As amended ( in the Standing Committee), considered.
New Clause—(Presentation Of Reports Of Commission To Parliament)
If a report of the Commission is, with or without omissions, presented by command of Her Majesty to either House of Parliament otherwise than at or during the time of a sitting of that House, the presentation of the report shall, for the purposes of the principal Act and this Act, be treated as the laying by the Board of Trade of that report before that House.—[ Mr. Jay.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.The Clause has the laudable objective of speeding up the procedure under the Bill, especially in the case of reports on mergers or proposed mergers. The difficulty arises because under the original Monopolies Act, 1948, any report of the Monopolies Commission had to be laid before Parliament before it could be published, or the Board of Trade could take any action and make an order arising out of the report. However, as hon. Members know, reports cannot be laid before Parliament if Parliament is in Recess. Therefore, if a report of this kind were to be received by the Board of Trade during the Summer Recess, the Board would be debarred from publishing it or making any order arising out of it. That has not greatly mattered hitherto, although no doubt it has caused delay, with outright monopolies with which the legislation was previously concerned. But we are now concerned also with mergers and the difficulty might cause a much more serious hold-up. For instance, if the Commision were to report in favour of permitting a merger, which had been under examination, to go forward only on certain conditions, and if the Board of Trade could not act throughout the whole of the period of the Summer Recess, no order could be made and nothing could be done and the firm or firms concerned would be left in an undesirable state of uncertainty. It is therefore quite clear that we have to add this power to enable the procedure to work more rapidly. I should like to reassure the House that it will not mean that the Board of Trade will be able to make orders breaking up a monopoly or merger—the last resort powers which are included in the Bill. That process requires a full affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament and such approval could not be obtained when the House was not sitting. Short of the rather extreme action which we only expect to take in the last resort, this will permit the delay to be overcome and the necessary action to be taken without requiring Parliament to resume.
We on this side of the House welcome this improvement to the Bill. Throughout the Second Reading, as the hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade knows, one of the points emphasised from both sides of the Committee was the need for speed in making many of these decisions, and particularly in relation to mergers. As was mentioned on many occasions during the debates during the Committee stage, delay could impose considerable hardship and damage on companies which might be proposing mergers, and we believe that the power which the Government are seeking to take by the inclusion of this Clause is an improvement and helps matters. Therefore we welcome it.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.
New Clause—(Extension Of The Principal Act)
Subsection (1) of section 2 of the principal Act (which authorises references to the Commission in respect of the prevalence of conditions to which that Act applies) as extended by section 2 of this Act shall be read and have effect as if the proviso to the said subsection were omitted therefrom.—[ Mr. van Straubenzee.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move. That the Clause be read a Second time.
I suggest that with this Clause we might discuss new Clause 3 No. 3—"Further extension of principal Act".
I think I should make it plain at the very outset, in case the slightly obtuse legal language should mislead some Members, though I feel sure not the Treasury Bench, that there is a simple non-controversial object to this new Clause, namely, to bring within the ambit of the Monopolies and Mergers Act, as I trust it will become, the nationalised industries of the country. I am encouraged in making this argument to the House by the interesting report to which the House has just listened from the First Secretary of State, which is very germane to my argument, and to which I shall return later.The Bill, as it has emerged from careful, detailed, and, I hope, constructive examination upstairs extending over a reasonable period of time, has significantly extended the powers of the Board of Trade in relation to monopolies and given it new powers in relation to mergers. But because of the provisions of what is defined in the Bill as the principal Act, the 1948 Act, the nationalised industries are effectively excluded from any of the existing powers and from any of the new powers which would come into being when this Bill becomes an Act. There have been in recent months significant advances in expressions of view from the Government Front Bench on the general subject of the necessity to inject a competitive spirit into the economy and an encouraging advance in the Treasury's view that this should include the nationalised industries. We recall that the First Secretary of State has acted in this particular field in relation to the Prices and Incomes Board. While I realise that I must not stray too far into that field, it is worth recording that only a few minutes ago we heard the First Secretary of State say that the conditions which he wanted to create were to add to and encourage the power of the customer "to shop around". That was his phrase, as near as I can paraphrase it, and it found a warm echo on these benches. There are increasing numbers of people who are doubtful whether that particular aspect of economic policy will, by itself, be sufficient. There are increasing numbers of people who believe that an increasingly sharpened edge to competition is necessary both in the private and in the public sector. It is here that this Bill in general, and this new Clause and the associated new Clause in particular, become so very important. We on this side regard it as quixotic, to put it at the least, that these gigantic enterprises are still carefully protected from the searching powers of existing legislation and the still more searching powers which this Bill will give if it comes on to the Statute Book. 3.45 p.m. I do not want to take the time of the House, but I would like to give three short examples of the sort of situation I have in mind, which will show that it might well be to the benefit of the nation as a whole and to the Government's economic policy if these new Clauses were accepted. We all know that the mining of coal is virtually exclusively in the hands of the State. That is the present state of the law. There is throughout the country a natural movement away from coal as a form of energy and that natural movement is being unnaturally resisted by the State. The principal competitor of coal is oil. Here, I declare an interest as one who is professionally connected with one of the oil companies. Sales of coal to industry generally in the last three years have fallen by 2½ million tons in spite of the action of the State in protecting coal to the tune of £60 million a year from the fuel oil tax. It is equally accepted that one of the reasons why coal is up against this sharp edge of competition is the oil industry, which is itself intensely competitive. I do not need to give any examples of the competition between individual oil companies operating in this country. We on this side of the House firmly believe that the intensive competition within the oil industry is healthy and leads to efficiency. It does not need to be ruthless, and I have only to give the example of the remarkable agreements which have come out of Fawley, from the Esso Company, to illustrate how far ahead the oil industry can be, or at any rate, some parts of the industry can be, in labour relations. The quixotic position is that the oil companies operating here are potentially within the ambit of this Bill while their competitor, coal, is not. That is a situation which will be put right by the acceptance of this new Clause. The second example is also very much in the news. We are assured by the Prime Minister that a Bill to nationalise steel will be presented to this House in the present session, in spite of careful questioning and an opportunity to get out of that undertaking, which he did not take, last week. One assumes this assurance still stands. In parenthesis I would like to say this, and perhaps the President of the Board of Trade would care to transmit it—I noticed a certain kindly consideration for the Opposition in the Prime Minister's statement on that matter, as though he might be anxious that we should not be prepared to sit throughout August to debate a steel nationalisation Bill. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will tell the Prime Minister that we are quite prepared to do without any Summer Recess at all if necessary. There is no reticence on this side of the House to do the necessary duty on that score. To return to the strict letter of this new Clause, the steel industry uses electricity extensively and I am told by the British Steel Founders Association that it has carried out substantial trial tests on a number of its own members which shows that over the last three years the average cost of electricity per unit consumed in that industry has increased by 24·96 per cent., whereas all other costs of their production, taken together, have risen by 4·24 per cent. When the House considers that electricity charges in this massive industry, which is under the direct threat of public ownership, account for 5 per cent. of the total cost of steel production, it will realise how vitally important a constituent factor is the price of electricity. I am told that the rise is the equivalent of £2 8s. a ton. I have no doubt that the President of the Board of Trade or the Minister of State, in reply, will refer to the plethora of consumer councils, advisory committees, and the like, which are certainly available in the nationalised electricity undertaking. But the real difficulty about making representations is that the tariff increases vary, not only from area to area, but even from customer to customer, and this makes it extremely difficult, particularly for the small consumer, to make effective representations. If the Government had the power in Clause 3(3) in relation to the electricity industry, how much stronger would be the case of the small consumer on price increases proposed by the natonalised electricity industry. Ministers would be very out of touch if they were to suggest later in the debate that there was not at this moment a wave of indignation at the way in which small consumers must, willy nilly, accept the price increases for electricity recently imposed on them yet again. The third of my three short examples is transport by road. My belief is that in the private sector of road transport—and I mean by this bus services and the like—as in the nationalised sector, such as in the London passenger area, we shall have to be a deal more adventurous in introducing new methods of transport. The time will come when we shall look afresh at the licensing system, which was designed for an inter-war period in totally different conditions. The contrast which I draw is that, whereas the private firms are potentially subject to examination under the Bill the great nationalised undertakings, such as the London Transport Board, are not. In some places transport is at crisis point. I know that my constituency is not the only constituency where country bus services are closing down because, in part, of the restrictive licensing provisions. But in London, whatever examination the State might wish to make of the problem, they are outside the terms of the Bill because they are a nationalised undertaking and are expressly excluded by the principal Act. I should have thought that for a Government, who were trying, as I think is the case at times, courageously to introduce new methods in this field, it would be positively to their advantage to have the power of this Act behind them. Let me give one example. The First Secretary of State has been prepared, typically, to have the courage to take and defend the decision about liner trains. I should like to see that extended into such things as labour-saving buses in London. However, both are being blocked by the intense conservatism of the last residue of high priesthood conservatism which is to be found in the trade unions. It would be positively to the advantage of a modernising Government to have the potential power of the Bill behind them when it becomes an Act to induce a sense of urgency into the modernisation of the country, which we all agree is necessary. Finally, there is a new reason why, in spite of the fact that previous Governments may not have acted in this sense, it is more timely than ever that this power should be given. The Government have removed extensively the restrictions on nationalised industries to manufacture. I do not argue about that; I should not be in order if I did. But that is the fact. This creates a new situation of which hon. Members opposite clearly approve. But, if they approve of it, they must face the consequences of it. They are not putting monopoly, whether it be State monopoly or private monopoly, on an equal footing. Take, for example, the railway workshops and their new freedom to manufacture commercially. The only customer in this country for the type of equipment which they manufacture is itself a nationalised industry. Whereas their competitors are potentially within the ambit of the Bill, the nationalised railway workshops are not. I want to make it plain that what I am seeking to continue is the attack on monopoly. The new Clauses are not an attack on nationalised industries; they are an attack on monopoly. I believe them to be timely and consistent. For these reasons, I commend them to the House.
I wish to say a few words on what the new Clause is not about because whenever an attempt has been made in the past to bring the nationalised industries within the orbit of the Monopolies Commission the same argument is always put forward, namely, that Parliament has willed a monopoly and that it would therefore be foolish and otiose to ask the Commission to inquire into whether there was a monopoly or not. Of course, that is so, and we do not seek to reverse that position by these new Clauses. We do not seek to give the Commission power to investigate whether there is a monopoly in the nationalised industries. That would be ridiculous.The purpose of the new Clauses is limited. It is to inquire whether, given a monopoly, things are being done by the monopoly which are against the public interest. In other words, it is only the second of the two tasks which the Commission may usually undertake which we seek to introduce. It will not be good enough, therefore, for the Treasury spokesman to advance the usual argument, which is that Parliament has willed a monopoly and that, in these circumstances, there is no more to be said. For that reason I hope that we shall have from the Government spokesman a reasoned explanation about what is wrong with the suggestion that we should see how these monopolies use their powers. A great many of the nationalised industries are not monopolist in the strict sense of the word, although almost all of them, I should say, are monopolist in the sense of the word as it is used in the Bill. I cannot see why the things which a State monopolist, or near-monopolist, does should not be inquired into in the same way as private monopolists and a judgment made as to whether those things are or are not in the public interest. Nor is it good enough to say that the Minister is a sponsoring Minister or a responsible Minister and that he has power to give directions. No doubt, as a result of the adverse report of the kind which we suggest, the Minister would give directions and that would be enough; it would not be necessary to lay the formal order as in the case of private enterprise. But I do not see what is objectionable, in principle or in machinery, in giving the Commission the limited power suggested by these new Clauses, and I therefore support them.
I do not think that there is any difference between us in desiring, apropos this Clause as in other Clauses, to promote competition and to promote the greatest efficiency of these enterprises whether public or private. The only disagreement on the new Clause is about the legislative and the administrative method and machine by which we do it.I entirely recognise that in the new Clause the Opposition are not seeking to give power to the Commission to inquire whether there should be a monopoly when Parliament has decided that there should be one; the Opposition recognise that that would be patently absurd. What is suggested is that Parliament having set up the monopoly, and having given it power to do certain things and having given a Government Department certain powers over it, the things that it does should be inquired into by the Monopolies Commission. I am not satisfied that even that would be a sensible procedure, for this reason. The fact is that Parliament, when it set up these organisations, did not merely decide that there should be a monopoly or a near-monopoly, however one defines it. It also decided to lay down a whole number of safeguards. It has given to the Government Department concerned—the Ministry of Power in the case of coal, gas and electricity—power of direction over the public enterprise in a number of specified ways. It has also set up consumers' councils, which may, perhaps, have limited powers but which are, nevertheless, additional to the other safeguards. When the policies of these enterprises come to be scrutinised, there is also a Select Committee of this House which can inquire precisely into the things done and can make recommendations to the House and to the Minister about how they should be set right. Therefore, Parliament having made all these provisions, having decided that this should be the way in which these organisations should be controlled and having set up fairly elaborate safeguards, it would not be sensible for Parliament then to ask another public authority, in the shape of the Monopolies Commission, to take a view about precisely the general practices and policies of these enterprises which were already being supervised and regulated by an existing public authority. The difference between the two sides of the House is not in any way as to whether there should be public regulation and supervision of the policies of the public monopoly. It is simply whether it is really sensible, when Parliament has set up a system by Statute, then to ask another authority to take a view as to whether those powers are being properly exercised by Parliament and the Minister concerned. That does not seem to me to be a sensible procedure. If we think that the powers which Parliament has given for the supervision of these organisations are inadequate, the right course would clearly be to amend the legislation setting out those powers and to ensure that they are such as Parliament thinks they ought to be and not to say, "We think that the legislation is inadequate, so we will ask somebody else to do the job." I remind hon. Members opposite that that is the view which has been taken by Governments in all previous Parliaments in enacting legislation on monopolies and restrictive practices. Indeed, it was the view of the White Paper issued by the previous Government of the party opposite only in March, 1964, which proposed many of the changes which we are making in the Bill but in which there is no reference to any proposal to bring the nationalised industries within the ambit of this legislation. I am, therefore, following today precisely the doctrine adopted by my predecessor 18 months ago. The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), who introduced the new Clause, said that there was an anomaly because the oil industry—which, I agree, is in competition with coal—would come under the jurisdiction of the Monopolies Commission whereas the coal industry would not. I should have thought that the anomaly was that at present the prices and policy of the coal industry are, within certain limits, subject to the supervision of a Minister and that the practices and prices of the oil industry are entirely free of control. The Bill will restore something more like equity in that it will make it possible, as the hon. Member said, conceivably for the oil industry to be examined by the Commission; and that will bring it into line with the coal industry, which is already subject to control by a Minister. The hon. Member made a good point in saying that we now have the spectacle of the Prices and Incomes Board inquiring into some of the prices which are charged by public bodies such as the London Electricity Board and that this perhaps alters the argument. At first sight it may seem that it does, but when one looks into it a little more closely, it is apparent that it does not. In the first place, the Prices and Incomes Board has jurisdiction over wages and salaries as well as over prices and the powers given to Ministers by legislation setting up public enterprises have never included any control over wages and salaries. Therefore, it could not be argued, as I have been arguing, that the powers already exist and that nothing further is required. The real point, however, seems to me to be that the day-to-day management of a public enterprise has always been excluded from the authority of the relevant Minister. By and large, over the range of nationalised industries, Parliament has given the Minister considerable power over general policies and over the general conduct of operation of the boards of those industries. It has not, however, normally given him power over day-to-day decisions, for instance, on prices. What the Prices and Incomes Board inquires into is not the general policy, the general constitution or the general set-up of an electricity, gas, coal or other authority. In the case of public enterprises as well as private firms, it will inquire into a particular suggested rise in prices or charges at a certain date. That would be something which is not normally within the power of the Minister. Therefore, it seems to us that there is no such overlap here as there would be if we were to bring nationalised industries within the scope of the Bill and give the Commission power to inquire into the very same issues as those on which Parliament has already given authority to the Minister.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain this point a little further? He is causing doubt, at least to some hon. Members. Surely, the very fact that there has been a reference to the new Prices and Incomes Board of an increase in a nationalised industry means that Parliament has intervened in the day-to-day administration of the nationalised industry. That could hardly be anything more day-to-day than the very facts that the Board is looking into.
That is precisely my argument; I am sorry that I did not make it clear. It is just because the interventions of the Prices and Incomes Board must in practice relate to day-to-day management—that is to say, individual changes in price—and since those questions of day-to-day management are not within the jurisdiction of the Minister that no overlap is caused by the policy of permitting the Prices and Incomes Board to intervene in such cases, even in the case of nationalised industries.Therefore, I do not think that the intervention of the Prices and Incomes Board in these cases alters the basic argument that as regards the general practices and policies of these enterprises, Parliament has given control over them to a Minister supplemented by consumers' councils and by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and that, therefore, it would be illogical and inefficient in administration and legislation to give power to another public body to intervene. That principle still stands. Therefore, while I entirely accept the wish of hon. Members opposite to see that there is proper supervision and control of these enterprises, as well as the possible control of the Monopolies Commission over private firms, it would be a clumsy and inefficient way of doing it to add a second public body to those which already have the necessary power.
In order to help us to consider these new Clauses more clearly, would the right hon. Gentleman say how often the recommendations of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries have been debated in the House and how often its recommendations have been accepted by the industries concerned? He made reference to the Select Committee as being one way of dealing with the point we have in mind. It would be interesting, therefore, to see exactly how much power Parliament has over these industries, and what has resulted from its deliberations.
I did not rest my argument solely on the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. Nor do I regard it as an unimportant body. As I think the hon. Gentleman will agree, the practice is that three days in a year should be given, normally, to debating Reports of the Select Committee, and it certainly has had a considerable influence on the policy of the Departments responsible, and, indeed, on the nationalised industries themselves. If the hon. Gentleman wants detailed chapter and verse for that I shall be very glad to give it him, but I think that he will agree with me that these Reports have been valuable and have been influential.
I must say I find the argument put forward by the right hon. Gentleman rather extraordinary, because surely we are at a time when the attitude towards the nationalised industries in this country is changing, and this is, indeed, reflected in the fact that we are now proposing possibly to submit the trade operations of the nationalised industries to the prices review body. I think the point when my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) is trying to make is that it really is not true at the moment that the scrutiny, and the time devoted in this House is detailed examination of the policies which the nationalised industries are carrying on, is really sufficient.What we are really suggesting, I am sure both sides of the House will agree, is that one should have a consistent attitude towards pricing problems whether they be of a nationalised industry or whether they be of a private enterprise industry, and the reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) has put forward this new Clause, and why we on this side of the House are supporting it, is that we believe that the expertise which the Monopolies Commission has, and the increased scope for operation which it will have as a result of its being enlarged by this Bill, means it should adopt a comparative basis, comparing the private sector and the public sector. The example which was given of the fuel industry is important because we do have at the present time a system, in the National Coal Board, for example, where pricing policy is either a regional pricing policy or a basing-point pricing policy, not similar to the pricing policy adopted by the oil industry. Some of us would feel that in both instances these policies should be challenged, and examined by some impartial body, but we feel it would be quite wrong if the policy of the oil industry were to be examined for pricing policy while at the same time the Coal Board's policy, possibly open to the same objections, were to be excluded from reference. What is clear is that though a Report from the Select Committee comes to this House it is most unlikely that it will have had the opportunity to examine in detail the underlying policy in pricing which the body concerned has, because it will have looked at every industry in isolation, whereas the Commission will have a comparative basis, and be able to look at the overall policy. We on this side feel that it is essential that where private and public industry are competing, then, if their practices are to be investigated, they should be investigated by an impartial body, and it is for this reason we are putting forward the new Clause, and it is for this reason that I hope we shall support it.
The President of the Board of Trade perhaps did less than justice to one argument my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) put forward, and I hope that he will think again about this matter, because I do not think that there is by any means a wide gulf between the thinking on this side of the House and the right hon. Gentleman's own thinking on this point. I think that if he were to accept this new Clause he would save himself considerable future trouble and would also create an even-tempered climate of opinion in industry, particularly industry which is competing aloneside—shall I say?—some of our big public monopolies.It has been said that the attitude is changing towards this problem. The President of the Board of Trade referred to the White Paper of a year ago saying that it made no reference to this point. I would go so far as to say that there has been a very substantial development of public opinion and thinking both as to what our attitude to monopolies should be and what we should do to encourage competition. In the last twelve months there has certainly been a change in policy. We have had a change of Government in the last twelve months and, therefore, we are now considering the situation against a different background from the expected development of policy over the last thirteen years. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that the powers of the nationalised industries in trade and manufacture have been extended. I think that this is a very material point in discussing this new Clause, because I think it is quite possible that where the producing industries are nationalised industries, and their sole customer may well be another nationalised corporation, the situation could arise where industries which are now in competition with one another in the private enterprise sector of industry could be driven out of business by the extension of the trading of nationalised corporations with one another, and that is the situation where now a nationalised corporation is able to enjoy the benefit of—I think the phrase is—shopping around. Monopolies may yet be created without Parliamentary sanction at all, and they may be created by the extension of the activities of nationalised corporations, and as the result of this extension of competition, private enterprise, and the ability of firms to compete, may be eliminated completely from our industrial field. I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to reflect upon this point again. I refer briefly to a fact which as been mentioned, that these Acts can be dealt with by amending them, as it were, one by one, if it is thought necessary, if it is thought that a change in the situation is necessary, but I do not think any of us would expect to amend them without disturbing the Parliamentary timetable. I imagine that such legislation cannot be put in hand in the Parliamentary timetable this decade, at any rate. So I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman takes the opportunity of putting into the Bill powers allowing public monopolies to be viewed in the same light as private industry. To return to the point I made at the beginning, he might have encouraged the public sector of industry to be competitive. I could take a long time on this, and no one on the right hon. Gentleman's side has stronger views on the subject than I, about giving encouragement to industry to be truly competitive, but if we are to encourage industry to be truly competitive we have to give it confidence that it is operating in fair conditions. I make this almost a matter of principle and that we need to put industry in each sector on the same footing, and I see no reason why not. Why should not public industry be on the same basis as the private sector? That is why I welcome so much the attitude of the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs on some of these matters. Almost drawing a bow at a venture, I myself, when we were in Committee on the Bill, drew attention to this question of a national incomes policy. I certainly think it is a very serious consideration in accepting this new Clause that wherever possible public enterprise and private enterprise should be subject to the same type of supervision and control. So I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will think again, because we on this side of the House as well have tried very hard to make this a lively and vigorous Bill, and if he were to accept the new Clause, not only would that be beneficial to the country, but we should feel that he accepted our attitude on this question.
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question arising out of something which he said this afternoon, bearing on the statement by the First Secretary. As I understood it, the President of the Board of Trade said that the reference of a nationalised industry to the Prices and Incomes Board was not relevant because matters such as wages and prices were matters of day to day administration and were not under the direct authority of any Minister, whereas the sort of matters into which the Monopolies Commission would be inquiring were matters over which the Minister had power. This argument holds water only if the inquiry of the Prices and Incomes Board is limited to matters over which Ministers have no direct authority. In other words, it is limited to matters of day to day administration.From what Mr. Aubrey Jones said, I had thought that that was not so, and before we reach a decision on the new Clause it would be helpful to know whether it is the right hon. Gentleman's view that the Prices and Incomes Board will be permitted to inquire only into those matters of day-to-day administration over which Ministers have no control.
In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I suppose I must accept that the new Clause has been put down in good faith, but it is somewhat remarkable to me, and I think it is worth drawing attention to it, that although it may have been put forward in good faith, and has been argued so persuasively by a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite, it was not put forward while the Bill was being discussed in Committee upstairs. We had eleven sittings upstairs, and the Bill has been under consideration since 8th April—that is three months ago. It is therefore remarkable that such a central point of principle as this is now assumed to be, judging by the short speeches to which we have just listened, should have been delayed for so long.I am driven to the conclusion—and I do not wish to be discourteous to anybody—that this is a sort of late spanner thrown into the works. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] One has to draw rational conclusions from the evidence available. If this is so important, why was it not introduced three months ago? We discussed hundreds of Amendments in Committee upstairs, very often with great good humour, but this point, which is now regarded as so important, was not brought out. It has now been trotted out as though it has a fundamental bearing on this Measure. I do not think this is playing fair with the House.
A matter of principle of such importance as this ought to be discussed in a forum which enables all Members of the House to take part if they wish to do so.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to take that view, but my experience of Standing Committees extend over many years. I have served on various Committees, discussing a variety of subjects, and it is my experience that important matters are usually introduced at an early stage of the Bill, and all this temerity about everybody having a chance to take part in the discussion does not sound convincing when we hear arguments against the Finance Bill being taken on the Floor of the House. One often hears it said that that Bill should go to a Committee upstairs.
Only by hon. Members on that side of the House.
I do not want to make much of the point, because I do not wish to waste time. Nevertheless, it is valid to point out that if this is such an important point of principle we ought to have heard about it some time ago.I am sorry that I was not present at the beginning of this discussion. When I came in a little while ago, the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), who has shown great diligence during the discussions on the Bill, was on his feet, and I believe that I heard him make some reference to the nationalised industries, and particularly to railway workshops. I did not, unfortunately, get the complete drift of his argument, but perhaps I might point out that the railway workshops, which are part of a great nationalised industry, have been supported by this house in all its manifestations. They have been supported by the Labour Government and by a succession of Conservative Governments, but they have aways been restricted in their competition with private industry. I have had quite a few differences of opinion with my right hon. Friends on this matter. I want to restore freedom to the nationalised industries. I want to give them freedom to compete on equal terms with private enterprise. They are unable to do this at present, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will take particular note of what I am saying. I want to restore complete freedom to the railway workshops, which are part of a nationalised industry. I know that there are bound to be differences between the two sides of the House, because this is what politics is about, but perhaps I might point out that the hon. and learned Member for Dar-wen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), who has been so eloquent on this issue, did not have these inhibitions in a previous incarnation, when he was a Member of my party before he joined the party opposite.
Oh, yes, he did.
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to be reminded of that.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read my 1945 election address. If he has, he will find there something similar to what I have said here.
That will not do. I am a little bit too long in the tooth to accept that. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had these doubts in 1945, he would never have been endorsed as a Labour candidate.
Order. I think that we have pursued the previous political history of the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) for long enough. We must get back to the debate on the new Clause.
Obviously I am a little out of order in being deflected from my purpose and drawing attention to other matters by the reply which I received from the benches opposite, though I might have been a little provocative.Having reached this stage of the Bill, we are to a large extent agreed about its general objectives. I think that there is a large measure of agreement between the two sides on the principle of the Bill, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not, for purely technical purposes, or for publicity in the Press, which is obviously a factor in these matters, seek to obstruct the main purpose of the Bill by introducing red herrings at this late stage.
With the leave of the House, may I say that I take note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) has said, though I shall not pursue the argument back to anybody's election address in 1945.I assume that the new Clause has been put down in good faith, even though I cannot claim to have attended all the meetings of the Committee. I also agree that there is no great gulf between us. All that we are discussing is whether, in addition to a number of admitted safeguards which the nationalised industries have imposed on them, we should add this extra one. In reply to the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber), may I say that as far as the Prices and Incomes Board goes the situation as I understand it is that it is legally possible for the Government to refer a great range of projects to it, but it is for the decision of the Government, and it will normally not be the policy of the Government to refer to that Board issues which, clearly, come under the control of any individual Minister. The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) said that if I wished to amend in various ways, the Statute setting up the nationalised industries, since that might take a number of years, it would be more expeditious to do it in this Bill. I did not say that I wished to introduce any such Amendments, or that they were necessary. I merely said that if one believes that, which, by and large I do not, that would be a more orderly way of doing it than introducing it in the Bill. The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) was a little unfair to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. He suggested that it did not really go very thoroughly, or at any rate deeply, into the policies and conduct of these industries, and that it would not be able to take into account, for instance, the competition that there might be between some fuel which was under national control and ownership, and some other fuel such as oil which was not, and therefore he thought that it should be referred to the Commission. But this is not true. It is within the competence and normal practice of the Select Committee to carry out very thorough investigations and to do it, if it wishes, annually and not just once-for-all as would happen in the case of the Monopolies Commission. I therefore do not think that that argument has any great force. 4.30 p.m. The situation is that we have very little supervision in these matters over private monopolies or semi-monopolies. We are suggesting that further powers should be taken in the Bill. On the other hand, we already have a great number of often very onerous safeguards on the conduct of the nationalised industries. I therefore do not think it reasonable to add to the nationalised industries further safeguards and further limitations on top of those which already exist just because we are introducing some safeguards in the case of private industry. If it were argued that the nationalised industries ought to be referred to the Monopolies Commission, it might as well be argued that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries should in future inquire into private industry. Nobody seems to have argued that. It therefore seems to me more sensible to leave the position as the Bill proposes and as the White Paper of the Conservative Party proposed only a year ago. This would ensure a due measure of supervision and control over both the private and the public sector.
But the point which I made was somewhat different. I agree that no one has suggested that the Select Committee on Estimates should investigate the private sector. Nevertheless there is some case for uniformity of approach. The criteria which the Select Committee might adopt to see whether an industry was working in the best interests of the country might be somewhat different from that which the Monopolies Commission would use. For example—
Order. The hon. Member may intervene briefly, but he has exhausted his right to speak in the debate.
I was merely seeking to give an example in which consumers at a distance from the source of supply are subsidised at the expense of those who are near to it. This could be investigated on a uniform basis between private and public industry.
The President of the Board of Trade made a strong reference to safeguards. This House is the sacred spot for safeguarding the public and private interest.I enter into the debate only because of the speech of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), in which he referred to the railway workshops. He not only said that the existing railway workshops should be competitive but implied that they could well be extended. I am worried by the fact that we could find ourselves in a position not only of creating a monopoly but of creating the worst kind of monopoly conceivable—the crushing out of existence of all competition for ever. I will explain briefly and quickly what I have in mind. At present the railways industry puts out inquiries for certain machinery to be supplied by private enterprise. It will be in a position also to manufacture within its own workshops. The industry could put out the inquiries, establish all the competitive prices, place no orders whatever outside and then arrange the prices and costs within its own organisation in order to say, "We are the cheapest and therefore we need not buy outside". The net result could be that over a period outside firms could conscientiously and sincerely compete, quote and reduce quotations and still be frozen out—and in the end be wiped out.
The hon. Member is making a point of theory. In practice this does not happen at all. The railway workshops have to secure work for their own machinery and workers in competition with private industry. One of the great railway workshops in my constituency in Lancashire recently lost a major contract because a private firm undercut its estimate for the job. I am asking only for equality to be restored. They should have freedom to compete for work in private industry as well as entering into railways manufacturing and obtaining contracts for their own nationalised workshops. That is all I am asking.
I was interested in the intervention, but it does not relieve my anxieties one bit. The hon. Member merely goes one stage further; he says that not only should they have all their own work, but they ought to compete in the outside world, too. This goes from bad to worse.I made this intervention because I wanted to hear what the President of the Board of Trade said about this matter and what is his view on what I have described as the most serious of all monopolies—perpetual monopoly by the crushing out of all private competition.
I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) on moving the new Clause without any party rancour and on setting the trend for the short debate which we have had about the nationalised industries and the Monopolies Commission.The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) went further than we normally expect him to go. There can be little doubt, surely, that we are moving the new Clause in good faith. In view of the fact that the debate has taken only 45 minutes and in view of the manner in which it has been conducted, it is a little unfair to suggest that there are ulterior motives behind our decision to move the new Clause. This subject was mentioned on Second Reading by hon. Members on both sides of the House and in Committee on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill. It may be that the Opposition found that we had passed in Committee the right stage for moving such a provision and that the better place for moving it was earlier in the Bill. It was felt that rather than find artificial means of bringing it into the Committee stage it was better to move the new Clause in its proper place on Report.
It would not be the case, would it, that hon. Members opposite have received a special brief from the Conservative Central Office drawing attention to the fact that, in their view, they had omitted something important?
There has been no brief from the Conservative Party on any aspect of the Bill since Second Reading. All the work has been done by Members of the Committee. At any time I should have been delighted to have a brief. All that will be said today will be without any help from the research departments of any political party, as I believe is also the case for Government back-bench Members.May I turn to the wider aspects? An argument which I am afraid we shall hear many times on Report, and which has been advanced by the President of the Board of Trade, needs to be dealt with immediately—the argument that this provision is not necessary because it was not in the Conservative White Paper issued about 15 months ago. Hon. Members should understand clearly that the Bill goes much further than the Conservative Government's White Paper. We say that it would have been quite reasonable to have taken the steps set out in the White Paper. But if the Government, of their own decision, have decided to go further and to take in services to a much larger extent, and to be all-embracing in the legislation, we say that the Bill ought to be all-embracing and ought to take in all sections of the community. Consequently, no aspect of industry should be left out. That is why we have moved the new Clause. May I follow up different points that have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham. He was concerned with the aspect that nationalised industries have to deal in competition with the rest of the private sector. It is quite clear today that the nationalised sector of industry is widening its interests. We on this side of the House do not condemn that. Indeed, we believed it would come. But, if it is to happen, we say quite categorically that we believe the nationalised industries should have to face up to the same regulations and rigours that are set private industry. Indeed, it is for that purpose that this Clause is being moved. As an illustration, may I cite the position of the Coal Board which is now, sometimes in partnership with private industries in joint firms, sometimes by taking over further private enterprise industries, strengthening its own operations in the coal and the coal by-products field. Coal by-products today is a vast sector of industry, very nearly embraced in the chemical industry. In the same way, I do not know how many people realise that the National Coal Board is in a consortium looking for oil in the North Sea. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Jolly good luck to it."] I have some small interest in oil, but this has nothing to do with the point that it is quite reasonable that the National Coal Board should be attempting to safeguard some of its interests by acting in this manner. But, if it is to do so, surely it must have the same hurdles to overcome in its pricing policy or in its day-to-day operation and its monopolistic practices as private industry has. I am very surprised to find that the President of the Board of Trade takes the line that he has done from the Dispatch Box, because I would like to refer him to a speech on the Second Reading of the Monopolies Bill, 1948, when the present Prime Minister said:
This seems an immensely reasonable quotation. In this instance we believe the present Prime Minister was right. Indeed, we believe that there is every reason, because of what he said, why the Government should in fact accept the Clause. It seems to us that the President of the Board of Trade, unless he wishes to have a wigging in Cabinet tomorrow, ought to consider most fully the opinions expressed by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, because here the Prime Minister is stating very nearly, though not exactly, the case we are propounding from this side of the House."But public monopolies are by no means excluded from the operations of the Bill. If one of them were to engage in activities not directly provided for with prescribed safeguards under the statute—if, for instance, the National Coal Board were to make mining machinery—and if the other conditions of the Act were not fulfilled, it would be possible to have such activities brought before the Commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd April, 1948; Vol. 449, c. 2032.]
Why, if hon. Members opposite think that what the Prime Minister said in 1948 was right, did they not say so a year ago when they drafted the White Paper which I quoted?
I hoped I had dealt with this point. I hope we do not have to return to it time and time again in this debate. Let us get it quite clear so that we need not have it said again that something is different from the White Paper produced by the Conservative Party.The present Government have decided to go very much wider than that White Paper and, because they are going very much wider, we on this side believe it should be all-embracing. I hope that we will not come back to this really fallacious argument on later Amendments, because no doubt other opportunities for using the argument will arise. Let us consider also the competition the nationalised industries are setting up to the private sector. With the new feedstock the gas industry is likely to enter into competition with bottled gas and l.p.g. in serving new fields of demand of the consumer. It would be quite wrong if it were able to carry on this business in a manner which would be deprecated by the Monopolies Commission or which would go against the general operation of the Bill. Therefore, we come back to this view outlined by the Prime Minister, that where nationalised industries are merging into competition with the private sector, then nationalised industries must follow the same rules. We can see only too well that nationalised industries are not holier than thou. It would be quite wrong to debate now the recent decision of the Restrictive Trade Practices Court in relation to a nationalised firm breaking its undertakings. If that can happen in private industry, here is proof again that it can happen in the nationalised industries. It is because we know these sorts of things can go on that we believe that safeguards such as those in the new Clause should be written into the Bill. I do not want to debate for long the very concise points put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown) on the railway workshops. We realise now that the railway workshops are in a position to compete with private industry, and it would be quite wrong for anyone to suggest that was not the case. The other point which I think is of importance is that made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. Although the Government might refer to the Prices and Incomes Board other matters outside the particular functions of prices and incomes, I do not think anyone in the House would suggest it would be good, proper or reasonable practice for aspects which should be properly considered on monopolies to be referred to the Prices and Incomes Board, and I hope very much that that would not be the view of the Government. I now want to turn to the position of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, because the President of the Board of Trade referred to the safeguards that arise to the consumer and to the House from the operation of that Committee. I take that point, but I have here a few of the reports that have been made on the nationalised industries. There was a report on coal in 1958, on electricity in 1963 and on the gas industry in 1961. Indeed, I see in the report of the Committee on the gas industry in 1961 that even then there were references to the need for cheaper gas to be supplied to the consumer. Is it argued that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries is able to report on these industries frequently enough? There was a report on the electricity supply industry in 1963. Is it unreasonable of me to suggest that there is little likelihood of the Select Committee returning to the electricity supply industry for a considerable time? I am not saying that one can rule the possibility out. The Committee has the power to return to that industry tomorrow, but in practice there is little chance of it happening. Therefore, if some time this year or next year a major monopolistic activity was undertaken by the electricity supply industry, it would stand a good chance of running another four or five years before the Select Committee returned to consider its operations. What I do not understand from the arguments advanced from the Government Front Bench is why this power should not be provided. The Government need not use it. Not one argument has been advanced to show why it would hurt the Government to have this power. Normally hon. Members on this side try to limit the power of the Board of Trade, but on this occasion we believe that this is a specific power which should be in the command of any President of the Board of Trade to deal with the possibility of monopolistic practices operating in the nationalised industries. It is no use suggesting that all the consumer councils and such bodies throughout the country would be able to deal with some of these monopolistic practices if a specific gas board or electricity authority decided to continue such a form of business activity. If there are not reductions in the price of town gas as new feedstocks come along, it may well be that in years to come the price of gas will have to be referred. This is the sort of thing where there is a monopolistic practice and where we on this side believe that the Government should have powers to act. No genuine argument has been advanced to show why the power should not be there. It has merely been suggested that enough power exists already. That does not accord with the true facts. I believe that in view of the monopoly position of the nationalised industries it would be greatly in the country's interest that this power should exist as these industries extend their trading activities. Nationalised industries should not be treated as a favourite son who does not have to live up to the standards set for the rest of the industry practising in the private sector. If the Government cannot see fit to accept the Amendment, or, indeed, to give some undertaking that they will reconsider the point and deal with it in another place, I shall have to urge my colleagues to divide the House.
Division No. 210.]
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Fisher, Nigel||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Fletcher-Cooke, Sir John (S'pton)||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Balniel, Lord||Foster, Sir John||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Mitchell, David|
|Barlow, Sir John||Gammans, Lady||More, Jasper|
|Batsford, Brian||Glover, Sir Douglas||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Bell, Ronald||Goodhart, Philip||Onslow, Cranley|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Goodhew, Victor||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Bessell, Peter||Grant, Anthony||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Biffen, John||Grant-Ferris, R.||Page, R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Grieve, Percy||Peel, John|
|Bingham, R. M.||Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||Percival, Ian|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Gurden, Harold||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Bossom, Hn. Clive||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Hamilton, M. (Salisbury)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin|
|Braine, Bernard||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Hawkins, Paul||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Burden, F. A.||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Higgins, Terence L.||Shepherd, William|
|Buxton, Ronald||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Soames, Rt. Hn. Christopher|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Hooson, H. E.||Stanley, Hn. Richard|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hopkins, Alan||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Hordern, Peter||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Cole, Norman||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Cooke, Robert||Iremonger, T. L.||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter|
|Costain, A. P.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Kilfedder, James A.||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Crawley, Aidan||Kirk, Peter||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||Lagden, Godfrey||Walder, David (High Peak)|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Dance, James||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Walters, Dennis|
|Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Longden, Gilbert||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Dean, Paul||Loveys, Walter H.||Webster, David|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Lubbock, Eric||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Whitelaw, William|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||MacArthur, Ian||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Doughty, Charles||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Wise, A. R.|
|Eden, Sir John||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||McMaster, Stanley||Woodhouse, Hon. Christopher|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||McNair-Wilson, Patrick|
|Emery, Peter||Maitland, Sir John|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Errington, Sir Eric||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest||Mr. Francis Pym and|
|Eyre, Reginald||Marten, Neil||Mr. Geoffrey Johnson-Smith.|
|Fell, Anthony||Maude, Angus|
|Albu, Austen||Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury)||Davies, Ifor (Gower)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey|
|Alldritt, Walter||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Delargy, Hugh|
|Allen Scholefield (Crewe)||Carter-Jones, Lewis||Dell, Edmund|
|Atkinson, Norman||Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Dodds, Norman|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Chapman, Donald||Donnelly, Desmond|
|Beaney, Alan||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Driberg, Tom|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Dunn, James A.|
|Blackburn, F.||Crawshaw, Richard||Dunnett, Jack|
|Boston, T. C.||Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||English, Michael|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics, S. W.)||Dalyell, Tam||Ennals, David|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Darling, George||Ensor, David|
|Bradley, Tom||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)|
|Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)|
Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 166, Noes 180.
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Lawson, George||Redhead, Edward|
|Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||Leadbitter, Ted||Richard, Ivor|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Floud, Bernard||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Foley, Maurice||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Rowland, Christopher|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Sheldon, Robert|
|Freeson, Reginald||Lomas, Kenneth||Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.|
|Ginsburg, David||Loughlin, Charles||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Gourlay, Harry||McBride, Neil||Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)|
|Gregory, Arnold||McCann, J.||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)|
|Grey, Charles||MacColl, James||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||MacDermot, Niall||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||McGuire, Michael||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Griffiths, Will (M'chester, Exchange)||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||McLeavy, Frank||Small, William|
|Hannan, William||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Snow, Julian|
|Hazell, Bert||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Manuel, Archie||Stones, William|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Marsh, Richard||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Mason, Roy||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Maxwell, Robert||Swain, Thomas|
|Holman, Percy||Mayhew, Christopher||Swingler, Stephen|
|Horner, John||Mellish, Robert||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Molloy, William||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Tinn, James|
|Howie, W.||Murray, Albert||Tomney, Frank|
|Hoy, James||Newens, Stan||Tuck, Raphael|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline)||Oakes, Gordon||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)||Ogden, Eric||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||O'Malley, Brian||Wallace, George|
|Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Oram, Albert E. (E. Ham, S.)||Weitzman, David|
|Jackson, Colin||Orbach, Maurice||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Janner, Sir Barnett||Orme, Stanley||Whitlock, William|
|day, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Owen, Will||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Palmer, Arthur||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'h'n & St. P'cras, S.)||Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S. E.)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Parkin, B. T.||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Pavitt, Laurence||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Pentland, Norman||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Perry, Ernest C.||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Popplewell, Ernest||Zilliacus, K.|
|Kenyon, Clifford||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Probert, Arthur|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Mr. Joseph Slater and|
|Mrs. Harriet Slater.|
Clause 1—(Provisions For Enlarging Commission And Otherwise Expediting Its Work)
We come now to Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 6, leave out "Monopolies Commission" and insert "Commission for Competition" with which it is proposed that we take Amendment No. 2, in line 16, leave out "preserve" and insert "substitute for".Amendment No. 3, in line 16, at end insert:
Amendment No. 74, in Schedule 1, page 20, line 3, leave out "Monopolies Commission" and insert "Commission for Competition", and Amendment No. 75, in line 7, leave out "Monopolies Commission" and insert "Commission for Competition". Mr. John Hall. Mr. van Straubenzee."the name 'the Commission for Competition'".
May I have permission to move the Amendment, Dr. King?
I see from the Order Paper that the hon. Member's name is not down to the Amendment, but I understand that he has the right to move it.
I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 6, to leave out "Monopolies Commission" and to insert "Commission for Competition".I thought for a moment that I would not be able to perform this important task. This task is the old and well-known one of trying to substitute, as these Amendments do, a proper and accurate name, which is not offensive, for the present name of the Monopolies Commission. We seek to substitute the title "Commission for Competition". The Monopolies Commission was always an inaccurate title and it becomes more inaccurate as the years go by and greater powers are added to it. In 1948 the present Prime Minister, when he was President of the Board of Trade, appealed to Members of the House to help him choose a better title, "a more accurate and still reasonably sounding title". Ever since then people have sought to do this, and we think that we have now succeeded. When I say "we" I must pay tribute, in his absence, to my hon. Friend, the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) who has some copyright to this title which, among a lot of front runners, was eventually selected for fulfilling the qualifications suggested by the present Prime Minister as being "accurate and still reasonably sounding". It is well known that according to the terms of the 1948 Statute, one has a monopoly in the sale of goods or the provision of services or the processing of goods and so on if one has as little as 33 per cent. of the market. So we get a state of affairs in which there are three monopolies in the one field. This was always ridiculous and offensive, because to call someone a monopolist still has a disparaging connotation. I am not sure that the Minister without Portfolio agrees with that. At other stages of the Bill he suggested that it is no longer offensive to call someone a monopolist although it might have been in 1948. He certainly thought it was in the 1948 debates on this matter. I suggest that it is still offensive, and that to call someone in particular a monopoly capitalist is still included in the catalogue of Marxist abuse, and so long as it is there it seems to me that it should not be allowed to be used in the official documents and titles of bodies if it can be avoided. We think it can be avoided. I think the matter has got worse rather than better because of the new powers of this Commission, which is often not dealing with monopolies in any sense of the word at all. First, there is the suggestion in the Bill, in spite of our objections, that the Commission should consider mergers where there may be as little as 5 per cent. of the market or even less involved. When one considers the £5 million assets limit in later Clauses of the Bill, it should be remembered that in many heavy capitalised industries, such as the chemical industry and others, £5 million is a relatively small sum of money. Therefore—I am not arguing the merits—one may have circumstances in which this Commission is dealing with proposed mergers which involve perhaps only 5 per cent. or even less of any particular industry. We also have in the Bill the newspaper provisions where the relevant limit now is a circulation of 500,000. That again may introduce within the orbit of the Commission matters which are far less than 33⅓ per cent. of the market, however one may define the market. Above all, with the new power over services it is difficult to see how monopoly comes into the matter. The Commission, for example, may be dealing with the question of solicitors' fees or the terms of admission to estate agents' or other professions. It may be investigating the terms of entry where it is alleged that there is undue restriction on entry into certain professions. That may be a proper thing to inquire into, but to suggest that the Commission would be inquiring into a monopoly is an abuse of language which we should no longer tolerate. Indeed, as the Minister of State said in Committee, the word "monopoly" implies scale monopoly, and these things have nothing to do with scale monopoly. We proposed originally five or six different titles, to all of which there were objections. Finally, the matter crystallised into this title, "Commission for Competition". I paid tribute in his absence to my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford. Now that he is present I might pay him a tribute again and at the same time give a consolation prize to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), who for many days was not at all inclined to jettison his suggestion. Eventually we agreed that this is the best and most accurate title that one can obtain. It is not completely accurate because, as I think the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Floud) pointed out at one time, there might be situations, though I think that they are getting fewer, in which the Commission comes to the conclusion that it cannot promote competition. It might conclude that the structure of the industry or service is such that it must accept a monopoly position and all it can do is to try to regulate the monopoly either by its prices or something else. These would be a decreasing minority of cases, because in the Bill the Government, quite rightly, are taking powers of divesting by which for the first time it will be possible to break up a monopoly forcibly, as the Americans have done for many years, by a divesting decree. Therefore, the argument of the hon. Member for Acton that the functions of the Commission could not be properly described as a "Commission for Competition," because in some cases it could not promote competition and would have to accept monopoly by regulating it, becomes very minimal now that the Commission has this divesting power. 5.15 p.m. Compared with the inaccuracy of the present name the inaccuracy of the suggested name is so small as to be practically inconspicuous. The inaccuracy of the present name stands out like a sore thumb, firstly because of the mergers, secondly because of the newspapers, thirdly because of the services, and fourthly because it was never accurate in the first place. I do not want to go into terms in economics like monopsolist, oligopolist and others which are employed to describe more accurately the idea of the particular state of a particular market. No one would wish to choose a name of that sort. We must have a name which is both memorable and easily comes off the tongue. "Commission for Competition" is not only both memorable and comes off the tongue easily, but it describes the purpose of all our work in this Bill, as indeed our work in 1948 and 1956 and in all the other land marks of this field of legislation, which has been and is to promote competition. It is good that we should mark and name it by the symbol and title of the Commission which will do the work. It is true that perhaps more than one body also does this work. The Restrictive Trade Practices Court does it. It may be that the National Board for Prices and Incomes is seeking to do it, and it may be that the Select Committee which we heard of earlier in the debate is also seeking to do it, but the prime function will rest on this Commission for a long time to come. I should like to see this made known by the change in the name. The new name will not only reduce the offensive nature of the inquiry and make those who are investigated feel less as if they were the accused in the dock and feel less of a public enemy, but it will give everyone concerned with the Commission the idea that the House is determined to produce the maximum competition in the various fields dealt with by the Commission.
I should like to thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. C. Fletcher-Cooke) for his kind and undeserved remarks about the origin of this suggestion for the renaming of the Commission. I agree with him that opinion on both sides of the Standing Committee which discussed the group of Amendments containing various suggestions for a change of name eventually crystallised round this suggestion. I would regard that as a strong reason why we should give the suggestion very close thought and, indeed, accept it as a right name. It attracted the support of the Committee because of its merits and not because of the eloquence of its proposer.My hon. and learned Friend has made the negative point that the use of the word "Monopolies" in the present title of the Monopolies Commission is quite wrong. The President of the Board of Trade, who no doubt will be replying may attempt to defend the continuation of the title "Monopolies Commission". The right hon. Gentleman, if he will permit me to say so, has never struck me as being the man to whom the description "Humpty Dumpty" could be appropriately applied. Indeed, anyone less like Humpty Dumpty it would be difficult to imagine, but the right hon. Gentleman will remember that it was Humpty Dumpty who produced those memorable words, "I make words mean what I want them to mean. The only question is who is to be the master, me or the words." This is what is happening with the Commission becausce it has powers to investigate conditions to which by no possible stretch of imagination could the word "monopoly" be applied. This has a number of most unfortunate results, perhaps the most serious being the extent to which those affected by the decisions of the Commission resent the suggestion that they are a monopoly or anything approaching a monopoly. The whole investigation gets off on the wrong foot and, occasionally, bad blood is created. People start with the assumption that they are being investigated because tley are a monopoly although they know that, in fact, they often face fierce competition, and they view with scorn and derision an investigation which appears to set out on the assumption that they are a monopoly. It is of the utmost importance that industry and commerce, and now the professions, should become reconciled to monopoly legislation being a perpetual part of our economic system, and this requires that we get away from the name "monopoly". It is so important that these people should approve our monopolies legislation—I use the word generally, without commending it—and should co-operate wholeheartedly with it that a change from the title "Monopolies Commission" is essential. The only question is, a change to what? What name can be suggested instead? If one looks for a word to express the underlying economic premise of the whole of this legislation, that word is "competition". It is competition which the legislation is intended to promote and which the Board of Trade, in the vast majority of cases, seeks to enforce. The word "competition" has the supreme merit of having all sorts of good connotations, recognised as good on both sides of the House. There was a time when "competition" was a dirty word on that side of the House, but I am happy to acknowledge that this is no longer so. Hon. Members on both sides never tire of paying tribute to the importance of competition as a means of galvanising our economy into a more virile and competitive state. I chose the word "galvanising" deliberately. I believe that no single act in the past few years is likely to have more effect in promoting competition than the decision of the Restrictive Trade Practices Court in the galvanised tanks case. I should stray out of order if I elaborated on that now, but the purpose is the same, to promote competition and by competition to promote efficiency and ensure the public interest, to ensure that consumers, who are, after all, the ultimate beneficiaries of production, are looked after. The importing of the word "competition" into the title of the Commission would thus serve a double purpose. First, the concept of competition is attractive to business men and it is something to which they must always pay heed. They live in a competitive situation. They know that their right to run their businesses and make profits is justifiable only in a situation of competition. They are prepared always to face fair competition and they regard it as the substratum of their operations. Second, competition is what we in the House, and what the Government as the overlords of the economy, must always attempt to promote in order to make our whole economy more efficient. For these two central reasons, this suggestion has a great deal to commend it, and they are fortified by the powerful arguments advanced by my hon. and learned Friend about the widening scope of the activities of the Commission under the Bill and the others matters which he so cogently advanced. I very much hope that the Government will accept the Amendment. Our proposal has considerable merit. If Parliament accepted this change of name, it would do a great deal to attract attention to the purpose of our legislation and to show that the Government and all parties in the House are determined that industry should become more competitive and determined that those who provide services of one sort or another should compete fairly and toughly for the consumers' custom. In addition, it would act as a genuine spur to efficiency and to an altogether more virile and healthy economy throughout the country.
As a newcomer, I find this exercise in semantics so fascinating that I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he replies, will think it right to draw attention to the true nature of the proposition which we are asked to accept, namely, that competition is good and monopoly is bad. This proposition is put forward in the context of this debate, but hon. Members opposite do not always take that view. On occasion, they take the view, as we certainly do on occasion, that an industry can develop to a point where monopoly is inevitable, but the difference between us is that we say that, when that situation has been reached, the monopoly must be a public monopoly. After a few years, even hon. Members opposite come round to accepting the same view, but it takes them a little time.Therefore, we do not really take the point that in all circumstances competition is good and in all circumstances monopoly is bad. There is no other point made here as this is purely an exercise in semantics. On other occasions, hon. Members opposite refer to competition as being bad. They sometimes talk about "cut-throat" competition as competition taken to a degree to which it ought not to go. Therefore, they cannot be saying that competition is always good. Clearly, there are circumstances in which competition is bad, in spite of the proposition now put before us that it is an ideal to which we ought always to aim. This is only a question of words. It is rather like calling a rat-catcher a rodent operative. It comes into a similar category of thinking. I commend to my right hon. Friend the thought that not wanting to call things what they are is a tendency not confined to our own country. For example, some years ago, when the Soviet Union was thinking of adopting some of the ideas which obtain in our part of the world, it did not like the word "competition" and so the expression "socialist emulation" was invented. Perhaps my right hon. Friend, if he is thinking of accepting the proposal put to him, will accept it to the extent of calling the Commission not the "Commission for Competition" but the "Commission for Socialist Emulation".
That idea would not be so bad if there were any real socialist emulation. No doubt, if I were to discuss the concept of socialist emulation any further, I should be out of order on this Amendment. I can only say that I have never found anything in the Socialist Government's policies which stimulated progress by emulation. They have led only to a period of stagnation. However, I am glad that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) made his speech because it showed that my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) was not quite right when he said that competition was accepted on both sides of the House. In fact, the party opposite pays lip-service to competition but it does not really believe in it. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite would much prefer a cosy monopoly—admittedly, preferably a public monopoly, but they would even prefer a private monopoly because they could then make a case for making it a public monopoly. They do not really believe in competition and, therefore, they do not really accept what we are trying to do by the Amendment.There is nothing wrong in a monopoly. It may be to the advantage of the shareholders and it may be to the advantage of the people who work in it, although, of course, it is certainly to the disadvantage, in nearly every case, of the consuming public at large. There is no reason why people in an organisation should not desire to have a monopoly. It may be slightly socially undesirable, but there is nothing criminal in the "bosses" and the workers in a particular industry wanting the minimum of competition. But we had thought—we have been quickly proved wrong—that the present Government, when returned to power would set about modernising Britain. If there was anything in the cry that they put out at the election, this debate should not be necessary. The President of the Board of Trade ought to say, "I do not know who is responsible for devising this form of words, but it is such an improvement, calculated to create the climate of opinion which we are trying to create, that we shall accept these Amendments without debate". 5.30 p.m. It is telling all organisations, including the professions, and nearly all our activities in the modern world, that the Government are taking power to inquire into their affairs to make certain that they are as competitive as they can be within our social order for the benefit of the consuming public. In other words, the emphasis in the Bill is designed to bring a greater element of competition into all our affairs. Surely it would be far clearer to the general public if they knew that we were dealing with a Bill the object of which was to introduce more competition into our society. If we are doing that—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that is basically what the Bill is about—would it not be a very good thing to say that the Bill is to encourage competition? I do not think that either side of the House can wrap themselves up in a white sheet. The Molony Commission was set up in 1948, and we called it the same name in 1956. There is no party point about this, but there is an enormous psychological effect. If we called this a "Commission for Competition" even the firms being investigated would know that they were being investigated not because they might be doing something which was anti-social, but to make sure that what they were doing was in the best interests of the nation and being done with the broadest degree of competition. They would know that any merger would not reduce the competitive element but would, if anything, increase the amount of real competition, because one can have as much competition between two big highly efficient firms as one can between 100 small inefficient firms. As long as competition is there, one can have a very high degree of it. I should have thought that the Government would have welcomed the Amendment, and I hope that even at this late stage the President of the Board of Trade will warmly congratulate whoever on this side thought of the words and accept the Amendment with acclamation on behalf of the Government. It may be another case of the present Government learning from their own mistakes and benefiting from the wisdom of the Opposition. This has now become so usual that the Government should not be chary about accepting our wisdom and these improvements. With certain Clauses of the Finance Bill, they got into the habit of accepting certain improvements from us, and there is no reason why this should be confined to one department. Why should it not spread over the broad field of our affairs so that our wisdom will help the Government to improve their Bills? This is all good democratic procedure. The object of the Amendment is to make absolutely clear what the House intends to do in passing the Bill, which is to increase the amount of competition between efficient firms in our economy. That being the object of the Bill, why should the Government not accept the Amendment?
I am not quite clear what semantics are but this is certainly an argument about words. All of us agree that "Monopolies Commission" is not a perfect name, and we should like to find a better one if we could. Indeed, we undertook during the Committee stage that we would adopt a different name if it was reasonably accurate, reasonably short and not too much of a mouthful, and would not give rise to misunderstanding.But I am afraid that hon. Gentlemen opposite have not convinced me that the suggestion which they make—I am sure that they have tried very hard, as we have—of "Commission for Competition" is on all those grounds preferable to the title that we have already. We start from the position that "Monopolies Commission" is a title which is fairly well known and accepted. People know what they mean by it. Therefore, unless there is a clearly better alternative we are not justified in making a change. I am not altogether persuaded that "Commission for Competition" is a very short or euphonious title. The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) quoted Humpty Dumpty. Humpty Dumpty went on "impenetrability—that is what I say." I think that "Commission for Competition" is not very much less of a mouthful than "impenetrability". The name "Commission, for Competition" also suffers from the defect that it implies that this is the only body whose job it is to encourage competition. That is not true. That is also the job of the Restrictive Practices Court, which is just as important a body to encourage competition. Clearly, one of the purposes of the name that we give to the Commission is to distinguish it from the Restrictive Practices Court. Therefore, at present if we describe one as the Restrictive Practices Court and we know that it has jurisdiction over restrictive agreements or arrangements, and we describe the other as the Monopolies Commission, which has jurisdiction, in effect, over large units which dominate a considerable part of our own market, I think that as a matter of language it is reasonably clear what we mean. If, on the other hand, we call this the "Commission for Competition", then there is duplication and uncertainty as between the Commission and the Restrictive Practices Court. I do not agree that there is something offensive or depreciating about the word "monopoly". I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) that all monopolies are neither good nor bad. It is not true to say that all monopolies are good or that all monopolies are bad. It is, indeed, not true to say that competition is always good or always bad. It would be absurd exaggeration to suggest that the word "monopoly" carries a stigma. After all, this House, under a Conservative Government, set up the Atomic Energy Authority. That is a monopoly, but there is nothing derogatory or offensive in saying that it is one. So is the Post Office. Nobody would regard that fact in itself as justifying criticism. The fact that we have a number of public monopolies set up by Statute shows that a monopoly as such is not something that we condemn. I agree that "Monopolies Commission" is not a perfect title in the sense that no doubt the Commission will concern itself with issues other than strict monopoly. However, we do not condemn names in other respects because they do not cover everything which they are intended to cover. I suppose the word "Parliament" might be said to be misleading in this sense. This is not purely a place where we talk. It is a place where we talk but also a place where we legislate and take decisions. One might argue for that reason that it was highly misleading to call it "Parliament". I must confess that, in spite of that imperfection, "Parliament" is a word which is good enough for me. I think that when one looks at the alternative the same argument applies to the admittedly imperfect title "Monopolies Commission". Therefore, while we do not claim that we have found the ideal answer to the question, we are not persuaded that anybody has yet found a better alternative.
But does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there must be a major difference between a word which has lasted 700 years and one which has only lasted 17 years?
Certainly a difference, but not enough to establish the validity of the hon. Gentleman's argument.
The House will agree that the President of the Board of Trade's answer is very disappointing to those who proposed this extremely well argued Amendment. Whatever may be the view of the term "Commission for Competition", one thing that has emerged is that no one, with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), has a good word to say for the term "Monopolies Commission". I think that everyone agrees that that term in connection with this Bill is ludicrous. Indeed, it was ludicrous when used in the 1948 Act, Section 3 of which said:
Then the question deals with other matters. Therefore, under that Act and as perpetuated by this Bill, one could have in the same industry three monopolies. Nothing could be more ludicrous than the term "Monopolies Commission" in those circumstances. No one could argue that, where one-third of the goods of a certain description were concerned, this was a monopoly. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) would propose an alternative. In Committee he suggested "Oligopolistic Commission". He pronounced that word in Committee with more success than I in getting my tongue around it."Conditions to which this Act applies shall be deemed for the purposes of this Act to prevail if … at least one-third of all the goods of that description which are supplied in the United Kingdom or any substantial part thereof are supplied by or to any one person …".
I suggested no such thing. I suggested "market domination and mergers".
My hon. Friend is right in saying that, in the end, he moved an Amendment referring to "market domination", but at one stage he was arguing for an "Oligopolistic Commission" and later for monopsomy—a term with which we are all familiar. He reminded me of Burke saying:
We must also consider what "monopoly" means. The hon. Member for Putney is not strictly accurate in saying that this is merely a question of semantics. We are dealing with a situation in a new Bill and with an inaccurate description which goes against all common sense in the Bill. There are two relevant definitions of "monopoly" in the shorter Oxford Dictionary. The first is:"… the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever."
In general, that is not the case under this Bill. The second definition is:"Exclusive possession of the trade in some commodity,".
While my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Van Straubenzee) was speaking earlier, I reflected that, if his new Clause had been accepted, the latter definition would have been relevant but I submit that, since it was not, it is total nonsense even after all these years to go on calling this the "Monopolies Commission"."The exclusive privilege conferred by the sovereign or the State of selling some commodity or trading with a particular place or country".
The point I made was not to defend the existing title as being precisely accurate but that there was no case for removing the established existing though slightly inaccurate title in order to replace it with a new one even more inaccurate.
Of the two titles, "Commission for Competition" is the better. I am surprised, in view of the hon. Gentleman's political views, that he should say that something which has lasted for 17 years although inaccurate should nevertheless go on into the indefinite future. I thought that he wanted nothing to stand in the way of sweeping change. Even the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), whose views would surely commend themselves to the hon. Gentleman, is on record as saying that the name is totally inaccurate and misleading.During Committee stage, the Minister without Portfolio was put up to defend the name. I think that he had great difficulty in doing so. When the 1948 Act was going through the House, he said that the term "Monopolies Commission" was misleading and he begged the present Prime Minister, who was then in charge of the Bill, to change the name, but without success. Now he finds himself arguing that the name should continue. That, I suppose, is what happens when one gets office in later years and has to reverse one's opinions. On Third Reading of the 1948 Act, the Prime Minister, then President of the Board of Trade, said:
That was true in 1948 and is true today. There is no party issue about this. The Conservative Party was at fault, no doubt, in not changing the name when legislating in 1956. The present Government are at fault in not changing it now. Many alternative names have been suggestive. In 1948, "Restrictive Business Practices" was favoured but that would be inappropriate now. Names suggested more recently include "National Trade Commission", "Trade and Industry Commission", Market Domination and Mergers Commission", "Trade and Industrial Practices Commission" and "Trade Practices Commission". During the Committee stage the Minister of State said that he would like to consider the matter again. I am sure that he has done so very carefully. He said that if there was general agreement he would agree to the name "Mergers and Monopolies Commission". Naturally, there was not general agreement on that. The first half would be accurate but the second half would perpetuate the inaccuracy we are concerned about. We hoped that the Government would have put down on Report an Amendment that would have reflected new and dynamic thinking on the subject. It is true that they have had one or two other things to think about in the last two or three months. But the Minister of State has had some all-night sittings in which to cogitate about the matter. We are disappointed that our alternative suggestion is not accepted. The term "Commission for Competition" would be better for a variety of reasons. It is shorter, very much nicer and is much more accurate than the present name. It is extremely important to choose a name that gives the impression that we wish to promote competition and that we are not in some way making people who come before the Commission feel that they are being condemned by being sent before it, which some of my hon. Friends have suggested as being the case in the past. I have always felt that the danger was that, since there was no general agreement on a new name, we would be left with the worst of all possible worlds. That seems to be the situation. There has been no agreement in the House generally about a name. Therefore, we are to be left, possibly for the next 17 years, in the ridiculous state of affairs with a name which no one defends. There is only one name that I have heard that is worse—the "Commission for Socialist Emulation". Anxious though he is, I am sure, to give way on this point, I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will resist the hon. Member for Putney. I was suspicious when my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford began to quote Humpty Dumpty, although I agreed with the reference, I could not speak for the accuracy of the quotation. When the President of the Board of Trade began to refer to "impenetrability", I was hoping that he would go further in Humpty Dumpty. I am glad for the sake of greater accuracy he has now obtained a copy, for Humpty Dumpty goes on:"One of the respects in which it is least perfect—and this is something on which we are all agreed—is the name of the Commission and the name of the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1948; Vol. 452, c. 2165.]
The House will be well aware that we do not mean to stay here for the rest of our lives—"I meant by 'impenetrability' that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stay here all the rest of your life."
My hon. Friend may wish to stay for the rest of his life, but not for the rest of the night.Without very great reluctance, I ask the President of the Board of Trade to follow the advice of Humpty Dumpty when Alice says:
"'That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has at last agreed to pay the members of the Commission extra in view of his arguments about impenetrability and Alice in Wonderland. This is not a party matter, but I think that there has been general regret that it has been impossible to find some other and more satisfactory name than "Monopolies Commission". I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has not closed his mind on this issue and that if some alternative can be found in another place, or even in some later legislation, the name will be changed. I hope that the day will not be too far distant when, with the general agreement of the House, we can find some more appropriate name than that which has been in existence for far too long. I cannot advise my hon. and right hon. Friends to divide the House, although we feel strongly about the matter. But I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not from that deduce that this is not something about which we feel extremely strongly, but that he will continue his researches and at some other time be able to produce a more appropriate name.'When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'I always pay it extra'".
By leave of the House; although I am regretfully unconvinced by the hon. Gentleman and although he found some difficulty getting his tongue around the word "oligopolistic", which is only one syllable fewer than "impenetrability", I should like to congratulate him on what I believe to have been his first appearance at the Box.
I entirely agree with the sentiments about the present name of the Commission. I made it clear on Second Reading that I wished that we could find a new name. However, the suggested name, "Commission for Competition" is even more misleading, if that is possible, than the present name. As hon. Members will be aware, the basic philosophy of the whole of this legislation is that a monopoly is neither necessarily good nor necessarily bad. It must follow from that equally that competition is neither necessarily good, nor necessarily bad. It seems to follow quite conclusively from that that it would be thoroughly misleading to rename the Commission the "Commission for Competition", which clearly gives the impression that competition in itself is something which must be pursued at all costs.Therefore, while I agree that "Monopolies Commission" is a bad name, "Commission for Competition" gives the impression that competition is to be pursued willy nilly, and that name is therefore rather worse and ought to be resisted.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Lewis Carroll permitting, is it your pleasure that the Amendment be withdrawn?
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, Amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 16, at the end to insert:
(b) to allow an increase in the maximum number of members.
With this Amendment we can discuss Amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 6, at end insert:
with the proviso that Mr. Speaker has said that, if the Opposition so require, there can be a Division on Amendment No. 7.(e) to provide that not more than seven members of the Commission may be employed as such in a full-time capacity.
Amendment No. 4, together with Amendment No. 76 and Amendment No. 78, is put forward in accordance with an assurance given in Committee. It is one of the many Amendments which we have introduced to meet the views of hon. Members and I am happy to think that we shall all agree about it.These Amendments would permit the Board of Trade at any time to increase the maximum number of members of the Monopolies Commission, as I suppose we may now be allowed to call it. One of the principal purposes of the Bill is to increase the size of the Commission and in its original form the Bill increased the number from 10 to 25. If the Amendment were accepted, the Board of Trade would have power to increase the number by Statutory Instrument at any time to such number as the Board thought fit. This seems a reasonable and desirable flexibility. I have often thought that we tend to legislate with too great precision and too great rigidity and that in our legislation we sometimes lay down precisely how large some authority should be, or we prescribe over-exact limits of that kind, and it then turns out that it would have been much more sensible to have had a larger or smaller body, or more flexibility in some other respect. I do not believe that it is necessary to limit action as rigidly as that. These things are often better left to discretion and common sense in administration and I am sure that it is sensible to give the Board of Trade this latitude. I do not know whether it is possible for me to refer to Amendment No. 7 before it has been moved.
It is quite in order for the right hon. Gentleman to refer to it. It will be discussed, but it will not be moved except formally for a Division later, if necessary.
I suppose that I am allowed to know what is in it, or it will be difficult to praise or criticise it.Amendment No. 7, which has been suggested by hon. Members opposite, would provide for the appointment of up to six deputy-chairmen where the Bill at present provides for only three and would require the chairman and any deputy-chairmen to be appointed in a full-time capacity. We are not convinced that this would be desirable, for much the same reasons as I have advanced in favour of the Government Amendment. It would impose too much rigidity and would require—it does not merely say "may"—any deputy-chairman and the chairman to be employed in a full-time capacity. As the Bill stands, it will be possible for the Board of Trade to appoint the number of people it thinks most appropriate and to arrange for those who are able to be full time and to add such persons as have the necessary qualifications whether able to work full or only part time. I merely say that we should not limit ourselves unnecessarily if that is to deprive the Board of Trade of flexibility.
There is a slight error in the right hon. Gentleman's argument. Our Amendment allows for certain members of the Commission to be employed full-time. It is permissive and not mandatory. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to suggest that we propose that they should mandatorily be employed full-time.
The Amendment certainly provides that there may not be more than the number seven and in that that is a limitation I should have thought that it was undesirable. There is not much between us. The essential point is that we propose to give power to increase the number beyond 25 and we are all agreed that that will be an improvement.
I am sure all those on both sides who served on the Committee will welcome the Government Amendments which it is now proposed to insert. In an earlier discussion it was suggested that we should have a "Committee for Competition"—a slip of the tongue—in place of the "Commission for Competition." I think that the Committee which has been working on this Bill deserves this name. It has been anxious to do everything it could to strengthen the legislation and to ensure that the monopoly legislation of this country is improved. Therefore, we all welcome the Government Amendments which are placed before us by the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon. We agree with him that there should be no limit on the number of part-time members, because the amount of work which these people do relative to the cost to the Exchequer is very great indeed. One should pay tribute to those on the Commission who do an enormous amount of work. If more like them can be recruited to help in the work of the Commission I think we should all support it.The second Government Amendment is concerned with limiting their terms of office. Am I right in thinking—
We must leave that Amendment until we reach it otherwise we shall get confused.
In that case I will turn to the Opposition Amendment we have proposed but which has not been selected. I think that the President of the Board of Trade has somewhat misunderstood what this Amendment is about. I should point out that it uses the words:
There is no reference to full-time members being employed as chairmen or as deputy-chairmen. We are suggesting that there should be an element of flexibility and, given that the Commission will in future be working in groups, as a general rule it would be desirable that the chairman of each individual group, and possibly the deputy-chairman, should be a full-time member of the Commission. We were not suggesting, as the President of the Board of Trade appears to believe, that the chairman must necessarily be a full-time member. We were simply seeking to increase the number of full-time members, subject to some qualifications which I shall mention in a moment. We were suggesting that the full-time members should, if necessary, serve as chairmen or deputy-chairmen, but if it was desirable they should serve in some other capacity then they should be allowed to do so. The President of the Board of Trade, when he looks at this again and comes to sum up, will appreciate what I am saying and realise that he has somewhat misunderstood the Amendment. I think it is vital, if the Commission is to work in groups, that there should be a number of full-time members. This is, first, because in the kind of investigation which the Commission is carrying out, a large amount of data will accumulate and the handling of this is something which a full-time member is best qualified to deal with. Secondly, it is essential for there to be one or two full-time members available on each group of the Commission to whom the permanent staff can refer in cases of doubt and to whom people in the firms which are being investigated may refer at any time. It is quite unreasonable if a firm is being investigated by a part of the Commission, sitting as a separate group, to have no one on that group full-time whom they can consult on a particular query. Unless we have more full-time members we shall inevitably slow down the workings of the Commission, whereas on both sides of the House we are anxious to do everything to ensure that investigations proceed as rapidly as possible. It is unfair for investigations to continue as long as they have done in recent cases—something over four years on occasions. Finally, we want to have more full-time members because we feel that people on the Commission should be of two kinds. They should be part-time or amateur members, who give their experience to the Commission, and in addition it is desirable to recruit a number of full-time members, who can make work on the Commission their career. For this reason I think it is essential we should make provision for more full-time members to be added to the strength of the Commission. The Amendment as drafted says that we should provide not more than seven members of the Commission in a full-time capacity. Although this clearly places a limit on the number of full-time members, it is not inconsistent with encouraging the recruitment of more than the present number onto the Commission. We are trying to achieve a balance between the full-time members and the part-time members, and it would be undesirable if there were to be no limits on the full-time members. The balance might be destroyed and the services of some of the voluntary members who serve in addition to their normal work would be lost. That is the first reason why a limit is suggested. The second reason is because there should clearly be some form of financial control on the number of full-time members. As the legislation stands it is completely open-ended. There is no limit on the number of full-time members, and we feel this should be limited to some extent because it is undesirable that the Board of Trade should have a completely free hand. I should like to stress as strongly as I possibly can to the President of the Board of Trade that the fact that we have imposed a limit for these two good reasons in no way suggests we would not like to see the number of full-time members increased considerably. We on this side of the House would suggest up to a maximum of seven. We would not like to remove from the President of the Board of Trade the right to propose that more full-time members should be appointed. We feel that there should be a continuing flexibility in this respect. That is why the Amendment, as now drafted, does not specify seven as a maximum and a minimum. What we hope on this occasion is that, as an indication of the good will which has been exchanged on the Floor of the Committee, the President of the Board of Trade will at this stage, or some later stage in the passage of the Bill, take the opportunity to announce that he is going to appoint seven full-time members who will take up their duties at the earliest possible moment. I think that the hon. Gentleman the Minister of State, Board of Trade was rather pessimistic in winding up the debate on this matter in Committee when he said that perhaps three or four could be found to serve as full-time members of the Commission. I am quite sure that there are a very large number of people, well qualified, who could be found to serve as full-time members of this Commission, and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade, subject to the limits we have suggested for the two reasons I have given, will take the earliest opportunity to appoint them."to provide that not more than seven members of the Commission may be employed as such in a full-time capacity."
I hope I shall not be thought ungracious if I intervene briefly to say that I, for one, do not fully share the views expressed on this Amendment, either by the President of the Board of Trade or by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). I say that not with any intention of destroying the atmosphere of harmony which seems to have descended upon our deliberations but purely because I am always deeply apprehensive about any executive having an unfettered discretion to do what it likes. I say that without apology to members of my own Government or to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I am quite impartial and quite liberal-minded. This idea that in all circumstances an executive can be trusted to act judiciously when it is in possession of an unfettered discretion to appoint as many as it likes, and whom it likes to a particular office, is something that I would regard as doubtful social policy.I hope that we shall get first-class men to man the Commission and that its work will succeed, but it should be said in the House without malice or acrimony, or without wishing to be polemical, that if it is known that the Government, whatever their colour, have an unfettered discretion to multiply the numbers on bodies of this sort we might be setting up some kind of breeder reactor, to use a term of the Atomic Energy Authority, because people who operate in the same professional fields have a sort of freemasonry among themselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "Jobs for the boys."] Somebody says, "Jobs for the boys". That may be so. I was being less controversial. Like many hon. Members, I am sufficiently knowledgeable about the conditions which obtain to know that once we put a charmed circle in a position of authority it will increase its scope and numbers by bringing other people within it. This goes for lawyers. There are one or two very distinguished lawyers sitting in the House, and I never want to fall out with them. I just want to have a bit of fun occasionally. I do not want to elaborate this. I think that I should sit down, having made my protest. I do not want to waste time. I want the Bill to get the Royal Assent as quickly as possible. However, I did not want to let this opportunity pass without making it clear that, since it seemed to be assumed that there was a unanimous opinion on this matter, I am not fully in sympathy with the idea. There should always be a limit on the powers vested in any executive, particularly a Government Ministry. I hope that these few desultory remarks will be taken in the spirit in which I have delivered them. I take it that there will not be a Division on the Amendment so that I shall not be embarrassed by having to go through the Opposition Lobby. I can therefore speak with greater abandon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am being objective. Hon. Members opposite should not twit me when I am trying to say something in a few simple words without any semantic obfuscation, or anything like that. It should be put on record that the House is critical of unfettered power being given to any executive.
It is not often that the representatives of the constituencies of Ormskirk and Westhoughton, which run parallel to each other in Lancashire, speak on the same subject in unison. I tried to speak when the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) was called to say almost exactly what I proposed to say. This shows that what Lancashire thinks today perhaps England will think tomorrow.Last week we celebrated the 700th anniversary of this ancient House. If former Members of the House, over its 700 years' history, had expressed the views expressed by the hon. Member for Westhoughton, with which I agree, the Executive would not be as powerful as it is and the House would have a great deal more authority than it has. The House does not have the obligation to produce legislation in detail. That is for the Executive. It is a great strength to the House that the Executive works inside its walls. But the House, as a House, is a different body from the Executive. The Executive are only part of the House, and the House collectively has a much greater responsibility to control the affairs of the Executive and the funds which it provides to enable them to carry out their policies. I agree with the hon. Member for Westhoughton that any legislation which gives the Executive power to appoint more people without let or hindrance is bad. If there is a necessity to increase the numbers, then it is the responsibility of the Government to get the authority of the House to do it. Therefore, having debated the matter in Committee and realising the need for more chairmen for this and for that, I have a great deal of sympathy with the views expressed on both sides of the House, and it was a very good thing that the hon. Member for Westhoughton placed on record the fact that this House should not pass legislation which gives the Executive carte blanche. It is our responsibility so to frame our legislation that the House understands what will happen as a result of it. We are getting very near the line on these two Amendments, which give the Executive more power than they should have.
I am struck with some terror when I find that there is agreement on a matter of fair sweetness and light between the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover). I think that we can take what they have said as being a reasoned and reasonable approach to Government powers. May I take their argument a stage further as it applies to the Amendment. It is proposed to give power to appoint people to hurry up matters for the benefit of industry and of the people being investigated. Therefore, although I would normally agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk, I believe that the open-ended commitment in the Amendment goes a certain way to meet the points made by my hon. Friends in Committee when we were, and are, very concerned that the work and reports of the Commission should be dealt with more expeditiously than in the past.The President of the Board of Trade, during the debate on the White Paper on monopolies and mergers, said:
He then found himself in the position of having limited himself in the Bill to 25 members. In Committee we pressed very strongly that this number should be increased. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk may be interested to know that we propose a limit in our Amendment but that we are willing to accept the Government's Amendment. I take the point that what is needed is flexibility. On that note, I turn to the next Amendment, because it seems to me that it gives flexibility but allows the Board of Trade to employ a number of highly-trained and skilled people who perhaps will be able to pursue a career in the service of the Commission. Although we have not gone so far as to stipulate that it must be the chairman of any sub-division of the Commission who carries out the investigation, we thought that it might be a useful asset that the chairman should be a person employed in a full-time capacity. We thought that we might help in the cause of flexibility by making provision for the Commission to employ a number of full-time employees who would permanently be available to serve the Commission in its investigations. We realise that we are dealing with the investigation not only of monopolies but of mergers. It would be wrong of me to mention later Amendments which deal with speeding up the work of the Commission, but it is essential that there should be not only flexibility but people available permanently to enable the Commission to carry out its work with the greatest speed and thoroughness. In the concept of flexibility, we felt that it would be easier in Amendment No. 7 to provide for a number of full-time employees and for the Commission to use specialists who were brought in for specific investigations or inquiries which might be referred to it. I would be critical to some extent of the lack of use of specialists when certain considerations have been applied by the Commission in the past. It is important that we should have industrial experts who understand the problem whether of a merger or of a monopolistic practice. Such specialists might be seconded from industry for two or three months to deal with a specific inquiry. If the stage was reached of having to continue investigations for two or three years, there would be little chance of getting men of the calibre whom I would wish to see to give to the permanent members the specialist knowledge which is so obviously necessary."I still find it hard to believe that the new procedure will speed things up …. We are, of course, to have a larger Commission again; but it is also to have the job of investigating mergers, and, on balance, I do not see any evidence that the delays of the past are likely to be lessened."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1964; Vol. 698, c. 56.]
The hon. Member constantly refers to men. Is he recommending the exclusion of women?
No. I was using a purely legalistic term, in that respect, men and women might be synonymous. I have heard that "man" embraces "woman". That, however, is a debate which is perhaps taking place in another place. I do not intend to be drawn away from the Amendment. Quite obviously, there are women specialists who could serve on the Commission. I understand the way in which the hon. Member for Westhoughton presented his argument about jobs for the boys, but I do not think that it applies to these Amendments.I end by quoting a document from the Federation of British Industries which, I know, has been sent to the President of the Board of Trade. It states:
I hope that those remarks about the enlargement and improvement of the staff will be kept in mind by the President of the Board of Trade, as well as the question of an increase in maximum numbers. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to read carefully what has been said in this debate concerning the number of full-time members of the Commission. I do not ask for any major undertaking, but I should like the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it would not be useful for the Board of Trade to be able to appoint a larger number of full-time members. If he feels that that is desirable, he will be able to rectify the position in another place."The F.B.I. has frequently complained that the staff of the Monopolies Commission and the members of the Monopolies Commission are sometimes inadequate in knowledge, training and experience and that it was this inadequancy which made investigations so long and laborious. An improved staff would be desirable in any event. The provisions about mergers make this essential."
I hesitate to intervene again, but I should like to clarify one or two points. I do not like to disturb the harmony between the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) and my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), but they have failed to consider carefully enough the Amendments which I am introducing. The two hon. Members complained that the Board of Trade is being given power without let or hindrance and without any Parliamentary sanction or control to the appointment of an indefinite number of people. If, however, they refer to Amendments Nos. 76 and 78, they will find that the former, in Schedule 1, page 20, line 10, states:
whilst Amendment No. 78, in page 20, line 27, states:"the Board may from time to time by order made by statutory instrument increase the maximum number of members"
There will, therefore, be Parliamentary control. It will be quite possible for either hon. Member to persuade the House to annul an order made by the Board of Trade."A statutory instrument made under this paragraph shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."
My right hon. Friend is now trailing his coat. Let me say this to him. I happen to be a member of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments of the House of Commons and I find that almost half of the Statutory Instruments which come before that Committee upstairs for consideration, whether they are in order before they are dealt with, are already in operation before they are laid upon the Table of the House. This is a serious criticism of which, I hope, my right hon. Friend will take notice. The system of Statutory Instruments in its present form is being grossly abused and I do not pay much attention to it in relation to the Bill.
That is a criticism of the whole system and not of the Amendment.The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) disputed my statement that the Opposition Amendments would have limited the power of the Board of Trade and would give it less flexibility. I had studied not merely the Amendment which was before us, but Opposition Amendments, in particular Amendment No. 80, in Schedule 1, page 20, line 31. We study all Amendments which are put down and not merely those which are called. That Amendment states:
I understand that that Amendment is not being called and that hon. Members opposite are not pressing that suggestion. That being so, we are brought back to Amendment No. 7, which states:"and the chairman and all deputy chairmen shall be employed as members of the Commission in a full-time capacity".
The only effect of making that change in the Bill would be this. As the Bill stands, it is possible for the Board of Trade to appoint five, six, seven, eight, nine or as many persons in a full-time capacity as it considers desirable. The effect of the Amendment would be to say that it must not appoint more than seven. Therefore, it would merely limit the number who could be appointed in that way. This would be the effect simply of adopting the one Amendment which hon. Members opposite now propose, since the other Amendments are not being pressed. It would, therefore, simply limit our ability to appoint these extra members if we wished to do so. No case has been made for that. I fully agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) that we should study the debate and that there probably is a strong case, as it is possible to do under the Bill, for appointing specialists and, possibly, full-time specialists for particular inquiries by the Commission. Nothing major is now left between us and I hope that the House will agree to the Amendment."to provide that not more than seven members of the Commission may be employed as such in a full-time capacity."
The President of the Board of Trade attacked me for what I said in my speech. I ought to point out to him that he is rather anticipating. He has referred to the fact that certain Amendments would remove the objections of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) and of myself. Those Amendments, however, have not yet become part of the Bill. They are Amendments still to be discussed.
I do not wish to continue this too long, but as I heard your predecessor at the beginning of the debate, Mr. Speaker, I understood that those two Amendments were to be discussed with the Amendment which we are now discussing.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, Amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 18, to leave out from the first "members" to the end of line 20 and to insert:
I think that with this Amendment we are also discussing Amendment No. 77 which is consequential to it, in Schedule 1, page 20, line 17. This also carries out an undertaking given in Committee, that we would consider removing the 12-year ceiling upon the appointment of any member of the Commission, a ceiling which has existed since the 1948 legislation. I think that this also is unduly unrestrictive. It might mean that a useful and valuable member of the Commission could not be reappointed, possibly even in the middle of an inquiry into a monopoly or merger, because the 12-year limit had been reached. I myself have never thought that absolutely rigid age limits, or termination of a possible period of appointment, are very sensible, when we all know that different individuals have different capacities which last to a different age, and survive for a different number of years. I think that the Committee was quite right to suggest this extra degree of flexibility and I hope the House will approve it."without limiting their total term of office".
At the close of my remarks on Second Reading I said:
We think we have succeeded in doing this very well, because this is one of what will be a series of Amendments which follow our deliberations in Committee upstairs and which, especially in this case, are a tribute to the perseverence, first of my hon. Friends who pressed this particular Amendment on the Government despite the fact that in the first place it was rejected, and also, of course, to the good sense and intelligence of right hon. and hon. Members opposite in accepting the words of wisdom which were uttered from this side. I am certain that during the debates which will follow on Amendments which we have yet to consider we shall be hearing time and time again from the Government benches resounding and heartfelt and sincere tributes to the help given by this side in improving the Bill. This Amendment is almost in the form of that which we originally moved. Therefore, we welcome the Amendment very much. We think it is an improvement to the Bill."We rest assured that the Government will co-operate with us, as we will co-operate with them, in improving the Bill for the benefit of industry and for the economy of the country as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1965; Vol. 709, c. 1321.]
I do not want to delay the House for more than a minute, but I think we should emphasise how much we appreciate this Amendment and that it will make it easier for full-time members to be appointed. In Committee the Minister of State said, as I have mentioned earlier, that he thought that there would be only three or four members who could be found to serve in a full-time capacity on the Commission. We do very much hope that an early announcement will be made by the Government saying they do propose to appoint more full-time members, and that as a result of having accepted what was our Amendment they are prepared to appoint such members to serve full-time.
I think my remarks are being misunderstood, largely because I did not explain myself clearly enough. If I recollect aright, I was talking hypothetically, saying, "Suppose we could get only three or four members". That, at least, was my intention. I was not intending to suggest it would be possible to get only three or four.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 1, to leave out paragraph (c).It may be convenient at the same time to consider Amendments Nos. 81 and 82, in Schedule 1, page 23, line 44, and in page 24, line 42. This Amendment, for the elimination of Clause 1(2,c), is really consequential on the Amendment which the House has just been considering and has accepted. Under the Bill as it stood it was desired that there should be power to extend the period of office of members of the Commission for six months, but now that that period of appointment is unlimited this power is unnecessary, and we therefore suggest that it should be removed.
This continues the good work of improving the Bill. I am particularly glad the Amendment was moved by the Minister without Portfolio because he promised in Committee that he would look at this point and said he would consider as an alternative an Amendment to the same end might be achieved by extending the period of six months. The Government have gone rather further than we did in extending the period.It is clear that the Minister of State, who said he wished to preserve an open mind, has done that very thing. In the past an open mind has been defined as one so open a wind whistles through it. I would not say that that applies in this case to the hon. Gentleman. He has applied an open mind to the problem and introduced an Amendment we on this side of the House certainly support.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, Amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 6, at the end to insert:
(e) to make provision for the carrying out of steps preliminary to the investigation by the Commission of matters referred to it.
With this Amendment we can also consider Amendment No. 9, in line 16, at end insert:
(4) Before proceeding upon any investigation pursuant to a reference made under section 2(1) of the principal Act the Commission shall—
(a) direct one of their officers to make a preliminary investigation of the facts which appear to him, to be material to the subject matter of such reference and of the questions and issues likely to arise upon the investigation thereof by the Commission and to state in a report to the Commission the nature of such facts, questions and issues; and (b) send to any person who appears to them to have an interest in the subject matter of such reference a copy of such report.
In Committee we had a long debate on the subject of whether or not there should be a registrar, and I see from the OFFICIAL REPORT that, urging that course, I made a speech which extends over 12 columns. We still think we were right about that.We do not wish to return to it in its full, fine glory: the Amendment is for a mini-Registrar; a half. It is best set out in Amendment No. 9, that one of the Commission should be directed
It is, therefore, to describe the orbit of the reference, and to"to make a preliminary investigation of the facts which appear to him to be material to the subject matter of such reference and of the questions and issues likely to arise upon the investigation thereof …"
and to send a copy of that report, which limits the field of the inquiry, to anybody who, he thinks, has an interest in the subject matter. This will help to secure one of the objects which we had in our original proposal; it will define the issues at an early stage of the proceedings rather more closely. Of course, under this proceeding the member of the Commission so chosen would not have the duty of deciding what reference should be made. That would remain, as the Government have always insisted it should, upon the Board of Trade, and would not go to the Registrar. There will in fact be no registrar, but one member of the Commission, we think, should have this function of defining the orbit of the inquiry as far as possible, defining the issues to be included, and to inform interested parties of his findings. We think that this would result in greater speed, and also, and more important, in greater fairness, in that those persons whose interests were affected would know at an early stage exactly the sort of matters which they would be expected to answer, where the crux of the inquiry was likely to come, what sort of evidence they ought to produce, and directed to what points, instead of the sort of roving commission by which an inquiry now proceeds in the first few weeks or even months. If the issues and the orbit can be defined by this preliminary report it is obvious that the actual inquiry will be quicker and will be much fairer. When I say that this is really only half a Registrar, or a mini-Registrar, I do not wish to decry the importance of the proposal, but merely to say that it does not include in the functions of such a person the proposed equal, if not more important, function of choosing the actual reference to be made. It goes some way to meet the important principle originally set out in the valuable pamphlet, "Monopoly and Public Interest" published by the Conservative Political Centre, on which such splendid praise was lavished from both sides of the Committee upstairs, the important principle of the separation of the functions of presentation and adjudication. We envisage that one member of the Commission will present the case to his fellows, he having done all the preliminary work, and having told the parties what they must expect in the way of the field of inquiry and the points of inquiry. That will, I think, be acceptable to the people who are to be investigated, the industries, or professions, or commercial gentlemen, or whoever it is, because they will know at an earlier stage exactly what they have to meet, and I think it will mean that the actual sittings of the full Commission will be far fewer and far more effective."report to the Commission the nature of such facts, questions and issues"
The hon and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) has really moved two Amendments. The first one, I suggest, is not necessary for his purpose. In fact, if it is intended as a paving Amendment, it is technically defective, because if he reads Clause 1 he will see that it says:
What the hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to do in the first Amendment is to modify something that is not there in the Schedule, which is rather a difficult exercise; but I do not want to labour this point, because I think that the second Amendment stands by itself and does not require the paving Amendment. As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, the second Amendment covers two points. First, it provides for one of the staff of the Monopolies Commission to discharge some of the functions suggested by the previous Administration for a Registrar of Monopolies, although not under that name. The second part of it provides that the official report to the Commission on the issues likely to arise in an investigation should be made available to all persons who have an interest in the subject of the inquiry. I must begin by congratulating the hon. and learned Gentleman for so adroitly finding a way to criticise again the Government's decision not to provide for the appointment of a Registrar of Monopolies in the Bill. This is an issue which we discussed very fully in Committee. As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, we had 12 columns from him alone. It was not by any means a wasted discussion. I thought that it was a very useful one, and I also thought that I had convinced the Committee that, however strong was the case for appointing a registrar, it would be wrong to try to include it in this legislation at this time. I said that I had a great deal of sympathy with the idea of appointing a Registrar, but I felt that it would cause difficulties, which we discussed in Committee. 6.45 p.m. The Second part of the Amendment raises again the allegation that was made in Committee, if I might put it like that, that the rambling or roving procedure of the Commission means that people do not know in good time the issues that are to be regarded as important, and the case that they have to answer. On the first point, the absence of a provision for an independent Registrar, I do not think that there is anything new to say, except that I think a mini-Registrar is certainly not a real substitute for the Registrar. I think that we shall have to consider appointing a Registrar at a later stage, in the later legislation, but certainly not in this Bill. I think that we made it clear in Committee, and certainly we were advised, that the necessary provisions for the appointment of a Registrar would be very lengthy and complex. We have decided to achieve by other means the advantages that might have resulted from the provision of a Registrar. The Commission will be enlarged. It will be able to work in groups or panels. The staff will be increased, and we feel that to adopt the first part of the Amendment would only delay the new start that we want to make with the Commission and the new procedures which the Commission will follow. As I have said, the second part of Amendment No. 9 implies that the Monopolies Commission's present procedure is not adequate, and that the issues which emerge as important in the Commission's report may not have been fully debated with the parties concerned. I think that this allegation is frequently made, but in fact the procedure which is followed in the Commission's investigations should in practice ensure that the authorities know which issues are likely to be significant after the Commission's preliminary factual investigations. I do not think that we can put this job on to one member of the Commission. It is a job for the staff of the Commission. The Commission transmits to the industry concerned in the investigation a statement of the issues which the Commission believes it will have to consider. A note of the complaints which have reached the Commission is also sent out to the industry concerned, and after this has been done, and after the industry has been informed of the facts which have emerged from the preliminary investigation, a public interest hearing is then held with the industry concerned to discuss all the points. Thus, the present procedure does in fact give us the investigation, the submission to the industry of the facts, the submission to the industry concerned of the case that has to be considered, and gives the industry an opportunity of presenting its side of the picture. We do not, therefore, think that it is necessary, or appropriate, for this legislation to require the Commission to follow a particular procedure with the object of informing an industry of the relevant issues. I think that this is something which in practice must be left to the Commission, but the method which the Commission has adopted for its work, and the method which will continue, will I think prove on examination to be satisfactory for the purpose which the hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind. Certainly at this stage we do not want unnecessary delay in the investigation of monopolies or mergers. Some of the references which have been announced will, of course, fall to the new Commission to look into, and we do not want to delay the building up of the staff. We do not want to delay the work which has to be done. We fear that if the Amendments were accepted they would add very little, if anything, to the value of the Bill in this respect and that in some ways they would be detrimental to it; certainly they would cause delay, which at this stage we do not want to contemplate. I therefore cannot advise the House to accept the Amendments."The constitution of the Monopolies Commission, the discharge of its functions and other matters dealt with in Schedule 1 to this Act shall be governed by the provisions there set out, being provisions which reproduce, with the modifications mentioned below, …"
In column 162 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 27th April, 1965, I read:
That was said by the Minister of State for the Board of Trade, who has just suggested that the Registrar is not necessary."I have been expecting hon. Members to look up the debate on the Restrictive Practices Act in which I made a cogent plea for the appointment of a Registrar to deal with monopolies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 27th April, 1965; c. 162.]
At this stage.
I have gone to the trouble of looking up reports of some of his speeches. He made a number of speeches about the Registrar and the Monopolies Commission, and I will bore neither the House nor him by quoting them. The speech which I liked most is reported in column 153 of the debate on 6th July, 1964, in which he said:
We agree with the Minister of State; we think that it should be written in the legislation and that this is the right place to do it. I also agree with him in congratulating my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) on finding yet another means of keeping in order this debate on the Registrar. We know only too well that, because of the narrow limitations of the Financial Resolution, we have had considerable trouble in keeping in order in debating this very important subject of the future organisation of the Monopolies Commission. Because of that difficulty we have had to use this rather emaciated form of Registrar. There can be little doubt in my hon. Friends' minds that a full Registrar with full powers would be the ideal. But if we cannot get that we believe that the Government are being very foolish if they will not accept the need for the establishment of a Registrar in the Bill to carry out the forms of inquiry which we have suggested. I will not go over the debates which took place in Committee, but I must refer to the fact that two Government supporters in the Committee spoke fully in agreement: with the proposal that this matter should be pursued. I am delighted to see one of them, the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell), enter the Chamber. I hope that he will remain here and make yet another powerful speech on the subject, because I must tell him that we are still having trouble with the Government about it. It is not good enough that we should be fobbed off, as we were in Committee, with the argument that this is not the right time to start with a Registrar and that it must be done in later legislation. Here we have a complete revision of monopolies legislation."It is for this reason that I believe that all proposed mergers should be reported in confidence to the Registrar.…. The right hon. Gentleman hopes that this will happen in practice without any need to write it into legislation, but I think that it should be written in."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1964; Vol. 698, c. 153.]
Nearly complete. It is certainly not complete if we have no Registrar. Perhaps the Minister of State will nod his head about that, because I am convinced that those are his views, too. Why does not the Bill provide for a Registrar? The Minister of State argues that it would delay the work of the Monopolies Commission, but I cannot think how it would cause delay. The only delay could arise from the formation of the Department and the appointment of the man and, knowing how the Government have anticipated legislation such as the Control of Office and Industrial Development Bill, I am convinced that if they accepted the Amendment, then by the time the Bill received Royal Assent they would be able to appoint a Registrar because they would have had some name in mind.Would there be a delay in building up the Department and recruiting staff? The Minister of State shakes his head. That recruitment would have to be done in any case. The economists, the lawyers and all the rest of the staff needed to carry out the investigation would have to be recruited anyway. We suggest that it would have to be centralised in one Department under the Registrar. Industry would then know that they were dealing with the Registrar. I was about to say that I am beside myself with the Government for their attitude, but that, of course, is not true. Nevertheless, I cannot understand why they wish to resist this proposal so strongly. There is nothing political in it. We are trying to provide a better method of investigation by which industry will know exactly who is carrying out the investigation, by which we ensure that someone is in charge of the investigation and by which we ensure that he is responsible for seeing that the investigation is speeded up. If there is any delay in the investigation and if we have a Registrar responsible, we shall know where to put the blame. Without him the blame may be dispersed throughout the Board of Trade or throughout the Commission. The Government have not offered a reasonable case in answer to our arguments. We accept that the Amendment is not perfect. To remain in order we have had to word it to keep within the Financial Resolution and not to impose extra financial responsibilities. Because part of the Amendment is not as good as we should like, we should be foolish to force it to a Division, but my hon. Friends remain convinced that this form of organisation is not only essential but ought to be introduced now. It is a crying shame that the Government will not take the opportunity to start it in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) may not be beside himself, but we on this side of the House are right beside him in support of the Amendment. When we debated this matter on Second Reading, in Committee and again now, it has clearly emerged that there is basically agreement on both sides of the House, and yet the only explanation offered by the Government for refusing to accept the Amendment is that it would delay matters. The proposal for a Registrar was first introduced some months ago, and there is no reason why arrangements could not have been made in the interim for the appointment of the Registrar and his staff. I therefore hope that even at this late stage the Government will reconsider the matter and, at some later point, introduce a full-blooded Registrar.The Amendment will enable the transition from the present situation to a full-blooded Registrar to be carried out fairly easily. It is very important that we should, in the field of monopolies, get away from the position where the decision to refer a particular industry, or a particular group of firms, to the Commission is in the hands of the Board of Trade, where it inevitably must be subject to a certain number of political cross-currents. It should be placed in the hands of a body which is both impartial and seen to be impartial. It is for this reason that we on this side and hon. Members opposite have felt obliged to press the proposal for a Registrar. If we were to go to the interim suggestion which has been put forward by accepting these Amendments, or Amendments similarly worded, we should be able to establish a certain division of labour within the Commission's work. It is important that the earlier stages of an investigation, which are concerned with the collection of data on market shares and with the definition of the market which is said to be monopolised, should be carried out rapidly. This part of the work could reasonably be carried out by a mini-registrar and a particular section of the Commission's staff, because it is highly specialised and, at the same time, a purely factual investigation. The trouble in many recent investigations is that the boards of companies and their very senior executives are involved in the investigation right from the beginning, through perhaps three or four years. They are, therefore, prevented from doing work on which they would be better employed—in increasing production or increasing exports. If the purely fact-finding part of the investigation were handed to a mini-registrar and a particular part of the staff, they could deal at a lower level with those preparing the basic data, and they could present the basic case which is to be answered. I do not think that hon. Members on either side of the House would like to see any form of inquisitorial approach substituted for the Commission's approach. But we do think there is a case for the preliminary investigation to be dealt with in the way suggested. If the Government are not prepared to accept our proposals for a full-blooded Registrar at this stage, they should accept a reasonable transitional arrangement which goes some way towards it. We believe that if the investigations are split up in the way suggested the division of labour between the company, the mini-registrar and the mini-registrar's staff would be more efficient. It is for that reason that we hope, even at this late stage, that if he will not concede a full-blooded Registrar the President of the Board of Trade will at least concede a transitional arrangement of the kind we suggest in these Amendments.
It was not my intention to intervene, because I did not have the advantage of serving on the Committee which tried to make some sense of this Bill. However, I had the advantage of serving for many months in 1962 and 1963 on the Committee appointed by Lord Butler which produced the booklet "Monopoly and the Public Interest" to which my hon. Friend has referred. In that Committee, we took expert evidence from all sorts of people who might be affected by this legislation. We considered in great detail American practice and Common Market practice, and all the evidence supported the need for a Registrar.We have been reminded that the Minister of State's past utterances have supported this need, too. It is a crying shame that a Bill purporting to improve legislation in regard to monopolies and mergers should not provide for this vital point. In doing this, apart from the fact that it fails to divide the work in the way various of my hon. Friends have suggested, it also fails—and this is most important—to assure those who may be referred to the Commission of the complete fairness, which would be assured if the work of the Commission as judges were separated from the work of the Commission as the body preparing the case it is to judge. This surely is the great advantage that the appointment of a registrar would give. So, having studied this problem in immense detail for those 10 months or so, I join those who urge the Government, even at this late stage, to think again about their present attitude.
My views have not changed, and I wish to say on behalf of my right hon. Friend that this matter is still open. The hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. John Harvey) will see from the Committee proceedings that the reason I gave for not including the Registrar in this legislation was that given by the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath), who pointed out when we were discussing the White Paper the complexities of this legislation and how difficult it was to produce a comprehensive Bill which, in our view, would have covered the point about the Registrar and also would have covered paragraphs 28 to 41 in the White Paper, which are not in this legislation.The difficulties were such that we could not bring the Registrar into this legislation, which was introduced within a few weeks of our taking office, when we started from scratch and produced as quickly as possible the legislation, which was long overdue, to deal with mergers and the other things that are in the Bill. To have included the Registrar at that stage would have been too big an exercise, because anyone who cares to look at the Restrictive Trade Practices Act of 1956 will find that the duties and legal responsibilities of the Registrar take up more than half the legislation. However, I would remind hon. Members that the Government will have a second bite at the cherry within the not-too-distant future, and we will see then whether it is possible to carry out the wishes which hon. Members opposite have expressed. I myself am sorry that we could not do it in this legislation.
Before asking leave to withdraw the Amendment, may I say that we are delighted to hear that the Government are committed in principle to a Registrar.
No. Let me make this clear. I said very carefully indeed that my views have not changed and that my right hon. Friend has an open mind.
That means that half the Government are committed and that we are to have something on these lines within the foreseeable future. With that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 2, line 34 to leave out "free of charge or".The Amendment arises out of the debate we had in Committee. The effect would be to enable the Board of Trade to refer to the Monopolies Commission some enterprise where services of a particular nature were rendered free of charge. I find it difficult to envisage circumstances in which a purely charitable activity could require investigation by the Monopolies Commission, but it may be so. The suggestion was made by the Opposition in Committee, and we are not averse to accepting an Amendment which appears to us to be of an entirely innocuous character merely because it is put forward by the Opposition. If they desire this change in the Bill, we feel there is no objection to it, and I therefore hope it will be accepted by the House.
I am delighted to learn from the Minister without Portfolio that he is not averse to accepting Amendments merely because they happen to have been suggested from this side of the House or, as it was, from this side of the Committee. This is fortunate, because most of the Amendments were moved by my right hon. and hon. Friends. Practically all the improvements to the Bill result from the hard work put in by my right hon. and hon. Friends.The Amendment is in exactly the same words as that which we moved in Committee. It was moved by us originally because we thought that the words as they stood might provide some loophole, especially in the case of professional services which, taking advantage of the words, "free of charge", might manage to opt out of the purview of the Clause. This was one of the principal reasons why we tabled the Amendment. The Government brought out the point that the words were inserted only in order to take out of the Bill any suggestion that charitable enterprises should come within the purview of the Clause. That was the only point which the Government made in Committee. It is a point which the Minister without Portfolio referred to again this evening. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) said in a very cogent speech in Committee:
This is another reason why discretion should be given to the Board of Trade. The removal of these words will ensure that the Board of Trade will have power, if it wishes, to deal with the matter as it thinks fit. We are delighted that the Government has seen fit to table an Amendment in exactly the same words as that which was originally proposed. We on this side very much welcome the change, as we shall be doing throughout the whole of the night as other Amendments which we originated in Committee are moved by the Government."… there may be an occasion when workers in this field, who are utterly absorbed in and sometimes obsessed with their work, may try to keep the work entirely within their association or society, and adopt an attitude to prevent others helping. They are just as likely to do that if they give their services free as if they are paid."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E; 29th April, 1965, c. 169.]
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move Amendment No. 12, in page 2, line 35, at the end to insert:
This is an Amendment somewhat similar to new Clause 2. Here, instead of dealing with the problems of nationalised industries, we are attempting to ensure that there are no specific exceptions in a Bill which seeks to include all contracts of services. This would mean that trade unions and the trade union movement could, if necessary be referred to the Commission. It may be argued that this is not the most ideal method of dealing with problems which are involved with trade unions at this time. I accept that immediately. The Bill sets out to bring in all forms of professions, whether it is solicitors or accountants and no matter whether those involved have spent many years training to obtain their professional qualifications. Therefore, we believe that it is nonsense to take in some sections of the community who provide services, whilst others who may be serving under a contract of service are excluded. 7.15 p.m. May I clear up one other part of the Amendment which is, perhaps, the lesser part. The Amendment would ensure that lawyers in industry, accountants working on their own, and professional persons of that type, could be effected by the working of the Commission. It could be argued that the Bill, without the Amendment, would not cover these people. I will state why we believe that power should exist to refer to the Commission monopolistic practices by the trade union movements. There can be little doubt that the problem of strikes, the size of the trade union movement and, indeed, the authority of the trade union movement, are causing great public concern. It may well be true that the number of days lost by strikes in this country is not as great as that applicable in other countries. However, the number of days lost by strikes here is appreciable. An analysis of the figures shows that 1·4 per cent. of the working population is on strike for one week a year. This may not be very much, but it is too much in this day and age when the country is concerned specifically with the problems of productivity and with attempting to ensure that everybody pulls his weight in order to increase our exports and our industrial production. A closer analysis of the figures shows that it is the equivalent of 88,750 people being on strike for a month. We cannot afford that number of stoppages at this time. A Royal Commission is now considering the whole problem of the trade unions. In time, the recommendations of the Commission will be considered by the House and there will probably be new legislation. Despite this, there is no reason why the Government should not take this opportunity, perhaps only as a stop-gap measure, to consider using the Commission when monopolistic practices are carried out by unions. I want to refer to the type of thing which gives trade unions a bad name. I am a paid up member of a trade union, the same one as that of the Prime Minister. It is interesting to note that that union of the Prime Minister's does not support the prices and incomes policy, but I do not think that is particularly relevant to the Amendment."other than a contract of service the principal terms of which have been negotiated by any body representing one or more of the parties to such contract and also other persons having a similar interest whether as employers or employees".
Nor do I.
I am glad to have your agreement, Mr. Speaker. In this instance there is a general problem in that the public is becoming absolutely and completely exasperated by the apparent inability of the Government to take any action to investigate the actions of trade unions in certain circumstances. I want to refer to something which is uppermost in the minds of many people, namely, tie recent strike at London Airport. It was an unofficial strike, against the advice of the trade union officials. It affected tens of thousands of holidaymakers. It brought the condemnation of the Minister of Labour in these words:
"The present dispute that has caused so much inconvenience to thousands of people is a disgrace.
The problem here is that the Government are powerless to take any action to see whether the Monopolies Commission or anybody could come to a judgment about this sort of action. Here again one sees a vast union with considerable influence, a good deal of it for good, but which is not at all times able to control properly some of the actions of its members. I do not want to pontificate on what should or should not happen, but I say that if the Government are taking powers which could affect lawyers, solicitors and many of the other professions in this country, it does not seem right that the Government should say that the ordinary working population should not be covered by this legislation. We are not in this Amendment attempting to mount an attack on trade unions. It is not suggested that because we supported another part of the Bill we are willing to attack lawyers, solicitors or doctors. What we are saying, as we said when we dealt with the Amendments on the matter of the nationalised industries, is that the Government having decided to extend the whole scope of the Monopolies Commission in this Bill to cover many wider sections of the community than the original White Paper presented by my right lion. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) 15 months ago envisaged, we on this side of the House believe there is every reason to ensure that no section of the community should be given special treatment. All sections of the community should be open to the same sort of preference. It is for that reason that we have in this Amendment the words:Actually, this is a dispute between men and their union … and because of this scores of children are held at the airport. Thousands of holidaymakers have all their arrangements upset".
The Government use honeyed words about wishing to ensure an improvement in productivity and in the actions of the trade union movement, and here they have an opportunity to show that these words really mean something. As I say, once we have a Report from the Royal Commission, it may be that this form of reference would not be necessary, but it seems to me that this power could be helpful not only to the President of the Board of Trade but also to the Minister of Labour. Therefore, we on this side of the House would be willing to see this power given to the Government, although we would hope that a better, longer-lasting and thorough form of legislation should be the outcome of the Royal Commission. However, until we have a Report from the Royal Commission and until action is taken by whichever Government it may be—I believe it will be a Conservative Government—this Amendment would go a long way in helping people to realise that there is no section of the community—industrial, trade union or Government—that could be above reference to the Monopolies Commission if it were so desired."the principal terms of which have been negotiated by any body representing one or more of the parties to such contract …"
One of the distinctive features of the Bill is that for the first time in our consideration of monopolies, services will be included. Services are taken into account in the monopolies legislation of other countries, but in other countries those services are specifically mentioned. It is a noticeable feature of this Bill that the only time that a service is mentioned is when it is desired to exempt it.It seems to me that the Government have completely misunderstood the proper nature of the Monopolies Commission by attempting to exclude the restrictive practices engaged in by trade unions. If the professions such as solicitors, barristers, accountants, stockbrokers and members of the discount market are to be liable to be brought up before the Monopolies Commission as carrying out some form of restrictive service, it is surely not conceivable that those professions will be indicted. At least, I would hope not. If they were to be so indicted, it would be impossible to undertake the management of their business. In addition, the very nature of their business is international in scope, and the fact that other countries which carry out the same business have precisely the same mechanism makes it impossible to change the structure of those professions. In that case, it would seem that the Government have nothing whatever to fear in applying the examination of the Monopolies Commission to what are called restrictive practices on the part of labour. It is not our position on this side of the House that all restrictive practices indulged in by labour are necessarily harmful. No doubt, a very good case can be made out to support some of these practices. But I suggest that by taking out the study of restrictive practices from the purview of the Commission it will seem to the public at large, and particularly to those dissident elements of the trade unions, that restrictive practices on the part of labour are in quite a different category. It may be said that labour restrictive practices are exempt from the purview of the Monopolies Commission in other countries. But the Government must take into account, if one is to adduce that argument, that the state of the law concerning the conduct of labour in other countries is far in advance of our own. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) has voiced his opinion about the value of the Royal Commission. We all know what the Prime Minister has had to say about Royal Commissions. I am not arguing about the effectiveness of the Royal Commission in studying the trade unions. I am not arguing about how effective its proposals would be. What I am saying is that to the general public and to some dissident parts of the trade unions it must appear that not only are some members of the T.U.C. represented on the Royal Commission but that the whole subject has been put away for another day. The arguments in support of exempting labour restrictive practices are very old. In the debates in 1948 labour restrictive practices were referred to, although there was never at that time any suggestion of services being brought into the purview of the Monopolies Commission. Even so, they were definitely mentioned and there was a great deal of argument on both sides of the House as to whether restrictive practices engaged in by labour should be considered as suitable for reference to the Monopolies Commission. I should like to mention the view of the then President of the Board of Trade, now the Prime Minister. His view was set out very clearly on 12th April, 1948, when he said:
and those fears were very strong indeed in 1948—"It is our view that the country cannot afford any restrictive practices on either side of industry. Whatever fears of unemployment"—
That was in 1948 and in those days there was a good deal of unemployment, but many years have passed and at present the unemployment figure is about 275,000. We have the best record of employment of any industrialised country in the Western world, and therefore I do not feel that the argument of fear of unemployment can be adduced any longer. 7.30 p.m. The other argument in those days was that labour practices were not suitable to be brought before the Monopolies Commission because at that time the Commission was discussing goods, not services. As a result of the present Bill that argument can no longer apply. We now have to engage in a study of the realities of the situation. I cannot help but feel that this is exemplified by the instructions sent out recently by the Secretary of the Draughts-men and Allied Technicians' Association which said:"might have led to practices restricting production or raising costs, there is no justification today for them, and just as in the Monopolies Bill we are seeking powers to deal with restrictive business practices, so the Government will do everything in their power to secure the dropping, removal and diminution of restrictive practices of every kind on either side of industry.—[OFFICTAL REPORT, 12th April, 1948; Vol. 449, c. 665–6.]
This is the reality of the situation and it must appear to outsiders and to the general public as a prescription for industrial anarchy. What are the Government doing about it? What are the measures to be produced by the Prime Minister who in 1948 was President of the Board of Trade when we looked forward so much to what was promised? The whole of the Finance Bill has been based on the need to help the First Secretary to secure his incomes policy. The economy has been damaged to this effect quite deliberately, but what has been the result so far? Wage claims have been three times as large as the suggested norm. Whether it is intentional or not, the fact is that the exclusion of restrictive labour practices from the purview of the Commission will be interpreted by the trade unionists only as yet another concession, more danegeld to the privileged class, the new fourth estate of the Realm, the estate of the union ticket-holders. The Government will seem to these dissident people as operating a protection racket on a colossal scale only matched perhaps by that of the Mafia."Industrial militancy is the only measure whereby our members can protect and improve our living standards in the society in which we live. A successful strike should be followed up by more demands. More money should be followed by a demand for yet more money."
Before the hon. Gentleman pursues that fascinating theme any further and waxes even more eloquent, may I suggest that to bring balance to his statement he should bear in mind that every employers' association is by definition a trade union. The Galvanised Tank Manufacturers' Association owes its legal existence to the trade union Act under which it is registered. If the hon. Member deplores restrictive practices and if he brings these services within the purview of the Commission he must bring in all the restrictive practices operated by trade associations.
I hope that all restrictive practices will be brought before the Commission. This has been my view all along. I am concerned with the effect which the Bill will have on the outlook of those who are unofficial leaders of strikes. They will feel that as a class they are being specifically exempted and those leaders of unofficial strikes who have no responsibility to their unions will only be heartened by this Measure. They are in every way the pimps of modern industrial society and they should be exposed as such. The Government should stand up for the Government's authority now.It is no use Mr. Aubrey Jones saying on the National Board for Prices and Incomes that there will be methods of handling these matters, that we hope for voluntary restraint and that if we do not have voluntary restraint the Government will bring in some compulsory means. What is meant by "compulsory means"? He should not introduce those terms if he is to have any credence given to his beliefs. Either they are ineffective, in which case they are absolutely incredible, or else they will be completely intolerable as being against the liberty of the subject. There will be those who will believe what their unofficial leaders tell them. These unofficial leaders will be strengthened by the Bill and in the long run the trade unionists will suffer because the only possible result and logical outcome of these activities will be serious unemployment. For that reason, if no other, I hope that the House will accept the Amendment.
I was not a member of the Standing Committee which spent considerable time on this complicated Measure. I have listened to my hon. Friends the Members for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) and for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) and I confess to some confusion about the exact effects of the Clause and of the Amendment. I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham to argue that organisations representing solicitors, stockbrokers and discount houses would come within the limits of the Clause but the activities of trade unions would not. As I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Reading speak, I realised how excellent was the Amendment.My hon. Friend spoke, for example, about the comparatively small number of days lost in disputes in this country. This is perfectly true and is extremely welcome but would anyone deny that the reason why so few days have been lost is that on many occasions the trade unions have employed their monopoly powers to force a settlement? It may be a legitimate exercise of the rules by the trade unions to do this and hon. Members opposite would certainly claim that that was so. I go along with them to a certain extent and if the Amendment is accepted it will not be necessary presumably to refer every specific dispute to the Commission. That would be done only if it is considered important enough. That should be borne in mind. Recently, and over past years, disputes of various kinds have arisen between employers and unions. If the disputes have not been settled round the table, on many occasions special courts of inquiry have been set up. One became rather cynical whenever this was done because, inevitably, some sort of settlement was arrived at which appeared to be not in the best interests of the nation. One reason for this is that the special committees or commissions of inquiry set up to investigate the situation were composed of people not particularly experienced in the matter in hand or, perhaps, in the sort of negotiations and investigations which were necessary, whereas on one side there were the trade unions led by capable and experienced negotiators who started off with a great advantage. If the Amendment is accepted and matters of this kind can be referred to the Commission, which will have permanent members and co-opted members on it, there will be equal negotiating ability and experience on each side and, as a result, a much fairer answer will be arrived at.
First of all, I should explain to the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot), who seems to be in some doubt about the scope of this provision, that the Bill as drafted would exclude the rendering of services under a contract of service—these are the operative words which hon. Members opposite wish to remove—and, therefore, whether we are concerned with a trade union or a trade association is strictly irrelevant. What would be excluded would be the rendering of services under a contract of service. If I may presume to translate that legal language into something nearer plain English, what is meant is that the self-employed person is included while the employed person, as normally understood, is excluded from the scope of the Bill.The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery), in moving the Amendment, said that the argument here was rather similar to the argument we have just had about the inclusion or exclusion of nationalised industries. I must tell him that the answer also is rather similar, whether he likes it or not. There is no dispute between us about the necessity of getting rid of at any rate a large number of restrictive practices on the labour side as well as in other sectors of industry. I fully agree that this is highly desirable, and it ought to be done by whatever method is most likely to achieve the result. The only difference between us is on whether we should be likely to achieve that result by bringing the ordinary labour restrictive practices within the authority of the Monopolies Commission. We do not consider that we should be more likely to achieve it in that way, and here we are entirely in harmony with every Government since the war and every piece of legislation introduced into and passed by the House on monopolies or restrictive practices. We are also in harmony, I remind the hon. Gentleman, with the White Paper introduced by his Government only last year. I was a little surprised that he described this view as nonsense. If it is nonsense, it was also nonsense in the White Paper only a year ago. The hon. Gentleman began by deploring the number of strikes which occur, while admitting that they are not, relative to other countries, perhaps, as numerous or excessive as some people may argue. I fully agree that if, by accepting the Amendment and bringing these practices within the scope of the Monopolies Commission, we could diminish the number of days lost in strikes this would be a very strong argument in favour of doing so; but I have the very greatest doubt that applying this sort of method to the labour restrictive practices which we deplore we should in fact diminish the number of strikes which occur. I think it more likely that they would increase. The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) virtually admitted this, a little illogically from his point of view, I thought, when he was arguing about the National Board for Incomes and Prices. He asked what was the good of the Board thinking that it would stop these practices by some form of compulsion. He said that that was incredible, unworkable, or something like that. If it is impossible to stop them by compulsion, it is no good bringing them under legislation of this kind and expecting a recommendation of the Monopolies Commission to be somehow enforced by the Board of Trade. Perhaps I did not understand the hon. Gentleman aright.
The point I was making was that, if trade unionists were specifically exempted from the provisions of the Bill, they would gain the impression—this applies particularly to the most dissident of them—that they were in a class of their own. It is this that we should be most careful to avoid.
That is a slightly different argument, but it is also an argument against the White Paper and the other legislation previously introduced.If we are really seeking to remove these restrictive practices, it must be remembered that one of the reasons why such practices exist is that in many parts of the country there has been a history of acute outright unemployment or underemployment over a long period of years. The hon. Member for Horsham spoke of 1948 and said that all these fears should have long ago disappeared. It so happens that in the shipbuilding areas, for instance, there have been two acute outbreaks of unemployment since 1948, one in 1959–60 and one in 1962–63. It is not surprising, therefore, that these practices continue obstinately to prevail. However, when one has said that and argued that we should not be likely to get rid of these restrictive practices in this, the question may then be asked, what else can be done and what is being done by the Government now? Here, an answer can be given. First, as I have said on other occasions, one important contribution is to bring fuller employment to these areas and industries than has been known in the past. That is the first step which is being successfully taken. Second, as hon. Members know, it was part of the Declaration of Intent signed last winter not only by the Government but by representatives of industrialists and trade unionists that all sides pledged themselves, among other things, to make an attack on these sort of practices. Third, a Royal Commission is now sitting to investigate the whole subject of trade union and other practices and what can best be done, if necessary, to bring them into accord with the public interest. Nevertheless, hon. Members may again say, "That is all very fine. Lots of people are thinking about it and lots of people have made declarations of intent, but what is actually being done?" Here, too, it can be claimed that we are making progress in several directions. I will give one instance about which hon. Members probably know. Only last month, John Brown reached agreement with the local branch of the Shipwrights and the Boilermakers Society on a scheme for interchangeability between platers and shipwrights. Restrictive practices in that sphere of industry have been some of the most subject to criticism in the past. This scheme provides, for instance, for a total of 500 platers and shipwrights to be employed on assembly, erection and so on, on the basis that either will do the other's work in the event of shortage. It may be said that this is only one arrangement for one section of industry. It is, I am informed in the industry, regarded by John Brown as a major break-through, and it is satisfactory to learn that other ship-building firms in other centres are now engaged in discussions with the representatives of their employees in the hope of making similar arrangements. I should have thought that this was a much more hopeful way of getting rid of these practices, by agreement step by step, than by bringing them under the scope of the Monopolies Commission, with presumably the intention in the end that some compulsory action should be taken by the Government. I think we are beginning to make progress now. I fully agree that the attempts to do so have to be pushed forward vigorously, but I am convinced that we shall be much more likely to succeed in this manner, by agreement and by tried methods, than by adopting a policy which would be entirely contrary to that which has been accepted by this House and by every Government up to now since 1945.
I had not been intending to be tempted into this short debate if it had not been for the fact that the President of the Board of Trade specifically linked this Amendment with the new Clause which I moved earlier and gave us somewhat obliquely the news that we were to have, as we now know, the same response to the Amendment as to the Clause.I want to take up one or two points that the right hon. Gentleman made in order to try to persuade him even at this late hour that he is not advising the House to take the right decision. I want to make quite plain that I have always understood the reason which leads men, and, particularly, led men in the past, to combine together and to secure the strength which comes from that combination. I myself am quite unashamedly a member of an extremely strong trade union which, without any apology whatever, acts—extremely effectively I think—in the interests of its members and of the general public. However, the interesting thing about it is that in certain of its aspects it comes within the ambit of this Bill, not in regard to certain important aspects of its remuneration, because they arise under orders made by this House and so they are exempted from the Bill, but if, for example, one takes a widely criticised demarcation, that between solicitors on the one hand and barristers on the other, which is very much in point at the moment because it is very much discussed, that, as I understand it, comes within the terms of the Bill. When he shortly returns to private practice the Minister without Portfolio may well be feeling on the Opposition benches the lash of legislation which he has helped to guide in a distinguished way through the Standing Committee and the House. Therefore, I find it extremely difficult to see why the discriminations made between one type of association of persons working together, just because they are self-employed, and another type as honourable and as desirable as the first, which is exempted from the provisions of the Bill—
I understood the President of the Board of Trade to tell me specifically that the self-employed person, as I imagine a solicitor considers himself to be, is outside the ambit of the Bill. Is that so, or is it not?
The self-employed person is within the ambit of the Bill. Anybody employed on a contract of service is outside it.
I am relieved to discover that I am not, on this occasion at any rate, talking nonsense. In short, what we are talking about are what are known at any rate in our profession as tame solicitors. What other types there are I do not know. The Minister without Portfolio hardly comes into it, but whatever he and I are, this is it.A useful intervention was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern)—this is no criticism of his intervention—who made the same intervention in the Standing Committee. It was that we on this side of the House must appreciate that in putting forward this Amendment we are seeking to bring in not only the recognised trade unions as the ordinary person understands that phrase but also employers' associations and so on. On the previous occasion it was I who answered my hon. Friend. Like my hon. Friend, I accepted without question that that must apply. It would be a wholly untenable argument put forward from these benches or any other benches that only one type of trade union should be within the ambit of the Bill. Therefore, I think that that is perfectly clearly understood. As I understand it, that is clearly within the ambit of the drafting. The President of the Board of Trade returned again to the argument that this has never been done or proposed before. I wish we could shake the Treasury Bench off its conservatism. The fact that it has never been done before is advanced as one of the legs of the argument for not doing it now. But we live in an age of change. We need a radical approach to many of these matters. Frankly, it will not be well received by many of those who support hon. Members opposite, and, for the reason advanced by my hon. Friend tae Member for Horsham, by a number of persons who support hon. Members on this side of the House. Almost everyone prefers an undisturbed, quiet life. Almost everyone is in favour of competition so long as it is competition for the other person. Almost everyone pays lip service to this matter until it is applied to him. It must be made very clear that hon. Members on both sides are in part taking their political lives in their hands in proposing and, as would hope even at this stage, in accepting the Amendment. I am very disappointed indeed by the reply that we have so far received. I dismiss without any question the mere fact that it has not been done before. I would tell the President of the Board of Trade that if this had been a discussion with a Conservative President of the Board of Trade, there would have been a number of us sitting behind that Conservative President nipping sharply at him and making life difficult for him had this provision not been in the Bill, and we should have had a number of contributions from Government backbenchers, with which we have not yet been honoured—at least not so far on this Bill. In fact, the Chamber is being used more as a rest centre than as a place for debate at the present time.
The hon. Member cannot get away with that. I have been trying to restrain myself, but I have made at least five contributions to the debate, and I hope they have all been at the point at issue. I am not proposing to make any more under this kind of provocation.
The hon. Member is a very distinguished exception, but for evidence of what I am saying he should look behind him.The second point is that there is a Commission on trade unions sitting at present. I believe that this will affect any Government, including the Conservative Government when we have one again in the near future. I believe that it will also be accepted increasingly by industry and the country that the results of the Royal Commission's inquiries must necessarily take far too long for what the state of the nation demands. We really have not the time to wait and hear whether we do have a method of introducing the new powers proposed by the Amendment, which surely the Government might have found very effective. 8.0 p.m. I am encouraged in that by a chink in the armour displayed by the right hon. Gentleman. He said that if he believed that the Amendment would diminish unofficial strikes he would gladly be in favour of it. I hope that I am fairly representing what he said. I want to take an analogy, that of the Prices and Incomes Board which has been so much in our discussions today, and consider what it is we are doing in bringing before that Board a number of those who may, prima facie, have unreasonably raised their prices. Let us take the bread industry and the bakers, who are among those before the Board at the moment and in respect of whom I have no personal knowledge of any kind, which is why I choose them as an example. What must be clear from that industry is that the conditions which led to the price increase are under very close scrutiny by the industry itself. The increase is being very carefully looked at to make sure that it can be justified to the hilt. Here there is a paradox which is relevant to the Bill. It is a curious side-effect that, with the direct approval of the Prices and Incomes Board, the whole industry is getting together to think about that price increase. Thus, it is perhaps a paradox, and an interesting one, that the operations of the Prices and Incomes Board are actually tending to lead to monopolistic conditions, with the direct encouragement of the Board, at a time when we in this House are working our way through the Bill. I put that—and I speak with some little knowledge of one of the industries concerned—as an interesting by-product of the situation. I am drawing the analogy because the power vested in the Board is not actually that of a sanction—at least, not yet. It has the power of public opinion attracted to these price increases. It will be extremely interesting to see how powerful the impact of public opinion is upon these proposed price increases when they are reported on one after the other by the Board. I cannot pursue that further because it would be out of order, but the analogy is fair. As I sought to argue upstairs, I believe that the Government seriously under-estimate the sense of irritation that there is on so many shop floors at the restricted practices which the trade union structure forces them to carry out. Particularly is this so in the younger industries, from which my experience is mostly drawn, since my constituency is very typical of the centres of the younger industries. The men on the shop floor today have had the enormous advantage under successive Governments of an infinitely better education than their fathers ever had. They have the advantage of an infinitely wider understanding and knowledge of the nation's economic problems than their fathers ever had the chance of having. The young men of today—and large numbers are doing a highly skilled job—are men to whom these restrictive practices are things which fill them with contempt. Of course, I know the correct answer, what is called the "D.S." solution. The correct answer is that they should attend branch meetings of their unions, exercise their democratic rights and, in concert with management, get rid of these restrictive practices—and I know of no good employer who does not welcome good trade union organisation although I know of one or two thoroughly bad employers who attempt to suppress trade unions, to their great discredit. As I have said, that solution is the correct one according to the book but in practice it does not happen. The men concerned want the strength behind them of public opinion as channelled by this House. That is what is necessary. On the shop floor of industry are men of the highest calibre and highest character, men who regard a wild-cat strike as utterly foreign to their outlook and sense of responsibility to the nation. Yet they find themselves enmeshed in this old-fashioned structure which so badly needs bringing up to date and they desperately need the strength of public opinion. That is the case. It is not an unreasoned case. It is not to be dismissed lightly by reference to what may have happened in the past or to what may or may not have been done by previous Governments. If it helps the right hon. Gentleman, I will say from these back benches, with no kind of responsibility—nor did I have in the past—that this was one of the omissions of the 13 years of Conservative administration. Since I am not such an avid party politician that I believe or proclaim to believe that every single thing the Conservative Government did was right or that they never left anything undone, I concede this point with frankness. That is why I am so anxious to play my part in order to make certain that, if not this Government, then at least some subsequent Government will put the matter right.
I pay my own tribute to the principles of trade unionism. I have been a member of two trade unions, both of which have always approached their tasks with responsibility and have furthered the interests of their membership in a right and proper manner. But when the President of the Board of Trade suggests that this was not a point ever taken before by this side of the House—that it had not appeared in the White Paper last year—I must re-echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said in suggesting that we must get away from thinking, that, because a thing has not been done in the past, that is a good reason for not doing it now.One can obviously see that progress is being made in improving relationships as between unions and industries of different kinds. One can see this applying, for instance, in the shipbuilding industry. But while these improvements are being made, and while many of us say that this is something best left to the normal processes of negotiations, one hopes that such irresponsibility as exists here and there in the trade union movement will gradually give way to some sense of responsibility as some of the old fears are seen to have gone. Nevertheless, the fact is that it is not agreement between trade unions and industry that makes the headlines. It is irresponsibility of the sort that we saw again at London Airport at Whitsun. I say "again" because this is what tends so often to happen at Bank Holidays. This is the sort of thing that makes the headlines. This makes the public ask what the Government are doing about the constant inconvenience to which the travelling public are put and the way in which the travelling public or the consuming public are so often held to ransom. For us to be debating a Bill which, quite rightly, will make it possible for the affairs of far more people than ever before to be scrutinised with a view to seeing whether they are serving the public interest, while at the same time saying that trade unions must be exempt and still must be dealt with in some other way, will not strike many people outside the House as being fair. It is tremendously in the interests of the trade unions themselves that the Government should take this point and reconsider the validity of our arguments.
I invite the hon. Gentleman to agree that a distinction should be made between trade unions and trade unionists. He is confusing the two and I invite him to make the distinction clear.
One of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends pointed out that trade associations were trade unions and that in asking for an investigation to be made into these matters, we must widen the issue. We have said that we would welcome that and we would. I do not see how one can differentiate as the hon. Gentleman is suggesting.
One interesting thing about the debate has been that the majority of speakers from this side of the House have themselves been or still are trade unionists. Everyone who has heard it will agree that it has been a most important debate distinguished by some extraordinarily thoughtful, measured and reasoned speeches. I am only sorry—and I say this quite genuinely—that there are not more people in the Chamber to take part and that we have not had a contribution from the other side of the House. I appreciate the difficulties in which the Government find themselves when they have a very long night's work before them. They are reluctant to encourage their own Members to contribute to a debate and this may be one of the occasions when the Whips are on and are telling Government Members to keep out of the Chamber and not to come in and keep the debate going, because the Government want to bring it to an end. I understand how these things work, but it is nevertheless a pity that we should have such a situation with this debate.
Will my hon. Friend agree that even if the Whips are on hon. Members opposite in this sense, there is nothing to stop the Liberal Party, which always says that it attaches a great deal of importance to this matter, from being present in force and that its members have been absent for a very long time?
That is perfectly true, but I must confess that I had hardly noticed their absence.My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) was understandably puzzled that, although a great variety of services, including the professions, should be subject to the Clause, employees with contracts of service were not. I understand his bewilderment, because it is rather odd that those people should be excluded from the Clause. In a fairly brief reply to the Amendment, ably and cogently moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery), the President of the Board of Trade repeated the arguments which we heard in Standing Committee and which, briefly, were that what the Government were now doing or not doing was in harmony with what other Governments had done in the past and on the lines followed in the past. We also had what is now becoming the chestnut—the reference to last year's White Paper and the fact that it did not mention any intention to introduce in a Bill of this kind measures which would bring trade unions within the purview of such legislation. I thought that it was one of the main arguments of right hon. and hon. Gentlement opposite that they had come to power because of the sins of omission as well as the sins of commission by the Government which held office for the previous 13 years. It was said that they were to do things which had not been done in the past. Apparently, they are now saying that because they were not done by us they will not do anything either. If they are not to do any of the things which we did not do, why have they come to power? Let us sit over there to do something effective. This argument of hon. Members opposite is extraordinary. The second argument is that there is a Royal Commission. We know that a Royal Commission has been appointed, but we also know—and this is no disrespect to any Royal Commission—that Royal Commissions take a certain time to examine and report and there is a great tendency to bury the reports of Royal Commissions in the archives of Whitehall. Eventually, years and years later, someone takes one out and dusts it down and decides that perhaps something might be done about it. All parties and all Governmens suffer from this defect. Royal Commissions are one of the most famous ways of burying a subject which is embarrassing and with which it is difficult to deal. I hope that this Royal Commission will be an exception, but the Royal Commission argument is not an argument against including powers in a Bill so that the Government can use them if they desire. They do not have to use the powers, but the powers would be there if the Government wanted to use them. The right hon. Gentleman sought to show what magnificent progress was being made in industrial relations by using other methods of free negotiation between employer and employee, and he quoted the example of John Brown's, saying that an agreement had been reached between the platers and the shipwrights. He said that this was only one agreement in one industry. But it is only one of many in that industry and there is a long way to go before there is a solution of the demarcation problems and the restrictive practices which have grown up in the shipbuilding industry over many years, for reasons which we quite understand, but which will have to be eradicated if the industry is to be as efficient as some of its competitors. It is a little too hopeful to believe that the normal processes of negotiation over a long time will have the effect which is wanted as quickly as possible. In a debate on this subject in Committee, the Minister of State said:
In saying that, he was echoing words of the Prime Minister in another guise, words quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) in a very thoughtful speech. They are strong words; they are good words; why cannot we have them translated into some sort of action? We have made it clear that we believe that restrictive practices, wherever they are, whether on the part of employer or employee, are bad for the country and should be brought under scrutiny. If they can be shown to be against the public interest, and here I direct my remarks for one moment in the direction of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), if it can be shown that trade associations are guilty of restrictive practices contrary to the public interest, then they should be forced to give them up. We are quite willing to accept this. The other argument used by the Government in Committee was that it was said that even if reference was made to the Monopolies Commission and certain practices were found to be contrary to the public interest, the President of the Board of Trade could do nothing about it. I am paraphrasing the words of the Minister without Portfolio in Committee as reported in column 199 on 29th April. Is the House seriously to understand that if some trade union was referred to the Monopolies Commission under Clause 2 and was found to be guilty of practices which were against the public interest those concerned could defy not only the Board of Trade but the court which could be asked to give an order requiring the trade union to carry out the directions of the Board of Trade? Have we reached a situation in this country where—despite the law of the land and an order of the court—trade unions can now defy the law? Is that why it was said that even if trade unions were referred to the Monopolies Commission it would not be effective because the President of the Board of Trade could do nothing about it? I do not believe this. If this Amendment was accepted, and it was possible to bring all services within the purview of the Monopolies Commission, as they should be, and if it was found on examination that some practices were against the public interest, I doubt very much whether those concerned would be prepared to defy not only Parliament but the courts. I cannot therefore understand the reasoning of the right hon. Gentleman and the arguments he has put forward against this Amendment. To sum up again, those arguments are merely that it has not been done before and now that a Royal Commission is examining the whole trade union movement it is not necessary, according to the Minister to write powers into a Bill now before the House to enable him if he wished to, to deal with practices which"In saying that, I must again express the view we hold on this side of the Committee, that the modernisation of industry is now such an urgent necessity in this country that restrictive practices, either by employers or trade unionists and workers generally, can no longer be tolerated".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 29th April, 1965; c. 179.]
Division No. 211.]
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Eyre, Reginald||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Fisher, Nigel||Mitchell, David|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)||More, Jasper|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Barlow, Sir John||Gardner, Edward||Nugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard|
|Batsford, Brian||Glover, Sir Douglas||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Bell, Ronald||Grant, Anthony||page, R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Grant-Ferris, R.||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Biffen, John||Gresham Cooke, R.||Peel, John|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Bingham, R. M.||Gurden, Harold||Pounder, Rafton|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Bossom, Hn. Clive||Hamilton, M. (Salisbury)||Pym, Francis|
|Box, Donald||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Braine, Bernard||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Hawkins, Paul||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Higgins, Terence L.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Burden, F. A.||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Sharples, Richard|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hopkins, Alan||Shepherd, William|
|Buxton, Ronald||Hordern, Peter||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Soames, Rt. Hn. Christopher|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Iremonger, T. L.||Stainton, Keith|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Stanley, Hn. Richard|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Johnson Smith, G. (East Grinstead)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Cole, Norman||Kilfedder, James A.||Thomas, sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Kirk, Peter||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Costain, A. P.||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||Litchfield, Capt. John||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Curran, Charles||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Walters, Dennis|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Longden, Gilbert||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)||Loveys, Walter H.||Webster, David|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Dean, Paul||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Whitelaw, William|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||McMaster, Stanley||Wise, A. R.|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Maitland, Sir John||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Eden, Sir John||Maude, Angus||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Mawby, Ray|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Emery, Peter||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Mr. Ian MacArthur and|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Mr. Dudley Smith.|
are particularly undesirable in our industrial history. If the Government mean what they say and really want to remove restrictive practices wherevver they are and make industry really competitive, if restrictive practices wherever they are constantly saying they want to do, to make it possible for us to increase our exports by being more competitive overseas, and if they want to get our industrial practices modernised and in line with our major industrial competitors, then they will accept this Amendment. If they are not prepared to do that, I must advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide the House.
Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—
The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 167.
|Albu, Austen||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Orbach, Maurice|
|Alldritt, Walter||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Orme, Stanley|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hill, J. (Midlothian)||Owen, Will|
|Barnett, Joel||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Beaney, Alan||Holman, Percy||Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S. E.)|
|Blackburn, F.||Hooson, H. E.||Parker, John|
|Boston, T. G.||Horner, John||Parkin, B. T.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Pentland, Norman|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S. W.)||Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton E.)||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Boyden, James||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Hoy, James||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Bradley, Tom||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Probert, Arthur|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Redhead, Edward|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Jackson, Colin||Rose, Paul B.|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Janner, Sir Barnett||Rowland, Christopher|
|Chapman, Donald||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Sheldon, Robert|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jeger, George (Goole)||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)||Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Darling, George||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Kenyon, Clifford||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lawson, George||Snow, Julian|
|Dodds, Norman||Leadbitter, Ted||Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Driberg, Tom||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Stones, William|
|Dunn, James A.||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Swain, Thomas|
|English, Michael||Lomas, Kenneth||Swingler, Stephen|
|Ensor, David||Loughlin, Charles||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)||Lubbock, Eric||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Fernyhough, E.||McBride, Neil||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||McCann, J.||Tomney, Frank|
|Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||MacColl, James||Tuck, Raphael|
|Foley, Maurice||MacDermot, Niall||Urwin, T. W.|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||McGuire, Michael||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Ginsburg, David||McLeavy, Frank||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Manuel, Archie||Wallace, George|
|Gregory, Arnold||Mapp, Charles||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Grey, Charles||Marsh, Richard||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mason, Roy||Whitlock, William|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||Molloy, William||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Griffiths, Will (M'chester, Exchange)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Murray, Albert||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Newens, Stan||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Hannan, William||Norwood, Christopher||Zilliacus, K.|
|Harper, Joseph||Oakes, Gordon|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Ogden, Eric|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Hazell, Bert||O'Malley, Brian||Mr. Ifor Davies and|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Oram, Albert E. (E. Ham, S.)||Mr. William Howie.|
Clause 3—(Powers Of Board Of Trade In Relation To Monopoly Situations)
I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in page 4, line 11, after "Act" to insert:
I hope that it will be convenient to deal at the same time with Amendment No. 14—page 4, line 15, leave out from "Parliament" to first "operate" in line 17. Amendment No. 19—page 4, line 33, at end insert:"as amended by the next following subsection"
Amendment No. 48—Clause 6, page 11, line 39, leave out "either". Amendment No. 49—Clause 6, page 11, line 44, leave out from "interest" to end of line 4 on page 12, and Amendment No. 83—Schedule 2, page 26, line 7, column 3, leave out "Section 10(2)" and insert:() Section 10(1)(e)(ii) of the principal Act (which enables orders under section 16 to be made on the authority of a resolution of the Commons House of Parliament) shall cease to have effect.
The House will be aware that when the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act, 1948, was passed, Section 10 provided that the powers thereby given to the Board of Trade could be exercised in two events: either in the event of the Commission's making a report that certain things were being done by the parties concerned as a result of which the public interest was being injured; or if Parliament passed a Resolution to similar effect. That provision was not changed when the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission Act, 1953, was passed. When the Bill was introduced, it was thought appropriate not to take away the power of this House. Indeed, it was believed a natural corollary that the House should be asked to assert the same powers on mergers. In Committee, as the result of an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), we had a debate about this matter. During that debate, I indicated that I was in favour of the Amendment provided that it were acceptable to the House of Commons. In our earlier debates, we have heard something about the relationship between the Executive and the House of Commons. I took the view that it would be inappropriate for the Executive to take the initiative in asking the House to deprive itself of powers given to it by an Act of Parliament. At the same time, it does not seem to me to be appropriate that after the Monopolies Commission has made a report which, in effect, exonerates a certain industry, there should be a review after a minimum interval of three months by the House of Commons. That would be particularly unfortunate in the case of a merger, because where a merger is concerned it is obviously important that those concerned should know without delay where they stand and should not have to run the gauntlet of seeing whether the House of Commons passes a resolution after an interval of three months. There is, moreover, the fact that experience has shown that since 1948 the House of Commons has not thought it convenient or desirable to pass any resolution of the kind contemplated in the 1948 Act. Therefore, it would not be doing too much violence to our constitutional arrangements if we now ask the House by a self-denying ordinance to agree to deprive itself of the powers which it has enjoyed since 1948. That is the effect of the Amendments."In section 10, in paragraph (e) of subsection (1), the word 'either' and the words from 'or (ii) not earlier than' to the end of the paragraph; and subsections (2)".
I should like to say how astonishing it is to us on this side that after a debate in which they heard nothing of the argument the whole of the Liberal Party should have gone into the Lobby to vote against the possibility of the trade unions even being referred to the Monopolies Commission. I hope that this fact will be noted outside.I thank the Minister without Portfolio for moving the Amendment. When we considered the matter in Committee it was the general view that these provisions under Section 10 (1,e,ii) of the 1948 Act had not proved to be needed and had never been used throughout the seventeen years during which that legislation had been in force. It was a curious provision of the 1948 Act that in certain circumstances, without an adverse report of the Commission having been made, the House of Commons might have been invited to declare certain practices to be against the public interest. I have been refreshing my memory by reading the interesting debates which took place in Standing Committee on this topic on 15th June, 1948. The Minister without Portfolio was a distinguished member of that Committee. I have already drawn his attention to the fact that for some extraordinary reason he did not speak in those debates. I am sure that had he done so, he would have spoken words of great common sense. It is a curious thing that although during that debate the Conservative Opposition had to press this matter to a Division, this is one of the few examples we have so far had in the past nine months of the Government reversing a decision which their party took at that time when it was in Government before. We argued against, and now we have been proved right. However, I do not think we want to make this a great party point. One of the interesting things about that debate was the prophetic words of Mr. John Freeman, now the High Commissioner in India. Replying to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn), who asked how often he thought these powers would be used, he replied "Very seldom". How right he was, because after 17 years those powers have yet to be used at all. I had thought of asking the Minister without Portfolio why it was not possible to accept the Amendments in Committee. I thought we had drafted an admirable Amendment to cover this point. Looking back to the Committee, it would be fair to say that the Amendments we then had down were precisely the same as the Amendments the House is now being invited to consider except for one very important difference. By oversight, my hon. Friends failed to omit, when we were omitting other things, the word "either". I think that if at that time we had proposed to omit that word our Amendments would have been absolutely correct and we should not have had to take up the time of the House now. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), who has been a very regular attender throughout our debates, in Committee and again today, when he has been one of only two hon. Members on the back benches opposite who have taken the trouble to intervene in these debates, is not able to be here at the moment, because he was the only person in Committee who expressed doubts whether it would be wise for the House to remove these powers and whether or not the occasion might arise when it would be necessary for the House of Commons to have these additional powers. I do not think he was wholly convinced by me or by the more powerful arguments adduced by the Minister without Portfolio on that occasion, and I thought that perhaps he might have been going to raise the subject now; but perhaps in the interim he has been convinced of the wisdom of these arguments. It seems to me that the conclusive thing about this small point was said by Mr. Oliver Lyttelton, as he then was, on 15th June, 1948, when he said that, if we wish to investigate a matter,
I think that Lord Chandos was quite right on that occasion, and I am glad the Government are taking back those powers after 17 years. It is not a party point, because the Conservative Party had an opportunity also, when passing monopolies legislation, to reverse this, but did not take the opportunity. I do not think circumstances are at all likely in which it would be necessary for the House of Commons to have these additional powers. Frankly, I think they are very dangerous powers for the House to have, and I hope that my hon. Friends will agree to this Amendment. Perhaps even the Liberal Party, now that it has ventured to join the debate, will agree to the House taking away these powers, which have been in existence for 17 years but which have never been exercised. I do not think any hon. Member need fear that the House of Commons will be in any way weakened by this. In my opinion it will be the Executive, if anybody, who will be slightly weakened. The House need to feel that it is losing anything which might be useful to it in any possible circumstances. We on this side would like to thank the hon. Gentleman for having given that assurance to the Committee and for having now brought forward this Amendment on Report."It is quite wrong to set up a body to do so and give that Commission very large powers for hearing evidence and then, when that expert body has concluded that the public interest is not being damaged, ad hoc on this particular matter to get the House of Commons to set it aside. That is quite the wrong way to legislate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 15th June, 1945; c. 899–900.]
I was asked why the Amendments were not accepted in Committee. The reason was that drafting points were involved and although, as the hon. Gentleman said, some of the Amendments that we are discussing with this one are in the same form as was proposed by him in Committee, this particular Amendment was not tabled then.
Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendments made: In page 4, line 15 leave out from "Parliament" to first "operate" in line 17.
In line 33 at end insert:
() Section 10 (1) (e) (ii) of the principal Act (which enables orders under section 10 to be made on the authority of a resolution of the Commons House of Parliament) shall cease to have effect.—[Sir Eric Fletcher.]
I beg to move, Amendment No. 20, in page 6, line 6, at the end to insert:
The purpose of the Amendment is to clarify the circumstances in which the Government may make an order to regulate prices under subsection (3, c). We put down the Amendment to carry out an undertaking given in Committee that the Government would consider whether the price control provisions could be so amended as to meet the concern that was expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite who felt that the Bill as drafted would enable Governments—not just the present one, but perhaps successive Government, too—to make Monopoly Commission Reports a pretext for price control, even if this was quite relevant to the Commission's actual findings. I think that the words we have proposed carry out the undertaking that was given. They mean that we have put into the Bill in legal form the undertaking that the Government will not use this power improperly, and that any proposal made by the Government to have price supervision or price regulation can be exercised only where it is a proper remedy for a situation that is revealed by an adverse report by the Commission."but the Board shall not, in relation to goods or services of any class to which the report relates, exercise the power conferred by virtue of paragraph (c) above unless it appears to the Board on the facts found by the Commission as stated in the report that prices charged in the case of goods or services of that class are, or have been, such as to operate, or to be expected to operate, against the public interest".
I thank the Government for going as far as they have done in this Amendment and for carrying out at least part of the undertaking which they gave in Committee. This problem exercised the Committee to a considerable extent, and a lot of concern was expressed about it, because, as originally drafted, the Bill gave power to control prices in a very much wider form than had been envisaged by anybody who had dealt with monopolies, and in a way which could have been used improperly by the Government, if they had an ulterior motive or desire, when a specific industry had been referred to the Monopolies Commission.It is true that the Amendment meets some o' the points that we made. It is true that there can be no price fixing by the Government unless there has been an adverse decision of the Board, and, as stated in the Amendment,
I am a little worried about the phrase,"that prices charged in the case of goods or services of that class are, … against the public interest."
and I would very much like to know what the Minister has in mind by including that phrase. I find it a little strange that the Monopolies Commission would come to this sort of decision on a hypothetical situation on which you. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would never rule. It would be very much better for the Commission to follow your example and not to rule on a hypothetical expectation. Will the Minister tell us why he thinks that this phrase is necessary? We are still very much concerned about the way in which this price control would be carried out if it were ever necessary to use these powers. Industry is concerned about it, for the Board is given power to fix a company's prices apparently indefinitely. Is this what the Government intend? Do they not envisage a time limit to the price fixing? Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot expect a company to continue in business if for any length of time the basis of its whole pricing policy has to be submitted to the Board of Trade? That is an attitude towards prices which cannot bring the kind of competition which we feel so necessary for the modernisation of industry. The Amendment does not meet another point which I put—that in the fixing of prices it is not enough to refer to the publication of a list. Does the Minister envisage the publication of one list? Most industries and businesses operate on a number of prices. Some have a single fixed price, but many have a variable price scale dependent, for example, on quantity. These points were made in Committee, and the Minister made favourable noises and gave an undertaking which he is fulfilling. But he gave no direct answer to my question, and in meeting the undertaking he has gone only part of the way. It is important that industry should be informed of what is in the Government's mind. How will the power operate, for how long, to what extent, and in what manner? If industry does not know these things, then it does not know what may be involved. It is the Government's duty to state the position quite clearly. This is the only place on Report to do so, because it is tied up with the Amendment. If we are given favourable answers by the Minister to my questions, we shall not want to do other than welcome the Amendment. The Minister may say that it is impossible to outline in the Bill an exact answer to my questions because a variable factor is involved. It might be a useful addition as a Schedule listing the methods of operation which the Government intend to use if they decide to take action under the Amendment. We are very concerned about the matter, and I ask the Minister, not only for my sake but for the sake of a considerable part of industry, to answer the questions which I have put to him."or to be expected to operate"
This concession does not go all the way. What we wished, as I understand it, was that the Board should not have the power to fix prices unless the Commission so recommended it—that is to say, unless the Commission were satisfied that there was no other way of dealing with the market domination—and only then should the Board of Trade be empowered to fix prices. This is a power of last resort. As I understand it, all that has happened now by this Amendment is that the Board is to retain the power to fix prices, even though the Commission does not so recommend. The Commission may find that the prices charged have been operating or may be expected to operate, against the public interest, but may in fact recommend quite a different remedy and propose a divesting decree or a hiving off operation, or something quite different, and yet, even though the Commission has done that the Board of Trade can ignore that remedy and propose the remedy of price fixing.This does not go as far as we would like. We would like the Board's power to depend upon a recommendation of price fixing by the Commission. I do not rule out the possibility that the Commission may so recommend, and in some cases I believe it has so recommended. However, it is a matter of last resort. I do not believe either side of the House wants to see a monoply so frozen that the power of price fixing is all that can be done, and it seems to me that in such an extreme and absolute situation it should be done only when the Commission finds there is no other way. However, as this Amendment stands, the Board of Trade is entitled to take that extreme view, even though the Commission has recommended some other remedy. This goes, not half-way but only a quarter of the way and, although it is better than nothing, it is not very much.
In regard to the point of the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) about these additional words to the Bill not going as far as he would wish, it is perhaps a hypothetical situation: but the point we had in mind is where the Commission reports adversely about price fixing arrangements by the industry that it has examined, but leaves it to the Board of Trade to find the remedy. This may not happen. What we have tried to cover is that circumstance which may arise.
It would be most helpful if the Minister of State could clear up this point. Is he saying that on the whole the Board of Trade would not use its pricing control powers unless in its adverse report the Monopolies Commission had referred to the pricing section? It would be quite possible to have an adverse report from the Monopolies Commission without a reference on prices, and therefore the Board of Trade would only operate if there was a mention of the pricing position.
I am sure that would be the situation. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) will see the words
It is perfectly clear from that that it is an adverse report on prices which is referred to. Now that these words are to be put into the Bill, it is only in these circumstances that the Board of Trade would act. There is the slightly hypothetical case where the Commission does not recommend the remedy but where, the Commission having made this kind of adverse report, the remedy must be found by the Board of Trade."unless it appears to the Board on the facts found by the Commission as stated in the report that prices charged …"
It also covers, on its wording, a state of affairs where the Commission has made an adverse report on prices but has also recommended a remedy other than price fixing.
Yes, but it has been implicit in monopolies legislation since 1948 that the action to be taken to remedy the mischiefs which have been found by the Commission must be approved by the Board of Trade. In this case, because Orders must be laid, it must be approved by Parliament. This gives an opportunity, after hon. Members have read the report of the Commission, to decide whether the Government are taking the right action. This is the situation. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree on reflection that we had to cover all the circumstances which might arise from an adverse report by the Commission.The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) asked whether the power to control or regulate prices or to ask that price lists be issued will be exercised for all time. As subsection (1) clearly states, the purpose of the control is to remedy mischiefs which have come to light as a result of the Commission's recommendations. On studying past reports from the Commission, we realised that some action might have to be taken in the future on prices, if past experience was any guide. As soon as the mischiefs have disappeared—if other arrangements can be made; if there is some divesting of monopoly power to get greater competition in the industry; whatever may happen which renders it necessary that the powers should be put on one side—it is a duty on the Board of Trade in practice, whether it is written into the Measure or not, to bring the powers which it has taken to an end, because the circumstances in which the powers needed to be exercised have also come to an end. Obviously this must be left to the Board of Trade and to Parliament's review of Orders and Statutory Instruments of the Board of Trade. On this question how the Government will exercise these powers subsection (3) says this:
"The Board may—
(b) require a person supplying goods or services to publish a list of or otherwise notify prices with or without such further information as may be so specified or described;
We gave a great deal of thought to those words, in the light of reports of the Monopolies Commission. It is difficult—in fact, impossible—to answer the hon. Member's request to specify in detail the action which will be taken by the Government on an adverse report by the Commission. Each adverse report has to be taken on its merits. We must see what the report says. We must see if the Commission has any recommendations to offer. In the absence of specific recommendations, we must see what is the best course to be taken by the Board of Trade in presenting an order for Parliamentary approval. It is impossible to specify in detail the action which will be proposed by the Board of Trade until we see the reports from the Commission. There may be very few indeed in which price control is requested directly by the Commission, or where the outcome of the report calls for these controls. I think the cases will be very few and will be very difficult to specify.(c) regulate to such extent and in such circumstances as may be provided by or under the order the prices to be charged for any goods or services so specified or described."
Would the hon. Gentleman say whether it would be possible under this legislation for the Board of Trade to lay down the prices charged by a particular industry and to say that that industry shall not be entitled to increase the prices of that range of goods without the authority of the Board of Trade? I believe this is the practice under the French system.
I think it would be possible, but obviously if the Board of Trade is going to act on the Monopoly Commission's Report we have got to wait until we have seen the Report before we can answer a question like that. It depends upon what the Report indicates, or suggests, or recommends. But offhand, I would say that the answer to the question is "Yes".
As I am sure the Minister of State will remember, I spoke at considerable length in Standing Committee. Therefore, I do not wish to detain the House this evening. However, I should like to emphasise a point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) about this being an action of last resort.This Amendment has gone half way towards meeting what was said in Committee. It was said that this was certainly the least acceptable remedy in cases where mischief is occurring. What disturbs us is that there is no responsibility laid on the Board of Trade not to allow this state of affairs to continue indefinitely as an acceptable solution. We would all be happier if there were some reference to the fact that this action should be taken pending other and more acceptable solutions. While the Amendment accepts the argument put forward in Committee that price regulation is, on the whole, an unsatisfactory state of affairs in a mixed economy, it does not suggest that it is incumbent upon the Board of Trade actively to pursue means of creating circumstances in which it can be terminated. I would feel much happier if something could be written into the Bill, possibly in another place, making it clear that not only should this course be adopted only after a recommendation by the Commission, but that it should be adopted preferably as an interim measure and that every attempt should be made to take some other step so that this does not become a permanent situation. It is very easy, through inertia, for this situation to continue.
To answer the point briefly, we considered this matter very fully indeed and, frankly, we could not find any way within the terms of the Bill of laying an obligation on the Board of Trade within a certain period of time to bring to an end the price fixing control, which is a control of last resort.If the hon. Member will look at past Reports of the Monopolies Commission where the prices issue was raised, he will find that the prices issue was not raised in isolation from other remedies and suggestions. I would think that in practice other remedies would be associated with this. If that is so, the price control would operate only as long as the prices mischief continued. I agree that this is rather a negative way of doing things, and if it could be an interim measure so much the better. But I think the hon. Gentleman will find in practice that the prices proposals or recommendations or adverse reports, whatever it may be, are not isolated. They are usually associated with other remedies as well.
Amendment agreed to.
The next Amendment is No. 21, in page 6, line 15, after "may", insert "by order", and we can discuss with it Amendment No. 22, in line 15, leave out "provide" and insert "prepare a scheme", Amendment No. 24, in line 31, leave out "for all such" and insert:
Amendment No. 25, in line 22, leave out "including" and insert "namely", and Amendment No. 72,"whenever the Board shall so provide, the Board shall publish a scheme making provision for such of the following".
Procedure Consequent Upon An Order Of The Board For The Division Of Any Trade Or Business
1. Every such scheme as is mentioned in subsection (5) of section 3 of this Act shall be subject to the sanctions of the Companies Court (in this Schedule called "the Court") and shall not take effect unless and until sanctioned by the Court and then only subject to any modifications or conditions which the Court may approve or impose.
2. Every application to the Court shall be made at the cost of the Board and in accordance with rules determined by the Board by statutory instrument.
3. Notice of every such scheme shall be served on every person whose rights are affected by the scheme, including (without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing) any company mentioned therein and the shareholders and creditors of any such company.
4. Such notice shall be accompanied by a print of the scheme together with an explanatory statement showing the effect of the scheme and shall state the date, time and place when and where the Court is to hear the petition for approving the scheme.
5. The company and any other person whose rights are affected may appear at the hearing of the petition to support, oppose or propose modifications to the scheme or conditions to be imposed by the Court and may present evidence to the Court in such form as the Court shall direct. The costs of any company or person so appearing shall be at the discretion of the Court.
6. The Court shall not sanction any scheme unless it is satisfied—
7. Nothing in any order made under subsection (5) of section 3 of this Act or in any scheme published under that subsection and confirmed with or without modifications or conditions under this schedule shall have the effect of subjecting any person to the payment of any tax of any nature whatsoever or of any stamp duty which would not have been payable if such order had not been made or such scheme had not been published and confirmed.
and the two Amendments to Amendment No. 31.
In dealing with the Amendments to Amendment No. 31, I imagine that it would be necessary to refer to Amendment No. 31.
I would say. If Amendment No. 21 falls the Amendments to Amendment No. 31 fall and therefore they should be discussed now.
I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 6, line 15, after "may", to insert "by order".The Minister of State was unwise enough to say earlier that he had not heard as much from me on Report as he had heard in Committee. I hastened to assure him that I would be on my feet and thereupon he hurried out of the Chamber, but he has now returned. I have become a creature of nocturnal habits recently and I find that I produce the most effective results during the hours of darkness, and as the sun is now setting I rise to my feet. The Amendment deals with the problem of the machinery of divesting. I use the word "divesting" to cover all those powers which the Board of Trade is taking in subsection (5) to break up a monopoly if those powers appear to be the right remedy in relation to the facts found by the Commission. I was glad to hear reiterated the view from the Government that on the whole the divesting procedure will be preferable, where it is possible, to the price control procedure; but it is important that the divesting procedure should be, as I told the Committee, not only effective but fair. To quote briefly from a speech made in the Committee:
That is a speech which the Minister without Portfolio will recognise came not from this side but from his hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) and it states succinctly exactly what this Amendment tries to achieve. It will be remembered that in Committee I moved two Amendments to deal with these points which were in the alternative. One was to adopt the procedure of Section 206 of the Companies Act, 1948, and to invoke the Companies Court as the machinery whereby the divesting should take place. The other was to set up a special tribunal along the lines of the tribunal set up under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, to apportion compensation paid under that Act. In the event, the opinion, at any rate on this side, seemed to favour the use of the Companies Court and this is what the Amendment seeks to do. In reply to a long and useful debate in Committee on this subject the Minister without Portfolio indicated the Government's thinking, which will require an Amendment to the Bill and we shall he coming to that Amendment later tonight. Although, as the Minister recognised in his brief intervention a moment ago, I shall have to refer to one or two points in the Government's Amendment they are alternative to the Amendment which we are now seeking to put forward. 9.15 p.m. The short point is that it must be for the Government to decide, having received a Report from the Monopolies Commission, that an order should be made for splitting up a monopoly, that a divesting order should be made. The question is: how should that order be implemented? As was recognised on both sides of the Committee, very difficult and complex problems arise, involving the rights of, perhaps, a large number of parties, some of them members of the companies, some of them employees, some of them creditors, some of them persons with whom contracts have been made, and so on. A large number of rights have to be dealt with, and the purpose of the Amendment is to establish a procedure whereby these complex questions can be settled in a way which is fair to all the parties concerned and which is manifestly seen to be fair. We propose adopting the procedure under Section 206 of the Companies Act whereby schemes of arrangement affecting the rights of participants in companies can be brought before the court and the court, if satisfied that they are fair and equitable, may sanction them. We felt that there was a sufficient degree of similarity between the schemes which often come before the Companies Court under Section 206 and the orders which would have to be made by the Board of Trade under this legislation to justify the use of that procedure or something akin to it in this case. The advantages, briefly, are these. The judge in the Companies Court is someone who stands right apart from the parties. He is clearly impartial. He is in a position not to be concerned with the political question, which is bound to arise, of whether an order should be made, the broad lines on which it should be made, what should be divested, how the company should be split up, and so on. He will be in a position to adjust the rights and powers of all the parties so as effectively to carry into operation the order which the Board of Trade will have made, and at the same time, to do justice to all concerned. The suggestion made by the Minister without Portfolio in Committee, which is embodied in the Government Amendment, does not use the Companies Court and it does not use an independent tribunal. It treats the whole question as an administrative one, and the matter is to be decided by the Board of Trade, although, I hasten to add, the Minister without Portfolio went on to say that he would envisage that, in certain circumstances, it might be right for the Department to employ the services of an expert in this subject, a member of the companies Bar or, perhaps, a senior accountant, who could be employed to advise the Department on the best method of carrying its intentions into effect. But, basically, the difference between the two sides of the House on this issue is that we favour a more formal procedure using the courts whereas the Government favour the more administrative procedure within the Board of Trade. In reply to the Amendment which I moved in Committee, the Minister without Portfolio—I hope that I am not misleading the House or distorting his attitude—made five objections which he regarded as the major objections to our proposal. First, he said that the procedure under Section 206 of the Companies Act was not really analogous to the requirements under Clause 3(5); the two situations were really different in kind and, for that reason, it would not be right to import the Companies Act procedure for use in these circumstances. Obviously, the situations are not exactly the same. Under the Companies Act, for the most part, schemes of arrangement are brought forward by the companies or by participants in the companies themselves, whereas under this legislation the schemes would need to be promoted by the Board of Trade in implementation of a decision to carry out the recommendations of the Monopolies Commission. To that extent there is a difference. On the other hand, the nature of the operations that will have to be carried out dealing with the rights—this is the matter which engaged the attention of the Committee; it involves, to some extent, the right of debenture holders who have a floating charge on the assets of the company, the problem of dealing with different classes of shareholders who may have different rights either when the company is in operation or when it winds up, the problem of dealing with creditors who may have money secured on the assets of the company, the problem of dealing with people with contracts, employees and so on—these are all very similar to the problems which the Companies Court deals with under Section 206. Therefore, if one looks at how the matter reaches the court, there is a difference. If one looks at the matters with which the court would be expected to deal, I suggest that they are very similar and that the judge in the Companies Court would find himself on very familiar ground. Therefore, I cannot accept the first objection which the Minister without Portfolio made to the suggestion. The Minister's second point was one with which one is familiar in this legislation—namely, that the issues raised are not justiciable. That was argued out ad nauseam on the 1956 Restrictive Trade Practices Act. The hon. Gentleman argued that this is really an administrative matter. Is this so? Even if it were entirely an administrative matter, is not the nature of the Companies Court judge's jurisdiction more analogous to an administrative procedure than to something which is strictly justiciable? The judge has to make up his mind on the points of detail that arise when the scheme of arrangement is under consideration by the court, but the jurisdiction of the Companies Court is of the nature of an administrative procedure and smacks more of that than of a purely judicial procedure involving the normal processes of the courts. The point about this, however, is that at some stage, and it may be at many stages, during the working out of the divesting order someone "will have to decide" The Minister without Portfolio will, no doubt, recognise those words for he uttered them three times during the debate in Committee. It is our contention that if someone has to decide, this is exactly the sort of matter which ought to be decided by one of Her Majesty's judges sitting in one of the ordinary courts of the land and not inside the Administration or one of the Departments of Government. Therefore, I submit that, so far as this is a justiciable issue, so far as it is a point which someone will have to decide, it is the courts and not the Government which ought to decide. The third point made by the Minister without Portfolio was that the right place for this matter to be considered was the Floor of the House when the order is brought in, and that the court is the wrong place. We envisage two stages in this procedure. One is the decision that an order shall be made and the broad lines upon which the Board of Trade will expect the order to be carried into effect. That is clearly one for the Government and should require the approval of this House. The second stage, the detailed stage of implementing the order, is quite different. I submit that it is quite unsuitable for consideration on the Floor of the House. One's imagination boggles at the suggestion that individual hon. Members, briefed, perhaps, by constituents who represent different interests in the company which is the subject matter of the order—some perhaps speaking for the preferential shareholder, others for the debenture shareholder and others for the creditors—should argue all the details of this on the Floor of the House when the order is brought up for approval. It would really be a fantastic procedure and I cannot imagine how it could possibly be an effective check upon the power of the Government to carry the order through. In any event, I believe that I am right in saying that this House has no power to amend an order which comes before it for approval. It has power only to accept it or reject it. Presumably, if the order were so shot full of holes that the Government felt it required to be rewritten, the Minister in charge could withdraw it and we would have a second go at it but that would be a very unsatisfactory procedure. I cannot believe that this matter has been properly thought out by the Board of Trade and that it has seriously envisaged the problems that could arise on the Floor of the House in the event of an order of that kind coming before it in all its details. Fourthly, I have collected a number of epithets that the Minister without Portfolio applied to the procedure we suggest. He said that it would be unnecessary, anomalous, expensive and undesirable and would cause delay and inconvenience. But it would be just, fair and open. It would give the opportunity to the company concerned, if it had serious points to raise, to put its case in open court and to be heard in public. It would be able to cross-examine and put arguments. In a matter of this sort, where substantial matters of private rights are affected, that is a better procedure than an inevitably somewhat secret administrative machine working behind closed doors. Finally, the hon. Gentleman argued that there would be no equity in the Statute—I use the word "equity" in its technical sense—since the Government or somebody would have to tell the court, having imposed this duty upon it, how it would resolve that duty. I am quoting as nearly as I can from his words. But, with respect, he has now answered his own question. Without straying beyond the rules of order, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Government Amendment No. 71, the new Schedule, which is entitled:"The fundamental fact upon which everyone is agreed is that the Government must have the right to decide whether a divestment shall take place. What is in question is to ensure that the arrangements by which the divestment takes place shall be seen to be fair."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 6th May, 1965, c. 301.]
This is the Government's solution to the problem and the concluding words seem to me to express exactly the duty that should quite properly be placed upon the court in these circumstances when implementing the order which the Board of Trade has seen fit to introduce. The court should ensure, to use the words of the Schedule,"Procedure preliminary to laying drafts of Orders referred to in section 3(10)(a) of this Act."
I cannot see the difficulty. If that duty were placed on the court, it would be perfectly clear. I think that I have now listed all five of the major grounds upon which the Government sought to resist this Amendment in Committee. I hope that I have convinced the House that some of them have no foundation but that, where there are some grounds, those grounds are not sufficient to lead the House to reject the Amendment. The choice is clear. We on this side clearly prefer to see the matter, the detailed implementation of the order, brought before the court and argued out in open court where all the parties can put their point of view and where justice can be seen to be done. The Government's solution is to do it behind closed doors within the Department as part of the administrative machine. That, in our view, is unacceptable."… that the rights and interests of persons likely to be affected by the provisions of the order are so adjusted as to secure an equitable distribution of any burden or benefit ensuing from any provision of the order."
I have listened very carefully to what the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) has had to say about the Amendment, and I also listened very carefully, as the whole Committee did, to what he had to say at even greater length in Committee. I am bound to say that he has not added much by way of argument to what he said in Committee.In his introductory remarks, quoting my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell), he posed what we all agree to be the question when he said that what was at issue was to ensure that the arrangements by which the divestment took place should be seen to be fair. The difference between the situation in Committee, and as it now appears, is that since the Committee stage, and very largely as a result of the protracted debate which we had then, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has put forward a whole series of Amendments which go a very long way to meet the substance, though not the form, of the criticisms which were made in Committee. I then gave a series of undertakings, all of which are implemented by the Government's Amendments, which we shall reach in a few moments. Those undertakings in effect were that the Government would put forward Amendments to this Clause which would, first, create a statutory obligation to publish a preliminary draft Order; secondly, to require the Board of Trade to give interested parties an opportunity to make representations before preparing the final draft of the Order to be made before Parliament; thirdly, requiring the Board of Trade to take account of those representations before preparing the final draft Order; finally, after further debate in Committee, I went further and gave the undertaking that we would also introduce an obligation that in the making of any Order for divestment regard should be had to the need for equitable adjustment of the rights of the parties. Those undertakings are now incorporated in Amendment No. 31 which is the paving Amendment for the new Schedule in Amendment No. 71. As the hon. Gentleman has said, the simple issue between us is whether the detailed arrangements which will flow from any divestment Order should be left for adjudication in a court of law by some procedure similar to that which obtains under Section 206 of the Companies Act when a company is wound up, or when there is an amalgamation; or whether those details and complex arrangements, including not only the respective rights as between the various classes of shareholders, debenture holders, creditors and other contracting parties, should be left for settlement either by the Board of Trade itself, or by the Board of Trade in consultation with some eminent lawyer, chartered accountant or other expert qualified to deal with these matters, as will frequently be the case. The hon. Gentleman keeps repeating that he would be happier if these matters were dealt with by a court of law and he says how important it is that there should be impartiality. I must remind the House that it is not only the courts which are capable of handling matters of this kind with impartiality, and that it is not the function of the courts to deal with complicated solutions on the basis of what is fair, as the Amendment would require. That is not the function of the court of law. Judges have repeatedly complained that it is not what they ought to be asked to do. There was an instance only the other day in the House of Lords when a Law Lord and an ex-Lord Chancellor pointed this out. It must be repeated in this House in answer to the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wanstead and Woodford
It follows from that that this House ought not to impose upon Her Majesty's judges the obligation of resolving matters in dispute between citizens on the basis of what is fair without first laying down the principles which should apply. It is for Parliament to make laws and it is for the judges to administer those laws. If circumstances arise in monopoly legislation in which, as a result of a divestment order having to be made, somewhat complicated assessments have to be made between the respective interests of various parties, in a situation in which Parliament has not and cannot lay down any canon or yardstick which the judges should apply, it is not fair to ask those judges to discharge that function. It is placing upon them a burden which is unreasonable and contrary to the high judicial office which they serve. I have tried to make it plain in the Committee stage, and I repeat with emphasis that in my view it would be contrary to all principle and constitutional understanding and relationship between Parliament and the judiciary if that Amendment were accepted. There is the necessity of making arrangements that are fair and equitable between the parties. That is what the Amendment of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade seeks to do. It goes far beyond the definition in the Opposition Amendment which is merely an injunction to Her Majesty's judges to do what is fair. That is something which I do not think ought to be imposed upon them. We have examined this matter at great length, and I thought that by putting down this series of Amendments we had ensured that the interested parties would not, as the Bill originally proposed, be faced with a draft order but that they would have ample opportunity of seeing a preliminary draft order advertised in the London Gazette and brought to their notice, followed by the opportunity of having consultations with the Board of Trade in which they could make representations. Over and above that there is the assurance that wherever necessary some expert on this subject will be called on to settle disputes. I would have thought that solution would have been more than enough to satisfy the Opposition that we wanted to meet their legitimate objections in the best possible way. The hon. Member referred to five points which were dealt with in Committee. I have attempted to deal with all of them. For the reasons which I have given, I hope that these Amendments will be rejected."The duty of Her Majesty's Judges is not merely to administer justice, but to administer justice according to the law. Those of us who have taken the judicial Oath will remember it; it for ever rings in our ears. It is to do right to all manner of men according to the laws and usages of this Realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will'—and that is what Her Majesty's Judges try to do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1965; House of Lords, Vol. 266, c. 21.]
I reject entirely the Minister's suggestion that the judges could not do this job. They have frequently to apply the principles of equity, which are fairly clear and are laid down in a very good book called Snell with which the Minister is undoubtedly familiar.
If the Minister cannot read the whole of Snell, I can refer him to Rivington's Epitome of Snell, of which the fifth edition was edited by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford.
What is fair and equitable is not the length of the Chancellor's foot. It is laid down in various principles going back over hundreds of years. If we cannot find one of those principles, we are driven to such fundamental principles as equity is equality and all the other maxims which illustrate the good sense of the courts of equity since the days of Lord Chancellor Nottingham and before. I have no doubt that these principles will also be applied by the Board of Trade if the Minister has his way, because they are not something dreamt up and artificial but are fundamental to our ideas of justice.The judges of the Companies Court are accustomed to applying these principles in matters dealing with a conflict of interest between different classes of contractors and different debtors, some of whom may have floating charges over the whole assets of a company to be divested and the question of where the floating charge shall fall in the case of divestment. I am sure that the Board of Trade will be obliged to apply these principles, subject to the advice of a distinguished lawyer or accountant, whoever it is the Minister wishes to bring in. The only question between us is whether it is to be done openly so that people can see and hear how it is done, or whether it is to be done secretly. It seems to me far better that it should be done openly, because if somebody does not get his way, or if his submission is turned down, he will not go away with that sense of grievance which people always have, rightly or wrongly, and usually wrongly. If it is done secretly and by administrative order, people always think that they have been "got at" and that they have been unfairly treated, whereas if it is done in open court, where they can hear what the other parties say and meet it in public, they go away with a far less sense of grievance. The Minister knows this perfectly well. That is the point of administering justice in open court before a person who is totally independent of political pressure. The principles which will be administered by the Board of Trade will be those which the judges administer. I am sure that it will do its best to be impartial and that most of the time, if not all of the time, it will succeed. The only residual complaint will be that people will not believe that it happens because they want to have their day in court. This is not one of those cases about which we often hear where people say, "But the courts are so expensive", because, ex hypothesi, a good deal of money will be at stake. They will not be cases in which there is a dispute under the National Health Act or the National Insurance Act on the part of people who cannot afford legal fees. A good deal of money will be in dispute, and therefore the expense of the proceedings before the Companies Court are not an issue. The only issue is whether it is to be done openly and whether justice is not only done but seen to be done, because, as I say, the principles on which the Board of Trade acts will be exactly the same as the age-long principles on which the Companies Court acts and on which any court of law administering a system of equity has acted on for centuries.
The argument which I have heard on the Amendment seems to be very much the argument that was put many centuries ago over the Star Chamber Court, through which many of us pass when we come into the House every day. The Star Chamber Court probably dispensed as good justice as was carried out in the ordinary courts of the Realm, but it was carried out in secret and, therefore, the public had no confidence in it.When we in this House pass legislation, we are not able to find whether it works in a just manner unless the cases that come before the court as a result of that legislation are dealt with in public so that we as Members of Parliament and people throughout the country can form a view of what is happening. For the Board of Trade to deal with these problems in secret—
The hon. Member is under a misapprehension. There is no question of secrecy. A draft scheme must be produced and published in the London Gazette. In the second stage, it must be laid before the House. There is no question of secrecy. All this will be done in broadest daylight.
With respect, it will not be done in daylight, because most of the arguments and submissions will be put before a body appointed by the Board of Trade. They will not take place in public. The only basis on which we get justice done is when all the submissions and counter-arguments on both sides are made in open court.Judges are just as able to deal with these problems as anybody in the Board of Trade. I am certain that the House is taking a retrograde step in producing legislation which will not be operated in the full blaze of publicity of the realm. Therefore, because of these arguments, I support the Amendment.
The House will be glad to know that I intend to be short, as all my hon. Friends have been in our many debates on the Amendments today. I shall be short because there is still enough left for us to debate by the many hon. Members who have yet to follow to take us to the early hours—or perhaps I should say the late hours—of the morning and I do not want to keep the House too long. Furthermore, I realise that debates on what are sometimes rather technical matters which may take place in the small hours, even though relieved from time to time by Divisions, can be a little tedious and trying for the patience of hon. Members.Thirdly, I intend to be short because the case has been deployed fully by my hon. Fr end the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), who deployed it with his usual brevity, cogency and eloquence. In Committee upstairs, he deployed the case at considerable and greater length, ably assisted by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) to whom, with others of my hon. Friends, tribute was paid by the Minister without Portfolio. There is no doubt that in Committee my hon. Friends did a great service to the House by highlighting the problem that would arise if an Amendment such as we suggested was not incorporated in the Bill. I agree that the Minister has done exactly as he promised to do. He has introduced an Amendment making it a statutory obligation to publish a preliminary
Division No. 212.]
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Berkeley, Humphry||Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Biff en, John||Brinton, Sir Tatton|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Biggs-Davison, John||Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Bingham, R. M.||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Buchanan-Smith, Alick|
|Batsford, Brian||Black, Sir Cyril||Bullus, Sir Eric|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Bossom, Hn. Clive||Burden, F. A.|
|Bell, Ronald||Box, Donald||Butcher, Sir Herbert|
draft order. We said that we would consider whatever proposal the Minister put forward and that in the meantime we would table our own Amendments to safeguard our position. Having considered the Minister's Amendment, my hon. Friends and I do not consider that it goes far enough.
The point at issue, which has been stressed on several occasions from both sides, is whether the matter should be dealt with administratively or judicially. It has been argued time and time again that some aspects of a proposed scheme or order would not be judiciable. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) answered that point extremely well and demolished that argument.
It has been said by the Minister without Portfolio that the courts are not the only impartial bodies, and I accept that. It is true that a Department of State can, in certain circumstances at least, be equally impartial. The point is whether those who have to appear before the Department of State believe that it is likely to be as impartial as a court of law. It is a platitude to say that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done, but a platitude, after all, is only a truth of which we are tired of hearing: it does not get any less true by repetition. This is a case where justice has to be seen to be done, and I think it has been shown by my hon. Friends, time and time again, by their arguments skilfully deployed, that the courts would be able to deal with these questions.
For these reasons, and because we are not at all satisfied that the alternative way proposed by the Government is the right way of doing it, and because we believe our Amendment is the right way, I would advise my hon. Friends to divide the House.
Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—
The House divided: Ayes 154, Noes 162.
|Buxton, Ronald||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hawkins, Paul||Page, R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Higgins, Terence L.||Peel, John|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Pounder, Rafton|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Cole, Norman||Hooson, H. E.||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Cooke, Robert||Hopkins, Alan||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Hordern, Peter||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Corfield, F. V.||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.||Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin|
|Costain, A. P||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Iremonger, T. L.||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Curran, Charles||Johnson Smith, G. (East Grinstead)||Roberts, sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)||Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)||Sharpies, Richard|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Kilfedder, James A.||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Dean, Paul||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Kirk, Peter||Soames, Rt. Hn. Christopher|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Stainton, Keith|
|Eden, Sir John||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Stanley, Hn. Richard|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Litchfield, Capt. John||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Emery, Peter||Loveys, Walter H.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Lubbock, Eric||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Eyre, Reginald||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)||MacArthur, Ian||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Foster, Sir John||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Gardner, Edward||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||McMaster, Stanley||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Maitland, Sir John||Walters, Dennis|
|Goodhew, Victor||Maude, Angus||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Grant, Anthony||Mawby, Ray||Webster, David|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Whitelaw, William|
|Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Wise, A. R.|
|Gurden, Harold||Mitchell, David||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Woodhouse, Hon. Christopher|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Hamilton, M. (Salisbury)||Neave, Airey|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Nugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard||Mr. Francis Pym and|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)||Mr. Jasper More.|
|Albu, Austen||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Alldritt, Walter||Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Fernyhough, E.||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Barnett, Joel||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. (Stechford)|
|Beaney, Alan||Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Blackburn, F.||Foley, Maurice||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)|
|Boston, T. G.||Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Kenyon, Clifford|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S. W.)||Ginsburg, David||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth. Central)|
|Boyden, James||Gregory, Arnold||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Grey, Charles||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)|
|Bradley, Tom||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Griffiths, Will (M'chester, Exchange)||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)||Loughlin, Charles|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Hannan, William||McBride, Neil|
|Chapman, Donald||Harper, Joseph||McCann, J.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hart, Mrs. Judith||MacColl, James|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hazell, Bert||MacDermot, Niall|
|Cronin, John||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||McGuire, Michael|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Hill, J. (Midlothian)||McLeavy, Frank|
|Darling, George||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Manuel, Archie|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Holman, Percy||Mapp, Charles|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Homer, John||Marsh, Richard|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Mason, Roy|
|de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey||Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.)||Molloy, William|
|Delargy, Hugh||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Dodds, Norman||Howie, W.||Murray, Albert|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Hoy, James||Newens, Stan|
|Driberg, Tom||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Dunn, James A.||Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Norwood, Christopher|
|English, Michael||Janner, Sir Barnett||Oakes, Gordon|
|Ensor, David||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Ogden, Eric|
|O'Malley, Brian||Rose, Paul B.||Tomney, Frank|
|Oram, Albert E. (E. Ham, S.)||Rowland, Christopher||Tuck, Raphael|
|Orbach, Maurice||Sheldon, Robert||Urwln, T. W.|
|Orme, Stanley||Shore, Peter (Stepney)||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Owen, Will||Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Palmer, Arthur||Silkin, John (Deptford)||Wallace, George|
|Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S. E.)||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Parker, John||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Whitlock, William|
|Parkin, B. T.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Pavitt, Laurence||Skeffington, Arthur||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Pentland, Norman||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Perry, Ernest G.||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Popplewell, Ernest||Snow, Julian||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Stones, William||Winterbottom, R, E.|
|Probert, Arthur||Summerskill, Hn, Dr. Shirley||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Swain, Thomas||Zilliacus, K.|
|Redhead, Edward||Swingler, Stephen|
|Reynolds, G. W.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)||Mr. George Lawson and|
|Mr. Harry Gourlay.|
It being after Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.
That the Proceedings on the Monopolies and Mergers Bill may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. O'Malley.]
Bill, as amended ( in the Standing Committee), further considered.
I beg to move, Amendment No. 23, in page 6, line 17, to leave out "or otherwise".
I suggest that with this Amendment the House should consider Amendment No. 52, in page 13, line 17 at the end to insert—
() Section 3 of the principal Act, as applied by section 6, shall have effect as if, in subsection (4), the reference to bodies corporate becoming interconnected bodies corporate included a reference to enterprises being brought under common control otherwise than by reason of their becoming enterprises of interconnected bodies corporate, and to enterprises ceasing to be carried on as mentioned in subsection (1) above, and, in subsection (5), the reference to the division of a trade or business as therein mentioned included a reference to the separation, by the sale of any part of any undertaking or assets concerned or other means, of enterprises which are under common control otherwise than by reason of their being enterprises of interconnected bodies corporate.
I am sure that it will be convenient to take the two Amendments together.This is a short but not unimportant point which, owing to some muddle on both sides of the Committee, we were unfortunately unable to take in Committee. Clause 3(5) states that
The Board of Trade are therefore taking very wide powers. What have they in mind by the inclusion of the words "or otherwise"? Under which circumstances would it be necessary to provide"The Board may provide for the division of any trade or business by the sale of any part of the undertaking or assets or otherwise …"
in any circumstances apart from"for the division of any trade or business"
Have the Board of Trade any examples in mind for which this sort of procedure, whatever it may be, would be appropriate? I can imagine that under the subsection it would be possible for the Board of Trade—although I hope improbable—to divide any assets arbitrarily, alloting some assets to some and some to others. But I do not see how that could be done with the assets of a company. Presumably they would have to liquidate the company to sell the assets and split the proceeds among the people among whom they wished to divide the assets, in which case they would have provided for a division of the trade or business by the sale of any part of the undertaking. I hope that the Minister of State will tell us under which circumstances he proposes to use the words "or otherwise", which are in a sense repeated in the Government's Amendment No. 52, which includes the words"the sale of any part of the undertaking or assets"?
That covers the same point. The Clause as drafted gives the Government practically carte blanche as to how they treat assets in a company. No one should ever give any Government carte blanche, and certainly not this Government, and certainly not without finding out exactly what they have in mind. I can envisage no circumstances in which it would be possible to provide for the division of any such trade or business unless there were a sale of some part of the undertaking at some stage. I hope that the Minister of State will tell us why the words are in the Bill. Is it just a precaution for the remote future to deal with some obscure situation? What is the reason for the inclusion of these words?"the division of a trade or business as therein mentioned included a reference to the separation, by the sale of any part of any undertaking or assets concerned or other means …"
As the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) said, this is a small point, although it could be important if one read into it the misgivings he appears to have. This is a cautionary suggestion, because if the Amendment were accepted the effect would be that the Board of Trade could provide for a trade or business to be divided only by the sale of its undertaking or its assets. This might operate, in certain circumstances, to the disadvantage of the parties concerned.As the hon. Member knows, these are hypothetical matters at the moment, although we have looked back at previous monopoly examinations to see whether we are on firm ground. The probability we have in mind is where, for example, it might be more convenient for part of the undertaking or assets of a company to be transferred to another company in return for shares issued either to the first-named company or to its shareholders. Technically, this would not be a sale, but it would be excluded. It would be an arrangement which might be of great advantage to the parties concerned, because this would be better than selling off the assets. Therefore, to exclude the possibility from the Bill would, we think, be rather a mistake. In most cases, where divestment is called for on a report from the Commission it would be obtained by a sale of the undertaking or part of the undertaking, or whatever it may be. But circumstances may arise where the example I have given would be of greater advantage to the persons concerned.
I find that a most puzzling reply, and I say that with respect to the Minister of State. What is the example which he gives of the transfer of assets in exchange for the issue of shares if it is not a sale? How does the nature of the consideration affect the basis of the transaction? However this matter is dealt with, at some stage there must be a sale. It might be possible, as my hon. Friend said, to envisage a case, to take a silly example, where a company is running two buses and it has been found to be monopolising a particular corner of the country. It has two shareholders, and the buses are to be divided between the two shareholders. Even that would have to be a sale. The company would be liquidated and the liquidator would sell the buses one to each shareholder. The authorities I have consulted on this matter cannot envisage any circumstances whereby a divesting under this subsection can take place without there being technically a sale; hence the Amendment to remove the words "or otherwise", and I remain utterly unconvinced by what the Minister of State has said in his reply.
I echo the misgivings which have been voiced by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin). The example quoted by the Minister of State was a transfer for consideration. It is true that it was a transfer for shares, but for the valuable consideration which those shares represent. Surely that is nothing less than a sale. These words are surplusage, because the disposal of that part of the company which has been divested can be obtained eventually only through a sale. The Minister of State's reply was puzzling. I should like to be reassured.
I am glad that at last, since Second Reading, we have had some words from the Liberal Party.
There have been none before simply because no Liberal Member was put on the Standing Committee.
We have been discussing the Bill since 3.30 this afternoon. Subsection (5) says this:
We have taken this to mean that the arrangement is for a straightforward sale. The situation I was describing would be more correctly described as an exchange of shares, which is not the same as a sale. Therefore the words "or otherwise" have been put in to cover that situation."The Board may provide for the division of any trade or business by the sale of any part of the undertaking or assets or otherwise."
When I moved the Amendment my hon. Friends and I had imagined that there would be some simple explanation for the inclusion of these words. I find the Minister of State's explanation incomprehensible. I am fortified in this view by the support of the Liberal Party, which I did not expect to have. I cannot understand why the transfer of assets for shares should not be a sale, whereas the transfer of assets for money is a sale. I am no lawyer, but I am supported by two Queen's Counsel. My hon. Friends must have found the Minister of State's reply extremely unsatisfactory, one which has made them have worries about this part
Division No. 213.]
|Albu, Austen||Gregory, Arnold||Marsh, Richard|
|Alldritt, Walter||Grey, Charles||Mason, Roy|
|Atkinson, Norman||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Maxwell, Robert|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Griffiths, Will (M'chester, Exchange)||Mayhew, Christopher|
|Barnett, Joel||Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Molloy, William|
|Beaney, Alan||Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Blackburn, F.||Hannan, William||Murray, Albert|
|Boston, T. G.||Harper, Joseph||Newens, Stan|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S. W.)||Hazell, Bert||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)|
|Boyden, James||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Norwood, Christopher|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Oakes, Gordon|
|Bradley, Tom||Hill, J. (Midlothian)||Ogden, Eric|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||O'Malley, Brian|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||Holman, Percy||Oram, Albert E. (E. Ham, S.)|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury)||Homer, John||Orbach, Maurice|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Orme, Stanley|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.)||Owen, Will|
|Chapman, Donald||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Howie, W.||Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S. E.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hoy, James||Parker, John|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Cronin, John||Janner, Sir Barnett||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Pentland, Norman|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jeger, George (Goole)||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Darling, George||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. (Stechford)||Probert, Arthur|
|Delargy, Hugh||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Dodds, Norman||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Redhead, Edward|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Kenyon, Clifford||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Driberg, Tom||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Richard, Ivor|
|Dunn, James A.||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Leadbitter, Ted||Rose, Paul B.|
|English, Michael||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Rowland, Christopher|
|Ensor, David||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Sheldon, Robert|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lomas, Kenneth||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Loughlin, Charles||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)|
|Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||McBride, Neil||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Floud, Bernard||McCann, J.||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Foley, Maurice||MacColl, James||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||MacDermot, Niall||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||McGuire, Michael||Snow, Julian|
|Ginsburg, David||Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)||Stones, William|
|Gourlay, Harry||Manuel, Archie||Summerskill, Hn Dr. Shirley|
of the Bill which they did not have before this short debate took place.
In view of the Minister of State's reply, the best thing for us to do is to test the matter in the Lobbies. This is most unsatisfactory. I cannot believe that any hon. Member opposite could have understood the Minister of State's explanation. If there is any doubt whatsoever, it is far better for the Government's powers to be restricted to provide
"for the division of any trade or business by the sale …"
That is clear. It is comprehensible. What the Government have put into the Bill is neither clear nor comprehensible. Therefore, I advise my hon. Friends to support the Amendment in the Lobby.
Question put, That "or otherwise" stand part of the Bill:—
The House divided: Ayes 160, Noes 151.
|Swain, Thomas||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Swingler, Stephen||Wallace, George||Winter-bottom, R. E.|
|Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Wells, William (Walsall. N.)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)||Whitlock, William|
|Tomney, Frank||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Tuck, Raphael||Wilkins, W. A.||Mr. George Lawson and|
|Urwin, T. W.||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)||Mr. Ifor Davies.|
|Walden, Brian (All Saints)||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Foster, Sir John||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Gardner, Edward||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Glover, Sir Douglas||Mitchell, David|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Barlow, Sir John||Goodhew, Victor||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Batsford, Brian||Grant, Anthony||Neave, Airey|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Grant-Ferris, R.||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Bell, Ronald||Gresham Cooke, R.||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Grieve, Percy||Page, R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Biffen, John||Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Peel, John|
|Bingham, R. M.||Gurden, Harold||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Pounder, Rafton|
|Bossom, Hn. Clive||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Box, Donald||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Pym, Francis|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry||Harvie, Anderson, Miss||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Hawkins, Paul||Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Higgins, Terence L.||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Buxton, Ronald||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Sharpies, Richard|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Hooson, H. E.||Shepherd, William|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hopkins, Alan||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Hordern, Peter||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.||Soames, Rt. Hn. Christopher|
|Cole, Norman||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Stainton, Keith|
|Cooke, Robert||Iremonger, T. L.||Stanley, Hn. Richard|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Costain, A. P.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Crawley, Aidan||Kilfedder, James A.||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Curran, Charles||Kirk, Peter||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Langford-Holt, Sir John||van Straubenzee, W, R.|
|Dance, James||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Walters, Dennis|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Litchfield, Capt. John||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Dean, Paul||Loveys, Walter H.||Webster, David|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Lubbock, Eric||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Whitelaw, William|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||MacArthur, Ian||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Eden, Sir John||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Wise, A. R.|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||McMaster, Stanley|
|Emery, Peter||Marten, Neil|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Errington, Sir Eric||Maude, Angus||Mr. Jasper More and|
|Eyre, Reginald||Mawby, Ray||Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
I beg to move, Amendment No. 26, in page 6, line 43, to leave out from "above" to "the" in line 44.The purpose of the Amendment is quite clear, like that of all our Amendments. It deletes the words
We feel that it is wrong that the Board of Trade, only having the making of an order in mind, should be able to bring the activities of a company to a halt and to impose all the restrictions empowered under the Clause, including the power to control and supervise the company until such time as the Board decided whether or not it wished to make an order. It is generally realised that it could be the cause of serious damage to a concern in that if the Board eventually decided not to proceed the concern would be unable to claim any compensation. We might have had a different view of the Clause if the Government had included a provision for compensation but they have not seen fit so to do. The reason for the insertion of the Clause, as I understand it and as the Minister of State confirmed in Committee, was to cover the possibility of a company, being subject to an adverse report by the Commission, attempting to forestall what it foresaw might be appropriate Board of Trade action. That, as I understand it, is really the reason why these words have been put in. I suggested in Committee, and I suggest again now, that a Clause on the lines of Section 24 of the Iron and Steel Act, 1949, which dealt with the dissipation of assets by transactions involving payments, distributions and so forth to members of the company, might have met the point which the Minister had in mind, and I still think that a Clause on those lines might deal with the worry which the Government have. The Minister of State promised in Committee,"or have the making of such an order under consideration".
The Government have tabled Amendment No. 27, which we are discussing with this one, to insert the words:"… we will look at the matter again to make sure that action will be taken only on receipt of an adverse report from the Monopolies Commission. The Board of Trade will not lay art order to prohibit or restrict the doing of things which might impede the operations of a company".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 6th May, 1965; c. 318.]
That does not seem to make very much change."with a view to the achievement of that purpose".
Order. We are not discussing Amendment No. 27 at the moment.
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I thought for a moment that we were debating the two together. However, it appears to me that the one relates to the other, and I am sure that the Minister takes the point I make.Perhaps I may again use the analogy of matrimonial intention which I used in Committee. As the Clause now stands, if the Minister had marriage under consideration, he could under the powers given by the Clause not only prevent the lady of his choice from marrying anyone else but he could also anticipate all the things he might do if, in fact, he did enter into marriage. That is the position under the Clause as it stands before the Amendment which we shall come to later. If I may just mention that later proposal again without going out of order, it would enable the Minister to say to his intended bride, "Everything I do is with a view to the achievement of my purpose, which at the moment is matrimony". The analogy is perfect but for one thing. If, having done his worst, the Minister did not marry, he could be sued for damages. Unfortunately, if the Board of Trade has done its worst to a company, has threatened an order and has taken action because it had the issuing of an order under consideration, and if the company is damaged thereby, there will be no claim to compensation of any kind. We do not regard the Government's Amendment as satisfactory. We consider that our Amendment No. 26, which I have moved, does precisely what we want to do. It removes the offending words, which we do not think should be there because they are inserted to provide against a possible contingency which can be covered in other ways. For these reasons I hope that, even at this stage and after tabling their own Amendment, the Government will relent and be prepared to accept our Amendment in place of their own.
The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) has reminded us that we discussed this matter at some length in Committee and I gave an undertaking that we would try to find a form of words to meet the legitimate concern then expressed. In a moment, I shall explain the difficulty we have had in seeking suitable words.The hon. Member tried to use, both in Committee and today, the analogy of marriage to explain the point of view that he had in mind. But I think that a more accurate analogy would be divorce. The measures that the Board of Trade may well take will be to divest—to break up—rather than to amalgamate. As the subsection is drafted, it provides for the Board of Trade to make orders to prevent the frustration of an order breaking up the business or other appropriate action, not only where such a break-up order under subsection (5) has been made but also where the Board of Trade has the making of such an order under consideration, which I suggest is very different from saying "a break-up order which the Board of Trade has in mind". It is actively under consideration. If these words were removed, the Board of Trade would not be able to act in anticipation of the breaking up order. We think it is important that the Board should have the power conferred by these words. First, the preparation of a breakup order under subsection (5), as I am sure the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) would agree, might in certain circumstances take a considerable time. The proposed scheme might be complicated. As I am sure that both the hon. Member for Reading and the hon. Member for Wycombe would like us to express again the purpose here, lengthy discussions with the firms concerned will probably be necessary because one does not want to take arbitrary action where arbitrary action is not needed. If one can get agreement between the firms, so much the better. Again, the draft order would then be required to be laid before each House of Parliament and approved by Resolution. All this will take time. If the Board of Trade could not use the powers that are conferred by subsection (6) before an order for the purposes of subsection (5) was actually made, it might be possible for the persons concerned so to arrange their affairs as to render the operation of the expected break-up order unnecessarily difficult, if not impossible. The matter, as I say, was discussed fully in Committee, and I undertook to see whether a form of words could be found which would make it quite clear that the Board would not use the power unless there had been an adverse report and the Board was bona fide contemplating the making of an order exercising the powers that are conferred by subsection (5). It is already clear that the power conferred by Clause 3(6) cannot be exercised unless there has been an adverse report. We have considered various ways of expressing this condition so as to indicate that the Board must be seriously and honestly considering the making of an order exercising the powers under subsection (5), and, short of imposing conditions which would, we think, deprive the power of most of its value, we cannot think of any words which express this intention better than the words which it is now proposed to delete. The hon. Member for Wycombe both in Committee and a few moments ago suggested that the Board's position could be protected by a provision on the lines of Section 24 of the Iron and Steel Act, 1949. We think that there is not a true parallel here. That Section was aimed against the dissipation of assets by companies due to be nationalised, and prohibited the return of capital to members and similar transactions except with the approval of the Minister. We think that this is quite a different situation, where the Board of Trade on an adverse report from the Monopolies Commission is quite clearly contemplating a break-up order, but before the order is made all the circumstances that I have referred to—the discussions with the firms concerned, the laying of the order before both Houses of Parliament—inevitably lead to delay before the appropriate action is taken. I think that one has to ensure that the Board of Trade has powers to deal with any action that would frustrate the purposes which the Board has in mind on the recommendations of the Monopolies Commission. Of course, we cannot foresee all the ways in which a company may set out to frustrate a divestment order once it suspects that one is to be made and therefore we cannot accept a limited power such as that suggested by the hon. Gentleman. But I make it clear again—and this is implicit in the Clause—that the Board of Trade could not possibly take action, using the power that the hon. Gentleman wants to omit, unless there had been an adverse report from the Monopolies Commission, because such an order could not be brought before Parliament unless there was clear justification for it. I think that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will agree that, if the Board of Trade has to bring an order forward because of an adverse report of the Monopolies Commission, we should not allow anyone to take action that would frustrate the purpose of that order to their own advantage and against the public interest.
The hon. Gentleman will understand when I say that his argument is familiar and that it is really the one he deployed in Committee. I agree that my argument also, with some slight additions, is familiar. But the
Division No. 214.]
|Albu, Austen||Ensor, David||Hoy, James|
|Alldritt, Walter||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.|