Power to make references
Section 42: Intervention by Secretary of State in certain public interest cases
151.This section allows the Secretary of State to intervene in the consideration of a case by serving an intervention notice where she believes it raises a public interest consideration that needs to be taken into account.
152.Subsection (2) allows the Secretary of State to serve an intervention notice in a case that she thinks might raise one or more public interest considerations, and subsection (4) provides that only one intervention notice may be served in any case. Subsection (3) limits the considerations that she may raise in this way to those specified in section 58 or those that the Secretary of State thinks should be so specified. Subsection (7) has the effect that, in the latter case, the Secretary of State must bring forward an order specifying the consideration in legislation and seeking Parliament's approval of it (‘finalise’ the consideration) as early as practicable.
153.Subsection (1) sets out the conditions to be met before an intervention notice can be served. A key condition is that the notice cannot be served if a reference decision has already been taken by OFT.
Section 43: Intervention notices under section 42
154.This section sets out that the intervention notice must include certain details, including which case it relates to, and which public interest considerations may be relevant. It provides that, where the Secretary of State believes that more than one public interest consideration may be relevant, she has discretion not to mention such of them in the intervention notice as she considers appropriate. The section also provides that an intervention notice will come into force as soon as it is given, and that it will cease to be in force once the role of the Secretary of State in relation to that case is complete (either because she has acted or is prevented from acting by the legislation).
Section 44: Investigation and report by OFT
155.This section sets out the duties of the OFT to report to the Secretary of State in a case where an intervention notice has been served.
156.Subsection (2) provides that the OFT will report to the Secretary of State within a deadline set by the Secretary of State. There is nothing to prevent the Secretary of State from altering the deadline if circumstances so require.
157.Subsections (3)–(7) ensure that the Secretary of State will receive information on at least two areas:
the OFT’s advice on any competition issues (including customer benefits, the importance of the market and the scope for undertakings-in-lieu if relevant), as well as its view on whether a relevant merger situation has or would be created; and
the OFT’s summary of the representations that it has received in relation to the public interest considerations mentioned in the intervention notice.
Section 45: Power of Secretary of State to refer matter to Commission
158.This section allows the Secretary of State to make the decision on whether a merger raising public interest considerations should be referred to the CC.
159.Subsection (1) ensures that the Secretary of State only has the power to refer a case if there is an intervention order in force relating to that case and the OFT has produced a report on that case for the Secretary of State.
160.Subsections (2)–(7) provide that the Secretary of State may make a reference if she believes that there could be a ‘relevant merger situation’ that might be adverse to the public interest. In deciding whether to make a reference, she will be bound to accept the views of OFT on any competition-related issues, but may also have regard to the public interest considerations cited in the intervention notice.
161.Thussubsection (6) ensures that the Secretary of State will view a competition problem identified by the OFT as being adverse to the public interest unless she considers this to be outweighed in the overall assessment.
Section 46: References under section 45: supplementary
162.This section further qualifies the Secretary of State’s power to refer under section 45. As with the OFT’s duties to refer under sections 22 and 33, no reference is permitted if the merger involves a newspaper transfer, or was the subject of either accepted undertakings in lieu of a reference or a merger notice if the deadline for reference has passed. In addition, this section prevents the Secretary of State from clearing a merger where the OFT identified competition concerns if the public interest consideration(s) that she wishes to base that decision on had not been approved by Parliament. The Secretary of State may delay taking the decision on reference for up to 24 weeks from the date of the intervention notice so that she might be able to take a newly-approved consideration into account.