Quangowatch: A guide to those unelected quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations that run our lives. No 6: The Monopolies & Mergers Commission

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What does it do? Not enough, say critics. Its brief is to make recommendations on companies with an alleged monopoly and examine the effect of mergers on the market.

Budget: pounds 7.33m.

Who appoints its members? The President of the Board of Trade.

Who are they? Nine of the 33-member commission are connected with companies that make donations to Conservative Party funds. Graeme Odgers, its chairman, is chief executive of Alfred McAlpine plc and was formerly managing director of Tarmac - both of which give money to the Conservatives. Executives from Tory contributors Lazard Brothers, Thames Water, Unigate, Whitbread and the Beecham Group are also members. They are 'balanced' by two members connected with the TUC, a spokesman said.

Political control. They can act only on a reference from Mr Heseltine or the Office of Fair Trading and cannot investigate abuses independently. Ministers can reject recommendations. Much of a commission report on British Gas was ignored by Mr Heseltine last year.

Criticisms. Robin Cook, the shadow trade spokesman, criticised the report calling for the break-up of British Gas. Labour believes that the commission reflects fashionable free-market orthodoxy and makes the 'cavalier' assumption that market liberalisation will inevitably benefit the consumer. It claimed that the gas report did not take account of the danger that gas prices would rise in remote areas and in the West, away from North Sea fields, if the national network were broken up.

The Opposition also alleges that government guidelines restrict investigations to the effect of monopolies and mergers on the market and do not allow the commission to look at wider public interests such as the survival of British-based companies. 'Its remit is far too narrow,' said a Labour spokesman.

Accountability. No elected members. Press and public have no access to meetings.

Send details of any quango you feel may be behaving improperly to Quangowatch, the Independent on Sunday, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

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