HC Deb 17 May 1956 vol 552 cc2255-73

Again considered in Committee.

[Sir RHYS HOPKIN MORRIS in the Chair]

Mr. Grimond

Before we were interrupted I was engaged in a flight of oratory designed to show the desirability of eliminating subsection (3). I have been considerably reassured during the interval by finding that those around me whom I thought to be on the opposite side to me in this matter are on the same side. I understand that the series of Labour Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), which I thought were designed to do the opposite of what I sought to do, in fact would do the same thing. If we agree to those Amendments being made, the whole subsection disappears.

I see no reason why the Monopolies Commission should not be allowed to report on the majority of the cases which are now before it, and in particular on the general case of common practices. I think that the Government would have had a stronger case if the subsection had been put the other way round and the President had been given some power to withdraw particular cases from the Commission if, for instance, it could be shown that a long time would elapse before the Commission's report would be made and that by that time Part III of the Bill would be in operation and the cases would have to go before the Restrictive Practices Court. As things stand, all the cases now before the Commission fall to the ground, unless the President of the Board of Trade directs otherwise.

1 should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has decided which of these cases are to be allowed to continue and whether at least interim reports are to be given on any of them, and in particular on the general one of common practices. Unless the President can give as a powerful explanation of this subsection, I think it would be better to-have it removed from the Clause altogether.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) is correct in thinking that, contrary to the first impression that they may give, the three Labour Amendments added together come to almost precisely the same meaning as that which he is trying to urge upon the Committee.

Mr. Jay

We do it much more subtly.

Mr. Grimond

But at much greater length.

Mr. Jenkins

I should not like to comment in great detail on the subsection as it would be amended by our Amendments because it reads like a literal translation from the Icelandic, but I do not think that we need dispute with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland about the respective methods by which we are trying to achieve our objective. We are all concerned to get from the Monopolies Commission the Reports upon which it is at present engaged without the Commission being stopped in its work.

It is natural that the Liberal Party should support the Labour Party, or that we on these benches should support them in this case, because I think that it was the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) who said a little earlier today that the attitude of the President of the Board of Trade to Part III was distinguished by an excessive degree of administrative tidiness. I think that the hon. Member was taking the phrase from the Economist. There has been a great deal of quotation and counter-quotation from the Economist in the course of debate on Part III.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade has defined a newspaper which supported the Government as a well-informed newspaper. There must have been, in recent months, a large number of newspapers in Fleet Street which were imperfectly informed on this issue. 1 take it that the hon. Gentleman considers that the Economist is a very well-informed newspaper, except in relation to Part HI of the Bill on which it did not support the Government.

The proposal in this subsection would carry administrative tidiness to an exceptional degree, because here is a situation in which the Commission has already done a great deal of work on a number of subjects on which we would like to have its views. To say at this stage that we should be prevented from having that information from the Commission merely because there might be a conceivable overlap is a great waste of the valuable work which has already been done.

One of the valuable functions of the Commission in the past has been to provide a great deal of information about restrictive practices which otherwise we should not have had. If we look back upon the Commission's work we can with more certainty pay tribute to the work it has done in informing public opinion about restrictive practices than to the detailed alterations in industry which it has effected. There is a danger of confusion here on the question of overlap between the jurisdiction of the Court and that of the Commission. The Commission has provided information to a much greater extent than it has provided action, and it is only when one considers action that there can be a dangerous confusion of jurisdiction.

There is no doubt at all—and this is an issue which we have not discussed as much as we might have done, and it arises directly from the Amendment—that the Commission's machinery of inquiry provides a means of obtaining information which certainly would not be available to us under the Court procedure. If we take the example of the Commission's Report on the cable industry, there is no doubt at all that a great number of practices which existed in that industry and which the Commission brought out most clearly and valuably in its Report were seen by the Commission only as a result of the most detailed inquiry into the industry. It looked into pile after pile of minutes of sub-committees of trade associations, and looked in a way that will not be possible to the Court.

If we are to say that in respect of these ten industries which the Commission is at present investigating the work already done is to be abandoned and not to be allowed to be published, we shall be saying that we shall deliberately prevent ourselves from obtaining information, some of which has been already obtained and a large part of which will not be brought out by the procedure of the Court.

I agree, therefore, with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and I hope very much that, particularly in the case of the ten references to certain industries, the President will tell us that the Commission will be allowed to continue. At the very least—and I am not saying that this will be a satisfactory compromise—the President should let us have interim Reports from the Commission giving the information which has already been acquired so that there will be no waste of the work already done.

There is the second question of the general reference on common practices on which the Commission is working. I am surprised that, on his own showing, the President of the Board of Trade should not wish to have the benefit of the Commission's advice. The right hon. Gentleman said at one stage, and gave his reasons, that it was much more important that we should apply ourselves not to the detail of the machinery of enforcement of various practices, but that we should get down to matters of greater substance, such as the question of common prices.

The President's treatment of the Commission from this point of view has been extraordinary. First, he sets the Commission a complicated list to inquire into and then says, "These subjects are not of primary importance. The subjects of primary importance are those like common prices. On the subject of common prices I want you to stop your work in the middle and not give me or the country the benefit of the work already done, but bring it all to a sudden end."

I cannot believe that the right hon. Gentleman really seeks to produce this great waste of effort. I hope that in his reply to these Amendments, the first of which was moved by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, he will be able to tell us that at least the Government will make the fullest possible use of information already available and will allow the Commission to complete the eleven tasks which it has in hand at present.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The proposal here, which is the same whether it be contained in the single Amendment of the Liberal Party or the triple Amendment of the official Opposition, would be to leave all the references which are at present before the Commission, and were before it at the commencement of this Measure, so that they would be completed.

Again this raises one of the principles to which I referred in our previous debate. Here again we are concerned to make the best possible use of the Monopolies Commission, subject always to safeguarding our principle of avoiding any clash of jurisdiction. If the suggestion is that the Commission should be allowed to complete its work on all these Reports, with the implication that action should then be taken, after the passing of this Measure, upon agreements which would be registrable under the Acts and would go to the courts, that would involve a clear clash of jurisdiction, and it would clearly derogate from that fundamental principle which I sought to stress earlier.

That being so, it is not possible to accede to the full suggestion made by hon. Gentlemen opposite to leave all the eleven references to be completed by the Commission after the commencement of this Measure, as far as they have not been completed at that time. So what we are proposing to do, in order to implement the principles which are guiding us in this matter, is to separate those refrences which can be completed before the commencement of the Act from those which it appears cannot be completed before the Act comes into force. Those which can be completed before the commencement of the Act and the reconstitution of the Commission will be completed. There are five of those out of the eleven which come within that category.

There is one reference which we think can be completed on a factual basis only, that is to say, without the public interest element, but on the factual basis. That leaves five out of the eleven. One of those we propose should be continued and, as it were, taken on and completed by the reconstituted Commission since that one has substantial elements which lie within the scope of the new Commission.

Mr. Jay

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say if the five Reports to which he has referred will be published?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Yes, the ones which are completed will be published. I have no doubt that they will supply a useful quarry of information which will be available to be drawn on both by those appearing for the Registrar and those appearing for the parties, in so far as restrictive agreements come before the Restrictive Practices Court where these Reports are relevant.

Mr. Jenkins

Is it intended that action should be taken, if action falls to be taken, in the case of the five Reports which are completed?

Mr. Walker-Smith

No, Sir. Obviously if action on those Reports would be an anticipation of a decision of the Restrictive Practices Court, clearly no action could be taken without usurping the jurisdiction of the Court and sacrificing the one principle by which we are guided.

Mr. Jenkins

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman again. I understand on his own premises why no action should be taken, but I fail to see why it is important to draw a distinction between the five which can be completed by a certain date and the other five from the point of view of not having overlapping jurisdiction. It is clear, as I tried to indicate, that the only purpose of the five Reports which have been completed is to provide information, so there can be no question of overlapping jurisdiction or of confusion.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but we are not having a Monopolies Commission simply as a body supplying information. I indicated in our earlier debate that it would have two important functions left exclusively to it. When the Commission is reconstituted after the commencement of the Act it should then be free, in the main, to proceed with its functions as they will be under the new Act when it comes into law. However, in the interim period it is sensible and practical that the utmost use should be made of the Commission as a fact-finding body, but only on those references which it can complete before it is reconstituted, and so as not to trespass upon the time which it will devote to its proper functions.

Mr. Jay

Why should not the Commission complete all the inquiries to which reference has already been made. at any rate on a fact-finding basis, and then publish the information?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Because those matters, in so far as they are registrable agreements, will be coming before the Restrictive Practices Court.

Mr. Jay indicated


Mr. Walker-Smith

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. In regard to the first five there will be no parallel or contemporaneous action. By the time the Commission has completed its Reports the Act will not be in force, and so there is no possibility of a parallel and simultaneous action on the part of the Commission and the Court in the way in which we intend that this procedure should work.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

The hon. and learned Gentleman is basing his case on a clash of jurisdiction. Clash of jurisdiction involves action being taken by two bodies in opposition to each other. Yet the hon. and learned Gentleman states that there is no question of action being taken upon any report. Therefore the point that is being made is, why not com- plete all the Reports, since he contemplates no action on any Report, and therefore there cannot be any clash of jurisdiction on any of them?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is over simplying this matter. The clash of jurisdiction is only one element in this matter. There is a second element, which is the fact that at present the Commission can properly undertake this work because it will not yet be reconstituted and charged with its duties under the Act. There is a third element, which will not have escaped the right hon. Gentleman, and that is that in any event we have not at present power to withdraw the five references. They continue under the existing law. Of course we do not have power under the Bill until the Bill becomes law.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

On the question of the reconstitution of the Commission, this is a complete bogey. The President has power under Clause 22 to bring in the Clause to reconstitute the Commission whenever he wants to. Therefore, the Statute does not automatically reconstitute the Commission. The President can reconstitute it after all the Reports have been published if there is anything of substance in the point.

Mr. Walker-Smith

One can, of course-, do so if one takes the view that it is more valuable to use the Commission for that purpose than to reconstitute it in its new form in order to get the procedure, working. It is envisaged that the Commission will deal with two specific matters which are excluded from the jurisdiction of the Court and are left as. the main field for the activity of the Commission.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

The Commission can do that under the 1948 Act as. it stands without being reconstituted. One is not depriving it of any work through its being held up. There is nothing in that point at all.

Mr. Walker-Smith

1 should have thought it was clear that if one wished to continue the whole of the work on which the Commission was now engaged without the danger of a clash of jurisdiction one could do it only on a basis of providing information. We consider that the time of the Commission in its reconstituted state will be better spent dealing with the matters over which it has specific jurisdiction rather than dealing merely on a fact-finding basis with matters some of which may be paralleled by that time in the proceedings before the Court itself.

The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) and some right hon. Gentlemen opposite shake their heads. Let us take the case referred to earlier, that of the Section 15 references on common prices and agreed tendering. One would imagine that that is a reference which. if it went on and were completed, would necessarily take a long time before the Commission. We have already said that it is our intention to have a procedure for early registration, and so on, in regard to restrictive agreements in respect of common price arrangements. There would be a clear danger there of these two things going on in parallel, and, quite apart from the possibilities of a clash of jurisdiction it would be a waste of the time of the Commission if it was doing work which was being done, in effect, on a specific basis at the same time by the Court.

Mr. R. Edwards

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that a reference on common level tendering would take a long time. In its circulars to organisations, the Commission has stated that it has all the background material and needs not facts but statements. Evidently the hon. and learned Gentleman has been wrongly informed.

Mr. Walker-Smith

If facts were not required, there would be little value in having the sort of fact-finding report to which reference has been made.

Mr. Jay

Is not the hon. and learned Gentleman contradicting what was said earlier? He is saying that the Commission cannot make the other Reports because, if it did, it would have too much work and would not be able to do its new job. An hour ago, when we wanted to put more members on the Commission, the hon. and learned Gentleman told us that there would not be enough work for the Commission to do. Is that not totally contradictory?

6.15 p.m.

Mr. R. Edwards

We have not had a convincing reply to the Amendments. How does the Commission work? It collects facts covering a whole range of industries, and it does it in a very painstaking way. No other organisation in the country is in a position to collect the kind of information which the Commission has been accumulating since 1949. Consequently, the Commission has a great deal of background information covering many references on which it has not yet reported.

If we had time, I could quote documents sent out by the Commission asking for statements about level tendering and saying that it already had the background information on the subject. That means that the publication of the facts relating to the reference would be a very simple task. Since the Commission was established it has had twenty-eight references it has reported on sixteen, and twelve are outstanding

Let us look at the references which it is sought to exclude. One concerns electric batteries. This has no relationship to the new Court. We should all like to know a lot about electric batteries because a conspiracy about reducing the life of batteries was reported. Another reference being excluded relates to street-lighting equipment. I do not think either of those references can go before the new Court.

Another reference relates to steel frames for buildings, and we shall not have a report on that. There have been many complaints from local authorities, including the London County Council and the West Hartlepools City Council, complaining that, because of the cost of steel girders, the costs of education and housing, and, indeed, our living cost, are higher than they would otherwise be. Because of the cost of steel frames for building purposes, the costs of all our houses are greater than they should be.

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

The hon. Gentleman seems to be multiplying his illustrations.

Mr. Edwards

I am merely dealing, Sir Rhys, with the references which are definitely to be excluded from the work of the Commission. I am merely point- ing out that the Commission has already gathered the information it requires on most of them and the reporting would be a very simple task indeed. In view of the Minister's speeches during the proceedings on the Bill to the effect that the ultimate aim of the Measure is to destroy monopoly, I cannot understand why he resists an Amendment which merely asks for the completion of the twenty-eight references.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell the Committee which are the five references on which fact-finding is to be completed?

Division No. 188.] AYES [6.20 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. p. G. Gibson-Watt, D. Marlowe, A. A. H.
Aitken, W. T. Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Marples, A. E.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Graham, Sir Fergus Marshall, Douglas
Alport C. J. M. Grant, W. (Woodslde) Mathew, R.
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Maude, Angus
Arbuthnot, John Green, A. Mawby, R. L.
Armstrong, C. W. Gresham Cooke, R. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Ashton, H. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Medlicott, Sir Frank
Atkins, H. E. Harris, Reader (Heston) Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.
Balniel, Lord Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Molson, A. H. E.
Barter, John Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Baxter, Sir Beverley Harvie-Watt, Sir George Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Hay, John Nairn, D. L. S.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Neave, Airey
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'h, E. & Chr'ch)
Bishop, F. P. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Oakshott, H. D.
Black, C. W. Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Ormsby-Core, Hon. W. D.
Body, R. F. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Orr, Capt. L. P, S.
Boothby, Sir Robert Holland-Martin, C. J. Panneil, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Bossom, Sir A. C. Hope, Lord John Partridge, E.
Boyle, Sir Edward Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Braine, B. R. Horobin, Sir Ian Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Howard, John (Test) Pitman, I. J.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Pott, H. P.
Brooman-White, R. C. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J, Powell, J. Enoch
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.) Profumo, J. D.
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H. Raikes, Sir Victor
Campbell, Sir David Iremonger, T. L. Rawlinson, Peter
Carr, Robert Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Redmayne, M.
Cole, Norman Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Renton, D. L. M.
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey(Hail Green) Rippon, A. G. F.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Joseph, Sir Keith Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Cortleld, Capt. F. V. Joynson-Hioks, Hon. Sir Lancelot Russell, R. S.
Craddoek, Beresford (Spelthorne) Keegan, D. Sharpies, R. C.
Crouch, R. F. Kerby, Capt, H. B. Shepherd, William
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip-Northwood) Kerr, H. W. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Cunningham, Knox Kirk, P. M. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Currie, G. B. H. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir p. (Kens'gt'n, S.)
Danee, J. C. G. Langford-Holt, J. A. Stevens, Geoffrey
Deedes, W. F. Leavey, J. A. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Leburn, W. G. Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Doughty, C. J. A. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Studholme, H. G.
du Cann, E. D. L. Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury)
Outhie, W. S. Linstead, Sir H. N. Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Errington, Sir Eric Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G. Teeling, W.
Erroll, F. J. Longden, Gilbert Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Farey-Jones, F. W. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Fell, A. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Finlay, Graeme McAdden, S. J. Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry Touche, Sir Gordon
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Turner, H. F. L.
Foster, John Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Maddan, Martin Vickers, Miss J. H.
Freeth, D. K. Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W.(Horncastle) Vosper, D. F.
Garner-Evans, E. H. Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
George, J. C. (Pollok) Markham, Major Sir Frank Walker-Smith, D. C.
Mr. Walker-Smith

They are the supply and export of heavy electrical plant and allied machinery, the supply of certain industrial and medical gases, the supply of standard metal windows and doors, the supply of certain rubber footwear, and the supply of tea.

Mr. Grimond

Is it the case that in relation to other references no interim reports will be made and no information will be published about the work already done?

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause:—The Committee divided: Ayes 184, Noes 143.

Wall, Major Patrick Whitelaw, W.S.I.(Penrith & Border; Woollam, John Victor
Ward, Hon. George (Worcester) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth) Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Godber and Mr. Barber.
Ainsley, J. W. Hannan, W. Owen, W. J.
Albu, A. H. Hastings, 8. Palmer, A. M. F.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hayman, F. H. Pargiter, C. A.
Anderson, Frank Healey, Denis Parker, J.
Awbery, S. S. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Parkin, B. T.
Bacon, Miss Alice Herbison, Miss M. Paton, J.
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Holmes, Horace Plummer, Sir Leslie
Benson, G. Houghton, Douglas Popplewell, E.
Beswick, F. Hubbard, T. F. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Bevan, R. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Blackburn, F. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Probert, A. R.
Blenkinsop, A. Hunter, A. E. Proctor, W, T.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Pryde, D.J.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Irving, S. (Dartford) Redhead, E. C.
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Reeves, J.
Boyd, T. C. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Brockway, A. F. Johnson, James (Rugby) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Ross, William
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Short, E. W.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Shurmer, P. L. E.
Chapman, W. D. King, Dr. H. M. Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Chetwynd, G. R. Lawson, G. M. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Clunie, J. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Skeffington, E. M.
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Sorensen, R. W.
Collins, V. J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Sparks, J. A.
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Lewis, Arthur Steele, T.
Cove, W. G. Lindgren, G. S. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Cronin, J. D. MacColl, J. E. Summerskill Rt. Hon. E.
Darling, George (Hillsborough) McInnes, J. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) McLeavy, Frank Tomney, F.
Davies, Harold (Leek) MacPherson, Turner-Samuels, M.
Deer, G. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
de Freitas, Geoffrey Mallalieu. J. P. W.(Huddersfield, E.) Viant, S. P.
Delargy, H. J. Marquand, R. Hon. H. A. Warbey, W. N.
Donnelly, D. L. Mellish, R. J. Weitzman, D.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) Messer, Sir F. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Mitchison, G. R. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Monslow, W. Wilkins, W. A.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Moody, A. S. Willey, Frederick
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Fletcher, Erie Morrison, Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S.) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Forman, J, C. Moyle, A. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mulley, F. W. Zilliacus, K.
Gibson, C. W. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Oliver, G. H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Orbach, M. Mr. Simmons and Mr. Grimond.
Hamilton, W. W. Oswald, T.
Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I beg to move, in page 20, line 3, to leave out from the beginning to the second "the" in line 5.

Under the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act, 1948, two kinds of references to the Monopolies Commission can be made. The first is a reference of fact only, so that the Commission reports on facts only. The second is a report on facts and on the effect on the public interest. What the Government want to do in the words proposed to be left out is to cut down the latter of those reports, that is to say, the report on facts plus public interest, to a report on facts only.

In view of what the Parliamentary Secretary said on the last Amendment, we understand that the Government require this power specially to deal with the report upon electronic valves and cathode ray tubes. We can understand that. We are opposed to the Government upon it, but the matter has been voted upon and disposed of. But we fail completely to understand why the power should be taken for any other purpose, or any future report. It is obviously within the discretion of the Board of Trade, which allocates the reports upon all the references it makes. and in those circumstances it seems a quite unnecessary provision. We should like an explanation of it.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

The hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right. The purpose of the Amendment is very much more limited than would appear from its wording. All that is wanted is to take the power for variation during the interim period which we have just been discussing. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will withdraw his Amendment, between now and the Report stage I shall see that proper words are drafted with that more limited effect.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

In view of the comfort which the President has given us, although we are opposed to the cathode ray tube treatment, we have dealt with that and we shall not take up time by protesting further against it. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sir L. Plummer

I beg to move, in page 20; line 8, to leave out from "effect" to the end of Clause.

I had prepared a long and extremely well-marshalled speech upon this matter, designed for reproduction in local newspapers in my constituency. That would have earned me the additional plaudits both of my constituents and my party. On reflection, however, I do not think that I can add to the stark beauty of the language of the Amendment, namely, to leave out from ' effect ' to end of Clause ". No words of mine, or of Shakespeare's, could advance my cause more capably than those. I am sure that if I ask the President to examine them carefully, he will come to the conclusion that I am right, and will accept my Amendment.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Once again, I can go nearly nine-tenths of the way to meet the point of the Amendment. The purpose of the Clause is to prevent the review power of Section 12 of the 1948 Act clashing with the jurisdiction of the Court; I think that everybody will agree with that. As drafted, however, the Clause goes too wide. Some of these agreements, arrangements, orders or undertakings entered into may have nothing to do with Part I. In those cases, it is quite essential to retain—or, at any rate, it would be quite wrong to abandon —the —Section 12 powers. Again, it could be proper to authorise investigation into questions of compliance during a period before these undertakings were reviewed by the Court.

Bearing those matters in mind, therefore, and after hearing the hon. Member's very lucid explanation—it was one of the clearest speeches we have had during the Committee stage, and I commend him upon it —I can give an undertaking to limit the provision to the purposes which 1 have described, and in those circumstances I hope that the hon. Member will be content to withdraw the Amendment.

Sir L. Plummer

As the President cannot resist my argument, I cannot resist his. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

I should like to ask my right hon. Friend for a little information about the procedure of the Monopolies Commission. Reference has been made to the future activities of the Commission, and I think that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee agree that it is most desirable to have consistency and an absence of conflict between the Commission and the Court. As my right hon. Friend is well aware, various uncertainties have arisen, and some complaints have been made, about some of the procedure adopted by the Commission, particularly in relation to its view that it is not a judicial body and is, therefore, under no obligation to acquaint the parties before it with information which comes into its possession.

In some cases that has resulted in a feeling that people might be going up the back-stairs and giving the Commission information which the parties concerned would have no opportunity of dealing with. I am sure that no one would want that view to have any foundation. We have been assured that the Attorney-General will make it his business to see that matters coming before the new Court are conducted in an extremely judicial way, and 1 am sure that the President would not want there to be any doubt that the same sort of procedure will be observed by the Commission. I hope, therefore, that he will be able to assure us that he is looking into the question and will take steps to remove any public disquiet which may exist in relation to it.

Mr. P. Thomeyeroft

In answer to my right hon. and learned Friend, I would merely say that the procedure of the Monopolies Commission has been very carefully studied on a number of occasions. I think that Sir David Cairns has demonstrably shown that he wants these matters to be dealt with fairly, and manifestly fairly. There is no doubt about that. He is a man of the greatest repute, and the reputation of the Commission in this matter is very high. To make absolutely sure that the procedure was fair, I invited my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to investigate it, and they have reported that it is probably the fairest which can be devised. Nevertheless, perfection is never attained in these matters, and I am willing to consider any proposals for meeting the requirements of the case.

Some suggestions have been made that decisions are arrived at as a result of people going up the back stairs with pieces of information, but nothing could be further from the truth or the realities of the way in which the Commission works. If anything can be done to disabuse the public mind of those ideas, I shall be only too happy to see that it is done. I share with my right hon. and learned Friend the desire to put the matter right in this respect.

I will draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend and the Lord Chancellor to the points which have been made, and we shall consider again whether any improvements can be made. IL may be that adjustments in procedure can more easily be made in the case of this body, which is not judicial but inquisitorial. It may be that we might better make adjustments not by writing Clauses into the Bill but by giving directions, which we have the power to do under the original Act.

Sir L. Heald

I want to make it quite clear that I was not making the slightest suggestion against Sir David Cairns. But it is important to appreciate that cases have occurred where some misunderstanding seems to have arisen; indeed, I have personal knowledge of one such case. I admit that degree of interest in the matter. In this case, it was understood that the Ministry of Works had supplied certain information to the Commission, at the Commission's request, and that when the parties asked for particu- lars of that information they were told that they were not entitled to know what it was. That may be right, but it is the kind of thing which gives rise to just those entirely wrong ideas which my right hon. Friend has mentioned, and I hope that the whole question will be looked into.

Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

I hope that the President will bear in mind that it may be one thing to divulge information—although I can conceive of cases where that might not be essential, although, generally speaking, it would be proper—but that there should be a distinction between doing that and divulging the source of the information. It may not be right to divulge the source, although it may be right to divulge the information.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I wish to associate myself with what the President has said about Sir David Cairns and the Commission. It has done admirable work and we are not blind to the fact that a great deal of criticism of and opposition to the Commission comes from quarters which object to the work it is doing.

I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) that it is most desirable that the procedure of the Commission should be above reproach. While remembering that the Commission is exactly as the President said—an inquisitorial body and not a judicial body, and, therefore, its procedure cannot be put in line with judicial procedure on the lines suggested by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey in an earlier Amendment—we are concerned about the attacks made in one way or another upon the effectiveness of the Court and the Commission.

All through the Bill we have been trying to maintain the Court as an effective instrument against restrictive practices and the same with the Commission. From that point of view hon. Members on this side of the Committee will examine with great care any proposal made to restrict the powers of the Commission. As a result of the attacks which have been made on the Commission, we have had the investigation by the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General, which was mentioned by the President. They suggested one minor Amendment, and, apart from that, they completely justified everything which had been done.

I do not know what further investigation is required. We cannot have a more high-powered investigation than that. I should have thought it good enough for anyone in the ordinary course. But what we had seen creeping out from the Government benches time and again during the course of this Bill—not from the President himself—is this attack all the time on the restrictive practices —

Sir L. Heald

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman making a suggestion against me?

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

No. I said that I agreed with the right hon. and learned Member that the Commission must be above reproach. I was not making any personal attack upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I wish to make that clear.

There have been strong objections, however, not to the ineffectiveness of the Commission, but to the effectiveness of it, and we shall certainly approach any proposal or procedure or anything of that sort with that in mind.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

  1. Clause 24.—(PROVISIONS AS TO ORDERS OF COMPETENT AUTHORITIES UNDER S. 10 OF ACT OF 1948.) 4,637 words, 3 divisions
  2. cc2285-9
  4. cc2289-90
  6. cc2290-3
  7. Clause 30.—(INTERPRETATION.) 1,078 words
  8. cc2293-4
  9. Clause 31.—(APPLICATION TO NORTHERN IRELAND.) 463 words
  10. cc2294-303
  11. New Clause.—(REPORTS.) 3,962 words, 2 divisions