctness of our view that the President is not as keen as he ought to be about seeing that the work of the Commission is improved, that its inquiries are speeded up and that the scope of its activities is extended.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. Daines
I was rather shocked—I think we all were—when on the previous Amendment the President told us that he would be embarrassed if he had more deputy chairmen than he wanted. I do not know why he should be embarrassed. I should not have thought there was any fear of their unemployment, which, I assume, would have been the cause of his embarrassment. I think he meant that there would not be work for them to do.
I do not know what rarified air the President dwells in, but I have here a list of 38 industries which require investigation. Some of them may have been referred to the Commission already, but I could suggest all sorts, and I am sure that the Board of Trade and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) could do so. There are newspapers, nylon yarn, sprinkler equipment, sanitary earthenware, asbestos roofing, fireplaces and news-reel films, and so one could go on. The President of the Board of Trade and all hon. Members know that, if we had the will, we could find a very vast field of activity for the Commission, and to imagine that there would be any embarrassment on account 2406 of lack of work for the separate chairmen of groups is fantastic.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) spoke about the cost. Whatever I may think about a Tory Government as administrators, I just do not believe that the few thousand pounds involved in this type of proposition seriously worries them. When one considers this in comparison with the country's industrial turnover, the argument hardly bears looking at. What we really want to achieve—I like to think that all our motives, although they may be a bit mixed, are at least honest in this—is a healthy economy. I can understand hon. Gentlemen opposite saying that they do not necessarily want a semi-Socialist economy, as some of us want, and I appreciate that we may not all want a fully capitalist economy, but at least we want a healthy economy where there are no vicious practices which, if put in criminal terms, would meet a just verdict in the court. Many of these things are wrong and we must tackle them seriously.
When we look at it as an administrative problem we see—I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will forgive me—that everything has to go through the funnel represented by the chairman at the top. What will the chairman do? Is it seriously suggested that he can review all the documents before they are published and satisfy himself that all the work of the committee is done on lines that he is prepared to stand by? Will there be no devolution of authority? Hundreds of industries require investigation—one need put it no higher than that—and all this has to go through the funnel represented by the full-time chairman. Also, by having full-time chairmen of groups we create a degree of independence which cannot truly be obtained with part-time officers. There is no inference to be drawn from what I say and I make no criticism of existing personnel.
Nevertheless, let us look at this squarely. The environment of one's own practices inevitably colours one's point of view. We must aim at independent chairmen who have business experience. I do not particularly favour the paper-trained type of economist. We require people who have had wide business experience and are prepared objectively to devote the whole of their enthusiasm and ability to 2407 the work of the Commission. A terrific job has to be done, and it cannot be dons in a dilettante, part-time fashion.
I suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that the proposition in the Amendment is sound. He can brush it aside with a few sentences this morning, saying he will look at the matter again, but if he is seriously concerned about our having a healthy economy he will not indulge in the practice of thinking that fair words are the answer.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The Amendment is fairly limited in scope, as the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) said. It is that:The chairman and any deputy chairman of the Commission shall render whole-time services to the Commission and accordingly they shall devote themselves exclusively to the performance of their duties as such chairman or deputy chairman, as the case may be.I do not believe that there is a great deal of difference between us on the matter, and I hope to persuade the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his Amendment simply because it is not really needed.
It is clearly not the intention that a chairman or a deputy chairman should, during working hours, engage in some kind of outside activities. It has never been thought necessary to include restrictions as rigid as these in other Acts. The need for a chairman who would really devote all his time to the job was apparent when the original Measure was introduced, the Measure under which Sir Archibald Carter has been discharging his whole-time functions with such general satisfaction, and it was not thought necessary on that occasion to say that he should devote himself exclusively to the performance of his duties. Indeed, if we began interpreting phrases like that as rigidly as they could be interpreted it would almost rule out service on a parish council and all sorts of local, innocent activities in general.
Although hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will agree that this is a whole-time and responsible job, these matters are really better left to the terms of the employment agreed between the Government of the day and the chairman who is being appointed, than laid down specifically in statutes. In the case of the vast majority of boards and commissions, we have avoided laying down 2408 terms of that character in Measures. I hope the hon. Gentleman will see his way not to press the Amendment.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I agree that this is a rather rigorous definition of "whole-time," but surely the President knows the reason for it. It is that "whole-time" was included in the Iron and Steel Act and then a definition was added which said, in effect, that whole-time does not mean whole-time. If he finds this too stiff, he had better have a few words with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply about the misuse of the English language in absurd definitions in Acts of Parliament.
I did not for a moment think that the President would accept the Amendment, and I am not in the least surprised about it, but I am surprised that he is not accepting the perfectly sensible Amendment to insert "whole-time" before "chairman" and "deputy chairman." The President intends to have a whole-time chairman. He knows that the recommendation of the Estimates Committee is that there should be at least one whole-time member. In addition to that, has he considered the Schedule about pensions at the end of the Bill? These people have to be recommended by his Department in respect of their service as either chairmen or deputy chairmen for a certain fraction, depending on the length of their service. It is obvious that it would be grossly improper to pass the Schedule without making it clear that those recommended must be whole-time officers. I really cannot think why the President of the Board of Trade is objecting to putting in the word "whole-time." I will not argue again about the parish council and that kind of thing. My view is that it would not preclude that sort of activity. The only reason why this definition was suggested was because there was such an absurd one in another Government Measure.
Let us agree to take "whole-time," which is a perfectly well-known word, in the ordinary sense in which it is used by ordinary English people—not by the Government when putting forward legislation about the iron and steel industry. On that footing I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will say that he is prepared to put into the Bill what clearly ought to be in it—the word 2409 "whole-time." If he says that it is not necessary, that it is patent and obvious, let me remind him that as the Bill stands he is entitled to appoint a chairman and a deputy chairman and to say to them, "We know you have got a very considerable interest in the toothpick trade or whatever it may be; you can go on doing that," and then at the end of the five years' service he is bound by the terms of his own Bill to recommend the man for a pension based on length of service.
It is perfectly absurd. I am sure that it is not what the President of the Board of Trade intends. Surely in a Bill of this sort which is intended for the protection of the public he ought not to jib at putting in what is obviously required and what will go some little way to give the poor public the reassurance that from time to time they need about the President's intentions.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not yield to the arguments which have been advanced by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not think that he will, because the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has reinforced the reasons which probably actuated the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) when he did not put any provision about whole-time in the original Act. He said quite freely that he does not like the definition in the Iron and Steel Act. He said that he does not like the definition in this Amendment. He does not regard it as satisfactory. He fortifies my right hon. Friend by saying that it is extremely difficult to define this matter.
I suggest that it will be better to leave it as it is, and I advance just one other reason which I ask the Committee to endorse. There is often occasion in an organisation of this kind when one cannot get for a whole-time job exactly the right man that one wants. Therefore it is important that because of the difficulty of finding the right kind of man the chairman in conjunction with the President of the Board of Trade should be free to appoint some other person, who may not necessarily be a whole-time man, if only for a short space of time.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Is the hon. Gentleman really prepared to defend the position that such a person so appointed, not 2410 whole-time, should be entitled to pension, and bound to be recommended for pension, based on his number of years service as chairman or deputy chairman?
§ Mr. Shepherd
Of course he would not have a number of years service and obviously would not qualify for pension. But in an organisation of this kind where the great difficulty always is to find men of the right calibre at any specific time, this freedom to appoint a man who might be part-time, for six months or more, is highly desirable.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Has it escaped the notice of the hon. Gentleman that under the principal Act the appointment is to be for at least three years?
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
I do not think that the President of the Board of Trade will thank the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) who is often associated more with the people who need the inquiry than with those who are doing the inquiring. I can understand his complacency about getting part-time people even with the limited proposal now before us of one chairman and two deputy chairmen. If that is to be the process then the complaint we made in the earlier discussion will become more valid than ever.
It is nonsense in these days to talk about the extreme limits within which the President of the Board of Trade will have to work in looking for the right sort of people to man this Commission, and especially for the chairman. It may come as a surprise to the hon. Member for Cheadle, and perhaps to the President of the Board of Trade, that in the Co-operative Movement there are vast numbers of people who serve the 10 million members who have day to day experience in inquiring and in committee work. They sit as chairmen on committees considering all sorts of important issues. They are available for this sort of work and many would do it admirably.
§ Mr. J. E. S. Simon (Middlesbrough, West)
Will the hon. Gentleman say how many of these people were appointed to the original Monopolies Commission by the Government which he supported?
§ Mr. Hudson
We are not dealing with past legislation. We are dealing with a proposition about which certain arguments have been advanced. I am dealing 2411 with those arguments and suggesting that there are a considerable number of people who could be found for these jobs. We are not prepared to accept the opposition against this Amendment. I am sure that if we are thoroughly in earnest about the problem that has to be faced we shall find that men who give their time to this sort of work give it wholeheartedly under whole-time arrangements. If anyone persists in saying that they cannot define the meaning of the word "whole-time" after the experience of the Iron and Steel Act, I would say that that is nonsense.
§ Mr. Bottomley
We are most disappointed at the Government's approach to this question. I thought, last week, that the attitude of the President of the Board of Trade was encouraging. He showed that he wanted to do something to strengthen the Commission. All he seems to be doing today is to whittle down all that would be done by the Bill and to make it much weaker. I cannot believe him when he says that he is anxious that we should do everything to strengthen the Bill. If he was he would certainly have accepted some of the proposals which have been made today.
I should like to know what salaries the deputy-chairmen will get. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether they will really do the job or whether they will be deputy-chairmen who will come in to give as little time as possible to the work, so that we shall not get too much investigation of these trusts and other organisations? If the President was concerned with taking account of the work of the Select Committee which sat under the excellent chairmanship of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir I. Orr-Ewing) he would at least consider the suggestions made by them.
During the Second Reading debate last week the chairman of that Committee said that what the President was in danger of doing was, by having these panels—and I hate to use the word again—creating another bottleneck. I was disappointed last week that the Parliamentary Secretary did not add to his collection the Rochester bottleneck. If he visited my constituency on a Friday or Saturday he would have known that "bottleneck" was a familiar word.
2412 If the right hon. Gentleman wants to make sure that the work is done properly he should have whole-time deputy-chairmen. In the Report of the Select Committee it is suggested that a very good thing is to visit industry to see conditions at first-hand. Whole-time deputy-chairmen could do that. The President of the Board of Trade said earlier that one of the reasons why he does not want whole-time deputy-chairmen—or the numbers that we have urged—is because if there were a member on the Commission who had specialist knowledge, we may wish to appoint him as chairman.
The Bill, bearing in mind the many voluntary members, anticipates resignations. It would be disastrous if, in the middle of investigating an industry, its chairman had to leave because of pressure of work in his own industry or in some other field of activity. If the President cannot accept all the Amendments, will he accept all the Amendments moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) which refer to whole-time?
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Will the President say that he is at least willing to accept the first, third and fourth Amendments which specify whole-time? As I understood his statement, he accepts the principle we have in mind that the chairman shall be appointed full-time and that the two deputy-chairmen shall be whole-time in the broad sense of the word. By that we do not, of course, rule out possible activities such as chairmanship of a parish council.
I also understood that what he had in mind was that the salary of a deputy-chairman would be related to whole-time employment. Presumably, when that salary is agreed with the Treasury, and when the person concerned is appointed, the right hon. Gentleman will arrange some contract of service which provides that he will be there all the week and not two hours each day or one day a week.
Apparently the right hon. Gentleman does not like, any more than my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) appears to like, the exact wording of the definition of whole-time. If so, could he not tell us that he is prepared to accept the phrase "whole-time" while rejecting the Amendment which defines it? It is a common practice in legislation to use that word. 2413 even though, as far as can be seen, no satisfactory definition of it has yet been worked out.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I was about to rise to say that what I proposed to do in this matter was to follow the admirable precedent set by the right hon. Gentleman himself and by his colleagues when they introduced the original Bill, which is to leave this matter to the good sense of the Government of the day. The right hon. Gentleman says it is a common practice to use the term "whole-time" but that there is no wholly satisfactory definition of it. That is not a satisfactory legislative situation and I do not propose to get drawn into those kinds of difficulties.
We are all clear about what we want; we want the man to devote his working time to this job. We want to be sure that he is not inhibited from taking the chairmanship or deputy-chairmanship because he may take part in some other activities—maybe public work involving a few days work in the course of a year or some perfectly innocent private occupation.
The Amendments evidence the difficulties we have all found in defining "whole-time" or "full-time." In those circumstances we had better avoid the term altogether and continue, as we have done satisfactorily, under the legislation introduced by the right hon. Gentleman; that is, to appoint these men on terms and conditions to be agreed between them and the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Has the right hon. Gentleman in mind the fact that the principal Act, introduced by my right hon. Friend, had no arrangement in it for pensions? He has not answered my point that if he gets a person who is not whole-time, he will be put in a ridiculous position about the recommendation for pension. If the right hon. Gentleman feels that there is a difficulty in definition, I tell him frankly that the terms of this definition were put in, in a phrase used in "Alice in Wonderland," just to annoy him because it teases, because such a silly one was put in the Iron and Steel Bill. It is quite easy to put in the phrase "whole-time" and to give himself a dispensing power if he wants it.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
If I had known earlier that this was an "Alice in Wonderland" Amendment, it might have 2414 shortened the discussion. The hon. and learned Gentleman has put a fair point, namely, the difficulty of a pension for a person who is devoting only part of his time. Here, however, he will be full-time and will have the pension on that basis. The reason we want him full-time is not simply for pension purposes. There is a much stronger argument for having a man devote the greater part of his time; and that is, the nature of the job he is doing. That is a far bigger point that the one made by the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is desirable that men who are conducting these inquiries should devote their whole time to the job. So, while I sympathise with the point, the argument goes a little wider.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I hope the right hon. Gentleman is not making light of the pension point put by my hon. and learned Friend? The House of Commons has a serious duty to carry out in relation to pensions. The history of the relations between government and Government appointments on the one hand, and the House of Commons on the other, goes back a long way. Today, it has reached a state of affairs where, for instance, no hon. Member can even take part in the activities of a committee from which he could theoretically draw a subsistence allowance or claim his expenses.
If the Committee is so punctilious in that respect, it seems to me wrong that we should allow to go forward this Bill, in which, theoretically at any rate, it is possible for the President to appoint someone who might work for only one day a week or one week a year and, at the end, qualify for pension. That would be a monstrous position. I have no doubt that the President would not consider doing that for a moment, but this Bill gives him the power and it is wrong that such a Bill should go forward.
We have had to drag out of the right hon. Gentleman a series of assurances on the general point. One he has just given to my hon. and learned Friend is that there will be no question of a pensionable appointment unless there is whole-time service. The other assurance was that not only the chairman will be full-time but also the deputy-chairman. It is a much less satisfactory state of affairs than if this were written into the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said we must leave it to the good sense of the Government. 2415 That was all right in the original Act because it was a different Government and, also, there was no pension involved. I think I explained to the House at the time that the chairman would be full-time and, of course, he has been.
This morning the right hon. Gentleman has explained rather less categorically that the deputy-chairmen will be whole-time and that we can leave it to his good sense. Probably some of us would be prepared to leave it to his good sense, but there is no guarantee that the right hon. Gentleman will continue in that position for very long. I do not know. We read a lot of statements, even in Tory newspapers, about impending reshuffles, starting from the very top. Certainly, I should have thought it absolutely impossible in any reshuffle that the present Secretary of State for the Colonies would be likely to stay in his present job.
Let us suppose that the only way to move him out of that job, in view of the damage he is doing to the Colonial Territories, would be to put him in the Board of Trade. That is a danger to this House which we must take seriously. If that were to happen, in view of all that the Secretary of State for the Colonies said in Committee on the original Bill, I would not be prepared to approve it with any feeling that we should get the right sort of appointment for the deputy-chairman, or, indeed, that we should get a genuine full-time deputy-chairman, which is what the Committee wants to do. Therefore, I still hope that the President will accept at least the phrase "whole-time."
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I think the President of the Board of Trade is being far from helpful this morning. In suggesting that he would not recommend a pension for a man who was not full-time, he is wrong, because he must recommend a pension, according to my reading of the Schedule. He also asked us to leave the matter to the good sense of the Government, which is something which some of us think quite impossible.
The only support he has had from his own back benchers for the stand he is taking came from the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), whose interpretation of what could be done if we leave the Bill as it is was entirely 2416 different from what the President himself expects and intends, because the hon. Member for Cheadle obviously anticipates someone very much tied up with some other matter, and who would not be able to give the amount of time which I, as a Member of the Estimates Committee, think we shall require from the deputy-chairman.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I subscribed to the view that the deputy-chairman should be whole-time, and I thought there was no difference on the point. What I said was that there might arise circumstances in which, at a given moment, one could not find a wholly suitable person available for a long time, and that, in those circumstances, it would be highly undesirable that the chairman of the Commission should be tied to a whole-time appointment.
§ Mr. Ross
Even if we could possibly accept this meaning of whole-time as now submitted by the hon. Member for Cheadle we should be opening the door to the very thing about which we are most concerned, and I sincerely hope that the President will think again. We are not asking him to do very much, and we fully appreciate what he has in mind, but we are not at all satisfied that, in the end, the idea of the hon. Member for Cheadle will not prevail.
§ Mr. Mitchison
May I ask the President to elucidate this point? He has been told twice from this side of the Committee that he is bound to recommend, unless advised otherwise—and, I regret to say, even if he is advised otherwise. I think it is perfectly clear, under the language of the First Schedule, that what he has probably got hold of is the Treasury discretion, which is always there, and which does not, in fact, operate to cut down a stipulated pension under the Act. If the President says that he is under no obligation to recommend. I should be interested to know.
I understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman was making a point to enforce a full-time appointment, but he was not debating it.
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
I think we can leave any detailed discussion of the Schedule until we reach it, but it would be relevant to say here that it is for the President of the Board of Trade or the Government of the day to decide such terms of the appointment as they think fit when they appoint the Commission.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the Committee of those terms and conditions of service?
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I beg to move, in page 1, line 9, at the end, to insert:(2) Before appointing a person to be the chairman or a deputy chairman of the Commission, the Board of Trade shall satisfy themselves that that person has no substantial financial interest in any undertaking concerned in the supply of goods, the application of any process to goods or the export of goods, as respects which it appears to the Board of Trade that it is or may be the fact that conditions prevail to which the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act, 1948 (hereinafter referred to as "the principal Act") apply; and the Board of Trade shall also satisfy themselves from time to time with respect to the chairman and every deputy chairman of the Commission that he has no such interest; and any person who is, or whom the Board of Trade proposes to appoint and who has consented, to be, the chairman or a deputy chairman of the Commission shall, whenever requested by the Board of Trade so to do, furnish to them such information as the Board of Trade consider necessary for the performance by the Board of Trade of their duties under this subsection.
It would be convenient if the Committee were to discuss with this Amendment the Amendment also in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) to page 3, line 7, and also 2418 the first of the new Clauses—(Members of Commission disqualified because of financial interest).
§ Mr. H. Wilson
This Amendment raises the principle of the proposed new Clause, and the second Amendment, to page 3, line 7, which we are discussing at the same time, deals with the duty of the chairman to exercise powers of direction and make certain that no member has a financial interest. Perhaps we may deal with that first, before coming to the broader issue. I should imagine that the chairman of the Monopolies Commission would undoubtedly want to ensure that position, but to avoid any doubt we put the Amendment upon the Order Paper, and hope the President will accept it. It raises an important question about which there ought not to be any argument at all.
Coming back to the first Amendment, it provides that the chairman and deputy chairman shall, in effect, be free from any connection with monopolies or with industries having restrictive practices. That is always a rather difficult thing to define. We might have set out to define it on the lines proposed in the new Clause standing in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon)—(Deposit with Commission of copies of restrictive agreements or arrangements)—in which he has attempted to define restrictive practices, but this Amendment simply provides that the chairman and deputy chairman shall not have any financial interest in any undertaking which is itself a party to monopolistic or restrictive practices.
The proposed new Clause, in effect, provides that the same restriction shall apply to any member whom the President may appoint when he increases the number to 25. The only difference between the first Amendment and the new Clause is that the first relates to the chairman and deputy chairman and the other to the part-time members of the Commission. I do not think this particular Amendment need be argued at any length, because I think it should commend itself to the Committee. It raises the whole question of the impartiality of members of the Commission, especially the chairman and deputy chairman.
I take it that the President of the Board of Trade would not—at least I 2419 hope he would not—appoint a director of, shall we say, Unilever or any other monopoly to be a member, part-time or not, of the Commission. Of course, we have had the recent case in which the Government set up an inquiry into London Transport, and we found that a leading director of I.C.I. was appointed. That does suggest a danger that the President of the Board of Trade—and certainly the Secretary of State for the Colonies, if he were to become President of the Board of Trade in any reshuffle—would be quite likely to appoint a director of I.C.I. or Unilever to be a member of the Monopolies Commission, and that is wrong.
Of course, the biggest problem would not be the danger that the present President of the Board of Trade or some future President would be likely to appoint a director of a monopoly. The real problem in this context is not so much the monopoly as such, the trust or the inter-grated combine. By far the biggest danger is the cartel or the price-fixing association. I gave reasons in the House last Friday for my view—which was somewhat contrary to that of the right hon. Gentleman—that British industry is riddled with restrictive price-fixing arrangements of the kind we were then discussing. I also mentioned the difficulty I had in finding business men free from such connections in order to appoint one to the Monopolies Commission.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am surprised to hear that the right hon. Gentleman had difficulty in finding such persons. His hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) said that the Co-operative Society was seething with them.
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman could not have understood what I said last week, because I then said that when I was appointing a business man to the Commission I was even more austere in my appointment than we are asking the President to be in this Amendment. When I made that appointment two or three years ago, I said not only that I would not appoint anyone directly or indirectly concerned in a cartel, but that I would not even appoint anyone who felt that he had a grievance against a cartel. It is perfectly obvious that anyone in the Co-operative movement is full of grievances against cartelistic practices. 2420 That is why at that time I could not appoint a Co-operative man because, obviously, he would have strong views on certain of the monopolies referred to the Commission.
Possibly, I was too austere about that, and in this Amendment we simply say that no one should be appointed who operates directly or indirectly a cartel or price-fixing arrangement, or anything of that kind. That would create an impossible situation. Supposing that the President were to appoint a man to the Monopolies Commission, and that that man became a member of one of the groups which were called upon to consider the activities of a trade association which had a price-fixing agreement or some sort of market sharing arrangement, perhaps with full-blooded quotas on production, imports or sales—or it might involve an agreement referring to stop list practices, or collective boycott, or restrictions, or an agreement which involves discrimination against the Cooperative movement or against any other body—and that he was called upon to consider whether the industry which was indulging in the particular practices referred to him was acting in such a way as to violate the public interest, then I suggest that that man could not be an impartial judge if he were in his own industry or in his own firm protected by an arrangement of the kind he was called upon to investigate on behalf of the Monopolies Commission.
If, in fact, the man's own industry gets this security, such as it is—and the reason for all these price-fixing arrangements, is of course, an undue seeking after a rather bogus kind of security—then, of course, he is not a fit and proper person to rule on the kind of reference that I hope the President is going to make. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is going to tell us that he will accept this Amendment and the new Clause which relate to the appointment of the chairman and deputy chairman, on the one hand, and of the members of the Commission on the other, to ensure that nobody connected with cartelistic or price-fixing arrangements shall be appointed to the Commission. I also hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept the other Amendment just to clarify the position of the chairman and so that he will not appoint under 2421 any particular group anybody who has a financial interest in the reference which has been made to that group.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
I have no doubt whatever that if the new Clause were accepted it would gravely weaken the Monopolies Commission, because it is so widely drawn that if the fears of the party opposite are correct concerning the very wide field of monopoly and restrictive practice in the country today, as the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) said earlier, or, as the right hon. Gentleman said in moving the Amendment, that industry is riddled with restrictive price-fixing arrangements, that would mean that nobody engaged in active industry could be appointed to this Commission. The new Clause says that nobody shall be appointed who is connected with conditions which the Monopolies Commission may have to investigate.
If it is so widespread as this, who can say where the tentacles may not spread? Indeed, they may spread over the whole field of industry. If this new Clause were accepted it would mean that nobody who was actively engaged in industry could become a part-time member of the Commission, and so, for the necessary experience and advice, the President of the Board of Trade would have to go to those who are fully retired from industry. I can imagine nothing more unfortunate than that.
We all know how dangerous it is to have the retired mind in things of this sort, the person who has been out of the heat of the battle for five years or so and who thinks he knows what it is all about, but who, in fact, always projects forward his own experience to the present day.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to cause offence to anyone, but he should remember the present composition of the Monopolies Commission. He will find it in the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates. The present members are two former civil servants, a barrister, a former trade union official, an accountant, an economist, and only two manufacturers.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I am not saying that they should all be manufacturers, but it is very important that the Commission should contain two or three persons such as manufacturers who have direct, constant and up-to-date experience of what life is like in the world of manufacture. We do not want long-haired economists or long-haired lawyers inquiring into the manufacturing industry without the necessary balance of people who know what it is all about. That is why, if the fears of the party opposite are right as to the extent to which industry is riddled with these practices, we must have, in fact, a part-time member from the active practice of industry, as, otherwise, the Commission would be gravely weakened.
I suggest that the fears of the Opposition have led them into painting an absurd picture. Of course, if anybody is directly concerned with an industry that is under reference, the normal behaviour in any court of law or any quasi-judicial or inquisitorial body is that they do not sit on that particular reference, and no one suggests that they should or could so sit. It is common experience on a bench of magistrates that if one magistrate is personally involved in the matter, he leaves the bench. Much the same sort of thing will happen here.
As to the chairman and the deputy-chairman, that is a different case, because it is suggested that, in practice, both should be full-time appointments, but this new Clause seeks to apply that principle to all members of the Commission, both part-time and full-time members, and for that reason I say that it must be rejected.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
As far as I understand the speech of the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), he is laying down the position that monopolistic practices may be mixed up generally with the ordinary function of trade in capitalist industry. That is a confession that brings us up against an astonishing situation. The Tory Party are so moved by the evil of monopolistic practices, whether mixed up with trade or not, that they come forward with legislation designed to put an end to them. If they were honest, and if it were found that the practices are so widespread as the hon. Gentleman has indicated, the Monopolies Commission would go on with their inquiries——
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
If I am following the hon. Gentleman's speech aright he is saying that restrictive practice or monopoly is necessarily evil and must be stopped, per se. That is contrary to the spirit of the Bill, which says that the working out of these practices and agreements must be investigated before we can say whether they are good or bad and ought to continue or be stopped. All I am saying is that if there is a prima facie showing that there are these agreements, we do not know, until they are investigated, whether they are good or bad and whether their effect is beneficial or malevolent.
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. Gentleman is making once again the point I was trying to stress, which is that on the Government's admission these monopolistic practices exist in the general capitalist system. The hon. Gentleman says that they may be good or bad and that is the issue upon which the inquiry has to be made. If the practices are so widespread as the hon. Gentleman suggests in his speech, it is better for the inquirers to be entirely free of any consideration which might interfere with their judgment.
I do not take the view that trade of every kind is mixed up with monopolistic practices. Some people in the private trading world, as in the Co-operative world, are the sufferers from monopolistic practices which have been designed against and not in their interests. I heard my right hon. Friend the former President of the Board of Trade say just now that on one occasion he felt it necessary to exclude not only those who had association with monopolistic practices but those who had suffered from them and were not free of prejudice, when these questions were to be examined.
I am not putting that point of view now. I am saying that it is better, if we are in earnest about a widespread evil—we say that it is a widespread evil and we assume that the Government knows that this is a widespread evil—to keep out of our inquiry from the beginning those who have been affected by monopolistic practices and who would therefore be likely to cloak—I will not say in any criminal way but by their natural tendency not to expose—the things from which they themselves have suffered. 2424 There would be a tendency to cloak evils regarding which an impartial report was expected.
The case is made out, and even though it may be difficult to find in private trade all the people we would like to get to support us in this work I am certain that if we took people who are not engaged in private trade but have been sufferers from monopolistic practices we could provide ourselves with an effective personnel for a proper inquiry into the situation.
§ Mr. Mitchison
This is one of those happy occasions when one can felicitate the Government. The Clause is similar to that which the Government put into the Iron and Steel Bill, which is now an Act, with regard to the Board which is going to exercise supervisory powers over the iron and steel industry. I am glad it is here and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will put it in.
I would say a work or two to the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). He has suggested that every industry is monopolistic. I have been sitting here thinking of the boot and shoe industry in my constituency. So far as I know, it has no restrictive practices at all.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
Would the hon. and learned Member go so far as to say that it positively is not affected because the words of his Clause says "may be" affected?
§ Mr. Mitchison
The hon. Gentleman should read the whole Clause and not part of it. The Board of Trade have to decide exactly the same question here before referring a matter to the Commission. It is only in that case that the Clause begins to operate at all. The Board of Trade have to satisfy themselves about the facts. The same conditions apply as in the iron and steel industry, with necessary modifications of the original Act. I can see no more difficulty in the Board of Trade's making up their minds in the one case than in the other. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will bear in mind when he replies that it is just because of the element of difficulty that there is provision here, as in the Iron and Steel Act, that the person affected has himself to furnish the necessary information.
2425 What is the objection? That we shall not be able to find anybody unaffected by monopolistic practice? If industry is so riddled with monopolistic practice as has been stated it will be impossible to find anybody. I should not weep about that difficulty if things were as bad as that, and the only obstacle were that we could not get anybody from an untainted industry to serve on the Commission. It has been pointed out already that the Commission as at present constituted contains the precise type of person to whom for some unknown reason the hon. Member for Darwen is objecting, that is former civil servants. The Commission also contains barristers and I hope that neither he nor I are going to be particular about that. They run a monoply but not this kind of monopoly. It contains a number of other people and includes an accountant and an economist.
The only other argument that I can see about this Clause is that things are in such a state that it is quite impossible to try a burglar except by a jury of burglars. If we cannot find an impartial industrialist then let us put somebody else on the Commission, but it is far more probable that there are suitable people who can be members of the Commission. If a man has a direct interest in a particular trade obviously he cannot serve on the Commission when it deals with the grouping question for instance. But exactly the same principle applies to the Commission as a whole. We cannot have a man who is concerned in operating monopoly practices in one trade sitting on a body which is going to investigate monopoly practices in another. When one sets up a body to investigate burglary it cannot be claimed that a man who is expert in burgling a house by crawling up a drainpipe is a competent judge of a burglary case in another form.
What we wish to avoid in appointments to the Commission is the appointment of someone who is concerned in monopoly himself and then is set up as a judge of the public interest in a similar case in another trade. We should see to it that these people truly are impartial and in a position to sit in what is virtually a judicial capacity. We should not only do that but also ensure that the public are made aware by the terms of the Bill itself that impartial people will be members of the Commission. Otherwise the 2426 Commission will start 10 points down in the public estimation. That is the last thing in the world that we want to do. I suggest to the President that it is not quite good enough to say that here is a Bill which is quite short but at the end of it there are 20 blank pages full of the good intentions which the Government expressed on the Committee stage. Some of those intentions at any rate might be written into the Bill itself.
§ Mr. Daines
The problem with which we are concerned here is how we are to get an objectively-minded person to sit on the Commission. It is difficult to define what we mean by objectivity. Judging by the articles which he has written, and the work he has done the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) has a fair knowledge of this problem, but he gave the impression that these restrictive trade practices and monopoly practices generally are not very wide in this country. That rather amazed me. I and those associated with me take the opposite point of view.
We think that the economy of this country is riddled with it. Cases in point came out quite clearly in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). He is very knowledgeable on this subject, but even he said that he did not know of any monopoly in the boot and shoe industry. If he delves far I can assure him that he will find that the machinery side of it is a very powerful monopoly
§ Mr. Daines
I fully understand how the racket is worked. It is difficult to be clear-minded about how far and widespread these practices are. It is difficult to define monopoly. I am associated with the Co-operative movement and I am rather proud of it. I shall take up the criticism which the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) and the President of the Board made. One of the mistakes which the President made, and which Ministers so often make, was to fall over backwards in trying to be what he thought was fair.
I see no intelligent reason at all why, in looking for personnel for this Commission, the President should not go to the Co-operative movement. I see no bias 2427 involved in it. The movement is worked in the interests of the consumer. I hope that we have advanced enough in our social and political thought to accept that. We are proud of what we are doing in the co-operative sense in the Colonies and there is no difference in principle between that and what we do in this country. I invite the President to be objective-minded and look to the Co-operative movement as a possible source of members of this Commission.
Let us look at the matter objectively and consider the position of some hon. Members opposite. Last week we had the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) defending, in the name of private enterprise, restrictive practices. In fact, he went so far in his speech that he had to say that he was not speaking as a Member of the Conservative Party. In view of his past business associations, it would be very difficult to imagine the present Secretary of State for the Colonies as President of the Board of Trade really putting punch behind this legislation. I do not believe in the great claims that are made for free and unrestrictive private enterprise and neither do I hold that monopoly is necessarily bad. On the contrary, I know many cases where it works admirably.
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
The first point to make on this subject is that all the possible evils which have been described to us could have existed during the whole time that the present Act has been in operation. If there really was this danger, that either the chairman or any individual members might have all these special financial interests in monopoly or quasi-monopoly industries I feel that the House of Commons, in its wisdom, would have introduced something along the lines of these provisions at the time when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) brought in his own Bill. I cannot think that, though parties and Governments change, the world has changed all that much since 1948.
In fact, what the right hon. Gentleman did, and what I think is the sensible course, was to arrange that before the chairman is appointed, or, indeed, before a member is appointed, he is asked naturally whether he has any substantial financial interest in firms which might 2428 prejudice his position. We do not ask whether it is a monopoly firm or not. That is a perfectly proper precaution to take. It is the course which the right hon. Gentleman took and one which I take in the Board of Trade.
But the proposal now put forward from the benches opposite goes a great deal further than that. It lays down a series of tests which in their rigidity exclude a vast number of gentlemen admirably suited to these activities from being employed at all. It would completely rule out anybody in the Co-operative movement. That movement, like many other movements, is, through no particular fault of its own, concerned with price maintained goods. The fact that that state of affairs exists should not of itself rule out a member of the Co-operative movement or a member of any other movement or organisation.
This definition applies not only to a person's financial interest, but to his employers' interests, because it deals with the salary that the person is drawing. It would mean that a trade unionist who was a member of a union in an industry which might be open to the criticism that it fell within the conditions laid down in the principal Act, would be ruled out altogether from employment in the Commission.
Moreover, the Amendment makes a basic assumption which runs contrary to the whole principle on which our monopolies legislation has been framed. It assumes that because the conditions are present, there is something wrong about the industry; but there is not necessarily anything wrong about it. That is a matter for the Commission. Our whole approach is that we should look at these things and see whether they are against the public interest.
There was a full inquiry into the case of insulin. Nobody doubted that the conditions applied in that case, but under the terms of the Amendment, because the conditions applied, whether or not they were in the public interest, anybody who was there concerned would be ruled out from employment in any of these capacities.
I hope that on further consideration the Committee will come to the conclusion that the course adopted by the previous Government was the right one. It is 2429 the course that we have followed. That is to say, we should not lay down these rigid rules but should leave it to the good sense of the President of the Board of Trade or of the chairman of the Commission of the day to say who shall be appointed and who shall serve in particular groups. I am satisfied that that is the right way. I am equally satisfied that if the Amendment were written into the law, many people who are admirably suited to the work of the Commission would be ruled out.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I cannot understand the answer of the President of the Board of Trade. He said that the evils which we had in mind when drafting the Amendments could have existed all along. The difference lies in the fact that under the Bill there are now to be up to 25 members of the Commission.
In 1948, when we appointed the original Commission, there were only eight members, and later the number was extended to 10. At that time, as was made clear to the House, I did not have any intention of including within those eight any representatives of business. Later I was pressed very strongly to include at any rate one representative of business. It was when I was appointing that one that I applied this rule, to which my hon. Friend has referred, that there should be no one who was involved in a restrictive practice or who was markedly suffering from one.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that when we are talking about a Commission of 25 members, it is perfectly appropriate to appoint someone from the Co-operative movement, and I hope that such a person will be appointed. The reason why I did not make that kind of appointment was that I was appointing only one businessman, and in doing so I thought it was better to have someone, if I could find him, who was not connected in any way with monopolies. Had I been appointing four or five businessmen. I should certainly have wanted one from the Co-operative movement.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the practice which I followed is the same as that which he follows: namely, that any potential recruit to the strength of the Commission is asked whether he has any financial interest or pre-occupation which in any way prevents him from fulfilling and discharging his responsibilities. The 2430 right hon. Gentleman says that he does exactly the same as I did.
But it is not enough merely to ask possible appointees whether they have those financial interests. A lot depends on what the President of the Board of Trade does when he gets the answers.
For instance, I asked a certain individual, whose reply indicated that there was nothing at all to prevent him from serving on the Commission. On investigating the case, however, I came to the conclusion, with regret, that it would be wrong to appoint him because of his connections with a certain trade association. Therefore, it is not enough simply to ask. It depends on what is done when the answers are received, and I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman, who is to appoint up to 25 members, will be as tough in this question as were his predecessor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross) and myself.
I had a shock when I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), who said that it was desirable to have two members or so with live, current experience of industry. I agree that that is desirable; there are today two such members on the Commission. The very fact that the two that the hon. Member wants were found suggests that his picture of the Amendment, as making it impossible to appoint anyone at all, was wrong. The hon. Member said that the new Clause means that there could be no one on the Commission who had any connection whatever with industry. The fact that there are today two members who have a connection with industry disproves that contention.
§ Mr. Wilson
I have already told the hon. Member that in the appointment of the present members, both my right hon. and learned Friend and I operated what is the intention of the Clause. We applied the intention of the Amendment and of the new Clause as rigidly as if they had been in the Bill.
I hope that the hon. Member did not base his argument on my statements. I certainly did not say that every businessman was involved in monopolistic 2431 and restrictive practices. I said that many were, but that does not mean that everyone is so involved. That is why if, among the number of up to 25 that he is to appoint, the right hon. Gentleman appoints more businessmen than the present two, it is essential that he looks for those businessmen in those sections of industry which are not involved in restrictive practices.
The right hon. Gentleman said, and so did the hon. Member for Darwen, who, of course, was quite right about the basis of this monopoly legislation—indeed, he was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines)—that we do not say necessarily that every monopoly or restrictive practice is bad—of course we do not. The right hon. Gentleman quite properly mentioned insulin, in which case the industry in question came out of the Commission's inquiries with a clean sheet. But the right hon. Gentleman singled out insulin from the list. He knows that a number of the others which have been investigated came out of the investigation with anything but a clean sheet.
We must, therefore, insist, I should have thought, that although there are monopolies and trusts, as well as, perhaps, cartels, which can be shown on investigation not to be acting contrary to public interests, we ought not to appoint to the Commission, particularly as chairmen or as a deputy-chairman, anyone whose own business practices correspond closely to some of those which are being investigated.
The President, I think, feels that he has given some assurances, but I must tell him that he has not. He says that he has followed the same practice as I followed. What he has not assured us is that in appointing the new members of the Commission and the new deputy-chairmen, he will not appoint anyone who is in effect personally involved in a monopolistic or restrictive practice of the kind that we have in mind this afternoon.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, after "shall," to insert "(save as hereinafter provided)."
I think the President will find it easy to give way on this occasion, but if he 2432 is going to accept this Amendment we should like to have some more information from him in order to get some idea of Government thinking on the question of age limits. We know that in the case of the Companies Acts the retirement age is 70; that the Lord Chancellor requests magistrates to cease active employment when they reach that age, and that the old age pension is also given at the age of 70—and we know that the Government have established a committee to look into the whole question of retirement.
This question needs careful consideration. We do not want young people doing all the work for the old, but if the Government are hoping to raise the age to 72 in the case of the old age pension, they should not try to introduce it in this way. They should be frank and tell us what is their intention. It may be that a man is a very old man at a much younger age. Again, at the age of 72, as we know by experience, some men are very energetic and active, and we should not want to put them out of employment.
The consequential Amendment is in page 1, line 17. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will find himself in the position of being able to explain why he is putting the retirement age at 72 in this case and I hope, further, that he will be able to accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
I think I can shorten our discussion on this matter if I say that I am perfectly prepared to accept this Amendment, which is a perfectly sensible and helpful addition to the Bill. I shall not enter into the rather wide issue which the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) raised about the whole problem of old age and where the retirement age ought to be fixed.
The explanation of putting it at 72 in this case is quite a simple one. It happens to be the age at which county court judges retire, and, as this was a quasi-judicial appointment, it was thought that that was the right age to put in. I appreciate that the right hon. Member has gone some way to meet me in my desire to make the job both a permanent and a pensionable one, and I am quite happy to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Daines
The president of the Board of Trade is very wise to accept this Amendment, for the obvious reason that if his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister looked at the original draft he would probably be horrified, because the Bill proposes a compulsory retirement at the age of 72. Considering the age of the Prime Minister, I should imagine that even the youthful ardour of the President would not stand up to that sort of thing. I do not think we should act arbitrarily on this question of age.
I do not look forward to having a Commission with ex-civil servants acting permanently as chairmen. That may not be sound. I look forward to the time when we shall be able to get younger chairmen, with qualifications combining drive with experience. We must get away from the arbitrary idea of retiring at a certain age because we have no further service to give. There are Members of the House whom I look upon as old men at 50, and others, who are nearer 80, as young in outlook, vision and drive.
I commend the President for having avoided a difficult position. I hope that this does not tie up with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) said about coming shuffles. The team we look at this morning, on the Front Bench opposite, is a rather unique one. There is the permanent youth of the President and the literary ability of the Parliamentary Secretary. It is a unique combination which I should hate to see spoiled, at least for a little while.
Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendments made: In page 1, line 13, leave out "seventy-two," and insert "seventy."
In line 17, at end, insert:Provided however that the Board of Trade may by notice in writing given to the chairman or any deputy chairman not less than one month nor more than twelve months before he would otherwise under the foregoing provisions of this subsection have vacated office extend his term of service for a further period not exceeding two years and that such an extension may from time to time by notice similarly given be renewed for one or more successive periods none of which shall exceed two years.—[Mr. Bottomley.]Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.