HC Deb 30 January 1978 vol 943 cc21-2
19. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what steps he is taking to increase the ability of companies to compete effectively for custom by reducing executive time spent unprofitably in form-filling and interviews with officials.

Mr. Maclennan

To ensure that essential requirements place the minimum burden on companies, the need for completion of forms and for particular information is continuously reviewed.

Mr. Adley

Is the Minister aware—if not, he should be from today's Question Time—that there is a great deal of discontent on both sides of the House about the activities of the Price Commission? Its activities may be splendid for accountants and management consultants, but is there not something wrong when companies are frightened to discuss openly with Members of Parliament or journalists the activities of that organisation? Is it not about time that the powers of the Price Commission and of its snoopers and form-filling officials were curbed in the interests of promoting genuine competition?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman's serious charge that companies are afraid to discuss these matters is completely unsubstantiated and cannot be substantiated. Notification and form-filling are matters now being discussed between the CBI and the Price Commission.

I wholly rebut the hon. Gentleman's wider suggestion that we would assist competition by abandoning the Price Commission Act. A major purpose in setting up the Price Commission was to ensure that competition was reinforced and that absence of competition, which is widespread in British industry, should not lead to unjustifiable price increases.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Does my hon. Friend accept that the only dissatisfaction felt by Labour Members about the Price Commission is that it frequently does not have enough teeth to keep prices down? Will he inform the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), if he is not already aware of it, that much of the existing machinery for form-filling was drawn up by agreement between the Department and the CBI and that there is no general dissatisfaction with it within industry?

Mr. Maclennan

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend has said. I have received only one complaint from hon. Members on the subject of form-filling and the Price Commission.

Mr. Neubert

Has the Minister forgotten the reprimand by the Chairman of the Price Commission to a company for making a public statement about an application to the Price Commission? What has happened to open government? Why should not these issues be discussed openly?

Mr. Maclennan

During the passage of the Price Commission Bill, Opposition Front Bench spokesmen many times said that it was undesirable that companies' affairs should be publicly debated and discussed. It was no doubt with that consideration in mind that the Chairman of the Price Commission said what he did.