19 and 20. Mr. Carr
asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) how many classes of goods he is aware of for which the conditions of supply make them liable to reference to the Monopolies Commission but which have not yet been so referred;
§ (2) what steps he takes to identify classes of goods which would be liable for reference to the Monopolies Commission.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
The supply of any particular description of goods is liable to reference to the Monopolies Commission whenever it appears to my right hon. Friend that at least one-third of such supply either in the United Kingdom as a whole or in any substantial part of the country is made by or to one person or combine. Clearly it is not practicable to compile and keep up to date a list of all such goods for all parts of the country. When my right hon. Friend receives information suggesting that a monopoly exists and that it may be abusing its position, he considers whether a reference to the Monopolies Commission would be in the public interest.
While appreciating that my right hon. Friend cannot be expected to have a comprehensive list at any given moment, may I ask my hon. Friend to tell us of how many matters he is aware at the moment? Can he tell the House what steps he takes to make himself as fully informed as it is possible to be?
§ Mr. Macpherson
As I indicated in the last part of my Answer, these approaches generally come to my right hon. Friend from outside. As I told 1119 the hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram) on 16th March last year, there were then seventy matters which had been suggested for reference. Since then, a further eleven suggestions have been made But, of course, my right hon. Friend is not obliged to refer any matters which are suggested to him in this way.
In view of the many matters which he has mentioned, does not my hon. Friend feel that it is highly necessary to expand the scale of activities of the Monopolies Commission so that it can make many more inquiries in a given time?
§ Mr. Macpherson
The nature of the suggestions varies considerably and there is not equal substance in all of them by any means.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Does not the hon. Gentleman consider that the Board of Trade has some public responsibility, without waiting for a competitor or consumer to complain, to consider whether it is proper for these goods to be referred?
§ Mr Macpherson
Certainly we have a public responsibility: nor do we necessarily wait for matters to be suggested to us. What we attempt to do is to keep an eye on the whole subject. When it appears to my right hon. Friend to be necessary, he makes a reference to the Monopolies Commission.