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Labour ponders merger reform

THE GOVERNMENT is considering plans to remove decisions on mergers and takeovers from the hands of politicians by handing them to a powerful new regulatory body. The controversial move would help ministers head off allegations that they had a potential conflict of interest when ruling on takeover bids affecting companies that donate money to the Labour Party or have close links with the Government.

A shake-up of the present system had already been floated by Chancellor Gordon Brown before Peter Mandelson, Trade and Industry Secretary, faced calls to stand aside from BSkyB pounds 623m bid for Manchester United. But the controversy has given new impetus to Mr Brown's plan. Mr Mandelson said that he would look into whether a more independent element should be introduced into competition policy, but ruled out amending the Competition Bill now going through Parliament, so any reforms could be at least two years away.