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Resale Price Maintenance (Report)

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 2 June 1949

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. COBB.

97. To ask the President of the Board of Trade, when the report of the committee for resale price maintenance is to be published; and whether he has any statement to make on it.

I will, with permission, make a statement on Question No. 97.

The Report was published today, and I take this opportunity of thanking the Chairman, Mr. Lloyd Jacob, K.C., and his colleagues, for their most valuable work. The Report, which is unanimous, reaches two main conclusions. First, no action should be taken which would deprive an individual producer of the power to prescribe and enforce resale prices for goods bearing his brand, providing this power is not used to obstruct the development of particular methods of trading, to impede distribution by another manufacturer of competitive goods, or to deprive the public of improvements in distribution. Secondly, steps should be taken to render illegal the application of sanctions which extend beyond the remedies open to an individual producer for any breach of resale price maintenance conditions.

The Government have considered these conclusions and propose to take the following action upon them. In consultation with the Ministers concerned, I shall invite the principal trade organisations involved to consider the most satisfactory means of ensuring that price maintenance by individual producers shall not injure the interests of the consumer. In these discussions, I shall make it clear that discriminatory restrictions against consumer dividend or discount systems employed by the Co-operative Societies and others must be abolished, and that the public must be allowed to reap the benefit of low-cost methods of distribution (in particular self-service shops) by way of reduced retail prices.

The Committee's second main recommendation, for the abolition of collective resale price maintenance, is based on evidence of the existence of a widespread system of trade association controls, whose scope, complexity and cumulative restrictive effects may surprise even those with long experience in the distributive trades. This evidence should convince manufacturers and traders that their own interests, as well as those of the country, will be best served by freeing distribution from the many self-imposed restrictions and controls described in the report. I hope indeed that in the next few months we shall see industry itself taking steps to this end. I must make clear, however, that, although we have every reason to hope for the co-operation of industry in this matter, the Government are fully determined to ensure that the general public shall not suffer from the private restrictions of price competition.

I should add something about the position of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission in this matter. The Committee under Mr. Lloyd Jacob's chairmanship was set up in advance of the legislation establishing the Monopolies Commission because resale price maintenance, which must be judged as much by its cumulative effect on the national economy as by its impact on individual trades, was a problem which could be examined by itself. In some of the cases now referred to the Monopolies Commission, resale price maintenance is one feature. I have invited the Commission to press on with the investigation of these cases; and in so doing they will, I am sure, take into account the report of the Lloyd Jacob Committee.

May I ask my right hon. Friend to give earnest consideration to this one point, that if individual manufacturers are to be allowed to continue fixing prices for their branded merchandise it is unlikely that the adoption of this Report will lead to any reduction at all in prices?

I have outlined the steps we shall be taking to ask individual manufacturers to ensure that their action does not harm the interests of the consumer; but the main part of the Report deals with the actions of collective associations in limiting the working of competition.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether as a result of the Report of the Committee it will be necessary to refer any other industries for examination by the Monopolies Commission?

There may very well be a number of industries referred to the Monopolies Commission where resale price maintenance may not be at issue.

Will this Report enable the hon. Member to deal with the willow monopoly.

I am not sure that I understood the right hon. Gentleman. Does he mean that the Monopolies Commission is bound by the conclusions of this Committee, or can it consider the matter itself?

They are considering, not the general issue of resale price maintenance, but the activities of certain industries which have been referred to them. What I said was that in their investigation of these cases I have no doubt the Monopolies Commission will take into account the Report published today.