HC Deb 16 October 1991 vol 196 cc302-4
9. Sir Michael Neubert

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he next expects to meet the chairman of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to discuss merger policy.

Mr. Redwood

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last met the chairman of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on 16 July. The next meeting has not yet been arranged.

Sir Michael Neubert

Will my hon. Friend ask the chairman of the MMC to lend his support to his beleaguered counterpart in Brussels, Sir Leon Brittan, whose powers are under threat a week today because he has had the temerity to reject the takeover of the Canadian company De Havilland by the French company Aerospatiale and its Italian partners, Alenia? Does not the reaction of senior French politicians demonstrate that however much our continental neighbours may profess themselves consenting federasts in public, in private they put their own national interest numero uno every time?

Mr. Redwood

I am afraid that my hon. Friend is right in his assessment of French actions on this particular transaction. The British Government are determined that the Commission should exercise its jurisdiction independently without fear of political interference. To do so we believe that the Competition Commissioner himself should have a particularly important role because he and his staff are the people who have seen all the evidence and listened to all those making their submissions. Therefore, the Commissioner should be the one who brings it all together. There should not then be a political shenanigan to settle the issue; it should be settled on the facts of the case in accordance with European law.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister ask the chairman of the MMC to look urgently at the issue posed by the present operations in the electricity supply industry? I suggest that that issue should be addressed urgently because high-energy-using industries now face the devastating effects of the pricing and patterns of pricing for electricity to the point that a hitherto extremely successful company, Rotherham Engineering Steels, is now facing serious cuts in production simply as a result of the operation of the electricity supply industry. That should be investigated immediately.

Mr. Redwood

A competitive structure has been introduced into the industry for the first time. If the hon. Gentleman has a reasonable complaint he should send it to my Department or to the Director General of Fair Trading and, of course, it will be examined closely to see whether any further action is needed. I would need more information about the specifics than the hon. Gentleman's general allegation gives me.

Mr. Batiste

Further to the De Havilland issue, will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to discuss the matter with his French opposite number? Will he tell her in unambiguous terms that this extraordinary fuss belies French claims to be good Europeans and undermines the confidence of their partners in French intentions to support competition which is at the heart of the movement towards a single market?

Mr. Redwood

I intend to raise the general issue of Community competence and the exercise of its jurisdiction in the Single Market Council meeting when I next go to Brussels for that meeting. I may well get the chance to discuss various matters with my colleague, the French Minister. I hope that she will be interested in what I have to say, although it might not be in exactly the terms of my hon. Friend's remarks. This matter raises general issues that the Community as a whole must face.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the Minister agree, and will he tell the chairman of the MMC when he next sees him, that a credible mergers and monopolies policy must involve a reference to the Commission of British Gas in the light of its threat to renege on its recent price schedule agreed with Ofgas? Will he include in such a reference the recommendation that the pipeline network should be demerged from British Gas into other hands?

Mr. Redwood

We are not sure what British Gas will do. The matter is being watched closely by the gas regulator and the Director General of Fair Trading. I shall ensure that the hon. and learned Gentleman's comments are forwarded to both those bodies, because they are important. I cannot give him all the guarantees that he wishes. In a recent speech my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out some strong measures which will promote more competition in the gas industry. The Government intend to see those through and they will do the job that the hon. and learned Gentleman seeks.

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