§ 57. Mr. Chetwynd
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will direct the Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency to forbid companies whose shares it holds from taking part in price-fixing rings.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I would refer the hon. Member to the first part of the answer I gave to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) on 16th June. The companies, in common with the companies returned to private ownership, are members of a wide range of trade associations. If the hon. Member has evidence of abuse or undesirable practices, he will no doubt bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the 1033 Board of Trade with a view to consideration for reference to the Monopolies Commission.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
is there not clear evidence that these firms are engaging in price fixing and common tendering? Why should they have to go through the whole process and rigmarole of going to the Monopolies Commission, which may take two or three years, whereas by a simple act the Chancellor of the Exchequer could forbid this practice immediately?
§ Mr. Brooke
This is not rigmarole. The President of the Board of Trade is referring the matter to the Monopolies Commission to obtain a report on whether certain aspects of these practices are desirable or otherwise. It would be quite wrong to prejudge the question.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that in the present opinion of Her Majesty's Government there is no abuse at all in these practices, that they are perfectly happy to allow them to go on for a year or two until the Monopolies Commission report, and are not prepared to take any action to deal with these abuses meanwhile?
§ Mr. Brooke
No. As I told the right hon. Gentleman the other day, I know of no practices that are now extant among these companies which did not exist when he was Minister of Supply. I am absolutely certain that it would be wrong for the Government to do anything to prejudice the present reference to the Monopolies Commission.
§ Dame Irene Ward
Is it not the position that this Government are taking action whereas the Labour Government failed to take action?
§ Mr. Strauss
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no single example of such price fixing came to light or was quoted by any public authority or received any comment whatsoever during the period of nationalisation? If such price fixing had come to light, the Government of that day would certainly have taken immediate action to deal with it.
§ Mr. Brooke
I cannot be held responsible if there was lack of knowledge on the part of the Labour Government.