HC Deb 17 May 1956 vol 552 cc2294-303

(1) The Board of Trade shall include in the reports made under section sixteen of the Act of 1948 the report as to the operation of this Act in the year preceding that in which the report is laid before both Houses of Parliament.

(2) Every such report shall, amongst other things, include a review in such detail as the Board think fit of any suggestions and requests (not any suggestions and requests which appear to the Board to be frivolous) which have been made to the Board or the Registrar for the reference of any particular matter to the Restrictive Practices Court.

(3) Subject to the provisions of this subsection, where a request has been made to the Board by a body which in the opinion of the Board could properly claim to represent, for the purposes in question, the interests of any of the following, that is to say—

  1. (a) consumers in Great Britain or a substantial proportion of those consumers;
  2. (b) the organised workers of Great Britain;
  3. (c) trade in Great Britain; 2 0 2
  4. 2295
  5. (d) industry in Great Britain;
  6. (e) agriculture in England and Wales or in Scotland;
  7. (f) any class of local authorities in England and Wales or in Scotland;
  8. (g) the professional workers of Great Britain, of England and Wales or of Scotland, who are particularly concerned,
the review referred to in subsection (2) of this section shall, if the body so require, contain a specific statement that the request has been made by that body, and of the description of goods to which the request relates.

(4) Every such report shall, amongst other things, include a review in such detail as the Board thinks fit of

  1. (a) the Agreements which have been made subject to registration under this Act;
  2. (b) the Agreements which have been registered;
  3. (c) proceedings which have been taken under this Act and the result thereof, and
  4. (d) the grounds of the decisions given under section fifteen of this Act.—[Sir L. Plummer.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir L. Plummer

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

A little time ago the President said that he favoured publicity, and that he did so particularly in respect of goods that were designed for the consumer here. He further said that he did not believe that publicity did any harm at all to industry in general, and that even in particular it did no harm to the industries which had been examined by the Monopolies Commission.

The President will recognise that this new Clause, with the exception of subsection (4), is taken almost word for word from the Monopolies Act, 1948. The precedent for this is well-established. It is absolutely necessary that the work of the Court, as indeed the work of the Commission, should at all times be conducted, so far as its reports are concerned, in the bright light of publicity. I can visualise what we are likely to get when the Restrictive Practices Court first sits. At the beginning, at any rate, there will be a great deal of public and newspaper interest in what is going on. This interest will evaporate fairly soon after people get used to the establishment of so challenging and so novel an organisation.

Then the risk will face us that decisions will be taken and expressions uttered without the public knowing exactly why they are taken and why they are uttered. The Bill as it stands now—and I am afraid the Bill as it will go on the Statute

Book—does not give the same powers as that given by the Monopolies Act. In that respect it is a piece of legislation which is not as good as that Measure. But it will be far worse if it does not contain a Clause of this kind.

We are constantly hearing what is becoming established as a cliché in this House, that it is important that justice shall not only be done but that it should be manifestly clear that it is being done, or words to that effect. I think that we must here ensure that justice is done and that the reason why it has had to be done is clear to everybody. Unless we have a clear expression, in the form of reports, of the work of the Restrictive Practices Court, it seems to me that the whole nation will suffer, because it will not be beginning to understand and appreciate the work that the Court is doing.

I am enheartened by what the President had to say about publicity. It is a splendid thing that a politician of so considerable eminence and notable skill should give a lead to those people who say that publicity is something from which we should be shielded. We, of course, are always in favour of the maximum of publicity being obtainable on all our efforts in the House of Commons. Let us have the full light of publicity on the action of the Restrictive Practices Court.

Let us see that the nation knows what the Court is about and, above all, let us see that the nation understands not only that certain restrictive practices are bad, but why they are bad and why they work against the public interest. If the President intends to put real teeth into this Bill, I am sure that he can do it no better than by accepting the new Clause.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I thank the hon. Member for the kindly things that he has said about my desire for publicity in these matters, but I have another desire—which is the proper separation of functions and which has been occasionally described as too great a desire to have statutory tidiness of mind. The truth is, however, that it is not the Monopolies Commission that we shall be reporting upon.

I can go some way to meet the hon. Member's point, but I want this distinction to be quite clear. The Monopolies Commission was, in a sense, responsible to a Minister, who was responsible to the House. He, quite rightly, had to make a full report and we could debate the Commission's activities and functions. But that is not the case here. This is part of the judiciary and the idea that we should have the same kind of debate about the activities of the judiciary as we can in the House of Commons about the activities of the Monopolies Commission is, of course, a contention which cannot be sustained. That does not mean that there are not opportunities for information on a more modest scale, and I think that the hon. Member may have had those in mind.

It would be right to produce an annual summary of statistics of registration. We agreed that it would be useful to know how many agreements were on the secret register and how many on the public register. We had a debate on that point a long time ago. I think that information of that kind—on the number of agreements on the confidential register, the proceedings which had been taken, the number of cases which had come before the Court—would be proper factual matters which could be properly reported upon without in any way suggesting a clash between the Executive and the judiciary.

I think it would be wrong if a Minister started reporting upon the working of the Court, because the working of the Court is a matter for the judiciary and not for the Minister, and we should very rapidly get into great danger. May I state my position? If what is wanted is a general, vast responsibility by a Minister over the judicial workings of the system, the answer would have to be, "No." If what is required—and I think that it is, though the new Clause goes wider—is the assurance of proper statistical information, and information on what was on the register. and so forth, which could properly be put forward, I will look at that point and, if necessary, provide for it in the Bill. I do not know whether that will be necessary. If it is, I could insert a provision at a later stage. In any event, I can assure the Committee that reports of that kind can properly be made available

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I agree that we do not need anything in the nature of a report dealing with the internal workings of the Court, and it is very right and proper for the President of the Board of Trade to draw that distinction, but I am not sure that we do not want more than the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. There is a High Court judge and two laymen on the Court. It is a hybrid Court. It is not a Court dealing with purely judicial questions as we have understood in the past. It is, as the Lord Chancellor and the President of the Board of Trade have said, in part making economic and social decisions.

We cannot escape our responsibility about those and they obviously must be matters with which the House of Commons and Parliament must keep in touch. We cannot just abandon the matters which are handed over to the Restrictive Practices Court in the Bill, wash our hands of them and say, "That is a judicial matter and we cannot do anything more about it."

It is vital to know how the Court is working and what effect its decisions are having on the general economy. It is not a matter of interfering with the workings of the Court or examining its workings in any way. It is a matter of accepting the decisions of the Court and relating them to the general economy and to Parliamentary responsibility.

A great deal has been said about the conflict between the jurisdiction of the Court and that of the Monopolies Commission. There is not a conflict of jurisdiction, because, under Clause 16. what the Court has to consider is within a smaller ambit and more restrictive than the public interest at large, in the sense that the public interest has to be considered either by the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission or by Parliament.

We have, therefore, to approach the gap between the limited interpretation of public interest in Clause 16 and the unlimited application to the interpretation of and decision upon the public interest which are the duty of Parliament. One of the great difficulties of the Bill is that it contains nothing which connects the effect of the Court's decisions upon the economy with Parliament's responsibility for the economy. That is what is lacking, and we cannot abandon our duty and obligation upon that.

If we are to perform our duty we must have information in a form which is readily understandable and can be dealt with in a convenient way. Therefore we must not only have statistical information to which the President has referred, but we must be in a position to understand the grounds for decisions and to understand whether the Bill, when it is an Act, is working and what is its effect upon the economy.

We can take a simple test. Section 14 of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act, 1948, refers to various matters which help to throw light on what is or is not in the public interest. There is the test of the fullest use and best distribution of men, materials and industrial capacity in the United Kingdom There are other similar tests, dealing with the economy dynamically and not in the way in which Clause 16 of this Bill deals with it.

We must be able to relate the decisions of the Court with the public interest in the dynamic sense and for that we must have full information. I agree at once with the President that that does not involve any criticism of the workings of the Court or any investigation of the operations of the judges within the ambit of their judicial powers. It involves nothing of that kind. It involves merely accepting—not criticising or investigating—what the judges have done and the decisions made, and relating those to the general economy. I believe that for that purpose a reform on the lines which have been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) is really essential.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I am prepared to produce the facts and figures that I have mentioned, but it would be unfair to the Committee if I were to leave hon. Members with the impression that I was going to report on judicial decisions and the reason for them to the House, because when a Minister reports he has responsibility. He must report on something for which he is responsible, and it must be made quite clear that the decisions of the Court are a matter for the Court and not for the Minister.

I agree that Parliament has great responsibility with regard to the public interest, part of which we are deciding upon now. We have to lay down where the public interest lies, and so on. We may change our opinion as time goes on. Different views may be taken by different Parliaments, and no Minister would dare attempt to take that right from the House of Commons.

However, within the framework which at any time we lay down, if we allocate certain tasks to the courts, we must leave them to the courts. I do not know that there is a vast difference between us on these matters, and if I made available information on those questions which were asked earlier, as to how the register is working and what is in the confidential sector, and so forth, I think that that will meet the substance of the points made to me.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Jay

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that every year the Inland Revenue makes a report in which, among other things, there is a record of the proceedings taken in the courts by the Inland Revenue during the year? We usually read in it that one or two taxpayers have been convicted for assaulting tax collectors. [An HON. MEMBER:" That is not a crime."] Is there any reason why we should not have some such information about the cases in the courts under this procedure as we have in the case of the Inland Revenue?

Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)

I do not understand this Amendment. Surely the activities of the Court will be reported like any other Court, so that all the information will be available. The point of view of the President of the Board of Trade is that this will not be presented by him in Parliament, but that we can go to the Library and there get all the facts we want. If that is the case, I do not understand the purpose of this Amendment. Is it the intention that something should be produced to Parliament which will not be available in the Library?

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

We want to have it in a convenient form.

Sir L. Plummer

I listened with care to what the right hon. Gentleman said and I want to be helpful, but there is a great deal of difference between us. I want the white light of publicity and the right hon. Gentleman wants a farthing dip. I am not concerned with the workings of the Courts. I am concerned with the working of the Act. That is what I want to have debated whenever the House thinks that is fit and proper. If something goes wrong in the courts of law today we do not discuss what the judges have said and how they behave; we discuss whether the Act which has caused the trouble is a good one or not.

My case is supported by paragraphs (c) and (d) of subsection (4), namely, (c) proceedings which have been taken under this Act and the result thereof, and (d) the grounds of the decisions given under section fifteen of this Act What we must have is an opportunity of discovering, first, what has been going on,

Division No. 190.] AYES [8.4 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Healey, Denis Owen, W. J.
Albu, A. H. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Palmer, A. M. F.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Herbison, Miss M. Pargiter, G. A.
Anderson, Frank Holmes, Horace Parker, J.
Awbery, S. S. Houghton, Douglas Parkin, B. T.
Bacon, Miss Alice Hubbard, T. F. Paton, J.
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Plummer, Sir Leslie
Benson, G. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Popplewell, E.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Hunter, A. E. Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Blackburn, F. Irvine, A.J. (Edge Hill) Probert, A. R.
Blenkinsop, A. Irving, S. (Dartford) Proctor, W. T.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Pryde, D. J.
Boyd, T. c. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Redhead, E. C.
Brockway, A. F. Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Reeves, J.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Ross, William
Castle, Mrs. B. A. King, Dr. H. M. Short, E. W.
Chapman, W. D. Lawson, G. M. Shurmer, P. L. E.
Chetwynd, G. R. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Clunie, J. Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Collins, V. J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury) Lewis, Arthur Skeffington, A. M.
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Lingdren, G. S. Sparks, J. A.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Steele, T.
Cronin, J. D. Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Darling, George (Hillsborough) MacColl, J. E. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) McInnes, J. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Davies, Harold (Leek) McLeavy Frank Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Delargy, H. J. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Viant, S. P.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Warbey, W. N.
Edelman, M. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.) Weitzman, D.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Messer, Sir F. Wilkins, W. A.
Fletcher, Eric Mitchison, G. R. Willey, Frederick
Forman, J. C. Moody, A. S. Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm,S.) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Gibson, C. W. Moyle, A. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Zilliacus, K.
Hamilton, W. W. Oliver, G. H.
Hannan, W. Oram, A. E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hastings, S. Orbach, M. Mr. Deer and Mr. J. T. Price
Hayman, F. H. Oswald, T.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Bossom, Sir A. C. Dance, J. C. G.
Aitken, W. T. Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Deedes, W. F.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Boyle, Sir Edward Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.
Alport, C. J. M. Braine, B. R. Doughty, C. J. A.
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry du Cann, E. D. L.
Arbuthnot, John Brooman-White, R. C. Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)
Armstrong, C. W. Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Errington, Sir Eric
Ashton, H. Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Farey-Jones, F. W.
Atkins, H. E. Campbell, Sir David Fell, A.
Barber, Anthony Cole, Norman Finlay, Graeme
Baxter, Sir Beverley Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Corfield, Capt. F. V. Fletcher-Cooke, C.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Freeth, D. K.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Crouch, R. F. Garner-Evans, E. H.
Bishop, F. P. Cunningham, Knox George, J. C. (Pollok)
Black, C. W. Currie, G. B. H. Gibson-Watt, D.

secondly, what decisions have been reached, and, thirdly, above all else, what effect this is having on the economic life of the country and on the consumers of the country.

So, although 1 want to help the President of the Board of Trade, and time is passing, I must ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to support me in the Lobby.

Question put—

The Committee divided: Ayes 119 Noes 159

Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Raikes, Sir Victor
Graham, Sir Fergus Linstead, Sir H. N. Rawlinson, Peter
Grant, W. (Woodside) Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Redmayne, M.
Grant-Ferris, Wg. Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Longden, Gilbert Renton, D. L. M.
Green, A. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Ridsdale, J. E.
Gresham Cook, R. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Rippon, A. G. F.
Grimond, J. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Russell, R. S.
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.
Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Maddan, Martin Sharples, R. C.
Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Shepherd, William
Harvey-Watt, Sir George Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Simon, J. E. S.(Middlesbrough, W.)
Hay, John Markham, Major Sir Frank Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Marlowe, A. A. H. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)
Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Marples, A. E. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich. W.)
Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Marshall, Douglas Studholme, H. G.
Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Mathew, R. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Holt, A. F. Maude, Angus Teeling, W.
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Mawby, R. L, Thomas, Lesile (Canterbury)
Horobin, Sir Ian Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Thorneycroft Rt. Hon P
Howard, John (Test) Medlicott, Sir Frank Thronton-Kemsley, C.N.
Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Milllgan, Rt. Hon. W. R. Touche, Sir Gordon
Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Molson, A. H. E. Turner, H. F. L.
Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark(E'b'gh, W.) Nairn, D. L. S. Vickers, Miss J. H.
Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H. Neave, Airey Vosper, D. F.
Iremonger, T. L. Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E.& Chr'ch) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Oakshott, H. D. Walker-Smith, D. C.
Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D. Wall, Major Patrick
Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Joseph, Sir Keith Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale) Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot Partridge, E. Whitelaw, W. S. I. (Penrith & Border)
Keegan, D.
Kerby, Capt. H. B. Pickthorn, K. W. M. Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Kershaw, J. A. Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Kirk, P. M. Pitman, I. J. Woollam, John Victor
Lancaster, Col. C. G. Pitt, Miss E. M. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Langford-Holt, J. A. Pott, H. P.
Leavey, J. A. Powell, J. Enoch TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Leburn, W. G. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L. Mr. Godber and Mr. Hughes-Young.
Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Profumo, J. D.