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asked the President of the Board of Trade what representations he has received about agreements between firms which are alleged to be beneficial to the nation's economy, but which are currently registrable under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1956; and how many such agreements he estimates would be exempted from the operation of that Act under the proposed new legislation announced on 14th February, 1968.
Representations have been received from the National Economic Development Council, some of the Economic Development Councils, and the Comfederation of British Industry. It is not possible to estimate how many agreements will be exempted, but applications for exemption will be stringently examined.
Does the Minister realise that the bodies to which he referred are very much interested parties, and that the Board of Trade must look after the consumer and other people? Will he think twice before by-passing the court, which is a much better judge of what is beneficial to the nation's economy than the Board of Trade or the distinguished bodies he mentioned?
I think that all the legislation designed to maintain competition and make sure that it prevails in British industry has come from the Board of Trade, and the Board of Trade's views on these matters are pretty well known.
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will estimate how many agreements between firms registrable under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1956, are likely to be exempted from registration in order to assist the Government's prices and incomes policy under the proposed new legislation announced on 14th February, 1968.
I can, of course, give the assurance that all the applications for exemption will be thoroughly examined, and only those agreements made at the express written request of a Government Department will be eligible for exemption. The exempted agreements will be published, and the exemption will apply to agreements to lower prices to keep them down, to limit price increases, and to operate the early warning system. The exemptions will be limited in time.
Does the Minister agree that whether or not they will be thoroughly examined is a matter that we shall be scarcely in a position to judge, because they will not be publicly examined in contrast with the Restrictive Trade Practices Court, or does he have a proposal for making a public examination of these two matters?
The hon. Gentleman is right. They will not be publicly examined in the same way as applications for exemption before the court are examined. But the exempted agreements will be published and limited in time.