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Reports (Deletions)

Volume 978: debated on Monday 4 February 1980

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what are his criteria for determining the public interest regarding major deletions from official reports.

The public interest is not defined in the relevant legislation for which my right hon. Friend is responsible. He has to take a view of the public interest according to the circumstances of each report.

How can it be in the public interest for the Secretary of State to delete from the Price Commission report on car components a finding that the cost to the car owner of replacement sparking plugs is 10 times the original price charged to car manufacturers? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that leaving out such information can only be in the interests of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and definitely not those of the public? Does he further agree that it is an abuse of the powers of the Secretary of State to cover up private exploitation from public view?

I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman is guessing about the precise content of that confidential report. The report was extremely detailed. In making deletions, my right hon. Friend had regard to the commercial interests of companies, where they are justifiably part of the wider public interest. An obvious example is where the disclosure of detailed information would be of considerable aid to foreign competitors.

Does the Minister appreciate that the question is misleading, and that for a number of years in order to popularise their sparking plugs, the manufacturers gave them away?

How does the Minister justify a profit margin where the retail price is 10 times the wholesale price?

It is a speculative discussion, and I am not able to comment on the details.

Is it possible to use some of the money that my right hon. Friend did not use in publishing the Price Commission report to publish the Underhill report?