HC Deb 23 May 1957 vol 570 cc1367-9
7. Mr. Willey

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make a statement on the reference on chemical fertilisers to the Monopolies Commission.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The Commission is proceeding with its work. My right hon. Friend does no expect to receive its Report for some time.

Mr. Willey

The Minister of State will appreciate that there is a good deal of public concern about this matter, as a substantial subsidy element is involved. Will he call the attention of the Commission to the question whether we can get an earlier report than he, apparently, expects?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I do not think the instrumentality of myself is necessary to make the Commission, and indeed the public generally, aware of any point raised in the House by the hon. Gentleman.

8. Mr. Orbach

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that it is a condition of membership of the National Pharmaceutical Union that applicants in retail, wholesale or manufacturing, shall be members of the Proprietary Articles Trade Association; and if he will ask the Monopolies Commission to make an inquiry on this matter and report to him.

Mr. Walker-Smith

My right hon. Friend is not so aware; but if such a condition does exist, it would not be a matter on which a reference to the Commission could be based.

Mr. Orbach

Surely, this organisation, which is recognised by the Board of Trade and with which the Ministry of Health has dealings, ought not to lay down a condition that applicants should, in the first place, join a price-fixing organisation? Surely that fact ought to be referred to the Monopolies Commission?

Mr. Walker-Smith

No, Sir. If the hon. Gentleman will study Section 3 of the 1948 Act, he will see that this condition, taken by itself, does not constitute a case for reference to the Monopolies Commission. Price-fixing agreements, as I am sure he is aware, are not, in any event, a matter for the Commission, but one for the Restrictive Practices Court.

Sir H. Linstead

Is it not a fact that all that happens is that, for convenience, the two subscriptions can be paid together, and that if any member of the Union does not desire to be a member of the Association, that can be arranged?

9. Mr. Collins

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that although the cost of producing newsprint in this country is only £35 per ton, the equalised price charged to newspapers is approximately £60 per ton; and if, in view of the dominating position of the two largest producers, he will refer the newsprint industry to the Monopolies Commission.

Mr. Walker-Smith

My right hon. Friend is aware of the price charged to newspapers for newsprint; but he is not aware of the cost of production. My right hon. Friend will bear in mind any representations relating to this industry in considering references to the Monopolies Commission. But the hon. Member will have in mind that if there are any common price agreements in this industry, these are not a matter for the Monopolies Commission, but for the Restrictive Practices Court.

Mr. Collins

Is the Minister aware that of imported newsprint nearly 50 per cent. is imported and used by the big newspaper chains like Rothermere and Northcliffe, which leaves the remaining daily and evening newspapers in the hands of the newsprint companies, and constitutes a monopoly? Is he further aware that the inferior newsprint made from rags is foisted, to the extent of 80 or 90 per cent., on weekly provincial papers? Many newspapers have died, many more are in danger, and, whatever the position is technically, will he not have an inquiry into the price structure and distribution of newsprint?

Mr. Walker-Smith

The hon. Gentleman's question relates to the reference of the newsprint industry to the Monopolies Commission. He will appreciate that the Monopolies Commission acts under statutory powers under the relevant Acts, and we cannot, of course, go outside these statutory formulæ.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Is not the Minister aware that there is a widespread feeling that there are very serious restrictive practices in regard to the newsprint industry? Will he bear in mind that The Times, in a leading article last Saturday, said: If the newsprint companies feel that they have as good a case as they claim, they should welcome their operations being referred to the Restrictive Practices Court. Is not this a matter of public interest, which the Minister ought to take far more seriously than he has done?

Mr. Walker-Smith

As the hon. Gentleman knows so well from his participation in the proceedings when the Bill was before the House, cases are not referred to the Restrictive Practices Court. If there are common price agreements in the industry, they are, of course, liable to registration under the Registration of Restrictive Trading Agreements Order, 1956, and will come before the Court in due course.