§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
The Government are committed to pursuing a vigorous competition policy under existing competition law, and to introducing legislation to reform the law on restrictive trade practices and abuse of market as soon as parliamentary time permits.
§ Mr. Hain
Is not the Government's competition policy in as much of a shambles as their party, so much so that the Director General of Fair Trading, Sir Bryan Carsberg, 736 who is widely respected, is stepping down after only two years in office? The Government have not even been able to find a successor. Why does the Minister not adopt the Labour party's policy of merging the Office of Fair Trading and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to create a dynamic new regulatory body that could stamp out anti-competitive practice?
§ Mr. Evans
One of the sights of new Labour with which it is somewhat difficult to come to terms is the image of the hon. Gentleman as a spokesman for competition in the marketplace. That unreconstructed Tribunite socialist is now portraying himself as a friend of competition.
I think that the hon. Gentleman referred to the speech made by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), who suggested that he supported the remarks of the Director General of Fair Trading when he recently gave evidence to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry on the issue of a unitary competition policy. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman did not understand that evidence, because Sir Bryan Carsberg actually suggested that there should be a lesser role for Ministers and for the House. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East, however, made it clear in his speech that he wants to substitute his personal judgment for the independent analysis of the MMC.
§ Mr. Anthony Coombs
Last year, industrial output in this country was at its best ever level and manufacturing exports rose by 14 per cent., also to their best ever level. Does my hon. Friend not think that it is a bit rich that the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) should talk about anti-competitive measures when the measures that the business men of this country fear most are the imposition of a social chapter and the minimum wage—precisely the policies adumbrated by the Labour party?
§ Mr. Evans
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will have noticed also that the hon. Member for Neath had difficulty understanding what he was talking about.
It is Government policy to keep the competition policy mechanism under review. For that reason, changes were introduced last year in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 in order to refine the system. The Government have also announced that they will legislate further when parliamentary time permits. As my hon. Friend made clear, the greatest threat to competition within our economy comes from the policies advocated by the Labour party.
Dr. John Cunningham
Does the Under-Secretary of State agree that the Government's commitment to effective reform of competition policy can be gauged by the fact that the proposals to which he referred—which apparently have not been acted upon because of lack of parliamentary time—were first announced in 1988, seven years ago? Is it not clear that the Government's commitment is not to the competitive markets but to the privatisation of as many large-scale monopolies as possible in order to raise revenue to bail out their mismanagement of the economy? Is that not obvious from the Government's ill-considered, hastily arranged statement yesterday about the privatisation of the nuclear 737 industry? That is another cynical measure—a pre-election tax bribe—which will end up costing the taxpayers much more in the long term.
§ Mr. Evans
That effort was no better than that of the hon. Member for Neath. The right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is correct in that we wished to legislate earlier in relation to the restrictive trade practices matter. However, I should correct his assertion that the announcement was made in 1988; it was 1989. It is only one part of a range of measures that the Government have announced. The abuse of market power consultation was undertaken in 1993 and a large number of the responses that we received supported the eventual outcome as proposed by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman has not referred to the fact that the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 confers new powers on the Director General of Fair Trading to accept undertakings. I know that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed those provisions previously.