HC Deb 18 June 1953 vol 516 cc1155-7
10. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the President of the Board of Trade why certain sections of the Report of the Monopolies Commission on the supply of matches have not been published.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Because they contained information relating to overseas markets the publication of which would, in my opinion, be contrary to the public interest.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Having studied the sections of the Report, can the President of the Board of Trade give an assurance that there is nothing contained in them which justifies any further delay on his part in giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission, which ought to be done as quickly as possible?

Mr. Thorneycroft

A later Question is down on that subject.

12. Mrs. Castle

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is yet in a position to announce his policy with regard to the Report of the Monopolies Commission on matches and matchmaking machinery.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I have studied this Report, about which the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) has also been making inquiries.

I accept the conclusion of the Commission that the system described as a whole operates, and is likely to operate, against the public interest in certain respects as regards the supply both of matches and match-making machinery. It is, in my opinion, most desirable that there should be a measure of competition in the industry. This, I believe, would be the most effective safeguard of the public interest.

I doubt whether the system of strict price control proposed in the Commission's Report would provide an effective remedy. New competitors would be less likely to enter the trade and there would be no stimulus to efficiency, if any gains arising from efficient production were liable to be swept away by Government Order.

I propose, therefore, to explore without delay the possibility of removing some of the obstacles to competition in the match industry. Some of the steps I am contemplating call for consultation with the British Match Corporation and I am already in touch with them.

I should, perhaps, add that the Commission's Report also makes it clear that any measures which may be taken can, in the nature of things, have only a slight effect, either on the economy or on the individual. But there will be no delay in following up the recommendations in the Report, most of which I can at once accept.

Mrs. Castle

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when he will place his specific proposals before us for consideration, and also say whether, since he rejects the majority recommendation on price control, he is considering the minority recommendation for the creation of a purchasing agency, sponsored by the Government in order to enforce competition?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I have not made a final rejection of either the majority or minority reports. I think it would be wrong for me to do so until I have had some consultation with the industry upon this subject. As far as timing is concerned, I would not like to give a date. This is quite a complicated industry and we should examine it seriously before coming to a final conclusion.

Mr. Jay

As the right hon. Gentleman has already had this Report in his hands for seven or eight months, cannot he at least assure us that he will announce what he is going to do, say within a month from now?

Mr. Thorneycroft

It is true that the Report was available and that considerable discussions took place on whether certain sections should be deleted; but it is only recently that it has been published, and it has not been possible for discussion to take place with the industry until after publication.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decision in principle to restore competition in the industry rather than perpetuate the monopoly under Government supervision will be warmly received in all quarters of the House?