I would like, on behalf of the Select Committee, to welcome the Minister and his officials for consideration of the Competition (Amendment) Bill, 1994.
The Bill has two principal aims, the introduction of public enforcement of the Competition Act, 1991 and the removal of all merger or take over agreements from section 4 of the Competition Act. The Bill also incorporates a limited number of technical amendments to existing legislation and empowers the Minister to fix fees for merger notifications. The primary method of enforcement of the 1991 Act up to now has been through private civil actions in the courts. The Competition Authority has no right of action under the 1991 Act. These enforcement provisions have proved to be less than fully effective. Aggrieved parties have been reluctant to go to court, largely because of the expense and the uncertainty involved.
The Bill proposes to strengthen the enforcement of the law by giving the Competition Authority the power to take court actions either on its own initiative or following complaints made by third parties. The Bill provides that the Minister may appoint a member to the Authority, to be known as the director of competition enforcement, who will have specific responsibility for enforcement matters on a day to day basis. The Bill also removes all mergers and takeovers from the scope of section 4 of the 1991 Act.
A system of control already exists for large scale merger and take over agreements which are notifiable to the Minister under the Mergers, Takeovers and Monopolies Control Act, 1978, as amended. In practice the 1991 Act had the effect of creating a system of dual notification, once to the Minister and once to the Authority, for the same transaction. This dual system has given rise to uncertainty. The Bill now removes that uncertainty and allows one stop shop clearance by the Minister. In addition, small scale mergers will no longer be notifiable to the Competition Authority under the 1991 Act.
While merger agreements will be removed from section 4 of the 1991 Act, a system of checks and controls has been retained in this area to safeguard competition. First, only the mergers agreement per se will be exempt from section 4. Any ancillary agreements which are not indispensable to the actual merger will still be subject to section 4. Secondly, the mergers will not be excluded from section 5 of the 1991 Act. Section 5 prohibits the abuse of a dominant position.
Large scale mergers will continue to be subject to approval by the Minister under separate mergers legislation. In the Bill, the Minister is also proposing to introduce fees for merger notifications. This is already the case for notifications to the Competition Authority. Finally, there are a number of sections which are intended to tidy up and clarify the 1978 Mergers Act and aspects of the 1991 Act.
Before we proceed we should agree on a schedule of business for today. I propose that we continue until 12.45 p.m., have a sos until 2 p.m. and resume until 4 p.m. Some Members may have some difficulty with that and if what is proposed is not suitable I will be flexible.