Clause 36 - Investigations and reports on

Enterprise Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:15 pm ar 30 Ebrill 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon 5:15, 30 Ebrill 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 229, in page 22, line 38, at end insert—

'(2A) In making or preparing any report under this section, the Commission shall not disclose any information of a confidential nature.'.

It must be appreciated that in a merger situation, particularly a non-contested one, in which both parties feel that the enlarged group would be of real benefit to them, the question of competition clearance—the possibility of a referral—would be the main risk factor that could delay and add a lot of additional costs to the transaction. I am certainly not saying that the requirement is wrong. However, if the companies' advisers were to tell them that there was a risk of referral, they may be put off the deal, because of the possibility not just that money will be wasted but that confidential information might enter the public arena, perhaps unnecessarily. Such non-public information would then be available to the companies' competitors. In the worst case, that could hinder the transaction or even put it off altogether, although the

merged companies may be much better together than standing alone. It is vital that information released by the Competition Commission in its report, or indeed elsewhere, should not include information that could be damaging.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of adequately protecting confidential information, and we have tried to achieve that throughout the Bill. A blanket ban on disclosing information, however, is not appropriate. A balance needs to be struck between protecting confidential information and ensuring that an adequate explanation is given, which is an assessment that needs to be made case by case.

The amendment would remove the Competition Commission's ability to find the right result when publishing its reports on references. Businesses have told us that it is important for the new regime to operate transparently, which it will. For example, we expect the Competition Commission to produce provisional findings part of the way through its inquiries, the Bill provides for authorities to consult parties on proposed decisions and we are introducing duties to give reasons for decisions. Those measures add up operational transparency, which will be good for business.

However, greater transparency means that more information will be made available. Occasionally, information that one party would argue was confidential would be an essential part of the reasoning in a case of which another party would need to be made aware, which, to a degree, is a problem now. We have therefore proposed a test for the disclosure of information that would apply to all merger information. Clause 235 sets out a test that will ensure that the authorities have regard to all of those issues.

I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman that in many ways we are with him on the matter and are seeking to strike the right balance.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

The Under-Secretary makes the fair point that the amendment is, in effect, a sweeper that does not look at particular circumstances. Given that I want to come back to the general issue under later clauses, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.