Chwilio Deddfwriaeth

Enterprise Act 2002

Section 35: Questions to be decided in relation to completed mergers

131.This section sets out the questions that the CC has to decide as part of a reference. Its first task is to decide whether a relevant merger situation has been created. In doing so, it is confirming (or otherwise) the OFT’s initial belief in making a reference under section 22 that a relevant merger situation has been created. If it has, the CC has to decide whether the merger has resulted, or will result, in a substantial lessening of competition. This competition-based test will be the central provision of the new regime. It replaces the public interest test in section 84 FTA 1973. In general, under the new regime, the CC will only have grounds for remedial action if the CC finds that the merger has resulted or may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition. (The only exception to this will be in certain public interest cases considered under the procedure set out in Chapter 2.)

132.The term ‘substantial lessening of competition’ is not defined in the Act. However, it is intended that advice and information on the operation of the competition test will be provided by the CC (and the OFT) under section 106. This requires the competition authorities to publish general advice and information about how they will consider references and how the relevant provisions will operate.

133.The concept of a substantial lessening of competition and its application in the context of a reference inquiry will be for the CC to explain in detail in its guidance. Similar language is used in the legislation controlling mergers in a number of other major jurisdictions, including the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The concept is an economic one, best understood by reference to the question of whether a merger will increase or facilitate the exercise of market power (whether unilateral, or through co-ordinated behaviour), leading to reduced output, higher prices, less innovation or lower quality or choice. A number of matters may be potentially relevant to the assessment of whether a merger will result in a substantial lessening of competition. The matters may include, but are not limited to:

  • market shares and concentration;

  • extent of effective competition before and after the merger;

  • efficiency and financial performance of firms in the market;

  • barriers to entry and expansion in the relevant market;

  • availability of substitute products and the scope for supply- or demand-side substitution;

  • extent of change and innovation in a market;

  • whether in the absence of the merger one of the firms would fail and, if so, whether its failure would cause the assets of that firm to exit the market;

  • the conduct of customers or of suppliers to those in the market.

134.If the CC decides that there is a substantial lessening of competition, it is also required to decide whether to take action to remedy, mitigate or prevent the substantial lessening of competition or any adverse effects resulting from that loss of competition. Adverse effects in this context are the undesirable consequences that flow from the loss of competition such as higher prices or reduced choice for customers. In deciding what action should be taken, however, subsection (4) requires the CC to achieve as comprehensive a solution as is reasonable and practicable to the substantial lessening of competition and the adverse effects resulting from it. The reference to a ‘comprehensive solution’ will require the CC to consider remedies that address the substantial lessening of competition itself (e.g. the features arising from the merger that give rise to the creation of market power) because it is generally more effective to tackle the cause of any problems at their source rather than by tackling the symptoms or adverse effects.

135.This section is closely linked with section 41, which sets out the factors that the CC must or may in particular bear in mind in choosing remedies.

136.Subsections (6) and (7) allow the OFT to frame references in a way that requires the CC to limit the questions that it has to consider in deciding whether a relevant merger situation has been created. For example, the reference can be framed in a way that does not require the CC to consider whether the turnover of the enterprise being acquired is over the relevant turnover threshold. In those circumstances, it would consider only whether the share of supply test had been met. Conversely, it can be asked to consider only whether the turnover threshold has been met. The CC can also be required to limit its consideration of whether the share of supply test has been met to a particular part of the UK.

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