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Monopolies And Mergers Commission

Volume 167: debated on Wednesday 14 February 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to change the role of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Does the Secretary of State accept that while competition must remain central to takeover activities, other factors such as the strategic national interest and the impact of takeovers on regional employment or unemployment must be taken into consideration?

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman agree that competition is the prime concern of monopolies and mergers policy. I accept there could be examples in which the national interest is involved. We also consider implications such as regional policy, but I stress that that is very much a secondary consideration to the competition issue.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission should be opened up and brought much closer to the American anti-trust laws with the ability to break up the large monopolies being created in Britain so that we can have real capitalism rather than over-large, domineering companies in any one sector?

The commission has power to order divestment, or to suggest that I order divestment, in certain cases where monopolies are formed, and that power has been used. The policy that appeared to be evolving in the Labour party in a document called "Industry 2000"—I doubt whether anyone has heard of it—was virtually to put a stop to all takeovers. That would be disastrous for the continuing efficient function of the economy.

Is the Secretary of State aware that W. H. Smith and Son Wholesale, which distributes many of the newspapers to which the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) referred, is a monopoly? Does he plan to do anything about that?

These matters have been looked at by the Director General of Fair Trading. I do not think that it is a monopoly because others also circulate newspapers.