HC Deb 28 June 1965 vol 715 cc258-61

Amendment made: In page 26, line 7, column 3, leave out "Section 10(2)" and insert: In section 10, in paragraph (e) of subsection (1), the word 'either' and the words from 'or (ii) not earlier than' to the end of the paragraph; and subsections (2)"—[Mr. Jay.]

3.11 a.m.

Mr. Jay

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

At this stage I shall say only that this is a Bill which has been broadly supported by all parties in this House, on Second Reading and, in general, throughout the subsequent proceedings. It has certainly been very fully argued, both in Committee and on Report, and I pay tribute straight away to the contributions made from all quarters of the House.

Briefly, what the Bill does is to strengthen and sharpen the Monopolies Commission. It gives the Government power, on the advice of the Commission, to check those few mergers and take-overs which are found to be against the public interest. All this is, of course, permissive. It is not a Bill to condemn or stop monopolies or mergers. It is a Bill to ensure that public control is substituted for pure market forces in deciding in a certain number of cases whether they go forward or not.

I do not know how the impression got abroad that because the Government introduced this Bill we are, therefore, arguing on the assumption that all or most monopolies or mergers are bad. I made it perfectly clear, I thought, on Second Reading, that this was not so. I said: The Bill is conceived in the belief, which I think is common to all parties,"— as I said again today— that neither monopolies nor mergers are always bad. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1965; Vol. 709, c. 1207.] But because we are often impressed by the argument in favour of size, of the economies of scale, and mass marketing, in the present competitive world, it certainly does not follow either that size is always beneficial or that mergers are always desirable. Some mergers, like most restrictive practices, are wholly or mainly designed to restrict competition, and that, in my view, is bad not only for the consumer but for the economy as a whole. Foreign take-overs have been mentioned. I should like to make it clear—I do this in response to an hon. Member opposite who asked me a question at rather the wrong moment—that the Government will, of course, always act in accordance with international law, including any treaties to which we are parties.

I hope that soon after this Bill becomes law the Commission can be rapidly expanded, that a number of new references can be made to it, and that its work may be thus accelerated, as the whole House wishes.

I have recently received from the Commission its Report on retail sales of petrol and this will be published as soon as possible. I am now referring—and the hon. Gentleman mentioned this today—rayon and also the supply of flat glass and two other issues to the Commission so that its work can continue uninterrupted. We mean to press on as quickly as we can. I shall, therefore, be inviting people with qualifications and experience to accept appointments on the enlarged Commission, and on the standing panel for Press mergers. I am grateful, therefore, for the contributions which hon. Members on both sides have made to improving the Bill, and, for the reasons that I have given, I believe that it will give a powerful stimulus to keener competition, and therefore greater efficiency in British industry.

3.16 a.m.

Mr. Barber

Apart from one question which I posed to the right hon. Gentleman, which seems a good many hours ago, this is my first intervention today, although, apart from attending some meetings in the afternoon, I have sat here throughout most of the debate.

Listening to the debates, it seemed a long time since I spoke first for the Opposition when we considered the matter on Second Reading. I knew at that time that I was likely to be concerned with certain aspects of the Finance Bill. I did not serve on the Committee, and I therefore decided to take no part in the Report stage, and I am pleased that I did not, because it has been apparent to me that my hon. Friends know much more about this subject than I do.

The issues, as I have listened to them during the course of today's proceedings, seemed to have a certain familiarity with the issues which we debated on Second Reading, although the arguments seem to have changed somewhat. The matters on which we differ are well known to us all, so I need not go over them. Generally speaking, we on this side of the House welcome the Bill.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues for the unfailing courtesy which they have shown, at any rate during the course of today's proceedings when I have been present. I also thank my hon. Friends for what I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree—indeed he said so—has been very constructive criticism.

It is unfortunate that the Report stage had to be taken, in part at any rate, in the middle of the night. This is due to the mismanagement of the Government's programme. It is not the responsibility or the fault of Ministers from the Board of Trade, and therefore I can in all sincerity conclude by wishing them and of course you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, a speedy return home.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.