HC Deb 03 July 1991 vol 194 cc299-300
1. Mr. Burns

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the application of his policy on takeovers by foreign-based, state-owned companies.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Lilley)

I restated the Government's policy towards mergers involving state-controlled companies, whether British or foreign, in a speech on competition policy on 12 June. I will continue to refer to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission acquisitions that I consider may lead to distortions in the market. Such distortions are most likely when an acquisition involves a large market share, a high degree of direct state control or evidence of past anti-competitive behaviour.

Mr. Burns

Does my right hon. Friend think it right to allow foreign nationalised industries to buy up private British companies and then to use their privileged position and access to cheap capital unfairly to compete against British private companies?

Mr. Lilley

I certainly receive representations from many people in British industry who feel exactly as my hon. Friend does. That is why I shall continue to take the degree of state ownership into account when considering whether referrals should be made to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. That is an important aspect of national interest and improving the competitive market.

Ms. Mowlam

If the Secretary of State is prepared to make statements about takeovers of foreign-owned and state-owned companies, why is he unwilling to make a statement about ICI? It is no good the Secretary of State saying that it is a European Economic Community issue. As I went to Brussels last week, I know that the Community would welcome a statement on the Secretary of State's view on that issue.

Mr. Lilley

The hon. Lady appears to be unaware that there has been no bid. It would be absurd for a Secretary of State to make a statement on a hypothetical bid. Nothing could be more certain to ensure that a Secretary of State has no power to intervene, even in circumstances where, at its discretion, the European Community referred a merger back to the state. If he made a statement and was then ruled by the courts to have fettered his discretion in advance, he would be utterly powerless.

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