HC Deb 27 October 1980 vol 991 cc3-5
2. Mr. Neubert

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will list the references made to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission under the Competition Act.

The Minister for Consumer Affairs (Mrs Sally Oppenheim)

Under section 11 of the Competition Act, my right hon. Friend has so far referred questions relating to British Rail's London and South-East commuter services, on which the commission has now reported, the Central Electricity Generating Board, and the Severn-Trent water authority. The Director General of Fair Trading has also launched two preliminary investigations under section 3 of the Act into possible anti-competitive practices by Petter Refrigeration Ltd. and T. I. Raleigh Ltd.

Mr. Neubert

Although those references of public authorities are welcome, now that the prices charged by nationalised industries are going up very much faster than retail prices in general, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there are sufficient powers under the Act to ensure maximum efficiency and value to the customer in public sector monopolies?

Mrs. Oppenheim

I hope that the commission's reports on public sector references will indicate ways in which costs can be cut and efficiency improved in order to contain future price increases which, in the public sector, I agree are causing a great deal of concern.

Mr. Christopher Price

Will the right hon. Lady tell the House what she is doing about the present monopoly in London evening newspapers? Will she assure the House that, if it later turns out that the present merger between the Evening Standard and the Evening News is simply a paving mechanism for property speculation in the vicinity of Fleet Street, she will see whether she has any powers to intervene?

Mrs. Oppenheim

As I believe the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have no powers to do anything about the monopoly to which he refers. What he described as a merger is in fact the opening of a new publication, a new newspaper. Anything that is in breach of the terms of the Fair Trading Act could properly be considered by the Government.

Mr. Marlow

Will my right hon. Friend refer without delay the clearing banks to the commission, as they have started charging their customers quarterly interest without paying their depositors quarterly interest? That leads to an additional rate of interest to most captive customers of up to ½ per cent. a year. That is unacceptable and is an abuse of the monopoly power that the banks undoubtedly have.

Mrs. Oppenheim

I am sure that careful note will be taken of my hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. John Fraser

Will the right hon. Lady ask the chairman of the commission whether he will try in future to produce monopoly reports on the private sector with the same speed and pungency as he produces them in the public sector?

Mrs. Oppenheim

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the chairman has special requirements under the Competition Act, in the case of section 11 references, to produce those reports within a certain period. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will endorse my own view that those reports that have been presented have been excellent and thorough, despite the limited period of time. One would hope that certain monopoly reports could, where it is feasible and valid to do so, be produced slightly more quickly.