HC Deb 18 June 1973 vol 858 cc8-9
9. Mr. Clinton Davis

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry why he issued an order under the Shipping Contracts and Commercial Documents Act 1964 instructing the Beecham group of companies not to produce any information or documents held in Great Britain to the United States Department of Justice in connection with an antitrust suit alleging high profits on antibiotic sales in the United States of America.

The Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

As I informed the hon. Member in my answer to his Question on 25th May, the direction was given because it appeared to the Secretary of State that an order made by the district court for the District of Columbia in the United States of America upon the Beecham Group Ltd. to answer certain interrogatories demanded by the plaintiffs in the case constituted an infringement of the jurisdiction to which the United Kingdom was entitled under international law.

Mr. Davis

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain how the Government regard that attitude as being consistent with the attitude they have displayed in the Hoffmann-La Roche affair when that company was accused of making excessive profits and failing to co-operate to provide information and material to the Monopolies Commission?

Sir G. Howe

The Monopolies Commission would have welcomed additional information from the Roche company but it had no powers under our law to require it to be given. There is no comparison between the limited information that the commission requested from Roche and the much larger mass of information sought of the Beecham Group under the American proceedings. In the Roche proceedings no question arises of infringing foreign jurisdiction because the commission has no power to require information from companies abroad.

Mr. Benn

It is not only the Monopolies Commission legislation which applies here, but also the Counter-Inflation Act, in which the Government asked Parliament to give them power to seek information of a wide character from many firms, including multinational firms resident abroad. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman modify his answer to indicate whether the Government believe that in certain circumstances foreign Governments could object to that information being given?

Sir G. Howe

The question of the extent to which foreign Governments can or cannot object depends to some extent on their legislation, which is a matter of detail in given cases. The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that in making an assessment of allowable costs and proper pricing practices the Price Commission may take account of the apparent validity or non-validity of transfer payments between companies in this country and companies abroad. The extent of enforcement would be a matter of variation in each case. Enforcement by the powers given under the Counter-Inflation Act within this country is the same in relation to a multinational company as it is in relation to a national company within the limits of United Kingdom jurisdiction.

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