Thursday 11 March 1999
Along with the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has decided that part of the malaise afflicting the British economy is that there is not enough competition. In order to treat that malaise, he has opted for a two-pronged attack.
On one flank, the prices that are charged on the high street will be held up for comparison with those which consumers in other countries pay. If they are too large to be explained away by factors such as wage and transport costs, or the burden of regulatory compliance, Mr Byers will conclude it is because of a lack of competition. Having established the cause of the problem, the Office of Fair trading will then be invited to seek a remedy which normally requires divestment of assets or changes in behaviour.
From the other flank, Mr Byers has promised to overhaul mergers policy so that it operates akin to monetary policy. Ministers can no longer meddle with interest rates for short-term political gain and Mr Byers has decided the same should apply to takeover bids. Instead an independent competition authority will be the final arbiter, testing mergers against their effect on competition. The only exceptions will be where there are wider public interest concerns - something that will need to be strictly defined to prevent backdoor political intervention.
It is easy to see why the big battalions of industry were not exactly ecstatic at the prospect yesterday. Gone will be the chance to sway a decision by whispering sweet nothings into a minister's ear.
It is a measure of how far New Labour has travelled that it should now want to hand over merger control lock stock and barrel to an independent body. When it came to power, it favoured blocking all mergers unless the parties involved could demonstrate they were in the public interest - a definition which would have encompassed everything from jobs to regional impact.
Unfortunately, Mr Byers' ideas have some way to travel yet. There are no plans to introduce the necessary legislation this side of a general election and, even if the law were changed, Brussels these days is the arbiter on most big and contentious mergers. Mr Byers should nonetheless stick to his guns and in the meantime show willing by practising what he preaches. He could kick off the new era by standing aside when the monopolies report on BSkyB's bid for Manchester United hits the streets.
- 1 Michelle Rodriguez: Fast & Furious actor apologises after telling 'minorities' to stop taking on 'white' roles
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Stephen Hawking's wife Jane Wilde on their marriage breakdown: 'The family were left behind'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Putin critic may have been murdered by Islamic extremists, says president-led committee
British are sexually uptight, dirty and drink too much – according to Spanish book
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
White and gold or blue and black – what colour is the dress? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'
iJobs Money & Business
£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...
£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...
£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...
£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...