§ 4.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
I beg to move,That this House deplores the slow progress made in dealing with the harmful effects of monopolies and price rings in industry and trade, and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take all possible measures, by legislation and other means, to protect the public interest against the misuse of monopoly powers.We now turn to another example of how Conservative freedom works. Public opinion has been deeply shocked at recent Press revelations of the activities of some of the price rings. In one sense, it is hardly surprising that this should be so. We have read in the last few weeks of case after case of traders being referred to Star Chamber courts not recognised by the law of this country, tried by judges never appointed with the authority of the Crown and fined or put out of business when their only crime has been that of selling too cheaply. In some cases, they have been put on the stop list, which means that they are in danger of being put out of business, and they are blackmailed into paying a huge fine before they are allowed to receive supplies again.
As I have said, many people are deeply offended by what has been going on. The only absence of that feeling seems to be on the benches opposite, where a considerable number of hon. Members do not seem to be very interested in monopolies.
§ Mr. Wilson
Some of them, perhaps.
It may be surprising that hon. Members who last year worked themselves into a passion about Crichel Down have not shown any interest in the sufferings of their fellow citizens in the hands of some of these private courts; but, of course, there is nothing new in these cases which have received so much publicity. I gave details in the House eighteen months ago, when we were debating the last Monopolies and Restrictive Practies Act, of a case in Aberdeenshire where a garage proprietor had his place of business visited by a snooper, heavily disguised as usual, who tricked him into selling for £7 a tyre which should have been sold at the list 1465 price of £7 6s. 8d. Even though the garage proprietor found the missing 6s. 8d. out of his own pocket and transferred it into the till, in due course he received a summons from the price ring and was fined £25.
I am glad to say that on that occasion the snooper was fined £15 for false pretences. The difference between them was that in one case, in the Queen's court, he was fined for breaking a law established by this House, and in the other case the larger fine was paid by a trader for breaking a law which was made behind closed doors. This, no doubt, is what the Prime Minister had in mind in his "historic and helpful" broadcast in 1945, when he warned the country of the Gestapo.
The case which I have mentioned is by no means the worst. In the last few weeks I have had a very heavy postbag giving details of many of these cases, fully authenticated, from motor accessories to imported flower bulbs, groceries, drugs, patent medicines and a whole lot of other things. I do not intend to weary the House with full details. Let me give one or two cases.
One was the case of a garage proprietor from the West Country. He was plying his peaceful trade when a motorist drove up, said he was a farmer running a few vehicles over at Wootton Bassett, and ordered some tyres. I could give the House full details of the specification of the tyres. He asked what discount he could have on four old tyres and was told, quite firmly, that no discount was allowed. He went on pressing the garage propretor, who, in the end, agreed, as they were old tyres, to pay him £3 10s. for them; and the garage proprietor handed over three £1 notes and a 10s. note.
The garage proprietor asked for the address from which the tyres could be collected and the farmer said, "Anyone will know me in Wootton Bassett." He then drove off. When the garage proprietor went to Wootton Bassett to collect the tyres, he found that this address was entirely fictitious, as was the name. There were no tyres to be collected and the £3 10s. had been obtained by false pretences. But the garage proprietor was in due course summoned before the Star Chamber and was fined £50 for allowing too much on these tyres.
1466 I can give another case of a man in my old constituency. He was in his garage when a seedy-looking individual drove up and said he was a commercial traveller. He said he bought 20 gallons of petrol a week but could hardly afford to keep on the road, and he asked whether he could have petrol at a penny a gallon cheaper. He wheedled the garage proprietor into letting him have it. In due course the garage proprietor was called before the Star Chamber. All this proves that if you are in the motor trade, Big Brother is not only watching you but is sending out his secret police, heavily disguised, to try to trap you into breaking Big Brother's own rules.
Like many hon. Members, I could, of course, give the House case after case. The worst feature in all of them, I think, is this employment of snoopers, because I am sure that hon. Members on all sides will agree that no profession is more despicable than that of agent provocateur. One recalls the eloquence of the Lord Privy Seal—I think I have got his office right—just before Christmas when inveighing against people being called before the courts for petty offences, and how he commented that a Labour Government would mean a return to snoopers.
I admit freely that when I was at the Board of Trade we had price inspectors—and hon. Members opposite may call them snoopers if they like—but their job was to protect the public against over-charging, whereas the job of these price ring snoopers is to protect the public against undercharging.
§ Mr. Wilson
I did not want to be drawn by the hon. Member because I did not want to advertise the contemptible position in which he finds himself this afternoon.
§ Mr. Harris
If the right hon. Gentleman is to give the facts to the House, he might as well give the correct facts, which are that the purpose of the association to which he has referred is to protect the public against overcharging as well.
§ Mr. Wilson
If the Torquemada of the tyre trade succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, he may be able to let a bit of daylight into some of these dark mysteries. It is the Government's job, 1467 not that of the trade association, to protect the public against overcharging, and there is no need for a trade association to protect the price rings against undercharging. The point is that the job of the Board of Trade inspectors was to keep prices down and the job of the hon. Member's snoopers is to keep prices up.
I find from some cases which I have examined that traders can be hauled up or put out of business even for advertisements—advertisements of which the price ring disapproves. I had a case reported to me from Bristol, which reads:We were fined some £25 for inserting an advertisement in the local Press to the effect that we would give a good allowance on a car in part exchange.What is wrong with that? I have seen a copy of the B.M.T.A. rules that were sent to this trader and these rules said that one must not use any of the following phrases:Peak prices, highest prices"—this is for second-hand cars—good prices, fairest prices" —apparently one is not even allowed to advertise fair prices—exceptional prices, top prices, generous prices, best prices, best buyers, pay more, cash in on today's prices.The warning concluded:It is our duty to inform you this form of advertising may result in proceedings being taken against you for a breach of the above-mentioned rules.The Government know all about these cases, of course, and they are not confined to the motor trade. There are—and this is perhaps even more serious—the grocers. We have heard about a number of these cases. There was one this morning about a grocer having his supplies cut off for selling below ring price.
According to "The Times" of this morning, a Mr. Slinn, a grocer of Birmingham, said that one of the leading tea firms—I emphasise tea—informed him that they would stop his supplies of tea because he had been selling it at 4d. below the fixed retail price. Three weeks ago his supplies of margarine were stopped because he had sold it to old-age pensioners at below the retail price. The Government will not be concerned about that. The attitude of the Marie Antoinettes on the Treasury Bench is that 1468 if the old-age pensioners cannot afford margarine, let them eat butter.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
My right hon. Friend is talking about the cost of food, tea and other groceries. There does not seem to be a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food on the Front Bench opposite. It might be for the convenience of the House if there were somebody there.
§ Mr. Wilson
That is a helpful suggestion, but, obviously, the Parliamentary Secretary is still licking his wounds from Monday week.
The whole House should realise that, quite apart from tea, butter, motor tyres, and so on, there are hundreds, probably thousands, of these price rings in British industry today; indeed, industry and trade are infested with them. There are very few industries free. Very many trade associations do a valuable job of work. They consult the Government and help to provide some industrial leadership, but if one lifts the stone from under some of these trade associations one will find unpleasant creatures underneath.
I will give an illustration. When I was at the Ministry of Works I asked for a list of the components that went into houses. Those subject to price rings were to be marked with an asterisk, and the officials said that it would be easier to mark those that were not so subject. There were hundreds. I remember that when I was at the Board of Trade, hon. Members opposite appealed to me to appoint to the Monopolies Commission at least one person with industrial manufacturing experience. I made only one rule for the Board's officials, which was that the person so appointed should not be involved in price rings and, to be fair, should not be a sufferer from the activities of price rings. After three months the officials came back and said, "President, there is no such man." In the end, we did find one. He did mention a rather informal gentleman's agreement dating back to 1785, which applied in his trade, but it was not serious, so he was appointed.
The approach of the Labour Government to this problem is well known to the House. We rejected the American approach and the Conservative Party joined with us. The American approach 1469 is that if there is a monopoly, or if any firm in industry or trade gets too big, it must be compulsorily split up—the great American national sport of trust-busting. We rejected that and said that a monopoly is not necessarily bad and may have certain advantages arising from its size. It can invest more in research, large-scale expensive plant, or mass production.
But we said that the basic industries and services should be nationalised as a protection. We are familiar with the text-book case that no one wants to see five gas mains put down in the same street. We nationalised the gas industry and most of the natural monopolies and that, of course, is our policy now—that such basic services as water, or such citadels of economic power, such determinants of economic progress as chemicals, should be nationalised, and that we propose to do.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
The right hon. Member said, when it was proposed to nationalise these things, that it was being done to lower prices and the cost of electricity and coal. Has he retreated from that?
§ Mr. Wilson
I am sorry that the hon. Member has been tempted to intervene, because if he studies the facts he will see that the prices of products of the nationalised industries have risen a great deal less that have the prices of goods produced by private industry.
Our approach can be summarised in what I said in introducing the. Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Bill, in 1948:A monopoly is neither good nor bad in itself, but it has the power to be good or bad."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd April, 1948; Vol. 449, c. 2021.]So we set up the Monopolies Commission and gave it full powers to send for papers and carry out investigations. In certain cases the Commission could then report whether the facts it found to be existing were in the public interest or not.
Apart from the basic monopolies, there are very many problems—I think more problems—presented by price rings and cartels of nominally independent firms who are banded together in a ring to fix prices, or share the market. Usually, they ensure that their decisions are backed by all the practices which are only too familiar to the House—exclusive dealing, where no one is allowed to deal 1470 in any products of the ring firm if he sells the products of an outsider; the collective boycott, the stop list, where every firm cuts off supplies to a dealer who cuts the price of a single commodity; the Star Chamber courts and all the rest of it. There are different forms and subtle variations.
I think that the most subtle distinction is one that was made by the newly elected Member of Parliament for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). In a pre-election address he said:I am in favour not of price fixing, but of price maintenance.We should all certainly wish to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on that very subtle distinction.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
If I might explain to the right hon. Gentleman, it may, in his view, be a subtle distinction, but I think that there is a very real distinction. Price fixing is a term which is used to describe the position where a number of manufacturers get together and fix a common price for a common product. But price maintenance is a system whereby manufacturers in active competition one with another require their retailers to uphold the nationally advertised list price.
If I may give an example, where manufacturers get together and fix an exactly common price, however similar the product, that would be price fixing. But where the "Daily Express," for instance, requires that its retailers shall sell the "Daily Express" at only 1½d., that is price maintenance.
§ Mr. Wilson
It is my very pleasant duty to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his maiden speech. It may have been made under somewhat difficult circumstances, but I am sure we were all at least as clear at the end as we were at the beginning about the distinction between price fixing and price maintenance.
We recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman was trying to make, but I do not think he would quarrel with me if I were to say that where one has a price maintenance scheme, as with tyres, it is often no coincidence that the prices of tyres all go up at the same time and by the same amount.
However, I should like to express, on behalf of the whole House, our congratulations to the hon. Gentleman, not only 1471 on his maiden speech, but on his pre election distinction that I have just quoted. Even before he was elected he had achieved a degree of hairsplitting that would have done credit to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, whom we do not see here this afternoon. Quite obviously, with his ability the hon. Gentleman can expect to go far in the Conservative Party. Whatever distinctions, subtle or otherwise——
Mr. Cyril Osbome (Louth)
Not as quickly as did the right hon. Gentleman in his own party.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman.
On the other hand, I think that when I was at the Board of Trade, and we debated monopolies, I should have been invited to wind up the debate. I can well understand the difficulties of the President. If he seeks the leave of the House to reply, I am sure we shall be only too glad to hear him—we would rather have him than the Parliamentary Secretary, anyway.
Whatever the form of the trade ring, it is a very rare thing that prices are fixed on the basis of the most efficient producer. Usually, these price-fixing schemes exist to featherbed the inefficient and to prevent competition. I think it right that I should draw the attention of the House to a fascinating document called, "Industrial Charter"—a statement of the Conservative industrial policy. This is what it says:We condemn out of hand any price agreement designed to keep prices above the costs of the most efficient producers, or levies on more efficient firms to keep the less efficient in business.That is what they said—"we condemn out of hand."
Is that still the policy of the President? Does he condemn these price rings out of hand? How many has he condemned? How many has he dealt with? Has he taken any form of action whatever in his three-and-a-half wasted years at the Board of Trade? I think that the House will contrast that bold pledge with the right hon. Gentleman's pathetic answers at the Box week by week—and, of course, the tortuous pedantries of his Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
I am wondering whether the producers with the lower costs and the most efficient producers are necessarily the same. May not the lower-cost producer have poor conditions in his factory and do no research?
§ Mr. Wilson
It would seem that we are getting a number of distinctions this afternoon from hon. Gentlemen opposite. I was merely quoting the Tory "Industrial Charter," and I commend it to the hon. Gentleman on that point. Since I am quoting from it, perhaps I might help the hon. Gentleman by a further quotation:The Government must keep the arena clear for the free play of enterprise. Enterprise, large or small, and the consumer, who has the right to exercise free choice, must not be steam rollered by those who attempt to corner and abuse economic power.That is the Tory "Industrial Charter."
So successfully are the Government keeping clear the arena for the free play of enterprise, that in some trades anyone who wants to be enterprising has to run up the black flag—as has been done in the tyre trade—complete with skull and crossbones, register as a pirate and call on all hands to repel snoopers. That is how the arena is cleared.
I do not wish the House to think that all price rings are completely rigid. Sometimes different prices are charged. For instance, we have the fascinating case of what is called the "fighting company." Sometimes, when the ring fails to regiment the market entirely and one or two privateers manage to survive, a company is created to go and blow them out of the water by selling in their area at prices far below the cost of production. For example, the iron founders' ring formed a special company, called Housing Castings, Limited, which was free from the restrictions imposed on the constituent companies of the ring. It was not obliged to observe the uniform prices laid down in the agreement between the members of the ring. Its charter was to meet price cutting by price cutting. It was to sell at cut prices in selected markets where outsiders were selling below the ring prices. Over a period of five years its trading losses were £46,000 on sales of £405,000 which was met by a special levy on the monthly sales of members of the ring.
What do all these practices add up to? First, to prices higher than they should 1473 be; secondly, to enterprising firms being prevented from expansion; thirdly, to inefficient firms being protected against the economic penalties of their inefficiency; fourthly, to new entrants being kept out. In housing, the presence of hundreds of price rings means higher rents—apart from anything which the Chancellor has done this afternoon. In the public services, they mean ring tendering and a waste of public money. In exports, they mean a loss of markets; and only this afternoon the Chancellor emphasised the need for more exports.
The House must ask: is the Monopolies Commission capable of dealing with this vast infestation of price rings? Is the case by case approach sufficient? I must be frank and say that I was always doubtful whether the case by case approach was adequate. I expressed my doubts from the Dispatch Box opposite, and I think that they have been confirmed by what has happened. Nineteen cases have been referred to the Commission and we have had nine reports. I think that only one Order has been made under the Act.
The Government and hon. Members opposite will say that we on this side of the House set up the Monopolies Commission, so the fault is all ours. Well, so we did, and it took us just two years to learn that we could not solve the problem by the Monopolies Commission alone. The Government have had six years, and they still have not learned it. That is my complaint against them. Perhaps I might remind the House of what I said from the Dispatch Box in April, 1951:Hon. Members in all parts of the Committee are coining to the conclusion, as I have, that the 1944 White Paper approach to the problem of monopolies and restrictive practices is not enough … if we are to tackle this problem with the urgency required, we shall need … general powers to deal with particular harmful practices, not in one firm or one trade association, but wherever they may be found in British trade or industry. That is why I shall shortly be laying before the House a White Paper with the Government's proposals for dealing with resale price maintenance … and it will be our intention to follow this with further proposals to deal with other types of restrictive practice."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 1491.]There is nothing new about the Labour Party coming forward with these proposals for general legislation. The plain fact is that had the Conservatives not 1474 become the Government, the main types of restrictive practice which I have been describing would have been illegal long before this; the cases recently featured in the Press could not have happened, and, incidentally, a blot on the good name of British industry would have been removed.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I wholeheartedly accept the case which my right hon. Friend is making, but if when we are returned to power he really means business, he will also have to deal with the trade associations.
§ Mr. Wilson
That was the point I was trying to make, and if my hon. Friend will bear with me I will say what we propose to do about it.
I am not saying that the Monopolies Commission has not an important job to do. It has, but it requires speeding up. I think that the President will agree that it needs to be speeded up. By that I do not mean less thorough reports. I wish to make it very clear that I am not criticising the chairman or the members of the Commission, or the staff. I am sure that the House would wish to pay tribute to the thoroughness of the job they have done, to their hard work and to the scrupulously fair way in which they have examined one trade or industry after another. By speeding up I mean what the President said the last time we debated the Monopolies Commission:When I speak of speeding up the machinery, I do not mean that individual reports should be rushed through quicker"—had the Parliamentary Secretary been present he would have made the right hon. Gentleman say "more quickly"—… I mean that more reports should be produced in the same amount of time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 10th July, 1953; Vol. 517, c. 1594.]The President introduced the 1953 Act and we supported it. In fact, we moved Amendments to strengthen it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) proposed that there should be four deputy-chairmen instead of two on the Commission, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) proposed that there should be assessor members. The right hon. Gentleman refused. He was satisfied with the powers for which he had asked. But how has he used them? We had an answer in 1475 HANSARD this morning. He took powers to appoint up to 25 members and he has appointed 16. He took powers to appoint two deputy-chairmen and he has not appointed any. Why not? Will the President tell us, later, why he has not used the powers for which he asked?
Perhaps I should say how we should propose to speed up the work of the Commission. First, we should certainly want more members and more staff upon the Commission. Secondly—and this is a purely personal suggestion—it might be very helpful if members of the Commission were to become chairmen of panels, with outside members or assessors appointed ad hoc for each inquiry, simply to ascertain the facts, and the Commission could then pronounce upon the degree of public interest involved.
Now I come to the question of follow-up action, because in this respect also the President has been guilty of a very grave dereliction of duty. The Act enabled him to make what the Americans would call "cease and desist" orders, but only one such order has been made. My view is that, all other things being equal, an order should be made. I do not think that we can rely upon gentlemen's agreements in this matter, because we are often dealing with people who are not gentlemen. The one order which has been made—in regard to dental goods—was made by the Labour Government.
These orders need to be made also to prevent backsliding—or what the Parliamentary Secretary would no doubt call recidivism. It does not follow, however, that the Government should make an order in every case, or even that they must accept the Commission's recommendations in every case. The Government have the final responsibility. They have to consider the recommendations, discuss them with the interests concerned—including the consumers of the product in question—and weigh the recommendations against the general test of public interest.
We know that the right hon. Gentleman has had a very difficult job in connection with the Report upon calico printing, and I do not want to make his position any more difficult, especially in view of the statement made in this morning's "Manchester Guardian." One can well understand that in Lancashire, today, 1476 both sides of industry are very worried about the future—and they have every reason to be, so long as the right hon. Gentleman remains President of the Board of Trade. Naturally, their worries are inherited from the 1920s and 1930s, and are made all the greater because of the new difficulties which the Government have done so little to relieve.
There is now in Lancashire a desire—which we can all condemn if we like—for some degree of protection or safeguard against a return to the conditions of the 1920s, and 1930s. That is the reason for the existence of these price-fixing agreements. My own feeling would be to allow the agreements to continue, but to ensure that they are subject to Board of Trade approval. This applies not only to calico printing, but also to the yarn spinners' scheme. In other words, any increase in the minimum prices should be subject to Board of Trade approval, and, at a time when market conditions would enable prices to fall, the Board of Trade should take the initiative in provoking such a fall.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
I should like to intervene for the purpose of clarification. Do I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that he would reject the Report of the Monopolies Commission on calico printers?
§ Mr. Wilson
As I said, the position is a very difficult one. The right hon. Gentleman has had consultations with the interests concerned, including the users, but we have not. He may be in a better position to form a judgment in the matter. All I say is that according to our knowledge of the subject—which is generally about three times as good as his—and to such contacts as we have been able to make in Lancashire, I should have said that this was a case where the Government would be justified in resisting the proposals of the Monopolies Commission, at the same time taking measures to protect consumers and other industrial users by instituting price control of minimum prices. Price control must be one of the main instruments in the handling of the monopoly problem by the Government.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
The right hon. Gentleman has spent a long time on attacking price fixing, but in this 1477 case he retraces his argument. Is that due to pressure from the trade union concerned?
§ Mr. Wilson
By no means—and bearing in mind the hon. Member's contempt for trade unions, which has been evident from speeches he has made in the House in the past—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] He had better look up some of his statements, because hon. Friends of mine representing Lancashire constituencies will remember what he said about consultations with trade unions. I should not expect him to be very concerned about the matter. He knows perfectly well what is the feeling of both sides of the industry in Lancashire and Cheshire about this problem.
In a case like this there must be sympathetic handling of the problem, because of the industry's past and its fears for the future. If the hon. Member will support us in dealing with the problems of the cotton industry, including the present ones, it may be that those fears will disappear and, with them, all case for a calico printing ring or price fixing in yarn spinning, but that feeling of security about the future does not yet exist in Lancashire.
The trouble is that the Government's doctrinaire approach to the problem prevents them from using the weapon of price control. The Monopolies Commission recommended that it should be used in the case of matches, but the President rejected that recommendation, saying that it would not be "efficacious." He was also advised to use it in connection with electric lamps, and he agreed to do so. But let us look at the last Board of Trade Report for 1953. It says:The Electric Lamp Manufacturers' Association increased the prices of their electric lamps on 10th November, to cover increased costs of manufacture. The justification of the increase is being examined.What a way to run a system of price control! They let the monopoly increase prices first and they then proceed to carry out an investigation to see whether that increase was justified.
Price control is essential in dealing with this industry. I should like to remind the House of what was said by Lord Kilmuir, when he was Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. He produced a book called "Monopoly," which was published by the 1478 Conservative Political Centre, price 1s., and in it he said:The small minority of recalcitrant cases will require some positive countervailing or coercive action which a Conservative Government would not hesitate to take.Having got to know the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, he obviously meant by that "would not hesitate for more than three or four years, anyway." The noble Lord went on:At present, the Government has wide emergency powers over the fixing of prices and the allocation of materials which should be used for coercion. In some cases prices could be forced down by the abolition of import duties.In how many cases has the President forced down prices by the abolition of import duties? In how many cases has he used the weapon of price control? The noble Lord—and it is perhaps fortunate for him that he has now gone to another place and we cannot question him about this book—referred to what he called thesegeneral weapons which are already in the Government's armourybut the right hon. Gentleman has got rid of those weapons. He has unilaterally disarmed in the face of the enemy, so he cannot use price control.
There are, however, other weapons. For instance, we could use the weapon of Government buying power. We know that in the case of cables the British Electricity Authority and the General Post Office are the best protectors of the public by reason of the enormous buying power which they can use against the cables ring. I commend to hon. Members opposite who want to know more about monopoly what I consider to be the best thing ever written about monopolies—"Monopoly Good and Bad"—by Richard Evely. This is a Fabian pamphlet. Having advertised the "Industrial Charter" and Lord Kilmuir's book, I do not see why I should not advertise this Fabian pamphlet, especially as it is a good deal better than the others.
I come now to the general legislation which we propose should be instituted. The case by case approach is too slow. We need legislation to ban the vicious practices of which, as instances, I give collective boycotts, stop lists, Star Chamber courts, exclusive dealing and retail price maintenance. I agree that there is room for argument as to how to deal with the 1479 practice of retail price maintenance. We published a White Paper in 1951 and there has been much discussion of it since. As far as I am concerned, I see no reason why, on this side at any rate, we would not be united in our approach, though I think that on the other side the approach would be much less united.
Another thing that should be dealt with by legislation is the discrimination at present taking place in many industries against co-operative societies. I am sure that the whole House would agree that an end should be made to that discrimination by legislation. Hon. Members opposite surely cannot disagree with that, because in "Industrial Charter" they talk about the consumer who has the right to exercise free choice, and 10 million consumers exercise that free choice—I am reminded they number 12 million—at the "Co-op."
§ Mr. Wilson
The point, as I was about to say, is that they get "divi." on it, which the hon. Member probably does not.
§ Mr. Wilson
In many trades the cooperative societies cannot buy some of the essential products because of the boycott. That should be the answer. We saw the need for legislation four years ago, but the right hon. Gentleman is still delaying. I know the answer he will give. It is the same as we have had all along. He always gives the general reference to the Monopolies Commission as his excuse. He says that because he has referred the general subject to the Commission he cannot act.
In our view, that reference was unnecessary. We had enough facts on which to come to a decision about general legislation. I am very surprised that a Conservative Government should have used this general reference because, when it was introduced at a late stage in the procedure of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Bill, it was very strongly opposed by Lord Kilmuir and Lord Chandos—then Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and Mr. Oliver Lyttelton respectively—and the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) chirped in quite helpfully on 1480 their side and said that the Conservative Party was against this power of general reference.
Mr. Oliver Lyttelton, as he then was, described such a reference as a meaningless academic essay, yet the right hon. Gentleman is now using this "meaningless academic essay" as an excuse for failing to introduce legislation which, four years ago, we saw was necessary. I must admit that, although we are appealing to the right hon. Gentleman to introduce the legislation, I have not much hope that he will do so. One reason is that he did not make this general reference as a prelude to legislation but said it was to provide "authoritative general judgments for the guidance of industry as a whole." What use is that? We have seen what happens in these price rings. Guidance is no good—we must have legislation.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman does not use the legislation which he has for dealing with monopoly powers. Although the Tories were elected on a pledge to fight abuses of monopoly, their heart is not in the battle. On the rare occasions when the right hon. Gentleman does take action it is in favour of and not against monopoly. Let us quote cinema circuits and the Rank Organisation about which the Government have changed their policy. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade misled the House last week.
§ Mr. Wilson
It is the second time that he has misled the House about the Rank Organisation. Last time he was very vehement about it and had to apologise to the House. I suggest he will have to do so now, because there is a complete change of policy from that of Sir Stafford Cripps who said that the present policy with regard to the Rank Organisation was to freeze the status quo.
We have to ask why the Government are so tender to these cinema monopolies. Why are they so tender to the Rank Organisation? This is a very serious threat which will affect independent production in this country, yet, whenever they can, the Government seem to help these monopolies. We are bound to ask whether this is the pay-off for the news-reels from the Rank Organisation which, for a number of years, have been supplementing Conservative Party propaganda. 1481 [An Hon. Member: "Contribution to party funds?"] I know nothing about its contribution to party funds.
Again, why are the Government so tender to the oil industry? We have just had an increase in oil prices based on a totally irrelevant movement of oil prices in the United States. I addressed a Question to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power—whom we are glad to see here today—asking whether he does not agree that Gulf prices have no bearing in the cost of oil in this country. He replied:Oil is largely an international trade and it is unavoidable that United Kingdom price should be influenced by the Western Hemisphere market;On the other hand, we understand that this week an international report has been prepared showing, as we knew, his answer to be complete nonsense. I hope that we shall be told that Her Majesty's Government are using their influence to get that report published.
I then asked the hon. Gentleman whether the Government would introduce price control to deal with the problem of the big oil companies. He replied:… competition provides the protection against excessive prices."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February, 1955; Vol. 536, c. 169.]What competition does he think there is in the oil traffic? What an exhibition of innocence. In fact, to put the hon. Gentleman in the job of protecting the consumer against the oil combines is about as effective as putting a Pekinese in charge of a cageful of hungry tigers.
We have not seen any evidence on the part of the Government that they will even exercise the powers they have. They are not very confident about new legislation, but it is our duty to press them further on it. The final legislative measure we press for is compulsory registration of all trade associations with price fixing or other restrictive powers; and also a separate register of every agreement in restraint of trade operated by those trade associations under those powers. Let consumers, public authorities and other buyers know where they are.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will study the experience in Denmark and Sweden and other countries. In Sweden, there has been registration of these agreements since 1946. Eight hundred have been registered. It is interesting to note 1482 that nearly one-third of the first 500 have been dissolved or drastically modified under the pressure of public opinion. Let us have those associations registered. Let us have them brought into the light of day. Let us show up these men who… loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.Let us bring them into the daylight.
To sum up, let me just say this. We on this side deplore the slow progress that has been made. We call on the Government first to strengthen and speed the work of the Monopolies Commission. We call on them to refer more cases affecting consumers. We call on them particularly to take urgent action in the case of those trades where foodstuffs are being withheld because of cheaper prices. I hope that the President will not say that he is to refer tea and margarine to the Commission and wait another two years for a reply. The President could take action now on the report in today's issue of "The Times." I suggest that he make it clear to every food importing firm that he will withdraw their import licences if they themselves withhold supplies to retailers who lower their prices to old-age pensioners, for example.
We call on the President of the Board of Trade to strengthen the enforcement procedure where necessary, to make more orders and, in particular, to use price control and public buying powers. We call on him to introduce general legislation to ban exclusive dealing, stop lists, collective boycotts, Star Chamber courts, retail price maintenance and anti-cooperative discrimination. We call upon him to enforce registration of all trade associations with price-fixing powers, and to make and maintain a separate register of all arrangements and conspiracies in restraint of trade made and operated under those powers.
The Labour Party stated its philosophy about these things a few years ago, when we said:The managers and owners of private industry are trustees responsible to the nation. In this sense, all business is the nation's business. We cannot allow anyone to pursue his own selfish interest guided solely by the profit motive. There can be no sheltering behind price rings and rigged markets. There must be no feather beds for those who fail the nation.That is our philosophy.
1483 We believe in a strong and expanding public sector as the only real way of dealing with monopolies, but within the private sector we regard management as responsible to the nation, and, indeed, as trustees for the nation. On that test, the Government, with their waverings and quibblings, have manifestly failed industry and the nation, and we accordingly ask the House to join in condemning them.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
I beg to move to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:welcomes the measures already taken by Her Majesty's Government to strengthen the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission; notes that the general inquiry which the Commission is conducting into certain widely prevalent practices is nearing completion, and endorses the Government's policy towards monopolies and restrictive practices on the basis of a full investigation of the facts before announcing the action to be taken.I welcome the occasion of this debate. I was anxious to hear what was to be the policy which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) would present to the House of Commons as the Socialist attitude towards monopoly. I now have it absolutely clear. [An HON. MEMBER: "Can we have the Government's?"] The hon. Gentleman is going to have it, but first let me say just what the Socialist policy is. It is to strengthen the Commission but to act in advance of its recommendations, and if on any occasion it puts in a report which is unpopular or difficult, to ignore it. I must say to the right hon. Gentleman, after all that has been said, after all the publicity and all the brave cries about the next General Election, what a pitiful little mouse he has produced.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Lest the right hon. Gentleman proceeds much further in misrepresenting what I said, if he is saying that I said that if a report is unpopular or difficult he should ignore it, may I say that I mentioned one particular report. Is he therefore going to say that his policy in all cases is automatically to accept the reports of the Monopolies Commission?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I said nothing of the kind; I merely said, if a case is par- 1484 ticularly unpopular. The calico printers Report is the only outstanding case today. The right hon. Gentleman launches this great attack by rejecting that Report, and I must say that I think his case is dead before it starts. This hare will not even run.
The fact that this Motion has been put down—although I do not think that we shall hear much more about it—gives the House of Commons a proper opportunity for debating what is a serious and complex subject. For my part, I am happy to take that opportunity, because I believe that both the record and the policy of the Government in this matter can be most powerfully sustained.
I wish to start by making a few observations on the background to this question of monopolies. We are dealing here today with a subject which has very much more than a transitory interest. We are dealing with conditions in which a whole range of restrictive practices has been deeply interwoven in the British industrial system, not recently, but over a very long period. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is right that we should seriously ask ourselves why it is that men should devise these complex restrictive arrangements.
I believe that in the main they devise them, not out of greed or out of a desire to amass profits. [Interruption.] I am entitled to my opinion. [HON. MEMBERS: "So are we."] I think that in the main they devise them out of fear—fear on the employers' side of the full vigour of competition, and fear on the workers' side of working a man out of a job. I hope that today we are not going to debate in any detail restrictive practices in the trade unions. They are there.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I do not think that is a very helpful thing to say. I am not suggesting that we ought to debate in detail restrictive practices in the unions.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
If the hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan) will wait a moment, he will hear, because they are there, and they arise, as I have said, from very much the same reasons as those which started restrictive practices on the employers' side——
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
—because any attempts to deal with them would meet a similar response. But it is no answer to restrictive practices on the employers' side to say that there are restrictive practices on the unions' side. I reject that argument at the outset. On the whole, restrictive practices by employers should be dealt with on their merits or demerits, whatever they may be, and, in any event, I wish to point out that the restrictive practices of trade unions are not within the compass of the particular Acts and legislation which we are discussing today.
As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton himself said, there are really two methods of approach to this subject. Either we can start by laying down a body of law upon the subject of monopoly and make it an offence if there is any breach of that law—and that, very broadly speaking, is the American approach through their Sherman Act and the like—or we can say that monopoly and restriction may be, but is not necessarily, contrary to the public interest.
It is the latter approach which, rightly or wrongly, has so far been our approach, and when I say our approach, I mean the House of Commons, because it started with the Coalition Government's White Paper—not a Conservative or Socialist one, but the Coalition Government's White Paper of 1944—and it is worth while recalling what it says. I quote:There has, in recent years, been a growing tendency towards combines and towards agreements, both national and international, by which manufacturers have sought to control prices and output, to divide markets and to fix conditions of sale. Such agreements or combines do not necessarily operate against the public interest; but the power to do so is there. The Government will therefore seek power to inform themselves of the extent and effect of restrictive agreements, and of the activities of combines; and to take appropriate action to check practices which may bring advantages to sectional producing interests but work to the detriment of the country as a whole.That quotation comes from the White Paper on Employment Policy (Cmd. 6527), and it is worth recalling because that was the considered approach of all three parties in the House of Commons at that time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Never."] That approach remained the Socialist Party approach when it was in office, and it embodied it in the Act of 1486 1948. The right hon. Gentleman himself powerfully argued it in that debate. Apart from some detail, it was an agreed Measure. The same policy was sustained by the Conservatives, was propounded by me and was accepted by the House in the Act of 1953. That Act did not change the policy at all but merely enlarged and strengthened the Commission, a subject about which I shall say a little more in a moment.
On this side of the House we believe that that policy, consistently pursued by all parties in the past 10 years, is right. We believe in the empirical approach; that inquiry and information should precede action and not follow it. We do not propose, in advance of reports which the Commission are making, to plunge into legislation.
It is important to establish at the outset whether that general approach still commands the support of the House of Commons. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to change that policy they should say so, and say it in unmistakable language. If they are going to say it and to abandon the empirical approach, if they are going to say that it is not necessary to inquire into these things, of some of them, but to take action, for example on margarine, tomorrow on the evidence of a report in some newspaper, or to plunge into action on some general range of practices without bothering to wait for a report, it is astonishing that they should combine that approach with the suggestion that we should strengthen the Commission whose very work they are about to undermine.
I turn from the general policy to certain points of detail, to deal with one or two of the criticisms which I have seen made, either of the Government or of the Commission, sometimes in the House and sometimes outside it. Let me take first the need for a stronger Commission.
That criticism sounds reasonable enough. If we are to have an instrument, let us see that it is strong. If we are to use this method of the empirical approach there are powerful arguments for having an effective instrument suitable for that approach. Let us be clear about where the idea of strengthening the Commission came from. Who thought of it? Not the right hon. Gentleman. I thought of it. The Opposition is limping along two years behind. When I took over the 1487 instrument left by the right hon. Gentleman, the chairmanship was neither permanent nor pensionable, the membership was limited to 10 and there was no effective power to work in groups. It was Her Majesty's Government who came to the conclusion about two years ago that we ought to alter that state of affairs, and we did that.
Today, with 16 members and with power to subdivide the work, there is, as I know I can demonstrate, good prospect of a better flow of reports from the Commission—not, I agree, a speeding up of individual reports, but a larger number of them as adequately considered as before. With the best will in the world, it took, under the right hon. Gentleman, and it will continue to take, some two years to report. The last two reports averaged about 22 months, from the start of a report to publication. I hope that hon. Members on neither side of the House will suggest that that rate can be substantially reduced.
A good deal of the time is taken, perfectly properly not by the Commission but by the industry itself. When an industry is being examined on its practices, which, whether they are right or wrong, are deeply interwoven into its system, it very properly uses top-level staff for giving answers to the Commission. So would we, if we were in the place of the industry. It would be unusual to entrust information to anyone below top-level staff. Moreover, much of the information about costings and the like takes a very long time to get. It is necessarily a lengthy process. It is necessary to have a close examination of the facts, to discuss those facts with the industry concerned and to clarify the main issues upon which practices might be judged to be against the public interest. We have to give time to the industry to reply to any criticisms that might be made. Eventually there has to be a judgment upon the public interest.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
May I try to clarify one point? Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that before the Monopolies Commission can do anything serious there has to be a period of time during which the industry prepares its case? Will he give us some idea how long this takes?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
It does not take place before, but at a point during the proceedings. There has obviously to be a moment at which the industry first knows broadly the case put against it. That is only fair, and it applies to anyone in this country. The industry has to be given an adequate opportunity to consider what the answers should be on those points and to give them back to the Commission. The time is rather difficult to lay down. It varies a great deal between one inquiry and another. Sometimes it has taken as long as six months and sometimes two or three months. I do not think anyone would say it was proper to try to curtail a part of procedure like this. It is essential, in fairness, that it should be preserved.
I much prefer to be criticised, and to hear the Commission criticised, for slowness in producing reports than to be open to the much graver criticism of being perfunctory or slick in what are, after all, matters of great moment to employers and workers in industry. The previous Government made six references to the Commission and acted on only one report during the period they were in office. In the three years that we have been in office we have seen action implemented on six cases. I have received reports on two others, and I expect to receive reports on a further five this year, during which I shall begin to get the benefits of the action I took in strengthening the Commission two years ago. We can expect an increased flow of reports. We should not expect, and certainly should not press for, an increase in speed of production of any individual report.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
The right hon. Gentleman said that action had been taken in six cases arising out of reports received during the life of the present Government. What six cases has the right hon. Gentleman in mind?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I shall never get them right if I try to memorise them. I will try to let the hon. Gentleman have them later in the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There was the lamp ring, rainwater goods, and insulin, on which case no action was required. It was a good example of the empirical approach. There were three others, which I will get. One was the London 1489 Builders' Conference. I will let the hon. Gentleman have the others.
Let nobody think that the Americans can do it faster. Inquiries under the Sherman Act have taken up to ten years and even longer. Before we are pressed to abandon the empirical approach and to go off on to a "Sherman Act" approach, let us contemplate the alternatives.
A recent American investigation showed that, during a sample period, cases took an average of five years from initiation to final judgment, and even negotiated settlements took about 2½ years. I will quote two examples. In the case of the Aluminium Company of America, the time from filing the Government petition to the end of the proceedings was nearly 14 years. The first trial—that is the time in court—took two years, and the second trial, on appeal, nine months. The reading of the judgment alone took nine days.
The other was the Investment Bankers case. It was filed in October, 1947; referred to trial in November, 1950; testimony, 5 million words; court record, 108,739 pages; cost to defendants, 4 million dollars plus; decision delivered, September, 1953; Judge Medina's opinion, 417 pages; verdict, case dismissed. It is right that we should examine with a critical eye our own procedure. I am not quarrelling with that, but I would urge the House not to imagine that everyone else does this very much more expeditiously.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
While these trans-Atlantic comparisons are fascinating and interesting, would the right hon. Gentleman realise that it is not necessary to work himself up into such a passion defending himself against a case which has not been put? I said that we reject, as we always have done, the Sherman anti-trust procedure. What has been put forward this afternoon, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is a combination of the empirical procedure and the general procedure, which should not lead to such delays in this country as there are in America.
§ Mr. Wilson
The right hon. Gentleman should not misrepresent me in this 1490 fashion. He knows perfectly well that it is not a question of abandoning the Sherman method. Never, at any time, has any speaker from this side of the House supported the Sherman method. I made that clear on the Second Reading of the Monopolies Bill, on 16th April,. 1951, in July, 1953, and again this afternoon, so will the right hon. Gentleman please stick to the case that has been put?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
It is quite clear that the right hon. Gentleman is not supporting anything. One would have thought from what is on the Paper that there was a policy for the next election. As long as he abandons all approaches to this subject, we shall all be in complete agreement.
There is another question which might well be asked. Instead of just asking about the Commission's procedure and whether it is fast, the right hon. Gentleman might have asked, but he did not, a question which I think ought to be answered, which is, Is the procedure fair? I think that is a very important question. A whole variety of suggestions has been made, and some envisage a drastic alteration in the procedure, requiring new legislation and a new approach.
I am afraid that some people would prefer to have no Commission at all. Some of the suggestions that have been made would hamstring the Commission altogether. But others have come from people who are genuinely and properly concerned to make absolutely sure that the Commission's procedure is both fair and demonstrably fair. Obviously, the Commission must act within the framework of existing legislation. It is not there to interpret a body of existing law. Like any Select Committee in this House, the Commission's job is both to conduct an investigation and, thereafter, to express an opinion on it.
I am most anxious, as is the Commission, that the procedure should be fair and free from criticism. With this in mind—as long ago as last October—I invited the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General to examine for me the procedure of the Commission. This they are doing. It may be that they will be able to suggest one or two minor modifications, but, in general, they have assured me, and authorised me to say, that they are satisfied that the procedure of the Commission is both appropriate and fair.
1491 I would add that any minor modifications which may be made will certainly not diminish the length of investigations. I hope that the fact that this reference to the Lord Chancellor and to the Attorney-General—and on a matter of this kind one could not get any better authorities—[Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh, but a request to the Lord Chancellor of England to look into these matters is something which, I think most hon. Members would agree, should be accorded the greatest respect. This investigation was conducted with the full approval of Sir David Cairns, the Chairman of the Monopolies Commission. I hope that the fact that this has been done will keep the Commission outside controversy and will permit it to get on with the job Parliament has entrusted to it.
I wish to turn to a subject which is much in the public mind, and to which the right hon. Gentleman made particular reference. That is the stop list, the black list, the collective boycott, and the like, which are all alternative names for the collective withholding of supplies from traders who fail to observe the conditions laid down by any or all of a group of suppliers. The power of the withholding of supplies is very great. A man's livelihood can be at stake. In some cases, a so-called court imposes a fine, and I may say that the fine is less damaging than the power that lies behind it.
In cases in the news at the moment the condition allegedly broken has been retail price maintenance, but the reports of the Commission show that this power is used for many other purposes as well. It is used for limiting distribution, maintaining a manufacturers' ring, keeping demarcation lines on retail trade, and it is common knowledge that it is used by chemists.
It occurred to the Government, not yesterday but two years ago, that in the light of the fact that these practices seem to be a recurring and central feature in a number of the Commission's reports, we should use the power which is laid down in Section 15 of the right hon. Gentleman's own Act, to which he quite properly referred, that where a practice has come up in a number of the Commission's reports we should refer that group of practices covering the whole range of industry. The report is nearing its completion, and I think that it may be an 1492 important one. A large number of suggestions and requests for references fall wholly or partly within this particular field. Naturally, I do not know what the Commission will say, but I hope that the report will give us a basis on which we can consider how to deal with these matters, whether by legislation or otherwise.
I am certainly not prepared to legislate without it, but I think that the report may well give us a basis upon which legislation might be possible. If the report lays down general principles it might substantially affect the number of references which might have to be made to them in future, that is to say, if we can deal with and put aside a whole group of practices, we might get rid of the need to refer quite a number of separate industries. That would be a much better way of dealing with this matter than the one suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. That is a more sensible approach.
I think that before we can consider vastly increasing the size of the Commission, or whatever other ideas hon. Gentlemen wish to put forward, or plunging into legislative action which would be quite meaningless without referring to this particular group of practices which are central to many industries, we should wait and see what the Commission says about it.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this point arising out of his plan? How would he deal with an industry operating abroad but tied up with an industry in this country which cuts off supplies from a distributor in the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I have not the slightest idea. That is typical of the sort of problem which confronts one in this sphere. The hon. Gentleman's case is a relatively simple one, but most of these cases are of an intricate and complex character affecting the national interest in very wide fields and they are often central to many export trade problems. The idea that questions of that kind can be answered "off the cuff" or even after a few days without anxious consideration is wholly wrong.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
If the hon. Gentleman will have patience, he will hear about it. It so happens that the other principal subject of controversy is the tyre industry. Hon. Members opposite have asked me about it at Question Time, and I am very grateful to them for raising the subject. When one is two years ahead of public opinion it is nice to have attention called to it publicly. I thought of this long before there was public clamour. I do think about these things from time to time. It seemed to me to be an appropriate subject to look into. Therefore, two years ago I referred the matter to the Commission, and I expect to get its report within a few months' time. I shall not prejudge the report; it would be wrong to do so. What I referred to the Commission goes much wider than the field of public controversy. There are other matters affecting tyres besides the boycott. The reference covers the export situation as well. When I get the complete report I shall certainly consider what action should be taken upon it.
The right hon. Gentleman asked if I would refer the oil industry and so forth to the Commission. The previous Government and the present Government have always had one firm rule about this subject. We do not debate in the House of Commons in advance of a reference to the Commission the merits and demerits of a particular monopoly. It would be impossible if on the Floor of the House we tried to do the very job for which the Commission was set up. I will consider, naturally, as I always do, any subjects which hon. or right hon. Gentlemen may suggest, and I will bear in mind the points made by the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not think it would serve a very useful purpose if in this debate we tried to examine, without a very great factual basis, all these separate industries.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
The right hon. Gentleman gets very heated replying to things which I did not say. I did not ask him to refer the oil industry to the Commission; that might be very difficult, anyway, because of the Act. I said that at Question Time I had asked the Parliamentary Secretary to institute price control. That does not need reference to the Commission. The Government could do that tomorrow if they had the will. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we should not debate on the Floor of the 1494 House what ought to be referred to the Commission, but we can make our suggestions and he can take account of them. I did not suggest that the oil or cinema industries should be referred to the Commission.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. If he did not suggest it, it is unnecessary for me to deal with the point.
The right hon. Gentleman very properly asked about the follow-up. It is important that reports should be considered and orders made or undertakings given. However, I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to seek statutory orders for their own sake. There is no sense in that. If the Commission has reported and the industry concerned is prepared to implement the report, why seek a statutory order? There was the point about the only order having been made in respect of dental goods. Hon. Members opposite need to rest a monopoly case on something wider than dental goods. There are other ways of meeting the point, and if an industry is prepared to implement the Commission's recommendations it does not seem to me necessary to make an order.
The Government and public opinion have a responsibility about the follow-up. My attention has not been called to widespread breaches of undertakings which have been given, but, at the same time, I think that use could be made, and should be made, of the procedures under the Act. In Section 12 of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Act it is laid down that the Commission itself may examine whether recommendations are being carried out in the light of undertakings given by the industry concerned.
When the next group of references is made to the Commission, I propose to consider whether it would be useful to include a fresh look at one of the reports which has already been made. I do not suggest that one should make it immediately after the undertakings have been given, or that we should continually harry an industry, or do it in every case, but I think it is worth while considering, now that one or two of the reports have been made for a little longer period, whether the Commission could properly make use of that Section in the way in which the Section was originally intended to be used.
1495 I have explained the nature of our policy and the methods whereby we intend to implement it. I see no merit whatsoever in abandoning the empirical approach except in so far as, if one can put it so, some Section 15 report, after it has been made, may enable us to lay down some general principles. The American Sherman Act procedure would be bitterly controversial in all parties. I emphasise "in all parties." It would be less effective and would take longer.
The better course is to use to the full the machinery that we have, but we must use it to the full. We must support it, and we must not attack it. This is what we have done. On every report except one action has been taken, voluntary in most cases. In only one case has an order been made. In recent months only one case has been outstanding, that of the calico printers. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it has been a difficult case. As in many other cases, the industry concerned holds deep and sincere views as to the Tightness of the practices which it has been carrying out. I have given careful consideration to that case. I have received the views of the industry and I have received the views, and considered them, of the Cotton Board. I wish to say that the Government accept the conclusions of the Monopolies Commission that the practices described operate, and may be expected to operate, against the public interest, and we are in general agreement with the Commission's recommendations. I have so informed the industry, and I propose, as is the normal course, to hold discussions with it as to the best way of implementing the recommendations.
So much for the situation as it stands today. I want now to make a few concluding comments on the future.
We shall go through with this policy. References will continue to be made. Reports—more frequent reports now—will, in general, and where appropriate, continue to be implemented, preferably by agreement; if not, by order. With regard to the Section 15 reference about collective boycott and related practices, we must reserve judgment till we see it. It may provide an opportunity for a new approach to at any rate some aspects of monopoly policy. However, those who dislike action which inhibits monopoly and restrictive practices will be dis- 1496 appointed. Where these practices are found to operate against the public interest, they will be firmly and inexorably eliminated.
We have a rôle to play in Parliament, and it is right that we should debate these matters this afternoon. We have a rôle to play in the Government in the implementation of these policies. I would also say that industry has a rôle to play, too. I ask organised industry if it is not time that it began to examine somewhat more critically some of its arrangements. There is no need at any rate for it to wait for reports from the Monopolies Commission.
The question I ask all industrialists to ask themselves about these practices—as some are already beginning to do—is, are they really as necessary in the fifties as they were in the thirties? What contribution could industry itself make in this field? Would not a little more competition and a little less price fixing be a healthy stimulant to enterprise? I believe an increasing body of enlightened industrial opinion, and certainly of public opinion, is beginning to give a fairly forthright answer to many of these questions. At any rate, I hope my answer has been plain enough. Where full and fair inquiry demonstrates practices to be against the public interest, we shall get rid of them.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Padley (Ogmore)
Since the President of the Board of Trade did me the doubtful honour of quoting from a three-year-old speech of mine at Question Time on 3rd February, I think it might be for the convenience of everyone if I begin with that as a text. The right hon. Gentleman quoted a speech in which I said that the union of which I am president—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—has had 50 years of bitter experience of 'Eastern bazaar' conditions in the distributive trades, low wages, sweated conditions, and we shall fight any attempt to make the present free-for-all scramble even worse."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 1955; Vol. 311, c. 1253.]I said that yesterday, I repeat it today, and I shall go on saying it in future.
The right hon. Gentleman would perhaps like to know that that is the reason why 94 per cent. of the members of my union pay a political levy to the Labour Party and are opposed to the whole trend of the economic policy of the Tory Party. 1497 As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said in a recent debate, it is the declared purpose of the Government to let things rip throughout the British economy, and to abandon the controls of economic planning.
I must say that there is a strange contradiction between the free enterprise propaganda of the Tory Party in the country and their reticence about, indeed defence of, private monopoly, which means private controls and private economic planning. I am proud to lead 350,000 distributive workers, who, with their families, total about 1 million persons. Therefore, I shall scrutinise any proposals put up by any Government to make sure that the wages and working conditions of my people are not jeopardised. I am interested in these problems, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton), a leader of cotton workers, is interested in the Monopolies Commission's Report on the calico industry.
I would also refer the President of the Board of Trade to the fact that in the speech of mine which he quoted I was following the traditional line of the British trade union movement, that the answer to the problems thrown up by monopoly capitalism is to be found, in the main, in public control and in a transition to public ownership. The dilemma of the Tory Party on this issue is that it regards the alternatives as either restrictive monopoly capitalism or an attempt to return to nineteenth century competitive capitalism. My view is that the problem of monopoly cannot be dealt with on that basis.
If we look at the general economic policy of the Government since they were returned to power, we find that they have transferred back to private monopoly ownership the great iron and steel industry with but a shadowy form of public control and have taken no steps to bring other giant monopolies under public ownership. Chemicals, the most highly developed of British monopolies, has remained untouched. I think the biggest criticism of the present Government on the monopolies question over the last three and a half years is that they have brought out of public ownership one great monopoly and have not sought to bring under public ownership and control 1498 any of the other great monopolies in British industry.
Whatever faults the late Government may have had about the speed with which they tackled this problem, the fact remains that their apparatus of price control was an important weapon in defending the consuming public against the abuses of concentrated monopoly power in industry. The right hon. Gentleman shows great glee in announcing to the world that he is abandoning control, throwing over price control, of this, that and the other article. My experience in the distributive trades, equally with figures relating to profits and dividends in the last couple of years, shows that the country as a whole has not appreciated the economic consequences of the abandonment of price control. During that period the price of imported raw materials has been falling and that has masked the effect of the removal of price control.
I take the view that we should seek a solution of these problems mainly by the road of public control and public ownership. Perhaps I might say to the right hon. Gentleman and to hon. Members representing the Liberal Party that there is nothing specifically revolutionary-Socialist about this idea. Lord Beveridge, in his Report on Full Employment, has a very illuminating page in which he says that competition, to be effective, must be free, not forced. He went on to say——
§ Mr. Osborne
Speaking as he does, and representing the distributive trades, is the hon. Member saying that he wants the public ownership of the whole of the distributive trade? Do I understand that that is what he is advocating?
§ Mr. Padley
The hon. Member knows full well that I was talking of monopolies. Where there are monopolies in the distributives trades, or associated with the distributive trades, I am in favour of policies of public control and public ownership and I shall give examples of some of them in a moment.
§ Mr. Padley
There are half a million firms in the retail trades of Britain. It would be very difficult to establish that the whole retail trade was a monopoly. To that extent it seems to be rather outside 1499 our terms of reference in this debate. I was referring to Lord Beveridge, who said that the approach to private monopoly must involve three things; first, public supervision; secondly, public control; and, thirdly, where those failed, public ownership. I believe that those are the signposts of the road along which an effective policy on this issue must be found.
There is a lot of controversy about resale price maintenance. One of the difficulties about resale price maintenance is that it is a very awkward phrase. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) once saying that he found even the leading officials of this House in 1950 had but the haziest ideas of what the phrase meant. Resale price maintenance—on this point, at least, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—is a complex problem. No one can read the massive report produced by the Lloyd Jacob Committee or the massive reports published by the Monopolies Commission without realising that.
As the right hon. Gentleman himself said in passing, resale price maintenance has now become linked with almost every monopoly scheme in Britain. There was a time when it was conceived simply as being a method of an individual manufacturer establishing a common price for an individual article. Monopolies in the capitalist system not only seek to control existing production; they also like to reach back and control sources of raw materials as a method of maintaining their position and keeping out new rivals. Likewise, they seek to stretch into the distributive trades and secure power which will prevent any rival producer from selling any goods to the consuming public.
The difficulty in discussing resale price maintenance agreements at present is that the relatively simple question of the sale of the branded goods of a manufacturer at a common price is completely confused by the fact that every trade association associated with monopoly is using resale price maintenance for monopoly purposes.
When the right hon. Gentleman quoted from my speech of 3rd February, he might, in view of the questions to which he was then replying, as well have told the House that he intended to act on the policy advocated in that speech—that is, 1500 the outlawing of collective price resale maintenance agreements linked to monopolies using collective boycotts, exclusive dealing arrangements, and private police courts.
That same speech of mine also proposed an end to discrimination against the Co-operative movement, which pays dividends, and against any other trader who wishes to pay a deferred discount on the whole of his trade. I said all those things in the speech from which the right hon. Gentleman quoted. But this is not only a complex subject; it is one of those subjects in which speeches are liable to be misquoted, because powerful vested interests are in operation.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am anxious not to misquote the hon. Member. I simply want to understand his approach. Do I understand that he adheres to his view that it would be wrong to sweep away all resale price maintenance but that in any resale price maintenance arrangements that are made, people could, within that system, pay discounts, as in the case of the Co-operative movement? Is that an accurate statement of the hon. Member's view?
§ Mr. Padley
The right hon. Gentleman has got part of the argument. If he sustains his patience, he will have my policy quite clearly. If the speech I made in the House in June, 1950, and the one I made on the Dental Goods Regulations, in 1951, are referred to, my views on this matter are clearly on record.
I beg each hon. Member of the House to read the Lloyd Jacob Report. I mean that seriously, because the Committee took evidence not only from manufacturers, not only from retailers who disagree with resale price maintenance and those who agree with it, and not only from the Co-operative movement and the trade unions, but also from the great national women's organisations.
The findings of the Lloyd Jacob Committee were that there are advantages to the public in an individual manufacturer being able to sell a branded article at a prescribed price. But the Lloyd Jacob Committee also recommended the total abolition of the collectively enforced price maintenance agreements which involve collective boycotts, exclusive dealing, courts and all the rest. As I have said in this House before, I accept the findings 1501 of the Lloyd Jacob Committee, and for this reason. I share the view of the three great national women's organisations whom the Lloyd Jacob Committee con sulted that housewives, in the main, prefer a known price for a well-advertised branded product of quality, such as Cadbury's cocoa——
§ Mr. Padley
It is all very well for the hon. Member to say "Hear, hear," but the Committee went on to say that the housewives would like some means of knowing that the common price was the right price. The hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. Reader Harris) says "Hear, hear," but it is his own Government who have removed price control from Cadbury's cocoa. I hope that in the 1922 Committee he will press for a widespread restoration of price control.
From the standpoint of the distributive trades—all this evidence is in the Lloyd Jacob Report in great detail—the history of those trades shows clearly that it is possible for a well-known branded article to be used as a loss leader;, that is, that particular group of firms use a well-known branded commodity to oust then-rivals or, alternatively, as a bait to get customers into the shop who, they then hope, will buy more expensive goods with much bigger profit margins. This leads to instability in the distributive trades and may jeopardise wages and working conditions. I therefore agree wholeheartedly with the Lloyd Jacob Committee, and I have said so before.
Even a learned journal like the "Manchester Guardian" can confuse these issues. It published a leading article on this subject, in 1951, in which it plumped wholeheartedly for the total abolition of resale price maintenance. It had a shot or two at me, in passing, but the interesting thing is that next day it wrote a second leader and said, "Of course, we meant what we said yesterday, but the book trade should be totally excluded." That provoked the remark from a member of my executive council of considerable business experience in the retail trade that the writer of the leading article was talking about the only commodity he had ever produced.
What was said about books in the "Manchester Guardian" is true. There 1502 can be no doubt about the argument I am now putting. Even Professor Alfred Marshall, the great apostle of free trade and all the rest, supported the net book agreement when it was originally decided upon in, I think, 1890 and allowed his "Principles" to be price maintained.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
I am anxious to understand the hon. Member's viewpoint, and as a publisher I know that there is, as he says, collective price enforcement. The hon. Member is saying that price-cutting for a bait line is wrong; he would, therefore, allow individual boycott as a price enforcement, but he would not allow collective enforcement by the withholding of supplies. He would thus allow individual enforcement. But the offending retailer, having sold one firm's commodity as a bait line one week, could when his supplies are cut off continue his wrongful undercutting by then turning to another firm, and could so continue price-cutting indefinitely. If it is wrong, as the hon. Member says, to have price-cutting and, therefore, right to allow individual price enforcement because price cutting is wrong, why is collectiveness of action, which alone can be effective, wrong?
§ Mr. Padley
I have answered the last part of the hon. Member's question. As the President of the Board or Trade himself said, as every report of the Monopolies Commission has said, and as the Lloyd Jacob Committee said, collective resale price maintenance schemes are invariably the instruments of monopolies.
§ Mr. Padley
Perhaps "invariably" is putting it too high, but the hon. Gentleman will find that I have a remedy for his problem and a criticism of the net book agreement. There is an answer to all these things. I want the House to understand this problem. It has nothing to do with price rings or monopolies. It is a practical matter of how one markets the products of the nation.
If we want to ensure that standard commodities of good quality are protected and are sold at reasonable prices, what do we do? The solution is twofold. The first is to say that along with the removal of collective resale price maintenance schemes, with their collective boycotts and exclusive dealings, courts and all the rest of it, any manufacturer who wishes to prescribe a price for an article shall register 1503 that article with the Board of Trade and the price and quality of the article so registered shall be subject to public supervision. That means price control and a consumers' advice centre to report on quality. I am not suggesting that it would mean that every article registered would be price checked and quality checked, but it would mean that whenever the public interest was involved machinery would exist to do the job.
The second qualification which I regard as highly important is that dividends and deferred discounts should not be regarded as price cutting, because there is no evidence from the history of the distributive trades that the payment of Co-operative dividends or deferred discounts by large multiple firms, such as Williams Bros., involves instability in the distributive trades. A few trade associations have recognised that. If those two conditions are fulfilled in the case of the individual branded product, there can be no possible objection to standard prices. In the Lloyd Jacob Report the House will find evidence that that is a sound line.
The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) raises the difficulty of how the individual manufacturer is to enforce a standard price for a branded article. The Lloyd Jacob Committee, in paragraph 75 of its Report, lists the various possibilities open to the individual manufacturer and it admits that there is a difficulty in the case of goods which go through the hands of a wholesaler.
American experience is useful here. In the Millard-Tydings amendment to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and latterly in the McGuire Act there is laid down a system which provides that if a manufacturer desires to prescribe a standard price he can enforce that price in the ordinary public courts which administer the law that is laid down by Congress. I believe that there is no insuperable obstacle to that solution being adopted in Britain. Whenever the trade associations have a good argument, as they sometimes have, it is immediately destroyed by then-desire to maintain all the paraphernalia of restrictive monopoly capitalism in its cartel form.
It is important to note that most trade associations seek to discriminate against traders who allow dividends or deferred discounts. As long as they take up that view, and until this House stops them 1504 acting on it, there is legitimate criticism of the effect of resale price maintenance in the distributive trades. It can be argued that if one-third of goods in the shops consist of branded articles each of which is to be sold at a common price the more efficient distributor will be penalised, but if Co-operative dividends and deferred discounts are allowed that argument disappears, because the consumer will benefit by way of dividends and deferred discounts paid at regular intervals.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
If my hon. Friend is arguing that if there is freedom of supplies to the Co-operative movement, the Co-operative movement will then withdraw opposition to collective resale price maintenance, I can assure him, on behalf of the movement, that he is quite wrong. Our objection is to the whole method, and is not based on the question of supplies.
§ Mr. Padley
That is irrelevant to my argument. If the right of traders to pay dividends and deferred discounts were made a condition of registration of the branded article by the Board of Trade and there were enforcement in the courts, I say, as a lifelong co-operator, that that would give a more adequate protection to co-operative societies and their workers, who are members of my own union, than the belief that by some mysterious means or other one can make semi-monopolists compete against each other and supply the Co-operative movement with goods.
That brings me to the speech which I made at the time when the Regulations relating to dental goods were being debated in the House. I supported the Regulations because they outlawed collective resale price maintenance by a restrictive monopoly, but I said that I would be much happier if the Government were providing for continuing price control of dental goods and were considering the advisability of taking over the majority of the shares in one or more of the firms in the industry.
When one is dealing with firms such as the dental goods firms and rubber tyre producers—there are only a dozen or so in the respective industries—no matter what prohibitive legislation is carried by the House, it is very doubtful whether one can make monopoly capitalists compete with one another. That inevitably leads one to the conclusion that at the 1505 level of producers' price rings what is required is thorough-going public control. I remind the House that the Trades Union Congress, in a report on post-war reconstruction, in 1944, included rubber processing in the list of industries in which some form of public control should exist, but I think that, in the end, one will find that the answer to the problem of the concentration of production in the hands of a dozen or so firms is to be found in outright public ownership.
I therefore have the greatest pleasure in supporting our Motion and in recommending to the House that, first, all hon. Members should study the Lloyd Jacob Report on resale price maintenance and then advocate the Socialist remedies of public control and public ownership to deal with the problems which are produced by capitalist monopoly.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)
I hope that the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) will not mind if I do not follow closely on what he said, but I intend to take a rather different line on this very wide subject. This afternoon the President of the Board of Trade made a very important announcement, namely, that the Government intend to accept the findings of the Monopolies Commission on Calico Printing. Although I think most Members know I am connected with the textile industry, in accordance with the custom of the House I should like to make it clear that I am a director of the Calico Printers' Association, the largest unit in the Calico Printers' Federation. I hope that hon. Members will realise the difference between the Federation as a whole, composed of many companies, and the company with which I am connected, called the Calico Printers' Association.
I believe that my right hon. Friend's announcement will be received in some quarters in Lancashire rather as a blow. The textile industry, and this industry in particular, is rather different from most other industries in that textiles are, after all, the largest and oldest mechanised industry, and in the early days of mass production probably showed the way to other industries. They were great pioneers in that direction. For that reason the textile industry in general and the calico printing industry in particular have a very long 1506 and hard experience in mass production and mechanisation.
It will be recalled by hon. Members that the textile industry went through a very difficult time during the 1930s. Every section of the industry, spinners, weavers, finishers and merchants was included in that depression. It was very largely a time of uncontrolled competition at home and intense competition from Japan and other countries abroad. During that time not only were prices diminishing but markets were closing as well. As all hon. Members from Lancashire will remember, that was a period of great hardship, bankruptcy and misery, and none of us wants to see a repetition of it. We have tried in different sections of that industry after our bitter experiences to get down to our problems and find a solution to those difficulties.
The Monopolies Commission has to consider certain things when it is investigating an industry. In particular, Section 14 of the Act indicates four questions that it has to investigate. I am paraphrasing them very briefly. They are: first, production, treatment and distribution by the most economical means for home and abroad; secondly, efficiency and enterprise; thirdly, the best distribution of men and materials; and, fourthly, technical developments and expansion of markets.
It seems to me that in going over these quite briefly, it will be most helpful to take a few extracts from the Commission's Report and to make brief observations on them as I go along. Paragraph 196 says this:There is some evidence to show that the prices charged were, in 1952, in general, lower than European printing prices in general.That is to say, there was good evidence to show that printing prices in this country were lower than on the Continent. It is most difficult to prove that, but evidence to that effect was given to the Commission and it accepted it.
I would go further and say that in some cases British printing prices are very much lower than on the Continent, that frequently Belgian and French cloth is sent to this country for printing and re-exported either to the country of origin or to one of their export markets. It is a striking fact that both countries have their own printing and finishing plants. 1507 That is a strong indication of the competitive power of this country. It is true in saying that the proportionate increase in printing prices over recent years has been less than in either the spinning or weaving sections. So much for the competitive power of the printing industry.
In paragraph 197 the Commission says:The average level of profits in the industry in 1949 was 21½ per cent. on cost, or over 26 per cent. on the capital employed, and in 1950 just under 24 per cent. on cost or 29½per cent. on the capital employed ….Those two years were, I think everyone will agree, years of considerable prosperity. It is mentioned in the index of the Commission's Report—it has no connection with this paragraph—that in the years before the war there was an average loss in the printing industry of approximately 5 per cent. and there was a period of very nearly twenty years between the wars when my own firm, the Calico Printers' Association, paid no ordinary dividend at all.
I want to make two small quotations from paragraph 201:We believe that the Federation have tended to exaggerate the extent to which printers must limit themselves to a narrow range of styles ….And also this:… the scheme, by removing the incentive to each printer to spread his risks within his own business, tends, in our opinion, to encourage a greater degree of specialisation than might otherwise be found expedient.That is a direct suggestion on the part of the Commission that the printers should not specialise so much. They should go in for a greater variety of styles.
In all the trials and tribulations of the printing industry, in particular, and of the cotton textile trade in general, it has been shown, especially in printing, that there must be long runs for economic and efficient working. That is one of the fundamental principles. One of the copper covered steel rollers normally used in this industry will print, according to the type of design, about 2,000 lumps of 120 yards each. When we consider the number of designs that are required for one market and multiply that by the large number of foreign markets, it will be seen that a very large quantity of rollers will be required not only in one works but in the trade.
1508 I believe that, pre-war, the cost of making one of these copper rollers was approximately £3 or £4. Now it would be reasonable to suppose that it would be three or four times as much. It is the object of all printers to use rollers as long as they can economically. For that reason it is highly inefficient and ought to be deprecated to encourage single factories to have a large variety of styles, and the experience of the industry is apparently not considered by the Monopolies Commission. It is also of interest to say that the American printing industry recently found itself in a very difficult position and the indications are that it is likely to try an arrangement similar to that which exists in this country.
Paragraph 204 reads:… as we have explained above, market conditions during this period have been such as largely to mask their effect, and we find the evidence for this reason less clear and decisive than we could wish.This next passage is most important:We consider that, on balance, the arrangements taken as a whole do operate against the public interest.I have tried to show by certain extracts and answers that the Commission was wrong in its contentions and has interpreted replies incorrectly. I must point out, however, that it only says "on balance" and I maintain that it is a wrong decision on the evidence. As a result, it recommends the destruction of the entire organisation which has been set up as a result of the experience of fifty or sixty years.
Paragraph 206 reads:If the merchants are to compete successfully, they must be free to offer that combination of quality and price which, in their judgment, the market demands … If at any stage prices are rigidly maintained, the possibility of securing orders in competition is likely to be prejudiced.We know that in competition normally there has to be give and take in prices, but only too often we saw, during the inter-war years, far too much being given away with Lancashire goods. Not only was the profit given away from each section of the trade but, far more than that, capital was given away; it was giving away a part of Lancashire with each yard of cloth that went abroad. That does not help an organised trade. It does not help the workers or the managers or the owners. It does not help any section, and all of those who have been engaged in 1509 cotton textiles will not wish to see a repetition of those days. That is what this Report encourages, and for that reason Lancashire will look askance at the action of the Government.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
I am following most closely, but does not-the hon. Gentleman agree that the conditions which were brought about in the 'thirties were purely a matter of supply and demand? If the supply is far greater than the demand there will be these situations where, as he says, a bit of Lancashire is given away with the cloth, and not even the price system discussed in the Monopolies Commission's Report on calico printing can do anything about it.
§ Sir J. Barlow
The difficulty in the 'thirties was to keep machines going on a continually diminishing market. There are reasons to suppose that this is happening now, though on a much smaller scale. For that reason this scheme, which worked adequately at that time, will probably work again today. I have tried to show that printing prices in this country are probably the cheapest in Europe. I do not see how we could get greater efficiency or cheaper prices.
§ Sir J. Barlow
Substantially, it does.
The last of my quotations is from paragraph 208:We believe, however, that it is generally true that price competition provides the keenest stimulus of all to the pursuit of efficiency.Throughout my remarks I have tried to show that in difficult circumstances in this industry cut-throat competition does not work. It creates inefficiency, it destroys the industry, and causes misery among the workpeople involved.
There is one other aspect which I should mention, technical improvement. Nearly all printing works have excellent chemists, who do a great deal of investigation. In fact, it was in the laboratory of the Calico Printers' Association that terylene was discovered, about 10 years ago. That in itself is a great contribution to British industry.
I have another criticism to make. After a report has been made by the Monopolies Commission it is normal for the industry involved to have an 1510 opportunity of discussing it with the Board of Trade. I am told that in this case that has not been done. There have been meetings, but no discussion was allowed on what was in the Report. Unlike some other industries in which there are monopolies, there is no question in this case of black lists or stop lists and in that way this industry has worked excellently.
The Commission has collected a mass of information, not all of which is accurate. In many cases it has put a wrong interpretation on the result. I have already said that the Commission arrived at its decision merely on balance, a most important point. And although a monopoly exists, and there is price restriction, the Commission has not shown that it works against the public interest. It would become intolerable if all industries of this kind were to be subject to such treatment, in the course of which bad decisions may be reached and which the Government of the day may automatically accept and implement. In this case the Commission has not proved that the fixed price arrangement is used against the public interest; in fact, there is every indication that it is used for the public good.
The Calico Printers' Federation arrangement was created to restore order out of chaos, which it has effectively accomplished. If the findings of the Commission are accepted, chaos may result, and if the Government are logical, other price arrangements which exist within several other sections of the cotton industry may likewise be destroyed. It is difficult to see how the President of the Board of Trade could make an announcement more calculated to destroy the little confidence which remains in the industry. I beg my right hon. Friend to think again.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
We have just listened to a very frank and courageous statement from the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow). Like the hon. Member, I was most interested in what the President of the Board of Trade had to say this afternoon. Those of us in this House who are responsible for protecting the interests of Lancashire against the wider background of the national well-being will want to consider the President's statement very 1511 carefully indeed. We shall want to consider the repercussions that it will have upon other sections of the textile industry, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, is one of the oldest, largest, most complicated and most specialised industries in the country. We shall also want to see what effect it will have at a time when there is already a good deal of uncertainty inside the industry. I have no doubt that in the near future we shall all be having conversations with both sides of the industry to find out what the reaction is to what the right hon. Gentleman has placed before the House this afternoon.
The right hon. Gentleman was at some pains to emphasise that there had been continuity of policy on this matter since the Coalition Government of 1944, but it seems to me that in the course of his remarks he overlooked one point upon which there does not appear to have been continuity. It was in August, 1947, that my right hon. Friend who was then the President of the Board of Trade appointed the Lloyd Jacob Committee to report on the practice of resale price maintenance. The Report was published in June, 1949, and it unanimously condemned the practice of collective resale price maintenance. My right hon. Friends in the Government made a statement in the House immediately the Report was published and emphasised that they were prepared to give the collective trade associations an opportunity to put their own house in order and to abandon some of the practices which had been condemned by the Committee.
It was only when two years' grace had been given to the industries concerned and no remedial action of any magnitude appeared to have been taken that the then President of the Board of Trade announced in the House, in June, 1951, that the Government were intending to introduce legislation to make collective resale price maintenance illegal. After that came the fall of the Labour Government. The right hon. Gentleman opposite became the President of the Board of Trade, and the only action in that direction taken since then was not to continue with the proposed legislation which the Labour Government had announced, but to refer a number of these practices once again for consideration by the Monopolies Commission. I regret the delay there has been in 1512 implementing the policy that the Labour Government announced in June, 1951.
I think it would be discourteous on this occasion if we did not express our appreciation to the tyre industry and, particularly, to the British Motor Trade Association for the wide publicity they have given to the matter of price fixing and the Star Chamber courts to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) referred. It is an interesting example of the way Conservative freedom works that we have these associations still continuing in the unfettered use of powers which the Labour Government proposed to take away from them.
Most hon. Members will have been interested in the letter in "The Times" on 11th February, written by Mr. W. A. Brain, who said:To one with interests at the 'receiving end' the policy of the Tyre Trade Committee appears hostile, aggressive and discriminating. I am a motor trader and fleet operator, the Tyre Trade Joint Committee say that I must not supply tyres for my fleet, but must purchase them from a competitor. I have in the past been put out of business as a tyre trader for disobeying this alleged rule.He went on:We have many anomalies in the motor trade, which, by accident or design, and having the appearance of 'holding the ring' operate to keep small people small while enabling large people to get larger.I appreciate that, as the President said, the matter has been referred by him to the Commission, and to that extent, I suppose, it can be regarded as being sub judice. At the same time, the matters which are referred to the Commission take, perhaps rightly, a long time to determine, and it would be a great mistake if hon. Members regarded the period during which the Commission is discussing the subject as being a kind of close season for monopolists. In the meantime, we must judge the industry by the way in which it continues to adopt the practices for which it has had its activities referred to the Commission.
I think it is a fact of some significance that, in spite of the large profits which they made last year, the tyre manufacturers put up their prices by exactly the same amount on the same day in October and again on the same day in February. It is as surprising as the way in which the seven tenders for which the Birmingham Corporation Transport Department 1513 asked for the supply of tyres for its vehicles for a period of three years all turned out to be exactly the same.
I was impressed by a very good article by the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) in the "Spectator" this week, in which he had this to say about tyre manufacturers:… it is interesting to note that the tyre manufacturers have stated that although all the standard grades of popular tyres sell at the same price, there is, in fact, no price fixing agreement between them. Their protestations would surely carry more weight with the public if they had not all raised their prices by 7½ per cent. on the very same day recently. If there really was no collusion over this price change, it constitutes a most remarkable example of thought transference between manufacturers, and I suggest that it be submitted not to the Monopolies Commission but to the Society for Psychical Research.
§ Mr. R. Harris
Surely the hon. Member knows that the tyre industry consists of only 14 manufacturers. Surely he knows that when the price goes up it is not at the whim of one person in an office. Calculations have to be made and all the departments in a firm are involved. One cannot keep a thing like this secret. Many people know when the price of tyres is going up, including myself. I hear about it weeks beforehand. Surely there is no question of thought transference or anything like that.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) should have been so ungracious to his hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry, whom I was quoting. It seems most remarkable, even taking into account what the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth has said, that the increase should be exactly the same and on exactly the same date. If there is no concerted action in that perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity of explaining why to the House later.
The British Motor Trade Association is a most friendly and courteous body of men, and it must be almost a pleasure to be victimised by it. I think that all hon. Members will appreciate the memorandum which it has sent to us. There is, however, one flaw in the argument which the Association advances. It says:Price lists … are known and publicised, and they give a spread of benefit over the entire country so long as they are fixed on a genuinely competitive basis.1514 The important words there are:… so long as they are fixed on a genuinely competitive basis.If there was genuine competition between the tyre manufacturers, then these practices would be somewhat less objectionable than they are at present. However, when we try to discover what action the Association takes to find out whether the prices of goods are fixed in genuine and open competition, the Association immediately becomes a little evasive.
The Association gave a Press conference on 18th February which was reported in the "Manchester Guardian" on the 19th. When it was asked what steps it took to ensure that the manufacturers did not fix prices in association with other manufacturers, correspondents were merely told, "We accept the certificate of the manufacturers." In fact, it is perfectly prepared to accept the word of the manufacturers, but is not prepared to accept the word of the dealers at the same time.
There is none of the elaborate paraphernalia of agents provocateurs and secret courts checking on what the manufacturers are doing. Those activities are reserved purely for the dealers in the industry and to that extent the British Motor Trade Association is working on the side of the more powerful elements in the industry.
How does this organisation work? I should like to tell the House of the case of the Burnley Tyre Depot, Ltd., which is run, among others, by a Mr. Mitchell, who is one of my constituents. On 18th June, Mr. Mitchell received from a body called the Hauliers' Buying Agency a letter saying that the agency was desiring to establish arrangements with a firm in Burnley which would supply tyres in quantity to their members doing haulage business in that area and would supply and service tyres for members' vehicles proceeding to that area.
Mr. Mitchell wrote back thanking the agency for its letter and saying that he would be in London on 5th July and would have a talk to Mr. Williams of the Hauliers' Buying Agency. Mr. Mitchell called upon Mr. Williams and as a result six tyres were supplied to the Hauliers' Buying Agency at a discount of 7½ per cent. At this stage it is interesting to note that the National Tyre Distributors' Association, in a letter signed "R. Reader 1515 Harris, Secretary," warned its members that they would be well advised not to have anything to do with the Hauliers' Buying Agency.
Unfortunately, by this stage my constituent had entered into agreement with the agency and supplied the tyres at a discount. On 22nd September, my constituent received a letter saying that he had sold tyres at below the list price and that action would be taken. Then a blue, official-looking document, very much like a police court summons, reached my constituent in a registered letter. It said that his attendance was invited at a meeting of the Price Protection Committee sitting at 14, Fitzhardinge Street, on Tuesday, 5th October, and that the chairman and adjudicator would be Sir Grattan Bushe, K.C.M.G., C.B., "former legal adviser to the Colonial and Dominion Office."
My constituent appeared before the British Motor Trade Association. He had no complaint about the courtesy with which he was received. He later received the decision of the court saying:The above case was heard by the Authority appointed by this Association on Tuesday, 5th October, 1954.It went on to say that the allegation had been substantiated, and added:An order has accordingly been made that the name of your firm be placed upon the Association's Stop List unless, within twenty-one days, i.e., on or before 27th October, 1954, you pay to the Association a sum of £183 6s. and execute the enclosed Undertaking.The enclosed undertaking was that he would not in future contravene the rules of the Association. That is a really shocking state of affairs.
We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) about some cases, but these are happening fairly frequently. I have not yet had the opportunity of visiting one of these courts, although the hon. Member for Oswestry has done so. In all fairness to the British Motor Trade Association I shall say that it has invited me to attend its court next week. But, however these courts are conducted, it is, in principle, bad that courts of this kind are allowed to operate and inflict such punishments. The adjudicator, however fair, however good he may be, is, nevertheless, appointed by the association. The assessors who sit with him are appointed 1516 by the Association. There is no right of appeal to any one except the Association itself. Instead of the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General spending their time advising upon the fairness with which the Monopolies Commission conducts its cases, perhaps they could spare a little time to investigate these private courts and comment upon them.
I should like to mention one or two other cases which give some sort of impression of how this Association is behaving. There was the case of Mr. Alfred Bloomberg, of Preston, which was reported on 19th January. His offence was that he had advertised tyres below the list price. His reason for doing so was that between putting the tyres on sale and the purchase being made the price had gone up—arranged by the tyre manufacturers. Therefore, at that moment, although he was selling old stock, he was selling below the list price for the tyres. He was fined £10.
The case of Mr. Watson, of Waverton, in Cumberland, was reported the same day. He runs a garage. A man called with a van and showed him some very worn tyres. Mr. Watson offered to supply a new tyre and made a slight reduction in price. The investigator, Mr. Scott-Ireland, said that the offer was very generous, but as soon as the tyre had been fixed he informed Mr. Watson that he was an agent of the British Motor Trade Association.
There is the case of Mr. Clarkson, of Blackburn. This is an especially interesting case. In that case the agent of the British Motor Trade Association called upon a garage proprietor and said that he was in a great hurry and wanted to buy four tyres, but could not wait for them to be fitted. The garage proprietor, Mr. Clarkson, said that the tyres would normally cost £20 16s. That included the cost of fitting. When the man said he was in a hurry and would take them away, Mr. Clarkson said that would save a good deal of trouble and he knocked the 16s. off the Bill. Mr. Clarkson was summoned to London and fined £25.
There was the case of Mr. Philip Pegg, of King's Lynn, in February last year. An agent of the B.M.T.A., wearing old Wellington boots, overalls and a cloth cap, called to buy four tyres. He was sold four tyres costing £17. He said he wanted to trade in the old tyre casings 1517 for retreading and Mr. Pegg, the garage proprietor, said he would allow him 10s. on each of the worn tyres returned. The bill was reduced to £15 instead of £17. The agent reported him to the B.M.T.A. and Mr. Pegg was put on the stop list.
I do not think that anybody can justify that sort of behaviour. I appreciate and very much agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) had to say. There is obviously a case for resale price maintenance in certain industries under certain conditions provided that it is operated in a responsible way. But there can be no justification whatever for the kind of collective resale price maintenance which has been criticised this afternoon.
Before I conclude, I want to call the attention of the House and the Government to a new manifestation of restrictive practices—and if we indulge in pratices of this kind ourselves, we can hardly complain when other countries indulge in them to our disadvantage. I am sorry, as I said before this afternoon, that the Ministry of Food has no representative in the House today, because I want to raise a point which relates to the supply of canned fruits. The House will not be surprised when I say that the "Grocer" is not my regular weekend reading, but I have been studying it with some care lately.
I learn from the "Grocer" that from 1st January this year the canned fruit trade has been free from control. It is not possible to purchase Californian canned fruit, because of the dollar difficulties. Therefore, practically all our supplies come either from Australia, or South Africa, or, in the case of pineapples, from Malaya.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but Kenya is not concerned in the matter to which I wish to refer.
How is this freedom working? The three countries to which I have referred have got together and, in the words of the "Grocer":There has been drawn up a restricted, or authorised, list of about 120 first-hand distributors through whom alone the canned fruits of the three countries named will be placed on the British market …. The immediate consequence of its operation is that all supplies of Commonwealth canned fruits reaching this 1518 country are to be channelled through the selected few and thus the way is left open for the elimination of competition and for the fixation of prices throughout, right down to the retailer.The article concludes:… the proposed conditions … on the face of things, constitute nothing less than a price ring at the ultimate expense of the public.That is a matter to which I hope the Government will give the most active consideration. We are pressing them, week after week, about the cost of living. We seldom get a satisfactory answer to the points we make, and I should like-to think that the Minister who replies to the debate will give some consideration to this evidence of a new price ring at the expense of the people's food and will' be able to give the House a satisfactory assurance.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)
Many hon. Members will be in complete agreement with the criticisms which have been levelled by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) at these so-called courts; but the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not pursue that aspect of the problem, since I have prepared myself upon another aspect.
The Act of 1948 was an agreed Measure. It established the instrument for dealing with—I quote from the Preamble—… mischiefs resulting from, or arising in connection with, any conditions of monopoly or restriction …in industry or trade. That instrument was the Monopolies Commission. Since then the Government have taken two important steps designed to pursue the checking of activities of the nature contemplated by the Statute which operate against the public interest. The first step was taken in 1952, when the President of the Board of Trade required the Commission to make a general report upon two practices, namely, exclusive dealing and collective boycott. I am sure that the House was interested to hear that it is hoped to have that report, which must have involved a great deal of work over the months, fairly soon.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The Minister said that the Commission would finish its work this 1519 summer. Unless the right hon. Gentleman assures us that the report will not be held up, that is no indication that it will be published as soon as he receives it.
§ Mr. Nield
I cannot give an assurance on behalf of my right hon. Friend, but I think I can say that once the report has been received from the Commission I am sure that my right hon. Friend will do all he can to deal with it as quickly as possible.
The second step was the Act of 1953, which provided for an increase in the number of persons on the Commission, thus enabling that body to receive more references, not, of course, necessarily to hasten the reports of any one industry but to make more inquiries and reports. It is to the working and procedure of the Commission that I desire to address myself, prefacing this part of my remarks by saying, as I suppose I should, that I have from time to time appeared professionally before that body.
The main criticism of the work of the Commission is that it takes too long to report. It is correct to say that in normal circumstances a considerable time elapses between the reference and the publication of the report, but I am anxious to say that I am very doubtful if those who make that criticism are fully aware of the magnitude of the task which the Commission undertakes in each and every inquiry.
Perhaps an example would help. In the last inquiry in which I was engaged those whom I represented were the principal trade association, no fewer than 13 affiliated trade associations, each with its own rules and regulations, and 71 manufacturing companies which were members of one or more of the associations. All the affairs of all those associations and companies were, of necessity, subject to investigation and inquiry by the Commission. There were inquiries into their arrangements and agreements and into their accounts and costing systems, going back very often, again of necessity, for a great many years.
It is quite clear that that was a long task. Therefore, I suggest that, while I am convinced that the members of the Commission and the staff would be only too glad to go a little faster if it were possible, we should be very cautious not to press them too hard. There are two 1520 cogent reasons for this. The first is that a great part of the value of these reports—and valuable indeed they are—lies in the fact that they are comprehensive and thorough. The second is that it would be unfortunate if it were thought that an industry under investigation did not have the fullest opportunity of presenting its case.
The very distinguished lawyer who is now chairman of the Commission is, I know, determined that every opportunity shall be given to the industry whose affairs are being inquired into. From time to time one has had to ask for an adjournment of the final hearing so that the case may be fully prepared and adequately presented. That is what I desired to say as to the suggestion of delay.
I have now three suggestions to put before the House upon the working of the Commission. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will think that they are constructive and merit consideration. My first suggestion is that the evidence against an industry should be made known to that industry. I observed in the leading article in "The Times" this morning that that point was dealt with. It said:There is certainly room for improvement in its procedure …that is, the procedure of the Commission—… in particular so that industries investigated have better opportunities for examining and replying to the evidence of others.The position is that after the lengthy inquiry which is necessarily made, the Commission sends, usually to the principal trade association, what has come to be called the "public interest letter."
In that letter—and it is helpful that it should be so—are indicated the particular practices which the Commission has provisionally concluded are against the public interest; and the trade or industry is thereupon asked to present itself and answer that case. But the industry does not know the evidence upon which any provisional conclusion has been reached or, in that context, the case which it has to meet. I know that on this there is the argument against me that people will not readily come forward with complaints if they are to be made public. My answer would be that if the complaints are of substance and reality, the person who seeks to make them ought to have the courage to make them publicly and openly.
1521 I would venture once again—because I think it is sometimes a help—to give an example of what I have in mind on this question of the industry knowing the evidence against it. In one of the early inquiries, a member of the Commission, at the final hearing, put a question—in fact, it was put to me as representing the association—indicating that there was evidence of incomplete co-operation and exchange of techniques and materials between members of the association; and that, on account of trade secrets, during the war one member of the association had been unwilling, or unready, to provide materials to the other.
I should say that my argument was, of course, that an association, with its capacity for research in technical industries, was in a situation of great advantage; that it was salutary that a body of companies might pool their resources for technical research. The doubt was raised by a member of the Commission, was there not in this case a failure to provide materials? I asked for sufficient particulars to identify the matter and the Commission very readily complied.
The question arose in regard to the answer to the magnetic mine. The House will recall how, in the early days of the last war, the most grievous losses to our shipping were caused by the dropping of magnetic mines round our coast. It may also be recalled how, on 22nd November, 1939—I hope I am correct in the date—one of these mines was left by the tide at Shoeburyness. Happily it was intact, and there was an opportunity to secure it and to find the answer to it. It was secured and rendered safe by officers of the Royal Navy. How much we owe to them it is very difficult to measure. It may be remembered that had the thread of the screw gone one way, the mine would be secure and rendered safe—we all know what would have happened had it gone the other way.
Immediately the Admiralty set to work on counter-measures. Two members of the association were asked to produce some of the necessary materials. On 20th December, 1939, one member produced one material. On 23rd December it was fully discussed with the other member and the Admiralty; and on 25th December, Christmas Day, the other firm produced what was regarded as a better material. Those materials and techniques 1522 were exchanged freely, not only between the two firms originally approached, but also between them and other firms strategically dispersed throughout the country, and with our friends in the United States; with the result that on 18th January, 1940, 57 days after the recovery of this mine, supplies of this essential material were available.
The point I am making in what, after all, was a rather stirring episode in our history is this: I do not think that the Commission, without hearing the explanation, was going to condemn the industry for lack of co-operation, but there was this lingering doubt that perhaps there had been a failure in cooperation. But once the evidence was known to the industry the answer given was surely the most complete example of co-operation and united effort. Thus, I say that an industry is entitled to know the evidence against it.
My second suggestion is that the Board of Trade, which makes these references, which decides what matters shall be referred, should be represented at the final hearing before the Commission so as to put the case against the industry. At present, it is left to the tribunal to put the points against it. That, I suggest, is a very unsatisfactory situation and I think that the members of the Commission would be much assisted were the position that they had both sides of the problem put to them at the hearing.
My third suggestion is that the onus of proof in the normal case should be placed fairly and squarely upon those who allege that an industry's arrangements are contrary to the public interest. In other words, it would be the duty of the Board of Trade representative to establish that which was asserted. Of course, the strictness of the burden of proof must vary according to the circumstances. About that I would say that reference has already been made to the provisions of Section 14 of the Act, in which Parliament sought to give guidance as to the definition of public interest—a very difficult thing to do.
I would remind the House that in Section 14 of the Act it is stated that in determining the public interest… regard shall be had to the need … to achieve (a) the production, treatment and distribution by the most efficient and economical means of goods of such types and 1523 qualities, in such volume and at such prices as will best meet the requirements of home and overseas markets.That indicates four factors which help us to decide whether practices operating in an industry are against the public interest.
Those factors are type, quality, volume and price. If it were shown that with its prevailing practices the industry produced all the required types; that those types were of the highest quality; that they were produced in sufficient volume, and that the prices compared favourably with those of overseas producers—who often have lower wage costs than British producers—I would say that the burden of proof upon those who allege that the practices are against the public interest would be a heavy one indeed.
There is one general point which I am anxious to make. During this debate we have been given examples of behaviour in industry which must obviously be condemned. I suppose that in all industries we shall find some people who will put private gain first, or even alone, but I suggest that the assertion which is sometimes made that our industry is riddled with malpractices is reckless and unjustified—and, of course, highly damaging to us in the eyes of the rest of the world.
If the reports of the Commission are carefully studied, I suggest that the true construction to be placed upon the situation is this. Many practices in several industries have been condemned. They have been condemned, however, not because the industry concerned is blind to its duty to the public but because of a genuine anxiety that there should not be a return to the conditions of depression which existed between the two world wars, when so many undertakings foundered and there was unemployment and all the misery which followed.
Those reasons may be mistaken, but they are certainly not unworthy. I would merely add that, in deciding whether those reasons are justified or mistaken, attention ought to be paid to the opinion of men who have spent many years in a certain industry and whose knowledge of it is unrivalled. I hope that the suggestions I have ventured to make will be considered and that, if adopted, they may assist the immensely important task which Parliament has entrusted to the Monopolies Commission.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
I welcome the opportunity this debate has given for discussing a subject which has caused very great uneasiness in the public mind. It is a serious debate, and I do not wish to appear to spoil it by making any cheap remarks. After hearing the speech of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), however, I am tempted to add that the House has had the experience of listening to Satan condemning sin.
§ Mr. Wade
It was the intention of my Liberal colleagues and myself—unless certain assurances were given at the close of the debate—to vote with the devil against sin, but after hearing the hesitations of the right hon. Member for Huyton upon the subject of the Report upon the calico printers, I think that my colleagues and I would find it very difficult to go into the same Lobby as the Opposition.
§ Mr. Wade
It is only fair to point out that many of the restrictive practices which have been referred to tonight either existed or could have been foreseen when the Act of 1948 was placed on the Statute Book. This problem was foreseen and very fully discussed by a Liberal committee under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Comyns Carr, which made its report in June, 1945.
The failure of the. Government to act more effectively in dealing with restrictive practices is, in part at any rate, due to the nature of the legislation which they inherited from the previous Administration. I do not want to pursue this question, but there is an excellent provincial 1525 newspaper I read every day from which I do not think I have previously quoted in this House. I refer to the "Huddersfield Examiner." Following the barrage of Questions put to the Minister upon 27th January—which he may well remember—a leading article upon the subject appeared in the "Huddersfield Examiner." After referring to the protests which had been made about the delay in the procedure of the Monopolies Commission and the delays on the part of the Government in dealing with the problem, the article continued with this comment:Mr. Wilson asked Mr. Thorneycroft whether he did not agree, in view of its snail's pace, that it was necessary to introduce general legislation banning malpractices such as had been revealed throughout the length and breadth of British industry. No one would have guessed from these demands for drastic action that it was the Labour Government, of which Mr. Wilson himself was a member, who were responsible for putting the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Act on the statute-book. This, however, is the fact. The Act, timid, sluggish, ineffective as it is, was their baby.
§ Mr. G. Darling
The hon. Member has quoted from a newspaper which, I gather, is against restrictive practices. Will he tell us whether he supports the discount boycott of the Newsagents Association?
§ Mr. Wade
There is no doubt that if the Monopolies Act of 1948 had been more forthright, or if the request to carry out a general inquiry had been made to the Monopolies Commission earlier than December, 1952, the House would have been in a better position today to decide what action should be taken upon the subject of price maintenance agreements and their enforcement.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
The hon. Member has not made it clear whether either the "Huddersfield Examiner" or he himself is in favour of legislation banning these general practices, and whether he intends to vote with the Government in their failure to do anything about them. Since he has referred to what he regards as 1526 undue delay on the part of the Labour Government in asking for this general reference under Section 15—and the President made the same complaint at Question Time—I would ask the hon. Member whether he is aware that under that Section we were precluded from making a general reference until a number of separate reports in which these practices were dealt with had been made, and that that proviso was agreed to by the Labour Government under very special pressure from the Conservative Front Bench, who insisted upon that safeguard. Therefore, the reason we could not have made the reference then, even had we wanted to, was that the Act forbade it, and we were asked by the Tory Party to put it in the Act.
§ Mr. Wade
The right hon. Gentleman has made two points. One was in favour of general legislative reference, and with that, if I may, I shall deal in a moment. I agree with his second point. As a result of that particular Section there was a delay. I regret that the request for a general inquiry was not made earlier, and I also regret the particular provision to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. His major question, however, is whether there should be any legislation in addition to implementing the reports of the Monopolies Commission, and I should like to deal with that in a few moments.
Whilst I recognise that in order to get a complete picture we must wait until the reports that have been promised this year have been presented and considered, I do not agree that there is nothing we can do in the meantime. That we are still awaiting the reports does not alter the fact that considerable information is already available and that there are several reasons for grave concern about the widespread nature of these restrictive practices. There is, first, the effect on the cost of living. I appreciate the distinction between price maintenance by an individual firm and collective price maintenance. That point was made very well, if I may say so, in an extremely able speech by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). There is a difference between price maintenance by individual firms to maintain the price of branded goods at the advertised figure, and arrangements entered into amongst a group of manufacturers and distributors to control the price of certain commodities. 1527 It is that latter form that has the most serious effect on price levels, and unfortunately there is growing evidence that price maintenance is not limited to the former type.
I have read a letter which has been sent out by a body calling itself the Fair Prices Defence Committee. According to that body:Resale Price Maintenance in the businesses with which we are concerned, has nothing to do with 'price rings.' Each manufacturer is in competition with others and can lower or raise his individual retail selling prices in the light of his changing production costs ….If that is so, it may not have a serious effect on the cost of living, but all too often it is not so and it has its effect, not only on the cost of living, but on the costs of production, and, indirectly, makes it more difficult for our exporters to compete successfully in the world markets. This is obviously not just the private concern of a group of manufacturers or retailers but of the whole community. There are several other aspects of this problem which I should like to stress.
During the last half century, there has been a steady growth of trade associations. They perform many valuable services but, with that growth, increasing power is put into the hands of certain organisations and groups of persons controlling them. That power has not been granted by Parliament, nor is its exercise controlled by Parliament. Those affected have no redress if they feel aggrieved. For example, a shopkeeper may feel that his liberty is being unduly curtailed or his livelihood threatened, but there is no court in which he can seek redress. If he were to consult a solicitor, I imagine that he would be told that, though there is certain common law on the subject, it is of very little assistance to him owing to decisions in the courts, particularly during the last 25 years. The law on the restraint of trade has altered very considerably. This shopkeeper might write a letter to the Monopolies Commission, it is true, but the Commission is only there to collect evidence and cannot provide him with a remedy. It is not much of an answer for him to be told that the Minister has decided to implement the Report on calico printing—that does not help a grocer.
1528 Perhaps I may illustrate that by quoting a case which has already been mentioned. If I quote a case from Birmingham I hope that hon. Members from Birmingham divisions will not take it amiss, but the Slinn case has already been mentioned. This grocer, living in a district where most of his customers were in the low-income group, got into trouble for selling certain articles below the fixed price. He received a letter from the distributors. He also consulted a prominent Liberal in Birmingham who asked me to take up the case and sent me the original letter. That is how it comes to be in my possession.
As the letter is printed, one may assume that it is sent out in fairly considerable numbers. The date and the addressee are typed in, but the letter itself is printed.
§ Mr. Wade
It is from Van den Berghs Limited. The first paragraph contains the statement:A vast majority of retail and multiple grocers and provision merchants and wholesale distributors have made it abundantly clear that they strongly favour a price maintenance policy in support of the distribution of nationally advertised products.The next paragraph points out:Furthermore, evidence given at Public Inquiries, shows that consumers prefer being able to buy branded goods at stable prices. To meet the majority wishes we have therefore introduced a price maintenance policy for the sale of our brands of margarine and cooking fats.We have given you full details of this policy and have asked you to discontinue cutting … the … price …So far that seems, perhaps, not unreasonable, but the concluding paragraph reads:You have not seen fit to support our policy and have elected to continue price cutting. We therefore give you notice of our intention to take steps to prevent further supplies of our brands of margarine, shortening and cooking fat reaching you. Your name and address will be circulated forthwith to all Wholesalers in the United Kingdom with the request that you be refused supplies of our brands.I know that an attempt is sometimes made to justify this policy on the ground that the retailer is in the position of a member of a club who must be expected to observe the rules of the club. But I do not regard that as a very good analogy, and, even if it were a good analogy, we should have to consider 1529 whether it is desirable that industry should be organised on that club system, having regard to the fact that it might all too easily become an exclusive club system. Sooner or later, I believe, that method of organising industry would result in the undermining of the foundations of our free economy—or perhaps I should say prevent the rebuilding of the foundations of a free economy in this country.
The desire for security and an assurance of fair profits is understandable, particularly after the experiences of the inter-war years; although I believe that those experiences were due not so much to the absence of price maintenance agreements as to a mistaken economic policy. But let us have no illusions about the consequences of such action designed to secure it. Professor Zwieg, in a book entitled "The Planning of Free Societies," which I think was published in 1944 or 1945, refers tocertain tendencies of modern industrial life which are leading society in the direction of a mediaeval guild economy based on the desire for security.I am convinced that this country cannot survive as an industrial nation if we return to a mediaeval guild economy. I believe in private enterprise, but it must be genuine private enterprise.
I have no prejudice against the idea of profit, which I think is a much maligned term. It is a convenient form of remuneration for the risks and responsibilities undertaken by those who engage in trade and industry in a free economy. Sometimes the amount which they receive is comparatively small; very often the amount of remuneration which a shopkeeper gets is extremely small compared with the time and energy put into his task.
But once the risks and responsibilities of private ownership are removed much of the raison d'etre of private enterprise is lost, and sooner or later there will be a demand that that system should be replaced by some form of collectivism. It is for that more fundamental reason, and because I believe in the advantages of a free economy, that I am deeply concerned about this trend towards monopoly.
§ Mr. Wade
Let us assume that that is accepted—and it may be that I am preaching to the converted. What should we do about it? With the exception of the 1948 Act, no serious attempt has been made in this country to deal with this problem by legislation. I do not want to burden the House with a lot of quotations, but perhaps I may be permitted to give one more. This was written by Professor Levy in his book "Retail Trade Associations," published in 1942:It is a surprising feature of the present-day structure of British industrial organisation that the country which once prided herself on being immune from any monopolist domination today not only possesses hardly a single industry or trade in which quasi-monopolist combination is absent, but actually has remained the only important industrial country in which no legislation has been enacted to control their activities.I take the view that the 1948 Act is better than nothing but is inadequate. We had an interesting debate in the House on 15th June, 1951, opened, I think, by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland). He used the expression "gradualist and piecemeal" in referring to the procedure under the 1948 Act—and on the whole, I think, he was inclined to favour that Act. In winding up the debate, the right hon. and learned Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross) had some very complimentary remarks to make about the Liberals. He said:In this matter the Liberals have a consistent and progressive tradition ….I pay tribute to their efforts to promote intelligent and progressive views about monopoly.He then referred to the Report of 1945 and said:I rejoice that it falls to our lot to carry out a policy which Liberals have long supported, and on which they have helped to create an increasingly well-informed public opinion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th June, 1951; Vol. 488, col. 2747.]My only quarrel with those otherwise admirable remarks is that in fact the last Administration did not carry out Liberal policy. We have always taken the view that the piece-meal method of dealing with price maintenance and monopolistic practices would never provide a satisfactory solution. I am not suggesting that we should abandon the excellent work of the Monopolies Commission; indeed, I have a very high regard for the ability of the Chairman. Nor am I suggesting that the only alternative is the "trust-busting" which we have seen in the United States. 1531 There are other alternatives. I realise that we must wait for the reports which have been promised this year, following the general inquiry which is taking place, before we can reach a final conclusion on this very thorny and difficult subject of price maintenance.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I think we on this side of the House have some difficulty in following the hon. Gentleman's argument. He condemns the Labour Government for not having gone further than they did. He was not satisfied with their piece-meal approach. He would have liked general legislation. But he does not intend to support us in pressing for general legislation because he wants a further period of delay, although according to him we went too slowly.
§ Mr. Wade
May I answer his intervention in two parts? In the first place, I should feel hesitation about going into the Opposition Lobby with the right hon. Gentleman for this reason: having heard his views on such a vital report as the calico printing Report, which I regarded as a test case, I should find it difficult to go into the same Lobby with him, although on many occasions we differ from the Opposition and yet go into the same Lobby because we also differ from the Government. On this occasion, on the subject of that report, which I regard as a test case, we have had a more forthright answer from the President of the Board of Trade than we have had from the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson).
On the subject of general legislation, I have always held the view, and still hold the view—and I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find Liberals who expressed the view in 1948 and earlier—that the setting up of inquiries into particular industries, and the production of reports with possible action thereafter, would not by itself provide an adequate solution to this problem. The common law, for various reasons into which I need not go, now provides no satisfactory remedy for those who feel that their liberty has been unjustly curtailed, and I believe it is necessary—and this was the point I was about to make—to introduce 1532 legislation bringing the law on this subject more up to date and in keeping with the present situation, defining more clearly what is permissible and what is not.
I quite understand the attitude of the Government when they say that we must wait for the result of the general inquiries before introducing legislation. But will the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary make clear where the Government stand on this principle? There is a distinction between saying that we must wait for these reports and then decide whether it is necessary to do anything about them and saying, "We recognise the need for introducing legislation dealing with these extreme forms of restraint on trade. We propose to introduce legislation and the delay is because we believe that those reports, which will be forthcoming this year, will be helpful in deciding the nature of that legislation." There is a distinction between those two points of view.
In winding up the debate, will the Minister give an assurance that he will look very carefully into the question of whether import restrictions are not in any way assisting the maintenance of price rings? There is no doubt that in the days before the war they contributed to the formation of price rings; the introduction of tariffs encouraged and made possible the formation of price rings before the war.
Reference has been made to private courts. On that, I put forward a suggestion that a representative of the Monopolies Commission should be present when those courts meet. That might require additional staff for the purpose, but I do not think it would be impracticable. I suggest it as an interim measure only.
I personally would support the proposal that trade associations should be registered. That suggestion was made in the Liberal report in 1945. I do not think it necessary to await the report of the Monopolies Commission to adopt such a policy. We have precedents, for example, in the case of the friendly societies. That is not quite on all fours, but there are precedents. I am no enthusiast for registration, but in this case it is justified. I do not think that responsible trade associations would object. At the same time, by making the rules of the associations available to the public, it 1533 would bring out into the open a subject which is shrouded in so much mystery.
I have never accepted the view that a free society can be created merely by removing controls. I have never believed that the advantages of a free economy can be gained merely by doing nothing. The problem is to create a society in which there is the maximum degree of freedom with adequate restraint against abuse. The problem is to try to get the maximum amount of liberty, to create the framework of freedom, as someone called it. If we do not do that we shall see the spread of monopoly capitalism and the consequences of that are all too clear. The days of private enterprise—by that I mean genuine private enterprise—would undoubtedly be numbered.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. David Ormsby-Gore (Oswestry)
We have had some difficulty in following the argument of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade), but with one statement he made I was in entire agreement. That was when he contrasted the action the President of the Board of Trade proposes to take as regards the calico printers with the miserable policy put forward by the right lion. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson). In saying that it swayed the Liberal Party, such as it is, to go into the Lobby against the Opposition I thought the hon. Member showed very considerable judgment.
Personally, I welcomed what I thought a very courageous decision on the part of the President of the Board of Trade, although I must say that I think he has taken a considerable time to arrive at that decision. I do not feel there is very great scope for speeding up the work of the Monopolies Commission if it is to do its job thoroughly and if it is to see that justice is done to all concerned, nor do I think there is very great scope for enlarging the Monopolies Commission beyond its present size, for the reasons which I thought were very clearly given in the article in "The Times" this morning.
However, I do feel that once an impartial body such as the Monopolies Commission has reported, it is up to the Government of the day to take fairly speedy action in seeing that its conclusions are carried out. The right hon. Member opposite would not carry out the conclusions, but in most cases I think it 1534 is desirable that the conclusions of an impartial body such as that should be carried out. There is, therefore, some scope for speeding up the action of the Monopolies Commission if only Governments will come to a decision about the conclusions rather faster than they have done in the past.
Looking further to the future, it may well be possible to introduce legislation putting a general ban on a number of restrictive practices which are common throughout trade and industry—we have discussed some already this afternoon. If that happens it may be that the work of the Monopolies Commission would automatically be reduced. It would be foolish at this stage to try to increase the size and speed up its work if in the ordinary course of events its work is likely to diminish. I think it would have been very much more useful if we had had this debate rather later when we had the benefit of the Report under Section 15 of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act. Obviously, no really responsible person would suggest that the Government should now introduce legislation before they have had an opportunity of reading and studying that Report.
Nevertheless, I think it is possible, without having that Report, to come to some general conclusions on the whole situation with regard to restrictive practices. Some time ago I said in this House that I felt that if we all believed that a greater flexibility in our economy would lead to greater efficiency it was up to employers in industry to set an example by reducing their restrictive practices. I do not see why we should expect trade unionists to abandon some of their more short-sighted restrictive practices if, all the time, they see employers trying to extend their restrictive practices on their side of industry.
In present economic conditions I do not think it would be demanding very much if we suggested that there should be an appreciable decline in the rigid restrictions now imposed through much of British industry. We have very full employment and have had for a number of years. Over a number of years, also, we have had incipient inflation. Those conditions are very different from pre-war conditions when a considerable amount of this jungle of restrictive practices grew up. The present time seems the really ideal 1535 moment for making an attempt to clear away some of this jungle growth. Under present conditions that could be achieved without some of the unpleasant repercussions, such as unemployment.
But if we look into British industry, we find that trade associations are doing their very best to expand their activities. It is hardly possible now to look into any industry without finding a great number of restrictive practices being operated. Such conditions retard desirable changes in our economy and, if continued, are likely to confound the hopes which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has for raising the standard of living—as my right hon. Friend said, doubling it—in the next generation.
It seems likely that as a result of the Report under Section 15 of the Act, it will be possible to introduce legislation which places a general ban on exclusive dealing and on collective boycotts. But I suggest also that a number of other practices could be banned under the same legislation without any further inquiry. Among these I would list price fixing between manufacturers, which I do not think is defensible on any grounds, as the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) said. If it is combined with rigid resale price maintenance, it completely stifles competition and denies to the consumer any protection or safeguard. I would also include in that legislation a total ban on the operation of fighting companies such as were controlled by the Electric Lamp Manufacturers' Association. They, too, are quite indefensible, and I do not think we need any further inquiry before putting into legislation a ban on that type of practice.
If we are to get legislation passed along these lines, it might well be unnecessary to take further action as regards resale price maintenance itself. The arguments on resale price maintenance are much more evenly balanced on either side. There are even people on both sides of the House who would disagree with the views put forward by their own Front Benches. It was noticeable in the Lloyd Jacob Report that even the witnesses from the consumers' side declared themselves in favour of resale price maintenance. I do not think any report has been published which completely condemns resale price maintenance in 1536 general, although some of the practices to which it leads have been condemned in the Lloyd Jacob Report.
On the question of resale price maintenance, I know that hon. Members opposite feel that they have gone, perhaps, a good deal further than hon. Members on this side, but even in the White Paper which the party opposite, when in office, issued in June, 1951, they allowed themselves a very considerable escape clause. After saying that they proposed to introduce legislation which would abolish resale price maintenance, they then added:but in drafting the legislation the Government will take account of any cases where it may be established that exceptional conditions would render the operation of the proposed provisions unworkable or undesirable in the public interest.That proviso affords them considerable latitude, and no doubt the party opposite had in mind trades such as the book trade, and, possibly, even the motor and radio trades, from which the customer expects a great deal of after-sales service.
Therefore, it would be most unwise at the moment to condemn out of hand all resale price maintenance; but many of us share the misgivings of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) about the methods of enforcement. I cannot feel that it is desirable that a whole private judicial system should be built up in this country, with its own laws, its own police and courts, and its own penalties.
§ Mr. R. Harris
I should like to have my hon. Friend's view on one point. The British Motor Trade Association was set up so that traders should be treated fairly. Does my hon. Friend think it better that, instead of having what are called secret courts, there should be a system, such as that to which the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) referred, in which a manufacturer simply writes to say, "We will cut your supplies" and the trader has no opportunity of submitting arguments, making representations or putting his point of view?
§ Mr. Ormsby-Gore
As I understood, what the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West suggested was that an individual manufacturer should cut off supplies. He was not suggesting that manufacturers should band together and all of them cut off supplies in cases of that kind. That is a very different state of affairs.
§ Mr. Harris
Where that is done, surely, there should be means whereby the trader can make representations.
§ Mr. Ormsby-Gore
I will come to that presently. We must try to get cases of this kind into the real law courts.
§ Mr. Ormsby-Gore
One of the bad features of these courts which has already been referred to is that there is no genuine form of appeal. It is possible to appeal from a judge who is paid by the association to another judge who is paid by the association, but nobody would regard that as a thoroughly satisfactory safeguard. I suggest, therefore, that it should be possible to introduce legislation, if necessary, which enables manufacturers to enforce contracts, particularly as regards resale prices, through the due processes of law, with all the safeguards that that gives to the defendant.
I have given my general views on both resale price maintenance and price fixing. Finally, to my hon. Friends on this side, I would say that we should welcome the motives which have prompted the Opposition in putting down their Motion today. It is really an affirmation of their belief in competition and of their belief that competition is desirable in trade and industry and leads to a healthy economy. This is a rather different view from that taken by certain Socialists in days gone by.
I do not say that that view was taken by different members of the Socialist Party, but in days gone by a rather different view was taken by the same members of competition, which was always regarded as wasteful and something which should be eliminated. It was one of the major arguments in favour of nationalised monopolies. Let us hope that this new enthusiasm for competition shown by the party opposite will presage a future in which the Labour Party not only abandons its policy of further nationalisation but adopts a policy of denationalisation.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I will deal presently, if I have time, with the last part of the speech of the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Ormsby-Gore). I should like seriously to return to a point that the hon. Member 1538 raised earlier when he spoke, for the first time in this debate, of the restrictive practices of trade unionists and not the restrictive practices of trade unions. This is an important point and I hope it will not be taken amiss if I develop it for a moment.
We know all about the restrictive practices of trade unionists—they are customs that have grown up; but if the agreements and the rules of trade unions are examined it will be found that outside the old craft industries there are very few restrictive practices in the rules and agreements of the trade unions. The hon. Member for Oswestry will probably remember that soon after the war, the Trades Union Congress agreed with the Ministry of Labour that there should be an inquiry into trade union restrictive practices. The British Employers' Confederation, which was associated with that inquiry, agreed, in the end, that there were no trade union restrictive practices with which it could effectively deal.
If we are to make a comparison between what might be called the restrictive practices of the workers, the customs which have grown up and which stop enterprise and progress, and the trade associations which employ restrictive practices, we will be making a mistake. We must compare the activities, agreements and rules of the organisations, and not the actions of the individual trade unionists.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) has pointed out on other occasions, very few trade unions can have restrictive practices because the rules dealing with members who offend are so hemmed in that it is very difficult for trade unions to exercise any kind of sanction. The difficulties will be apparent and I do not want to labour them further, but I hope that there will be no more comparisons of this kind, because they take us away from the real problem. I am not defending trade unionist restrictive practices, but we shall not get at them by hitting at the trade unions. We must get at them in a different way.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade). I do not know whether to call it a fighting speech. He said that he was against a collectivist economy. I am all in favour of a collectivist economy, 1539 especially if there is a great deal of voluntary collectivism in it of the kind which I try to represent in this House. The Co-operative movement has been trying to fight monopoly practices for fifty years. Our difficulty with the Liberal Party always was that so many of the monopolists with whom we had to deal were Liberals.
§ Mr. Darling
I do not want to go into that history. A fiction has grown up that the atheists, the Radicals, the Socialists, the Chartists, the first Communists and the Nonconformists and others who started the Co-operative movement were members of the Liberal Party. I assure the House that not all of them were.
I was very pleased, however, that the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West came out in favour of registration of trade agreements. Whether we agree or not with much that the President of the Board of Trade said about waiting for reports before taking action, here is something about which we do not need to wait at all. The question of registration has not been referred to the Monopolies Commission, and we shall not cut across the Commission if the Government go ahead with the proposal that all trade agreements should be registered. We should then see what the scope of these agreements are and how they operate. We should see the picture for the first time.
I was horrified when the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West made two suggestions almost in the same sentence. One was that representatives of the Monopolies Commission should attend the courts about which we have been complaining, and the other was the suggestion that we should have registration to find out how many courts there are. I think that the hon. Member would be shocked at the number. We do not know, because nobody has gone into the matter and there has not been a full investigation. It may be that the whole time not only of the members but also of the staff of the Commission would be taken up in attending these courts to see that there was fair play.
§ Mr. Darling
We have had enough of interim measures. The whole defence made by the President was the defence of interim measures. It was a case of, "Let us wait. Let us do nothing until we have more reports." When he was on the Opposition benches and I was sitting on the Government side of the House, the right hon. Gentleman was a wonderful, swashbuckling figure coming out to fight for freedom and to get rid of restrictions on enterprise. I, as even the ranks of Tuscany, could scarce forbear to cheer.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Would not the hon. Member agree that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade cut a much better figure than did his right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) this afternoon?
§ Mr. Darling
Not at all, because all that the right hon. Member does now that he is President and has the opportunity to do things about which he used to talk, is not to go out to slay the dragons of restriction but to make paper dragons of his own and blow them over. All his energies today were directed at statements and proposals which were not made or put forward from this side of the House, and the real dragons of monopoly are still there.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Does the hon. Member not realise that one of the dragons of monopoly is now supported by his right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton in his support of the Calico Manufacturers' Association?
§ Mr. Darling
That is as misleading an interjection as those that were made by the President. The real dragons are still there and they have little to fear from what the President said today. If the right hon. Gentleman were here I would suggest that he should not defend the Commission quite so vigorously. All that we on this side of the House are saying is that our own legislation is imperfect and we want to improve it. It is rather curious that, after we have said that, the right hon. Gentleman should defend that legislation.
The right hon. Gentleman also made several claims on his own behalf. He said that he was the person who thought of strengthening the Monopolies Commission. The Co-operative movement was asking for the strengthening of the Commission on these lines two years before 1541 the right hon. Gentleman took any action. He said that he was the first person to give the Commission the job of inquiring into collective practices. We have been pressing for that kind of thing for the last forty years. It is on the record, and for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that he first made the proposal is rather curious.
It was said from the benches opposite that this economy of ours is not riddled with restrictive practices. It is riddled with the trade associations which have grown up. Whether their practices are good or bad is something which we have to find out. To wait for the proceedings of the Monopolies Commission, even with the reference under Section 15 of the Act, will take far too long. We shall not obtain the whole picture of restrictive practices of trade associations through any action taken under Section 15.
I want to see the whole picture. I suggest that the best way of obtaining that picture is to have the registration of all agreements and the publication of reports by trade associations, just as trade unions are compelled by law to make reports on their incomes and activities. If that were done we should be able to look at trade associations' restrictive practices and agreements and be able to take action as a result of the picture which would emerge.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) quoted Swedish experience. I hope that he will not mind if I bring his figures up to date. Some new figures have been published since the report which he quoted was issued. Sweden has this compulsory registration of trade agreements. Since 1947, 1,250 agreements have been registered and a great deal of publicity has been given to them. As a result, 480 have been scrapped. Whether they were good or bad is beside the point. Another 250 have been modified.
Sweden has an economy which is very much like ours, partly public enterprise and largely private enterprise, but on a very much smaller scale than ours. If there were 1,250 agreements operating in the Swedish economy, I wonder what the number is in this country. Nobody knows. We must find out. If we adopted the Swedish experience, with which the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) was in agreement when he raised the point 1542 originally during the discussion of the Bill, and we made arrangements for it to come into operation now, I think that we should have a similar experience in this country.
Sweden, admittedly, has been on the job two years longer than we have. Its legislation came into operation in 1947, ours in 1949. We have dealt with 10 industries in six years. The Swedish registration procedure has got rid of or modified 700 trade agreements in two years longer. Surely that is the approach we ought to be considering.
I do not want to take up a lot more time, but I want again to mention the discrimination against the co-operative societies because this is something which, quite frankly, apart from any prejudice I have in the matter, ought to be considered away from Section 15 though it does come into that Section. The angle from which I should like it considered is that of the trade associations refusing to supply to co-operative societies goods that they send to other retailers, and they do so because of the policy of the Cooperative societies in following the system of rebate on purchases. With their 12 million members the co-operative societies have decided that, in their view, the best and most efficient method of distributing profits that arise from their trading operations is that the profits should go back to the people who made the trade by way of rebates upon their purchases.
Hon. Members opposite may, if they like, quarrel with that method of distributing profits, but surely there is nothing in it which gives to a trade association or a manufacturing concern the right to say, "We will not supply you with our goods unless you distribute your profits in the way we dictate." But that is what is happening. That is the whole basis of this discrimination against the Cooperative movement. I say that no manufacturing concern and no trading association has the right to dictate to any trading body, whether to the Co-operative movement or any other body, the way in which their profits should be distributed.
I hope, therefore, that the Government will look at this problem not only in its relation to the submission under Section 15 of the Act, but as a separate thing in itself as to whether these firms and trade associations have the right to dictate to anyone how their profits should 1543 be distributed. It is gross interference with the methods of trading in the Cooperative movement and it ought to be stopped.
I should like to give one final example of the way in which this sort of discrimination works. I want again to mention the newsagents' business. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West has disappeared for the moment, but the newspaper to which he referred is as bad as the rest of them. One gets a little tired of seeing this anti-monopoly campaign being run in newspapers that do not say anything about the monopoly practices in which they are interested.
This is the way the newsagents' business works, and I will apply it to an actual example of co-operative trading. If a co-operative society, in its normal expansion process, buys a row of shops to extend a department store and in those shops there is a newagent's and the local co-operative society says, "It would be a good idea to keep this going and have a newsagent's stand in the entrance to our department store," it will soon find that it cannot do it.
The local newsagents will get together and operate, quite falsely, their own distance agreement arrangements. That agreement lays down how many newsagents' shops there are to be in a certain area, and although an existing shop has been taken in, which makes nonsense of this agreement, the local newsagents get together and with the help of the publishers enforce a complete boycott on the co-operative society, which is then not allowed to get newspapers at all.
In a recent report of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, which is the body responsible for this, it was recently stated:Since 1919"—it will be seen how long it has been going on—no Co-operative society in England or Wales has obtained supplies of newspapers, periodicals or magazines, with one minor exception, where periodicals were obtained. Only two cases have occurred in Scotland and no further supplies will be permitted north of the Border.These people, with the help of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association and the Newspaper Society, will not permit it. I want support from the newspapers in 1544 this campaign against monopolies, but, before they give us support, I hope they will be honest with themselves and put their own house in order.
A debate of this kind, even though the right hon. Gentleman did not want it—he does not want us to discuss these matters before we have the Report of the submission under Section 15—is, I think, one of the most useful things that the House of Commons can do to focus attention on matters of great concern to the people. For all we know, these trade associations and restrictive practices may be keeping up the cost of living. They are certainly making nonsense of justice, freedom and enterprise in what is supposed to be a free economy, and the sooner we deal with the matter in a far more vigorous way than anything suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the sooner we will be able to get on the way to a decent collectivist economy in which people can exercise the rights which they ought to have.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. S. Simon (Middlesbrough, West)
Hon. Members on this side of the House will agree with much that has fallen from the lips of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling), and, as always, what he had to say he said very agreeably. But there is one fundamental difference between the two sides which has shown itself quite clearly in this debate, and that is that while hon. Members on the other side may dislike monopolists, they have no real objection to monopoly. That gives a completely false basis to the attack that has been made on the Government today.
After all, what is the objection to monopoly? It is that competition conduces to efficiency. When the price of goods is fixed in a competitive market we can only maximise our profits by increasing our efficiency and thereby lowering our cost. That is the whole objection to monopoly, and it applies every bit as much to a public as to a private monopoly. That, then, is the real difference.
Then the hon. Gentleman says that he expects to see a far more vigorous approach from my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. But my right hon. Friend has no need to stand in a white sheet today when we compare his record with that of the right hon. 1545 Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson). First of all, there is the general reference. It is thanks to my right hon. Friend and his action two years ago that we have almost in our hands what we believe will be a comprehensive statement as to the widespread practices of collective boycott and exclusive dealing.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton first of all expressed some doubts as to whether there should have been any general reference under that Section. There was an 18th century bishop who wrote a book called "Doubts Concerning Revelation," and it was said that the bishop's doubts were better than other people's certainties. We certainly cannot say that of the right hon. Gentleman's doubts. If he objects to that reference, why was Section 15 ever put into the Act at all? It is precisely to deal with this type of reference.
Then, changing his tune, slightly in an intervention—in fact, it is quite incompatible with what had gone before—he said that the reason why he had not made the reference was that there was a time limit in the Act. Those were his very words because I took them down at the time. But there is no such thing in the Act. All that the Act says is that there shall not be a reference under Section 15 unless the Board of Trade is satisfied that practices of that class have been dealt with by previous reports of the Commission.
§ Mr. Simon
The right hon. Gentleman had no less than three reports which dealt precisely with these practices. He had the Report on the Supply of Dental Goods which expressly condemned the practices of exclusive dealing and collective boycott. He had the Report on the Supply of Cast Iron Rainwater Goods and, shortly before he went out of office, but still in time for action, he had the Report on the Supply of Electric Lamps. All those three reports condemned those practices; and yet he made no reference. So my right hon. Friend stands in striking contrast, in that he made that reference which we hope will be the foundation of vigorous action, as the hon. Member for Hillsborough said.
§ Mr. Darling
But the hon. and learned Gentleman is not under the impression 1546 that his right hon. Friend was under no pressure?
§ Mr. Pitman
Will my hon. and learned Friend allow me, in support of his point, to quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT of 14th December, 1950, when the right hon. Gentleman was answering Questions by which we were probing him to take quicker action through the Monopolies Commission?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
This is a misuse of intervention. If it is not for the purpose of explanation, the hon. Member must await his own opportunity.
§ Mr. Simon
I should like to express my appreciation of the good intentions of my hon. Friend, and I only hope that he will be able to make his point.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend has strengthened the Commission, and that strengthening will increase its capacity to deal with restrictive practices and monopolies in industry. Thirdly, he has increased the number of references, and fourthly, and most important of all, he has taken action. He has taken action in every single case before him except that of the calico printers. And what he said about the calico printers today is in strong contrast with the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton, who showed thereby that his attack was not concerned with a dislike of monopolies, but was purely a political manœuvre. As the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) said, that was a test case; and in that test case the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman stands in striking distinction to that of my right hon. Friend.
I want to say a word or two about resale price maintenance. The Lloyd, 1547 Jacob Committee drew a clear distinction between enforcement by the individual manufacturer and the collective agreement throughout a trade to enforce each individual manufacturer's covenants. That Committee said:In arriving at our conclusions we have drawn a distinction between the fixation and maintenance of resale prices by an individual manufacturer and the collective administration of resale price maintenance schemes.I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) about collective agreements. I think they have been generally condemned in this debate. They will fall, as we hope, with any condemnation that may come as a result of the inquiry into the collective boycott and exclusive dealing. They are closely bound up with those two practices. Although I would not care to be dogmatic and say that to sustain collective resale price maintenance agreements is always objectionable, I would suggest that they are prima facie objectionable; they are prima facie likely to operate harshly and uneconomically. Therefore it would be reasonable to say that each one must be justified. It probably involves registration, but I would regard it as reasonable to say that any such collective agreement must be justified before the Monopolies Commission or some such body. I should have thought it would be reasonable to extend that to any collective agreement which involves such things as the exclusive dealing and collective boycott; but as to that I would be prepared to wait for the report of the Monopolies Commission.
To my mind the principal objection to these collective agreements is the use they involve of the private court; a system of justice—if such it can be called—outside our traditional system of justice, with its own police, its own prosecutor, its own judges and its own enforcement officers. That seems to me to be dangerous. Of course it does not stand alone. There are a number of private courts of this kind, ranging from those which have received Parliamentary sanction, such as that of the General Medical Council, down to the similar courts set up by the trade unions to enforce their own practices. I do not think that the point made by the hon. Member for Hillsborough was a valid one when he said that it was the trade unionists and not the trade unions who are implicated. The trade unions 1548 may not make provision in their rules for restrictive practices, but, by their judicial or extra-judicial practice, they enforce them.
§ Mr. Darling
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman some time give us the examples he has in mind, because we do not know of them?
§ Mr. Simon
Certainly I can give an example. The kind of thing I had in mind was the bringing before a trade union court of a strike breaker. The Electrical Trades Union has recently done that in relation to the Cadby Hall dispute. And it is not limited to the Electrical Trades Union. There was the man who was boycotted in Birmingham. There have been a number of cases close to my own constituency where somebody who has acted in disregard of the ukase of some trade union leader is brought before a court and is fined—all the objectionable practices which hon. Members on both sides of the House have objected to in the trade association courts.
In all fairness, I must say that in many respects the private courts set up by trade associations are superior to some of the statutory courts which have been set up outside our regular system of justice. So far as the Motor Trade Association is concerned, they are manned by persons of great judicial experience and every attempt is made to see that their practice complies with the rules of natural justice. Unfortunately that is not so in the case of some of the statutory courts.
It is sometimes asked, "What is the alternative? If you do not have your private court, how can you enforce your agreements?" To my mind, so far as the collective agreement is concerned, it should not be enforced. It is objectionable in itself. That brings me to the question of the manufacturer enforcing his own restrictive covenant in respect of his goods, because, on the whole, hon. Members on both sides of the House have agreed with the Lloyd Jacob Committee that there is not likely to be anything objectionable in that in those particular cases.
It might be asked how the agreement can be enforced if there are no private courts to do it. I should have thought that it would be easy to say that a covenant could run with the goods just as a covenant runs with land. I apologise for making a point of law. I know 1549 that the quickest way to raise a cheer in the House is to say, "I am not a lawyer," and I believe that the real sentiment of hon. Members on both sides of the House is probably that of Jack Cade's followers who said, "The first thing we will do, let's hang all the lawyers."
A covenant can run with land. If one has a restrictive covenant on land, such as that there shall not be a building on it, it can run with the land in whoever's hands it is. That sort of covenant cannot run with goods. If one gets the intervention of a wholesaler, there is no way under our present legal system of enforcing against the retailer a covenant relating to the sale of the goods. It seems to be a simple and reasonable solution that the covenant should run with the goods.
That was the point raised by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley), and I agree with it. It would involve registration. The idea seems to have had general acceptance in today's debate. I believe it was first put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) in 1948. During the proceedings on the 1953 Bill a number of my hon. Friends and I had an Amendment to provide for registration which, unfortunately, was ruled out of order. But I am very glad to see that the idea is now commanding widespread support.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the proposal has ever been recommended by any of the various bodies which from time to time have inquired into the matter? It seems to bristle with difficulties. Is it proposed to have a conveyancing system and investigation of title under the Sale of Goods Act?
§ Mr. Simon
I should have thought that that would have been quite unnecessary. It would follow from the registration. One would register the price of one's goods, and if the goods were resold in disregard of the price fixed or any other reasonable covenant, enforcement could take place through the regular courts. I should not like to say that I had considered all the possible difficulties, but I suggest that it is an idea well worth considering.
I agree entirely with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry 1550 about the inherent objectionableness of the fighting company. I see no reason why that should not be acted against forthwith. Whether it should be a matter for the Commission to say that it can, quite exceptionally, be justified, I do not know. But it seems to me to be an inherently objectionable, uneconomic trading practice which should be proceeded against.
I should say that exactly the same considerations apply to the loss leader in resale price maintenance. The American legislation has no difficulty in dealing with the loss leader; the method falls to be determined as an unfair trading practice by the Federal Trade Commission. I should have thought that the Monopolies Commission could deal with it similarly.
I want now to deal with the actual constitution of the Monopolies Commission. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Nield) suggested that it was objectionable—I entirely agree with him—that one body like the Monopolies Commission should contain within itself the functions of prosecutor and judge. One knows how impossible it is, with the best will in the world and with the utmost judicial training, to maintain a judicial attitude when one has been concerned with the detective work and the prosecuting work which precedes a judgment. But that is the position in which we put the Commission.
My hon. and learned Friend suggested that the Board of Trade should prosecute. I should have thought that that was not really satisfactory, since the Board of Trade is the final body which has to sit in judgment. However, there would seem to be no reason why the Attorney-General should not assume that function so that the Commission could stay in a purely judicial function. Alternatively, we could organise the Commission so that the detective and prosecuting functions were separated entirely from the judicial functions. That is the expedient that has been adopted in America. So far as I know, it has worked very well. In fact, the Americans apply it generally. In no federal agency may the duties of detection and prosecution be carried out by the same people as are performing the duty of judgment. If we had that distinction we should be doing something of great importance, namely ensuring that the Commission itself commands the respect 1551 and confidence of those who are brought before it to have their industries investigated.
I suggest that when we are considering the reorganisation of the Commission in that way it might be advisable to ensure that a section, or more than one section, is specifically charged with following up Reports and keeping constantly and continually under surveillance an industry which has been investigated and found to be wanting in the services which it performs to the public interest.
I suggest that we are now on the eve of a decisive step. We shall shortly have in our hands the Report on the two big general practices which were referred to the Commission two years ago. The Report being so close, it would be irresponsible in the extreme to take here and now the sort of action which was suggested from the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that my right hon. Friend will continue the same vigorous action which he has taken in the past with regard to these practices.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling), I feel that it is important and useful that the matters we have discussed today have been discussed despite the fact that many of them are before, or may come before, the Monopolies Commission. It is evident as a result of the discussion that hon. Members on both sides of the House are at least perturbed, if not gravely perturbed, my many of the practices which are carried on in industry today.
I should have liked to engage the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) in controversy over one or two of his arguments, but at this late hour I want to pursue my own cause which, I have found, is exciting grave concern among a great many people. I refer to the high cost of the cathode ray tube. The industry which makes these tubes is, of course, a developing industry.
I discussed this problem with someone who is largely concerned with the industry and he asked me whether I realised the amount of money which has been poured into research for the production of a better type of television tube. He asked whether I was seeking to prevent him and 1552 others like him from "cashing in" on what was going to be an expanding market. That was a rather disturbing remark. I am certain that no hon. Member desires to see any group of people cashing in on what has come to be regarded, at least from the amenity point of view, as a need of the people.
I set about trying to trace the costs associated with the cathode ray tube in its various stages until it finally reaches the home inside a television set. I wrote to the leading manufacturers, asking them to supply me with particulars. I wrote to them as separate firms, but my letter was evidently circulated among them all. They all wrote back to me saying that in view of the fact that a certain gentleman spoke for the whole lot, it would be far better if I could arrange to see him rather than get them all together.
That led me to the conclusion that here we were faced with a group, ring, cartel, association, or what one will, working together to maintain the price of these tubes at a stated figure. I have the letters with me. They were very courteous and very nice and I have no complaint about that. But the whole business took so many months that I decided that the best way was to follow my own course. I got in touch with the people actually making the tubes and I found that the cost of the components that go into a television tube—glass, wires, terminals and all the bits and pieces that are necessary to give us the finished job—at present ranges from 10s. to 15s. When, to that, we add the cost of labour and overheads and the guidance of experts, we find that the manufacturing cost of the tube will be about £3 10s.
To some extent, these investigations were substantiated by an answer which the President of the Board of Trade gave me last week. He pointed out that tubes which are imported from Germany—412,000 last year—cost, on an average, £4 each. That figure went some way towards verifying the calculations I have made. Taking that figure, and adding to it a tax of 33⅓ per cent., the price is £5 6s. 8d. But to the person who wants to purchase that tube—it is a 14-inch tube—the price jumps from £5 6s. 8d. to £14 and if we add on Purchase Tax, it amounts to between £18 and £19.
1553 I am sure that every hon. Member will agree that there is a tremendous gap between the price at which the tubes come into the country and the price at which they go into the homes of our people. This is something which we must examine and publicise. Doubtless, in due course, this question will be examined by the Commission, but the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it will be a long time before the Commission can deal with the subject of television tubes. We in this House must encourage the right hon. Gentleman to try to do something to prevent this serious exploitation, because the practice undoubtedly causes hardship.
I have in my hand the usual spate of letters, which we anticipate when we inquire into matters of this kind, and which I am sure most hon. Members welcome, because they show us that people are concerned, and that they are prepared to encourage action. To show that there is hardship with which we must concern ourselves I want to direct attention to a letter which I received from an old-age pensioner in West Wickham, Kent. I am sure that the House will not want me to reveal names, but if any hon. Member is interested I will hand the letter to him. It is from an old gentleman of over 74, who had a serious major operation last year. He bought a television set. He writes:The tube has gone, so I ordered my dealer from whom I bought to get a new tube and fix same. This has been done and the bill has come in and I have paid same.The bill showed that the charge for a 14-inch tube was £15 15s., Purchase Tax was £6 2s.11d., and for "service, etc." there was a charge of £2, a total of £23 17s. 11d. I do not want to do harm to any industry, but the writer gives the name of the manufacturer of the set and I could pass on that information, also, to any hon. Member.
This old gentleman, who had his set for a little over a year, was faced with a bill for nearly £24. Hon. Members will agree that the cost of this single item is very serious. He seems to have bought the set outright, but we know that a set can be bought by hire-purchase.
§ Mr. Rankin
As far as I could gather, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not explain today what his proposals for hire-purchase were. I am assuming the best, 1554 even from a Tory Government. Up to now one has been able to obtain a television set on hire-purchase, but one cannot replace the tube by that method. If the tube fails the set is useless. If one cannot put down the full cost of the cathode ray tube the set is of no use but one has to continue to pay the hire-purchase instalments until the end of the agreement.
Some hon. Members may say that one can insure, but I have another letter about that—from a woman—saying that the insurance costs between £6 and £7 a year, and that has to be paid as long as she lives. That is an extravagant capital cost for an article which is depreciating all the time. Surely the President of the Board of Trade does not intend to do nothing about it.
§ Mr. Osborne rose——
§ Mr. Rankin
I do not mind giving way to the hon. Member, but for the benefit of an hon. Member opposite, I am anxious not to waste time. I am seeking to curtail what I have to say.
A good deal has been said today about the fact that people anxious to mitigate hardship are not allowed to do so. I instanced the case of tubes coming from Germany which cost £4. In London, there is a commercial firm trading in Paddington which calls itself the greatest wholesalers outside the ring. That firm was prepared to sell these German tubes at a cheaper figure than the ring in this country would allow, and it was doing so by giving 33ࡩ per cent. discount on the wholesale price. But the ring demanded that only 20 per cent. discount be given and when the London firm refused to obey the ring took action.
They got in touch with Telefunken, the German suppliers who work in association—and this, of course, is the substance of the point which I put to the right hon. Gentleman earlier—with a well-known firm in Great Britain whose name I could give—Mullard—that is the name I am given. Pressure was brought on Telefunken to cut off supplies to the London firm. As a consequence, those people who might have purchased their tubes at a cheaper price than the ring permits now have to pay the prices I have indicated.
Many will say that these prices would not be charged unless they were justified. 1555 I think a fair and sure indication of the price at which any article is sold is given by the trading profits of the people selling it. In December, 1952, Associated Electrical Industries Limited, whose distinguished president used to adorn the benches opposite as Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs, revealed gross trading profits of £12,113,832. I am giving the gross trading profits as I am using them merely in a comparative sense; and I think that perfectly fair.
By December, 1953, they had risen to £12,456,000. Electrical and Musical Industries, who also supply cathode ray tubes, showed a gross profit of £484,039 on 30th June, 1953. By June, 1954, the gross profit had increased to £1,428,682. In fairness to that company I must say that the profit in 1953 was a relatively low one, due largely to stock losses. English Electric showed a profit of nearly £6½ million on December, 1953, and by December, 1954, it had risen to £7,289,000. The General Electric Company had a profit of £6½ million on 31st March, 1953, and in March, 1954, it had risen to over £8¼ million.
The gross trading profits of these firms do not reveal a state of poverty. They are doing well, and it would seem that there is at least a prima facie case for these firms voluntarily reducing the price of cathode ray tubes. I hope that tonight the Government spokesman will be able to say that he has been so impressed, at least by the case that I have put forward, that he will use all his influence to try to bring down the price which is being maintained by the ring for the television tubes.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
I have been listening to this debate without a break for 5¾ hours, and I am very glad that the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) has left me these few minutes in which to make one or two remarks.
§ Mr. Eden
I was interested in his closing remarks, but I shall defer my reference to them for a short time. I have had the privilege, together with many other hon. Members, of listening to a very interesting debate. The speeches have given us much valuable material and 1556 much food for thought, but in spite of that I cannot help making special reference to the first speech—that of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson). It was a very great pity that a right hon. Member in his position should make a speech of that nature upon an occasion like this.
It was not exactly a statesmanlike presentation of the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition; in fact, I think that my hon. Friends and also some hon. Members opposite will agree that he was seeking only to make party issues out of the matter. He emphasised all the party differences he could and tried to ally the question of monopolies and restrictive practices in industry—or resale price maintenance—with such matters as the cost of living.
I am glad that we have had the privilege of listening to the speech of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Eden
Since then I have heard a number of speeches from hon. Members opposite which have emphasised that this is largely a non-party issue. That that is normally so will be seen by reference to past debates. The Conservative Government, or the Conservative Party, approach has been very consistent throughout. A number of my hon. Friends have referred to the fact that we have been greatly instrumental in strengthening the ability of the Monopolies Commission to do its job.
I would refer now to collective agreements on prices made between a number of manufacturers who, though not manufacturing an identical article, are trying to ensure that the articles which they produce are all sold to the retail customer at exactly the same price. It is that form of trade agreement in action that I do not like at all. It is particularly bad where there are only a few manufacturers making a commodity. It is no excuse their saying "There are only a few of us. We must all get together and fix the price amongst ourselves." It is the more indefensible in such a case.
I have had an opportunity of studying the case of a constituent of mine who has himself appeared before one of these 1557 courts set up by the British Motor Traders Association. He it was who recently tried to form a trade association of his own. The British Motor Traders Association under its rules has certain powers which enable it to take action against a retailer who is not necessarily a member. It seems very bad indeed that a man can be had up for not obeying the rules of an association to which he does not belong. I am glad to know that the Monopolies' Commission Report made under Section 15 of the Act is so well advanced that we may soon have it laid before us. I hope that with it will come news of some very definite steps taken by Her Majesty's Government to stop these practices being further indulged.
There has recently been a lot of criticism about trade associations generally, but trade associations as a whole are not evil just because they are trade associations. They perform many useful tasks. They are not there solely to see that agreed prices are kept to and enforced. They exist for purposes of education, research and training, and generally provide a valuable service from which, in the long run, the customer benefits a great deal.
I have had experience of a horticultural trade association. It works ably, it is voluntary, and it first of all takes care as to who is admitted to membership. The emblem of that association is known by the customer to stand for quality and good service. It is, in fact, a protection for the customer. That association is performing valuable work, but it does not have any high powers of persecution or sanction against any member, save to ask him to leave the association.
The main case by the Opposition, led by the right hon. Member for Huyton, is that we should by-pass the inquiries being made by the Monopolies Commission and that the Government should take immediate action. I cannot cast my mind back to the debates of 1950 and 1951, but I can cast my eyes over the reports of those debates. In June, 1951, the hon. Member for Gloucester South (Mr. Crosland), who opened the debate, in referring to collective boycott and exclusive dealings, said that in his opinion industries in which these practices were known to operate should be referred to the Monopolies Commission for report 1558 and, that having been done, that we should ask for a report from the Commission under Section 15 on the general effect of these practices in relation to the public interest.
He was supported by the then President of the Board of Trade, the right hon. and learned Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross), who said, among other things:… on the whole I think they are better established by inquiry by the Monopolies Commission rather than by an administrative inquiry by a Government Department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th June, 1951; Vol. 488, c. 2754.]I do not know for certain, but I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman), who wished to interrupt earlier, intended to draw attention to the fact that in answer to a Question put by him on 14th December, 1950, the right hon. Member for Huyton said:… in view of the importance of the matters to be dealt with it would be wrong if thoroughness were to be sacrificed for speed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1950; Vol. 482, c. 1322.]
§ Mr. Eden
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman repeated it this afternoon. It serves to emphasise the importance of ensuring that this thoroughness is in no way disturbed by stampeded legislation.
The whole point of the investigation under Section 15 is to find out whether these evils in industry are so widespread that outright legislation should be introduced without further piece-meal investigation, industry by industry. I cannot understand how the right hon. Gentleman, who is so anxious for thoroughness, can be equally anxious not to wait for the report which will shortly be available from the Monopolies Commission and can want to go ahead with legislation too hastily.
Publicity has been given to a number of these practices which have existed for some time. Some hon. Members opposite have said that some have been going on since 1919. The fact that these practices have been in existence for a long time in no way makes them less evil. Indeed, it makes it all the more important that we should be certain that whatever legislation is introduced is right, proper and 1559 fair. That is the essential purpose of the inquiries being made by the Monopolies Commission.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has shown that he is aware that many of these evils exist. I am certain that all hon. Members recognise that he is only too anxious to take action on the report when he gets it from the Monopolies Commission.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)
For two or three minutes I wish to address one or two remarks to the President of the Board of Trade in the form of questions. In this morning's "Manchester Guardian" there was notification that the Government had accepted the Report of the Monopolies Commission on Calico Printing.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that organisation was born at a time when survival was the most important factor in its inauguration? As time went on circumstances changed, and instead of a protective trade association it became what is now commonly known as a monopoly. Supposing that organisation had never come into effect, anarchy would have reigned, as it did. The association produced a little order out of chaos and preserved to this country part of an industry without which it could not have kept even the small amount of export trade we still retain. Will the President of the Board of Trade say what action he would allow, or take, under similar circumstances?
If the right hon. Gentleman says that if times were difficult he would readily grant permission for an organisation to be set up to sustain what trade there was, although I am making no defence but asking for information, he must agree that the calico printers of that time set up their organisation for protection. We cannot always have an optimistic trend in our textile industry because of the pressure which comes from time to time from various parts of the world. At the time when the right hon. Gentleman was in short trousers, the Lancashire cotton industry was bleeding to death. Can he tell us how he differentiates between a trade protection society in bad times which becomes a monopoly in good times, and whether he has any idea how 1560 to cope with the two sets of circumstances as they arise?
I hope that the President will apply his mind to that aspect of the matter because, so far as I am aware, it has not been mentioned in this debate.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
This has been an excellent debate. There has certainly been a series of well-informed and interesting speeches from both sides of the House. I was particularly impressed by some of the hon. and learned Members who spoke from the benches opposite and I thought that the speeches of my hon. Friends the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), the hon. Member for Hills-borough (Mr. G. Darling) and the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin)—all on different aspects of this important subject—were very good indeed.
I understand that the President of the Board of Trade is to speak again tonight. Of course, we have no objection to that, but I must say that it is a little odd when, on a very important subject such as this—which one cannot exactly describe as very specialised—the Government should be unable, or unwilling, to find any other speaker than the right hon. Gentleman.
I am a little surprised that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, who answers Questions so stubbornly and regularly on this subject, is not to be allowed to wind up the debate this evening. The Minister of Supply, whose Department is concerned with many industries in which restrictive practices are common, might have been brought in; but I suppose the feeling is that the Government have only one batsman available and he must, so to speak, bat at both ends of the wicket. There it is.
We shall be glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman again. Indeed, there is something to be said for his speaking a second time. He may redeem himself. He may be able to do better than he did in his earlier speech. I thought that in that speech he was desperately trying to make up, by the vehemence of his words and gestures, for the irrelevance and emptiness of most of what he said, for I also think that he failed completely to answer the masterly indictment of the Board of Trade put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson).
1561 In view of the fact that the President was largely putting up Aunt Sallies and knocking them down, let me once again make our position in this matter perfectly clear. We do not propose to change over completely to the American way of doing things, and we have no intention of abandoning what the right hon. Gentleman calls the empirical approach. Secondly, we do not propose, and never have proposed, that the inquiries of the Monopolies Commission should be skimped or that each inquiry can be made shorter; that has never been a point made from this side of the House. We fully understand that the inquiries must be thorough and that each of them must take time. Nor, in the third place, have we criticised, nor do we criticise, the Monopolies Commission itself. It has done a very good job within the limits available to it. Its reports, we think, have been fair and thorough, and that is as it should be.
But we do believe, first, that the Commission should have been strengthened, as promised by the party opposite and by the President of the Board of Trade—as proposed, however, not by the President in the first instance, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross), when he was President of the Board of Trade, in June, 1951. On that occasion, my right hon. and learned Friend put forward—not in precise details, but he put forward—very much the plan for the working through different panels that was subsequently adopted in the 1953 Act.
In the second place, we believe that certain practices should have been banned three years ago, and we do not believe that had that step been taken and had the stop list and the collective boycott been banned, it would have been a matter of "plunging into action"—to quote the President's words this afternoon—without proper inquiry or full investigation.
In the third place, we believe that the follow-up arrangements are not satisfactory. Fourthly, we hold that restrictive agreements of trade associations should be registered. Those are four perfectly clear points of criticism. They were not dealt with by the President in his speech, but I hope that in his second chance he will really come back to them and not deal with irrelevancies.
1562 It is no use the Government saying to us, as some hon. Members opposite have implied in their speeches, that we should have done all this when we were in office. We did take, as a Government, the first step for a century in dealing with the problem of monopolies. We started the Monopolies Commission. Inevitably, there was uncertainty as to how it would work, how fast it would work, and what exactly would be required.
The Monopolies Commission had operated for fewer than three years when the 1951 General Election took place; but well before that, in the spring of 1951, we had decided and had announced to the House, in the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Helens, that changes were needed. We had also decided that among those changes it would be necessary to ban certain restrictive practices altogether. It is our contention that the failure of the Government to act sufficiently fast in these last few years, on a matter of the greatest importance to British industry, to productivity and to our whole economic prospect, amounts to serious negligence.
In coming to that conclusion, we cannot ignore the earlier attitudes of the party opposite on this matter. I do not propose to go back to pre-war days when, of course, the Conservative Party always lined up with the monopolists and resisted any kind of legislation aimed at curbing them. I would refer only to the attitude adopted by Mr. Oliver Lyttelton, as he then was, when he led for the Opposition when the 1948 Act was before the House. He received the Bill extremely frigidly, he did his best to limit it in every way, he moved Amendments to weaken it and he made it clear that as far as he was concerned he did not like the idea at all. He was supported in this by a number of speakers from the Conservative Party.
Then we had the promises in the Conservative propaganda literature to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton referred. Promises are quite common in Conservative literature. Conservatives tend to follow public opinion when they think it pays them to do so and the party promised effective action quickly to strengthen the Monopolies Commission. The 1951 Election took place and there was a speech from the Throne. It was announced that in that Session there would be a Bill to strengthen 1563 the Monopolies Commission. Nothing happened. In the next speech from the Throne it was not even mentioned, and it was not until the autumn of 1953 that a miserable, inadequate, Bill was finally passed through Parliament.
What has happened since then? That, after all, is the more immediate question with which we are concerned. What has the President done on the basis of that Act? How many reports have been produced by the Commission since October, 1953? I think that I am right in saying that only three have been produced since then, and in one case it was a purely factual report on a matter which the President has referred back to the Commission.
The President may well say that it is not fair to ask how many reports have been actually produced because, after all, reports take a long time. There is a sort of gestation period before they emerge, and it is not two years since the 1953 Act was passed. Let us consider then, how many references the President has made in the past eighteen months to the strengthened Commission. He has made five in the eighteen months, that is an average of about three a year. Is he really satisfied with that kind of progress? Are we going to put three in at die beginning of the pipeline each year, as it were, expecting to get three out two years afterwards?
All of us agree that the object of the Act was to secure that more reports should be produced—I think that I am quoting the President's words—in the same amount of time. The whole idea, so to speak, was to broaden the activities of the Commission and have a series of panels operating. The President talked at the time of two or three panels of not fewer than five members each. What are his intentions now? I understand that the Commission has two panels only operating. I do not know how many members there are on each. Perhaps the President could tell us. What prevents the right hon. Gentleman from instituting a third panel and thereby increasing the rate of work of the Commission by 50 per cent.?
What is the difficulty here? During the debates on that Bill it was proposed from this side of the House that there should be four full-time deputy-chairmen. The 1564 President rejected that, but in another place he accepted an Amendment to provide that there should be three deputy-chairmen. He has not appointed a single deputy-chairman. We have at the moment only one really full-time member of the Commission—the chairman.
I know we are told that two other members of the Commission give a good deal of their time to the work. How much time? Are they pensioned? Are they really full-time on the job? What is the objection to appointing deputy-chairmen? If the President does not believe in them why did he introduce a Bill and lead us to suppose that he did?
The right hon. Gentleman shelters at the moment behind the excuse that he has not had any approach from the Commission on this matter. But with great respect this is a matter for him and not for the Commission. He must take the responsibility for saying how fast it works and on what basis. Why did he come down to the House with the Bill which was supposed to extend very substantially the Commission's activities, if it has not, in fact, done so.
Is there a lack of suggestions which might be put to the Commission? Certainly not. As the President knows very well, if he turns to the report of the Board of Trade on the Monopolies Commission for 1953 he will see that no fewer than 40 different subjects are mentioned as suggestions for reference to the Commission. Of those, I think I am right in saying, no fewer than 24 were suggested in previous years. Of course, we all know that the list could be very greatly enlarged, but let us take the 40. At the present rate it will take at least ten years to complete inquiries.
Is the President satisfied with that rate of progress? Does he think he can afford to wait all that time? What is it that holds things up at the moment? Why does he not refer these industries to the Commission or tell the House of Commons that he does not intend to do so? Is it that the Commission have too much on their hands already? If so why not enlarge it? If it has not got too much on its hands already, why does he not refer these industries to the Commission?
He may say that he cannot find the people for the Commission, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton 1565 certainly helped him there, in a sense, when he said how difficult it was to find industrialists who were not tied up in some way with monopolies. I hope that the President will not allow himself to be put off by that. It would be a ridiculous state of affairs if, because of an intricate network of monopolies strangling our industry, we could not get on with the job of dealing with them.
I do not propose to quote a number of other instances. I could do so, and hon. Members from both sides of the House have mentioned cases. There is not the slightest doubt that the President has all the suggestions that he can possibly cope with for the time being. I would just mention two because they are out of the ordinary line. My right hon. Friend referred to the statement in "The Times" today about a grocer who had committed the terrible crime of selling tea below the appointed price and was to be deprived of his supplies. The same man had done it with margarine and his supplies had been cut off.
What does the President feel about that? What does the Minister of Food feel about it? Only the other day in the House he was asked whether he was in favour of retailers selling tea more cheaply. He said, yes, most certainly he was. The President of the Board of Trade ought to help his right hon. Friend out in this matter and do something about it.
Then there is the matter of steel. When the Bill denationalising that industry was going through the House much play was made by the then Minister of Supply about the way in which it would be possible and might be desirable to refer to the Commission any monopolistic practices in the steel industry. Indeed, I think I am right in saying there is a Section in the Act which specifically provides for that. I should like to know what the President's intentions are there, or perhaps he feels he should leave it to the Minister of Supply to decide. Perhaps he could find out from him, because I do not imagine that the President is going to tell us there is no monopoly in the denationalised steel industry.
Of course, the President of the Board of Trade is bearing all this in mind. We know that. Every week that goes by he says he is bearing some industry in mind in reference to the Monopolies Commis- 1566 sion. One in particular he has been bearing in mind for a very long time. On 21st February, 1952, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) asked the right hon. Gentleman if he would not consider referring the question of petrol to the Monopolies Commission and he said he would consider it. On 12th February, 1953, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) returned to the charge and the President had no statement to make. On 27th January, 1955, only a week or two ago, the President was asked again, whether he would consider referring petrol to the Monopolies Commission. This is three years after the first suggestion. The right hon. Gentleman said he was continuing to bear it in mind. I really think we might have some information on this matter.
I do not know whether the President will come forward and say he is satisfied that there is no monopoly in the petrol industry. I ask him, in passing, whether he has seen the reports in the Press about the report prepared by the European Economic Commission? It seems to me to be rather a serious matter. If I may refresh the mind of the President of the Board of Trade, the "Manchester Guardian" declares that the officials of E.E.C., which is a first-class research organisation under the United Nations, had prepared a chapter for its annual report on the international oil cartel and on their price agreements. This, apparently, was referred to the Secretary General of the United Nations to see what they should do about it as it went outside Europe. Mr. Hammerskold, apparently under pressure from some quarter or other, told them no, they certainly could not publish it. However he did say, so I understand, that it could be circulated to Governments as a restricted document.
I ask the President: have her Majesty's Government a copy of this report? If so, will they publish it? If they feel they cannot publish it on their own, will they take steps, through their representative in the United Nations, to urge that the report be published? I am sure that the oil companies themselves, from what they have said, would welcome publication, so if the victims welcome publication what possible reason is there for holding it up?
1567 I want to ask the President something else. Four years ago, in 1951, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations set up a committee on international monopolistic arrangements. Two years later this committee reported. For some reason the report was shelved for a period, but it comes up again for consideration next month. I want to ask the President, who must be informed about this, what attitude Her Majesty's Government will take at the next meeting of the Economic and Social Council on this report? Will they favour publication, and what action do they think should be taken?
Now I turn to the question of special practices. A great deal has been said about these practices, such as the collective boycott and exclusive dealing during our debate today. There is not the slightest doubt that the general feeling of the House is strongly against them, strongly against them on the basis of the evidence already available. It is true that it may have been an accident that those who spoke today from the opposite benches seemed to be critical of monopolies; the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris), for instance, was allowed to make only a few interjections, and even the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), who has recently joined us, did not have a chance of making a full speech; and we know that their views would be different. And it may well be that other hon. Members have different opinions but, judging from the speeches and the vocal noises at the time, there was strong feeling against these practices.
We on this side of the House feel very strongly that the system under which the Co-operative societies are not allowed to pay dividends on a range of articles, because, otherwise, they will be deprived of supplies, is equally wrong with exclusive dealing. Vacuum cleaners, books, newspapers, radio, television and gramophones are only some of the articles treated in this way.
It would not be difficult, surely, for the President to come to the House with a Bill to put the matter right. There is really no reason why he should not have done it earlier. I know that his answer is that the Commission is considering it all and that, since it will produce a 1568 Report soon, it would be a mistake to rush into anything until we have seen the Report. That would have been a little more convincing if it had been said three years ago and we had been expecting a report three years ago. But in our opinion it was not necessary to make reference to the Commission under Section 15 because the evidence already existed. As I have said, it is obvious from the speeches of hon. Members today that they are sufficiently impressed by the published evidence before ever they see the Commission's Report. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not all hon. Members."] No, not all hon. Members. I realise that a number of hon. Members opposite take a different view and are pro-monopolies.
There was the Lloyd Jacob Report, which is a mine of information. There was the Simon Report on restrictive practices in the building industry. There have also been the Commission's own reports. I will not refer to all of them in view of the time. Hon. Members have only to turn to the OFFICIAL REPORT for 7th February in which, in a Written Answer, the President gave a complete list of everything that the Commission had done and the reasons why it had criticised, and its objections to, various industries which had been referred to it. In case after case the same things arise—exclusive dealing and the collective boycott. Really, the President cannot ride off on the excuse that we must have an inquiry.
In the light of what the President has said, we do not now expect him to legislate before the Commission's report is published, which, I understand, will be in the very near future. However, I should like the President to give us an assurance, first, that he will not delay the publication of the report. He will be aware that there have been one or two occasions when a considerable time has been allowed to elapse between the completion of a report and its publication. I should like him to give an assurance that the Board of Trade will not thereafter take a very long time to make up its mind on the matter. It will be some consolation if he will give us that assurance.
I now turn to the third point of criticism which we must make of the Government's action, or inaction, and that is the unsatisfactory state of affairs with 1569 regard to the following up of the Commission's reports. We all know that the Board of Trade, on the basis of the Commission's report, proceeds to negotiate with the industry concerned, and after a lapse of time, which may be six months, a year or even longer, the President says that he accepts the proposals and that the industry has agreed to do this or not to do that, and so on. In most cases—let me be fair—the industry has agreed to do what the Commission recommended.
What my hon. Friends and I want to know, however, is what happens after that. How can the President be sure that the gentleman's agreement is being carried out? What happens exactly? Is there publicity in the trade press, for instance, about agreements which are being abrogated? Does the President require the associations to publish their decisions no longer to indulge in certain practices? Does he receive from the associations and firms concerned the circulars which they send to their members indicating that the whole situation has changed and they are no longer to continue the practices? Above all, does his Department keep under constant review the situation in the industries? How many people have been engaged on this task?
I ask these things because I believe that the House and the public generally are entitled to know the answers and to be, as I hope they can be, reassured on the matter. Perhaps I might say, as one who served for a time in the Civil Service, that there is always the danger that Government Departments, especially if they are parent Departments—that is, Departments responsible for particular industries—being inevitably in continual touch with trade associations, industrialists, and so on, may be over-influenced by their contacts with the industries—the Ministry of Supply by the engineering industries, the Ministry of Agriculture by the National Farmers' Union and even the Board of Trade by some of the industries with which it is concerned. The President of the Board of Trade should be very careful to be sure that there is no undue influence of that kind.
There is something to be said for handing over this follow-up job to a new division of the Monopolies Commission, but that is a personal comment and I do not put it forward in any dogmatic 1570 way. It is not, however, good enough for the right hon. Gentleman just to say, as he did this afternoon, "I have not heard that the agreements are being broken." He must take a much more positive attitude than that. He should recall that a Select Committee on the question of the Monopolies Commission specifically drew attention to this matter and proposed that a new system should be instituted. The Board of Trade turned that down, but I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think that any members of the Select Committee were in the least impressed with the arguments his Department put forward. Only today, very belatedly, after three years, has he decided that he might, sometime in the near future, possibly refer one agreement under Section 12 to the Monopolies Commission. I do not know which he has in mind. Perhaps he would tell us that.
Finally, I turn to the question of registration of associations and agreements. This proposal perhaps met with more support from all sides of the House than any other. It is an obvious advantage to the Commission's work. The Commission at once knows the state of the country as a whole. But more important than that is the deterrent effect which compulsory registration and, therefore, the publicity given to these agreements would have.
The only argument against that which I have heard is the argument which the Parliamentary Secretary put forward in answer to questions. What was that? He said that all this was discussed when the original Bill was going through in 1948 and reasons were given why we should not have registration. I examined the debates on that Bill and the only reference I have been able to find to the subject was a speech by the then Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who devoted about a paragraph to this. All he said was that it would be very difficult to define exactly what these agreements were and that possibly it might give the impression that they had the imprimata of the Government, if the agreements were registered. That is the feeblest argument I have ever heard. Arguments about things being too hard to define are the last refuge of a defenceless Minister.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough referred to what has been happening in Sweden. I will 1571 repeat what he said, because there were very few hon. Members in the House at the time, and I think that these figures are extremely significant. In 1947, the Swedish Government passed a law compelling the registration of agreements of this kind. Since then, 1,250 such agreements have been registered. Of those, 40 per cent. have since been dissolved, dissolved because of the pressure of public opinion in the light of the publication of the agreements. Twenty per cent. have been modified; and thus 60 per cent. of the agreements have either been rendered harmless, or completely done away with simply as a result of the publicity given by registration. Indeed, I am told that the Swedish equivalent of the Federation of British Industries—the Swedish F.B.I.—has had to set up offices to advise its members how to wind up cartels. What a wonderful thing it would be, if the F.B.I, here were forced to do the same thing. This afternoon the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a very serious statement. He warned us that exports were flagging. He warned us of increasing competition. I think that it is common ground that one of the major weaknesses in British industry is the years of corrosion resulting from restrictive agreements and cartels.
We have put down the Motion, and we shall support it in the Lobby, because we are profoundly dissatisfied with the Government's handling of the question. There has been a great deal of talk, and very little action. There has been a brave manner and a failure to do anything. From the start the Government have been timid, evasive and dilatory.
There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that, given the will and the drive, a great deal more could have been done. The Commission could have been enlarged earlier and could be strengthened now so as to handle more industries simultaneously. A quite unnecessary three years' delay has occurred over the banning of practices which have been condemned again and again in different reports. Enforcement could have been, and should have been, more actively pursued. The full light of publicity could have been made to play on restrictive agreements and thus made way for the force of informed public opinion. These things have not been done, and they never will be done by a party which preaches competition but which is, in 1572 reality, the mouthpiece of the monopolies it pretends to oppose.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
With the permission of the House, I should like to reply to the debate. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) about one thing. It has been a good debate. By that I mean that he has lost the support of the Liberal Party and moved a little closer to our position. I think that on the whole that is a fairly satisfactory outcome.
A large number of issues have been raised. I should like to summarise those issues. There is the question of whether we are going about this the right way or whether we ought to move, in whole or in part, towards the American position. There is the question about the Commission; whether it is large enough, fast enough, or fair enough. There have been a lot of speeches on that. There is the whole question of resale price maintenance; whether it is good or bad, or sometimes one thing and sometimes the other. There is the question of the method of enforcement and of what should be done about the various suggestions put forward for reference to the Commission, and how we follow them up.
There is the question of price control, which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman and several other hon. Members. There is also the question of the calico printers. That is the range of topics, and the best way of dealing with them will be to take the speeches as they were made and to try to answer them. I start at the wrong end, and by that I mean that I start with the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South.
I think that he did his best in very difficult circumstances. He asked a lot of questions, which is what one does in winding up for the Opposition if one has not a policy to disclose. We have all had to do it from time to time; we all know that.
I think that we might start by asking, "What is his line?'' It is worth examining for a moment. After all, he initiated this debate. He took the initiative in the matter. I take it, first, from the "Daily Herald." I was very interested to see it said under the headline:Monopolies: We'll get rid of them.1573 Mr. Speaker, "Theme's fightin' words," and particularly fighting words, coming from the right hon. Gentleman. If only the Socialist Party were really fighting on the idea of getting rid of monopolies, what a revolution that would be.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be a little bit careful, because there are a number of Members of his party who rather believe in monopolies. What he meant was, "Monopolies: We will take them over," which is not anything like as attractive a cry. I was reflecting on the Socialist record in this matter and trying to strike a balance between the number of monopolies they built up and the number of monopolies they pulled down. One knows about the building up.
I remember the great speeches made—the evils of cut-throat competition in road haulage. We all remember those. The bitter attacks on competition and the rest of it—night after night, day after day, taking individual competitive enterprises and turning them into State monopolies. And what did they break down? It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he did not have much time. He had over seven years of Socialist Government, and during that time all these price rings, all these collective boycotts in the oil industry and all the rest were there. [HON. MEMBERS: "Price control."] I am coming to price control. I shall say something about that. It was all there, and what did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) do during that period? He took action on the dental goods industry. That was the sum total of his achievemnts. He marched into the battle of the monopolies with false teeth proudly emblazoned on his banner. Really, what humbug it all is.
I will take the four points which he put in the "Daily Herald." May I say that he changed the points a bit this evening, but I do not altogether blame him for that. Why should he not shift his ground? He said first that he would strengthen the Monopolies Commission by increasing its staff and membership so that it could proceed with more inquiries more rapidly. Those of us who remember pressing the right hon. Gentleman to increase the numbers of the Commission from eight even to 10, welcome this conversion on his behalf. But he could hardly take the credit for 1574 it. We are the party who have in fact strengthened the Monopolies Commission.
But, if we strengthen the Commission, we have to think of what we shall do about the reports. That is a problem, is it not? So in the "Daily Herald" the right hon. Gentleman went on:Ensure that the recommendations of the Commission are properly carried out.Brave words! But they hardly sustain the words of the right hon. Member for Huyton. He took the one outstanding report of the Commission and turned it down. We may treble and quadruple the numbers of the Commission, and give it all the staff in the world, but it will not do much good unless we have a Government with the courage to do something about the reports.
Then the right hon. Gentleman said, ban altogether the really vicious restrictive practices like stop lists and boycotts. There again, if we are to have a Commission, is not there something to be said for referring these things to it? It is no use saying there was no purpose in references under Section 15. The right hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards), who, after all, speaks with some authority on Board of Trade matters, welcomed my suggestion when I made it and described it as a wholly admirable proposal. To come two years afterwards and, merely for political purposes, to turn it down, is a little unworthy of him.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman said—and in this perhaps he was getting a little nearer to the mark—compel the publication of all trade associations and all cartel agreements. I shall have something more to say about that a little later. There are difficulties about it. It could have been included in the original Bill if hon. Members opposite had thought it a proper thing to do. I hope to develop that, if I have the time, in answer to one or two other speeches which have been made. I will demonstrate that there are certain problems associated with it. The right hon. Member for Huyton, who urged us to strengthen the Commission and act on its advice—and rejected the only outstanding report it had made-developed, as did other speakers, the case of price control. I am not going to be dogmatic about price control, or say that there is no scope for it, but there are real problems associated with the use of it.
1575 Hon. Members opposite sometimes look back almost with nostalgia to the era of price control as practised in war or under the Socialist Administration. Some of them see in the introduction of such controls a panacea for all consumer troubles. Frankly, I do not believe it. When I came to the Board of Trade I found in existence an elaborate mechanism of control, price-fixing committees and the like. I do not believe that that mechanism ever controlled prices. It recorded the changes that had taken place; it was a mere index floating upon the top of economic events.
I say this in defence of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. To suggest that they themselves deliberately moved up the price index during the seven years that they were in power by something like 45 per cent. would, I think, be a gross libel upon them—but they allowed it to happen. To suggest that, with this vast paraphernalia of price control, they were the architects of this squeeze upon the consumers is, I think, carrying political argument too far.
The truth is that real problems are involved in price control. Everybody knows that no Government will fix prices at a level which will ever put any firm out of business or any man out of work—so there is a very great limitation upon what can be done in that regard. I do not believe that price control will be an effective safeguard or solution to these difficulties.
I want to refer to a speech which went very close to the realities of the problem with which we have to deal—the speech of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley), who speaks on behalf of 350,000 shop workers and is, I believe, President of the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers. He addressed the House with great knowledge upon this subject and said, quite rightly, that resale price maintenance is a much more complex problem than most people would have us believe. It is not a simple thing, and it is not capable of a simple solution.
One of the tentative suggestions which he threw out was that we might adopt, in part, the American solution, which is a system of legalised individual resale price maintenance, by the use of what the Americans call the "non signor" clause. I am not expressing an opinion upon that matter. He may be right or he may be 1576 wrong—but it would be an odd outcome of this debate if the solution of the party opposite was not an attack upon these things but the finding of a way to legalise them.
§ Mr. Padley
Earlier in the debate, I referred to the habit of the President of the Board of Trade of making quotations out of their contexts. My speech made it quite clear that I wanted the total abolition of collective arrangements for resale price maintenance, which tied the schemes to monopolies; to exclusive dealing; to secret courts, and to all the rest of the paraphernalia.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am not misquoting the hon. Gentleman. I think that he made a very good speech. He wanted to legalise individual resale price maintenance, and something can be said for that. He was quite right to refer to the evidence given by women's organisations to the Lloyd Jacob Committee. The National Council of Women, the National Federation of Women's Institutes and the Women's Co-operative Guild all made statements very much on the same lines—and the hon. Gentleman's own statement was very forthright—criticising those who wanted to sweep away the whole system without, at any rate, a very close inquiry.
Our union has had 50 years of bitter experience of 'Eastern bazaar' conditions in the distributive trades, low wages, sweated conditions, and we shall fight any attempt to make the present free-for-all scramble even worse."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 3rd February, 1955; Vol. 536, c. 1253.]I think it is right that in a matter as complex as this the views of those with real experience of it—and I count the hon. Member as a man of real experience—should be fully put before the House.
I will say another thing. In examining this difficult and complex question, let us by all means express our different views about it, but remember that those who practise these particular methods—resale price maintenance is one of them—do hold deeply and sincerely the view that they are benefiting the public in doing this. [Interruption.] I must say that the Council of Women's Organisations says the same.
The Opposition says, "Legislate about this." Legislate—but on what? Presumably on the White Paper that it published. There were two features about the White 1577 Paper. One said, "Ban collective enforcement of resale price maintenance altogether"; the other said, "Provide for some exceptions." What nobody has ever said is what exceptions there should be. It is quite a difficult question. No suggestion as to the type of exception has ever been put forward.
Let us see what the Trades Union Congress said about that. It said:This legislation on resale price maintenance, which is the practice of fixing standard prices for goods in the shops, does not necessarily work against either the interests of the shopper or of the shop worker.Indeed, the shop workers' union has pointed out:A complete ban as proposed by the Government White Paper"—that is, by the Opposition when in power—might do more good than harm"—I am sorry—"more harm than good"—I am trying to make the best case I can for the right hon. Gentleman.
Then we come to his suggestion that there should be an exception for certain industries—but the Trades Union Congress turns down that as well. It says that the suggestion is a foolish one; that one should not make exceptions but have a rule which will apply to everybody. I must say that I think it is just as well that the right hon. Gentleman did not attempt this legislation.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I have already said what I am going to do.
We have great hopes in the right hon. Gentleman, but if he should start legislating in a field as complex as this without having any full inquiry or report from the Monopolies Commission, I am bound to say that he is going to get into very considerable difficulties.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) made a helpful and constructive speech, and emphasised the important steps which the Government have taken in their three years of office. He mentioned two steps in particular. One was the general reference we made in 1952. That, I think, is an important step 1578 in this monopoly field, because it goes to the root of a great number of complaints that are being made today. It deals with the collective boycott, the stop list and the exclusive dealing. If the complaints which are at present being made are examined, it will be found that it is in that field that most of them are now raised. It was in that field that the trade unions, in their comments on the White Paper, themselves laid particular stress.
My hon. and learned Friend went on to refer to the procedure of the Commission and made certain suggestions which, naturally, we shall fully consider. But I think that we have been right in our anxiety to see that the procedure was not only air but demonstrably fair and to have asked the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General to make a full examination of it. I am happy to be able to stand at this Box now and say that on their examination they agree that the procedure is both fair and appropriate. If there are any suggestions which can be made, any devices which can be thought out, for ensuring that that procedure can be improved in any way, then, very naturally, we will most certainly adopt them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) referred to the question of the calico printers, as did the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes). Both, if I may say so, spoke with considerable experience of this great industry. I cannot this evening debate in detail the Report of the Monopolies Commission in this field. I accept absolutely the deep sincerity with which the Calico Printers' Federation hold their views about the practices which they adopt. These represent a most elaborate monopoly scheme and network of controls, centred on percentage quantum devices and embracing both price lists and arrangements for plant sterilisation. As my hon. Friend said, a monopoly exists and also price restriction.
I have examined the Report and I have examined their observations. I have taken into account the representations made to me by the Cotton Board. And I have come to the conclusion that the right course is to accept in principle the Com-mission's Report. Of course, I shall be very happy to discuss with that industry, as I have discussed on other occasions with other industries, the best way in which that Report should be implemented.
§ Sir J. Barlow rose——
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I cannot give way.
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne also asked me what would happen if the situation changed—if we changed from good times to bad times. Those are broad terms. One wants to define what bad times are. All I would say is that we are now in the 1950's and not in the 1930's, and in this industry, as in so many others, the arguments used for the practices are based upon the situation which existed some 20 years ago.
In conclusion, odd though it may seem, there is perhaps more underlying unity about our approach to monopolies than might appear on the surface. We are agreed that restrictive powers are dangerous and that some have gone too far, and we desire to see that tackled with
§ fairness and expedition. We, in the Government, have rid ourselves of a number of monopolies in the public field. We have announced our decision on all the Reports of the Commission.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
We have strengthened the Commission, we have given a first much-needed general reference, we are two years ahead in referring the tyre industry to the Commission, we have sustained and will continue to sustain a clear-cut policy of full inquiry and effective action, and we confidently invite the House to endorse that policy tonight.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 267, Noes 300.1583
|Division No. 37.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Hoy, J. H.|
|Adams, Richard||Deer, G.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)|
|Albu, A. H.||Delargy, H. J.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Dodds, N. N.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Donnelly, D. L.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Driberg, T. E. N.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Baird, J.||Edelman, M.||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)|
|Balfour, A.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Janner, B.|
|Bartley, P.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Bence, C. R.||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena|
|Benn, Hon. Wedgwood||Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)|
|Benson, C.||Fernyhough, E.||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Beswick, F.||Fienburgh, W.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)|
|Blackburn, F.||Finch, H. J.||Jones, David (Hartlepool)|
|Blenkinsop, A,||Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Follick, M.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)|
|Boardman, H.||Foot, M. M.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Forman, J. C.||Keenan, W.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Kenyon, C.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Freeman, John (Watford)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Lawson, G. M.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Gibson, C. W.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Brown, Thomas (Inoe)||Gooch, E. G.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Burke, W. A.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Greenwood, Anthony||Lewis, Arthur|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Carmichael, J.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Lianelly)||MacColl, J. E.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Chapman, W. D.||Hale, Leslie||McGovern, J.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||McInnes, J.|
|Clunie, J.||Hamilton, W. W.||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Coldrick, W.||Hannan, W.||McLeavy, F.|
|Collick, P. H.||Hardy, E. A.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)|
|Collins, V. J.||Hargreaves, A.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Cove, W. G.||Hastings, S.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Craddook, George (Bradford, S.)|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Hayman, F. H.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.)||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Herbison, Miss M.||Manuel, A. C.|
|Daines, P.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Hobson, C. R.||Mason, Roy|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Holman, P.||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Holmes, Horace||Mellish, R. J.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Houghton, Douglas||Messer, Sir F.|
|Mikardo, Ian||Rankin, John||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Mitchison, G. B.||Reeves, J.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Monslow, W.||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)||Thornton, E.|
|Moody, A. S.||Reid, William (Camiachle)||Timmons, J.|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Rhodes, H.||Tomney, F.|
|Morley, R.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Morris, Peroy (Swansea, W.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Ungoed-Thomat, Sir Lynn|
|Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Usborne, H. C.|
|Moyle, A.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Mulley, F. W.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Murray, J. O||Ross, William||Warbey, W. N.|
|Nally, W.||Royle, C.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Noel-Baker Rt. Hon. P. J.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Weitzman, D.|
|O'Brien, T.||Short, E. W.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Oliver, G. H.||Shurmer, P. L. E.||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Orbach, M.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)||West, D. G.|
|Oswald, T.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Owen, W. J.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Padley, W. E.||Skeffington, A. M.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Paget, R. T.||Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)||Wigg, George|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Snow, J. W.||Willey, F. T.|
|Pannell, Charles||Sorensen, R. W.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Sparks, J. A.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Parker, J.||Steele, T.||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Parkin, B. T.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Paton, J.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.||Willis, E. G.|
|Peart, T. F.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Plummer, Sir Leslie||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Popplewell, E.||Stross, Dr. Barnett||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Porter, G.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Swingler, S. T.||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Sylvester, G. O.||Yates, V. F.|
|Probert, A. R.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Proctor, W. T.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Pryde, D. J.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||Mr. Bowden and Mr. Pearson|
|Aitken, W. T.||Channon, H.||Foster, John|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Clarke, Col. Sir Ralph (East Grinstead)||Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale).|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Cole, Norman||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Colegate, Sir Arthur||Gammans, L. D.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Garner-Evans, E. H.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Glover, D.|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Godber, J. B.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hn. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hn. H. F. C.||Gough, C. F. H.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Gower, H. R.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Crouch, R. F.||Graham, Sir Fergus|
|Barber, Anthony||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Crowder, Petre (Rulslip—Northwood)||Grimond, J.|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Davidson, Viscountess||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||De la Bère, Sir Rupert||Hare, Hon. J. H.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Deedes, W. F.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Digby, S. Wingfield||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Black, C. W.||Donner, Sir P. W.||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd)|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Doughty, C. J. A.||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Drayson, G. B.||Hay, John|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Duthie, W. S.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Braine, B. R.||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir D. M.||Heath, Edward|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Henderson, John (Cathcart)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Gurney||Higgs, J. M. C.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Errington, Sir Eric||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Erroll, F. J.||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Fell, A.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Bullard, D. G.||Finlay, Graeme||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Fisher, Nigel||Holland-Martin, C. J.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Hollis, M. C.|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Holt,.A. F.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Ford, Mrs. Patricia||Hope, Lord John|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Fort, R.||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry|
|Hornsby-Smith, Mill M. P.||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)||Scott, Sir Donald|
|Horobin, Sir Ian||Maude, Angus||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florance||Maudling, R.||Sharples, Maj. R. C.|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Shepherd, William|
|Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Medllcott, Sir Frank||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbr'gh, W.)|
|Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Molson, A. H. E.||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Moore, Sir Thomas||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Hulbert, Wing Cmrd. N. J.||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Hurd, A. R.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh.W.)||Nabarro, G. D. H.||Speir, R. M.|
|Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Neave, Airey||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)|
|Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Nicholls, Harmar||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (K'ns'gt'n, S.)|
|Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Jennings, Sir Roland||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Nugent, G. R. H.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Nutting, Rt. Hon. Anthony||Storey, S.|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Oakshott, H. D.||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Kaberry, D.||Odey, G. W.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Kerby, Capt. H. B.||O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Summers, C. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Kerr, H. W.||Ormsby-Core, Hon. W. D.||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Langford-Holt, J. A.||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Osborne, C.||Teeling, W.|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Page, R. G.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Heref'd)|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||Perkins, Sir Robert||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Lindsay, Martin||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Linstead, Sir H. N.||Peyton, J. W. W.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. P. (M'nm'th)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Pitman, I. J.||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Powell, J. Enoch||Turton, R. H.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L,||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Profumo, J. D.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Raikes, Sir Victor||Wade, D. W.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Ramsden, J. E.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|McAdden, S. J.||Rayner, Brig. R.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'le'bne)|
|MacCallum, Major D.||Redmayne, M.||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Wall, Major Patrick|
|McKibbin, A. J.||Remnant, Hon. P.||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Renton, D. L. M.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Ridsdale, J. E.||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Robertson, Sir David||Webbe, Sir H. (L'nd'n & Westm'r)|
|McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Wellwood, W.|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Williams, Rt. Hn. Charles (Torquay)|
|MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Robson-Brown, W.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Roper, Sir Harold||Wills, G.|
|Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)||Russell, R. S.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and|
|Marples, A. E.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.||Mr. Studholme.|
§ Proposed words there added.
That this House welcomes the measures already taken by Her Majesty's Government to strengthen the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission; notes that the general inquiry which the Commission is conducting into certain widely prevalent practices is nearing completion, and endorses the Government's policy towards monopolies and restrictive prac-
tices on the basis of a full investigation of the facts before announcing the action to be taken.