HC Deb 06 November 1968 vol 772 cc871-3
17. Mr. Higgins

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether it is his intention to define more precisely the rôle of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation vis-à-vis the Monopolies Commission; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir. It is already well understood that the rôle of the I.R.C. is to promote and facilitate the desirable re-structuring of industry, and that of the Monopolies Commission is to investigate mergers which are referred to it by the Board of Trade; these two functions are wholly compatible.

Mr. Higgins

Is not the crucial word "desirable"? Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that at the moment the Monopolies Commission does not have the staff to enable it to look at mergers at short notice? Will he do something rapidly to remedy this and ensure that mergers recommended by the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation are submitted to independent scrutiny?

Mr. Crosland

I should not think it would make sense to refer all mergers or all mergers recommended by the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation to the Monopolies Commission. I think it is better to have prior consultation, as now exists, between the I.R.C. and the Board of Trade. On the hon. Gentleman's earlier point, I am considering how we can strengthen the Monopolies Commission. In my view, the stronger the merger movement is, the greater is the need for the Monopolies Commission to prevent abuse of market power.

Mr. Heffer

Is it not clear that my right hon. Friend's example of strengthening, on the one hand, the Monopolies Commission and, on the other hand, looking at the problem was not carried out in relation to the G.E.C.—G.E.C.-General Electric merger? Was it not unfortunate that that merger was not referred to the Monopolies Commission, and was not my right hon. Friend's statement afterwards totally unsatisfactory in this case?

Mr. Crosland

I am sorry if my hon. Friend did not agree with the statement, which is a different thing from saying that it was totally unsatisfactory. The reasons why we did not refer that merger were explained clearly in my statement, and they are fairly generally known to the House. We decided that, on balance, it was a desirable merger and, therefore, did not want to hold it up for a number of months by referring it to the Monopolies Commission.

Sir K. Joseph

Will the right hon Gentleman take the opportunity to deny newspaper stories that the Prices and Incomes Board will be allowed anything to do with these matters?

Mr. Crosland

I am not aware exactly what those newspaper stories are. I cannot spend the whole of my time reading newspaper stories. There are many better things in life to do than that. Therefore, I regret that I can neither confirm nor deny the reports that the right hon. Gentleman mentions.

Mr. George Brown

Would my right hon. Friend please reassure me that, since the I.R.C. was established to re-structure industry, he will not re-establish the Monopolies Commission to frustrate it?

Mr. Crosland

I should never dream of frustrating any child of my right hon. Friend. I can certainly give him the assurance: that all of us give the strongest possible support to the work of the I.R.C., a body which has been successfully carrying out, I think, the objectives that he had in mind when he set it up

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