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Monopolies Commission (Referrals Policy)

Volume 984: debated on Monday 12 May 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will make a statement of policy guidelines for referral of bids to the Monopolies Commission; and if he is satisfied with the manner and timing in which these referrals are announced.

My right hon. Friend refers a bid where, in the light of the Director General's advice, he considers that the public interest issues involved are sufficient to merit doing so. His decision is published as early as practicable in the course of the bid, and he has no plans at present to alter this procedure.

I am disappointed with my right hon. Friends reply in view of the long delay that took place in the Armitage Shanks—Blue Circle bid earlier this year. This resulted in over a month's delay in opportunities to take the matter further and, therefore, a long, protracted period of uncertainty for management, workers and investors. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the matter should be speeded up in the interests of everyone concerned?

I am sorry that my hon. Friend is disappointed. As he will be aware, my right hon. Friend is required by the Act to make a determination as soon as practicable. His usual aim is to announce a decision before the first closing date of the final bid offer, as this is a reasonable target which has wide support in the financial community. However, fresh developments may arise during a period when the offer is open. In such cases, it is not normally practicable to reach a final decision any earlier, as in the case of Blue Circle-Armitage Shanks. Both the Department and the Office of Fair Trading make every effort to announce decisions on a merger by the first closing date.