Beckett faces baptism of fire on bid reports

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Margaret Beckett, the new President of the Board of Trade, will face three big tests of Labour's competition policy when she takes up office next week.

Waiting in her in-tray will be two reports from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on mergers in the ferry and brewing industries. By the end of this month she will also be in receipt of the MMC's report on British Gas's pipeline division TransCo.

Mrs Beckett is regarded as a hawk on competition policy, which may not bode well for the pounds 200m takeover of Carlsberg Tetley by Bass. The deal would make Bass Britain's biggest brewer by far, with a near 40 per cent share of the market.

The proposed merger of P&O and Stena's cross-Channel ferry operations was referred to the MMC last year, If it proceeds it is likely to mean reductions in capacity and job losses.

British Gas has also warned that up to 10,000 jobs are at risk unless the MMC waters down the new price controls for TransCo announced last year by the industry regulator. If the price cuts are allowed to stand it would mean pounds 30 off the average domestic bill.

Mrs Beckett was in favour of changing the burden of proof in takeovers so the onus is shifted on to the bidder to prove its offer is in the public interest. This commitment was omitted from Labour's business manifesto. Instead it gave an undertaking that its panel of advisers would review the public interest test.