§ If a report of the Commission is, with or without omissions, presented by command of Her Majesty to either House of Parliament otherwise than at or during the time of a sitting of that House, the presentation of the report shall, for the purposes of the principal Act and this Act, be treated as the laying by the Board of Trade of that report before that House.—[Mr. Jay.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Douglas Jay)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
The Clause has the laudable objective of speeding up the procedure under the Bill, especially in the case of reports on mergers or proposed mergers. The difficulty arises because under the original Monopolies Act, 1948, any report of the Monopolies Commission had to be laid before Parliament before it could be published, or the Board of Trade could take any action and make an order arising out of the report. However, as hon. Members know, reports cannot be laid before Parliament if Parliament is in Recess. Therefore, if a report of this kind were to be received by the Board of Trade during the Summer Recess, the Board would be debarred from publishing it or making any order arising out of it.
That has not greatly mattered hitherto, although no doubt it has caused delay, with outright monopolies with which the legislation was previously concerned. But we are now concerned also with mergers and the difficulty might cause a much more serious hold-up. For instance, if the Commision were to report in favour of permitting a merger, which had been under examination, to go forward only on certain conditions, and if the Board of Trade could not act throughout the whole of the period of the Summer Recess, no order could be made and nothing could be done and the firm or firms concerned would be left in an undesirable state of uncertainty.
It is therefore quite clear that we have to add this power to enable the procedure 35 to work more rapidly. I should like to reassure the House that it will not mean that the Board of Trade will be able to make orders breaking up a monopoly or merger—the last resort powers which are included in the Bill. That process requires a full affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament and such approval could not be obtained when the House was not sitting. Short of the rather extreme action which we only expect to take in the last resort, this will permit the delay to be overcome and the necessary action to be taken without requiring Parliament to resume.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
We on this side of the House welcome this improvement to the Bill. Throughout the Second Reading, as the hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade knows, one of the points emphasised from both sides of the Committee was the need for speed in making many of these decisions, and particularly in relation to mergers. As was mentioned on many occasions during the debates during the Committee stage, delay could impose considerable hardship and damage on companies which might be proposing mergers, and we believe that the power which the Government are seeking to take by the inclusion of this Clause is an improvement and helps matters. Therefore we welcome it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.