HC Deb 14 June 1956 vol 554 cc835-7
Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I beg to move, in page 22, line 5, to leave out "and" and to insert: shall not apply in relation to any such reference in respect of which directions are given by the Board under subsection (3) of this section. (5)". It may be for the convenience of the House, Sir, if we discuss with this Amendment the next Amendment, to line 6.

The purpose of these Amendments is simple. They deal with the power of the Board of Trade to vary a reference to the Monopolies Commission. Subsection (4) of Section 6 of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Act, 1948, limits that power. In effect, what it says is that one can vary a reference but one must not vary a reference on public interest to a reference on fact only. There may well be some good purpose in that—not in the case of any of us here—but one can imagine the situation in which the President of the Board of Trade might lose his nerve shortly before the public interest report and vary it to one on fact only.

6.45 p.m.

The Bill as it stands removes that limitation both in regard to existing and future references, and that is much too wide. The point was made during the Committee stage that all we want to do is a very limited thing, namely, to vary one, or at the most two references to be on the facts only, because we want to get those completed and to get as much as we usefully can of the present references to the Commission dealt with in that way; whereas we clearly cannot have references running on for several years and duplicating the work of the Court. We probably debated this a little in the recent discussion.

The Amendment, therefore, limits the exclusion which stands in the Bill as drafted, and limits the power of the Board of Trade to vary references, and I commend it to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 22, line 6, leave out "that Act" and insert "the Act of 1948".—[Mr. P. Thorneyeroft.]

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I beg to move, in page 22, line 8, to leave out from "effect" to the end of line 14.

This Amendment deals with the question of the power to review the operation of an undertaking given under the Monopolies Act of 1948; that is to say, where an industry, after a report, has given certain undertakings as to the way it will conduct its arrangements in the future, there is power under Section 12 of that Act to have an inquiry to see how that is operating. Obviously, we need to retain this power for future references. There may be inquiries into export arrangements or into single firm monopolies. Undertakings may be given, and from time to time it may be appropriate to use the review power in Section 12 to see whether the undertakings were working out as had been anticipated.

The Bill as drafted repeals the review, or power to have reviews, with regard to existing references. The object was the sound one of avoiding a clash with the Restrictive Practices Court but, on reflection, we think that this exception is not necessary. I do not say that we would, but we could conceivably need the power of review up to the moment at which the Part I element, at any rate, of the restrictions dealt with in the undertaking was brought before the Court. Thereafter, the review power would in any event be irrelevant, because from that moment onwards it would be clearly the Court itself which made an order within the compass of matters which Parliament had determined were to come before it under Part I of the Act.

In those circumstances, we think that the simplest thing is to leave Section 12 of the Monopolies Act as it stands, and to use it as appropriate when and where these matters are within the jurisdiction of the Commission.

Mr. Jay

Does the President of the Board of Trade mean that in a case where there has been a report of the Monopolies Commission under the original Act, and as a result of that certain assurances have been given by a firm or industry, he is now proposing that the Board of Trade should retain power to review the working of those assurances from the time the Bill becomes law, until such time as that type of agreement becomes subject to registration? If that is so, I do not think that we will quarrel with him.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

That is exactly the position and I think that it is a sensible arrangement.

Amendment agreed to.