HC Deb 15 July 1964 vol 698 cc1290-2

Lords Amendment: In page 6, line 20, leave out from "conclusive" to "any" in line 21.

Mr. Heath

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will recall that Clause 5(3) was inserted to assist those suppliers who had successfully defended a collective agreement in proceedings brought by the Registrar under the 1956 Act and who wanted to ask for exemption under the Bill. The object of the subsection was, to save them the time, trouble and expense of proving all over again before the same court the facts on which they based their claim for exemption.

It was brought to our notice in another place, and we accepted the Amendment there, that our purpose would not be achieved if the findings were conclusive only against persons such as the Registrar who were parties to the proceedings under the 1956 Act. This Amendment, therefore, deletes the words: against any person who was party to the proceedings under the said Part I". It widens the subsection to bring in persons intervening in the exemption proceedings who were not parties to the proceedings under the 1956 Act, for example, retailers opposing exemption.

If these retailers were not bound by the findings in the same way as the Registrar would have been under the Bill as it left this House, they could defeat the object of the subsection by putting the supplier to the expense and trouble of proving his case all over again. Their Lordships pointed out that this was not meeting the purpose which this House had in mind, and we propose amending the Bill in this respect.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will regard this as a valuable Amendment, since it helps those whom the whole House at the time, I think, wanted to help by saving them the trouble and expense of proving their case under the Bill when it became law.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

(Liverpool, Edge Hill): I wonder whether the Amendment may have a rather wider effect than the right hon. Gentleman has just indicated. I feel some doubt about it, and I welcome this opportunity of putting the point before the House.

When we considered the subsection earlier—the right hon. Gentleman accurately recalled to our minds the context in which it was previously considered—the main difficulty we felt lay in the argument which we put forward, that it would often not be easy to elicit from judges what were the findings of fact. The Restrictive Practices Court does not in judgment adopt the form of the case stated which is applicable in other contexts, and the question of what facts were found could often be answered only by inferential processes which might give rise to difficulty. That is the kind of matter which we discussed earlier.

The House fully considered this point and came to a decision about it, but I think that none of us at that stage had contemplated that findings of fact would be conclusive in a party's case if they were found in other proceedings with which that party had no concern. I think that the Amendment now before the House may go as wide as that and have that effect. The belief of, I think, both sides of the Committee was that parties should be spared the costs and time involved in reproving facts which had been proved before.

The effect of this Amendment would seem to be that, for example, car manufacturers in what I may call for the purpose of this argument the r.p.m. proceedings might find themselves unable to challenge findings of fact in a case concerning steel suppliers under the 1956 Act. It does not, in my submission, meet the point to say that the issue arises only on a reference in respect of goods of a class. That diminishes the possible mischief, but it does not eliminate it.

I am, therefore, left wondering whether the scope of the Amendment has been fully recognised and whether its consequences are acceptable to the Government. It would be appreciated if the Minister, with leave, could express a view about this. As I say, I think that the consequence of the Amendment would be wider than perhaps was intended and wider than the hon. Gentleman indicated. As I say, it may have the effect of confronting parties with findings of fact arrived at in proceedings in which they had played no part and had no connection.

Mr. Heath

May I say, by leave, that I think that the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) has raised an important point. I do not know that I can give him a conclusive answer at this stage. I was advised that the extension was the one which I have described. Because of the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman originally raised about the opening words in the Clause, there was this limitation and that therefore would be the safeguard on this point.

Question put and agreed to.