Orders of the Day — Commission for Industry and Manpower Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr Robert Carr Mr Robert Carr , Mitcham 12:00 am, 8th April 1970

Perhaps they are, but we shall deal with them. Within the compass of a Second Reading opening speech, there is a limit to the number of matters one can argue in detail. We are throwing into the pool of argument, which is what an Opposition should do—we are always told that we ought to be constructive—constructive suggestions about the registrar. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have not thought about it."] Indeed, we have thought about it. It was in our 1964 White Paper, and we shall debate the matter in detail at the appropriate time.

I had come to the question of making size by itself a criterion for reference to the Commission. As I say, this is a new criterion, and we strongly object to it. The only proper valid test for reference is market power and limited competition. If, for social or economic reasons, we fear the creation of giant industrial undertakings, the proper safeguards are to look at mergers at the time they are pro- posed—that we support—and second, to cause more disclosure of their affairs by companies by extending company law requirements, which also we support, as we do the concept that employees should be given at least the same amount of information as shareholders.

I come now to another new point of the Bill, namely, follow-up inquiries on mergers. We object to this, too. The proper time to look critically at a merger is immediately it is proposed. The possibility—let alone the fact—of an inquiry is an adequate and proper safeguard against irresponsible claims being made in the course of trying to win a merger battle and irresponsible or wrong purposes contrary to the public interest. Thereafter, why should a company, just because it has been formed by a merger, be treated differently from any other form of company? Why should it have its roots pulled up and examined, possibly at two-yearly intervals, just because it was formed by process of merger? That is hardly conducive to growth or efficiency. It is totally illogical and unnecessary.

A merger can be, and always should be, subject to reference on grounds of market power and restricted competition, but if that criterion does not apply, why should a merger be looked at any more than a company which does not happen to have been formed by a merger process?