HC Deb 28 June 1955 vol 543 cc189-92
42. Mr. Albu

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the monopolistic tendencies in the retail furniture trade, he will refer it to the Monopolies Commission.

course, are strictly controlled under quota arrangements of the Anglo-Japanese Agreement.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that what he calls "the comprehensive statement made by the Prime Minister" has so far proved completely incomprehensible to the industry, and the Answers by the President of the Board of Trade last week have done nothing but increase the gloom and despondency in Lancashire? Does he not think the time has come when the Government ought to bring their mind to bear—if they have a mind—on the position of the textile industry and to decide what long-term policy they are to recommend?

Mr. Low

As the House knows, the statement of the Prime Minister was a comprehensive statement—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—interpreted as such by the industry. I do not think I need add anything to my Answer.

Following are the figures:

Mr. Kaberry

It is not clear that the statutory conditions which must be satisfied before a reference can be made to the Monopolies Commission prevail in the retail furniture trade. But in any event, my right hon. Friend has already announced a full programme of work for the Commission and he does not intend to make any further references at present.

Mr. Albu

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a strong feeling in the industry that over one-third of the retail trade is in the hands of a single firm, and can he say in what way the statutory conditions for reference to the Commission can be fulfilled? Does the hon. Gentleman realise that it is also felt that the ownership by one firm of such a large part of the retail trade has a very considerable effect, on the manufacturing side of the industry, in preventing a continuance of regular employment during the year?

Mr. Kaberry

A reference to the Commission can be made only if it appears that at least one-third of the goods are supplied by one firm or a group of interconnected firms. I shall be pleased to receive any information which the hon. Member may provide to show that these conditions obtain in the retail sale of furniture.

Mr. H. Morrison

The hon. Gentleman has said that the President of the Board of Trade does not propose to make any more references to the Monopolies Commission at present, whatever happens. Are we to understand that whatever the circumstances and whatever dramatic facts or conditions may arise, the Monopolies Commission is now to be inhibited from making any further inquiries or receiving any further references?

Mr. Kaberry

No, Sir. If the hon. Gentleman can give us any information to show that these conditions prevail, it will be most carefully considered.

Mr. H. Wilson rose


Dame Irene Ward

Four Privy Councillors!

Mr. Wilson

Is it not an extraordinary fact for a Minister to state that it is not clear to him whether the statutory conditions are satisfied or not, and that he has to ask my hon. Friend to provide information? Should not the President of the Board of Trade get the necessary information from the industry and establish whether my hon. Friend's statement is a statement of fact?

Mr. Kaberry

The answer is that it does not appear at present to the Board that the conditions do, in fact, prevail. If the right hon. Gentleman can supply evidence, it will be considered.

Dame Irene Ward rose


Mr. Nabarro

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will not have escaped your attention in the last two days that as several Privy Councillors on the Opposition side of the House now sit on the back benches and a large number of non-Privy Councillors have been elected to the Front Bench, the result is that approximately four times the number of supplementary questions come from the other side as are allowed on this side of the House. What can be done to protect the rights of the minority of private Members on this side of the House?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Dame Irene Ward

Does my hon. Friend think that the internal pains from which right hon. and hon. Members opposite seem to be suffering with regard to monopolies are due to sour—oh, very sour—grapes?

54. Mr. Viant

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the prevalence of common price and level tendering, he will set up a Departmental committee to inquire into the changes in the law needed to bring these widespread practices to an end.

Mr. Kaberry

No, Sir. As already announced by my right hon. Friend, we are asking the Monopolies Commission to inquire into the general effect of these practices on the public interest.

Mr. Viant

Am I to understand from that reply that the President of the Board of Trade is perfectly satisfied that he has powers to deal with these things?

Mr. Kaberry

Yes, we feel that the Monopolies Commission has great experience in these matters, and we can see no reason to think that a Departmental committee could do the job any better.

Mr. Wade

If we are to rely on the Report of the Monopolies Commission and await it before any action is taken, can the hon. Gentleman give an approximate estimate of the period of time that will elapse before that Report may be expected?

Mr. Kaberry

I could not give that estimate at the moment.