HC Deb 15 February 1955 vol 537 cc174-6
20. Mr. G. Darling

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will take steps to provide for the compulsory registration of all trade agreements covering price-fixing, allocation of quotas or con-tracts, and collective decisions on new inventions, and to require the regular publication of activities resulting from such agreements.

Mr. H. Strauss

I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) on 8th February, 1955.

Mr. Darling

I have seen that answer, but surely the President of the Board of Trade does not need to hide behind the Monopolies Commission in this matter? Does not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that it would be a good idea to get registration, whatever the Monopolies Commission may report? Does not he agree that we can deal better with these restrictive practices in industry if we know their extent, and how they operate?

Mr. Strauss

The question of registration was considered when the original Act was passed. I think that the hon. Member is well aware of the importance of the Section 15 inquiry which is now taking place into what can be described as exclusive dealing and collective boycott. I am sure that the House will be well advised to await that report, which is expected this summer, before deciding what legislation should be introduced.

Mr. H. Wilson

Instead of sheltering behind irrelevant references to the Monopolies Commission, as my hon. Friend has said, will the hon. and learned Gentleman take note of the fact that that reference has nothing to do with the registration of these price-fixing arrangements? That reference strictly related to certain practices of the kind he mentioned, and not at all to the question of registration.

Mr. Strauss

I tried to explain to the right hon. Gentleman that the question of registration was considered and rejected at the time the statute was passed. What I am saying is that, before embarking upon further legislation dealing with monopolies, the House should certainly await the report which the Commission will make upon the most important reference to it, under Section 15 of the Act.

Mr. Gaitskell

Why does the Parliamentary Secretary continually confuse two quite distinct things? We all appreciate that there is a reference to the Com-mission whether certain restrictive practices should be banned, but my hon. Friend's question does not relate to that. It relates to the publication and registration of trade agreements. What conceivable reason is there against full publicity in this matter?

Mr. Strauss

Exactly the same difficulties and objections exist as existed when the right hon. Gentleman's own Government introduced the original Act. At that time this question was considered and—for good reasons, in the view of both main parties in the House—was rejected. If there were time to debate the question, I could mention many difficulties which arise in relation to the proposal.