Reports on references
Section 47: Questions to be decided on references under section 45
163.This section sets out the matters that the CC must decide in the case of a reference by the Secretary of State.
164.Subsections (1) and (4) provide that, as in all cases, the CC must first decide whether a ‘relevant merger situation’ has been created, or is in the process of being created. If so, subsections (2), (3), (5) and (6) provide for it to reach a view on whether it considers the merger would be adverse overall to the public interest and, if relevant to the reference, would result in a substantial lessening of competition. Subsections (7)-(10) ensure that the CC will consider how any of those problems might be remedied, mitigated or prevented.
Section 48: Cases where references or certain questions need not be decided
165.This section provides that, in certain circumstances, the CC need not decide certain questions in relation to a case that raises public interest considerations.
166.Subsection (1) provides for the CC to cancel a reference in relation to an anticipated merger where it believes that the arrangements for that merger transaction have been abandoned. Subsections (2) and (3) allow the Secretary of State 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 or will be created.
Section 49: Variation of references under section 45
167.This section ensures that a qualifying merger situation referred as an anticipated merger may be handled by the CC as a completed merger, and vice versa. The section also provides for the Secretary of State to vary a reference, but any variation must not alter the time available to the CC to make its report or the public interest consideration specified in the reference.
Section 50: Investigations and reports on references under section 45
168.This section provides that the CC will prepare a report for the Secretary of State on any reference made to it under section 45.
169.Subsection (1) provides that the CC will have the same deadline for producing a report for the Secretary of State on a case raising a public interest concern as it would have to produce and publish its report on a competition-only case (i.e. within 24 weeks).
170.Subsections (2) and (3) provide for the CC to give a general report on the subject of the merger and to report on whether there was either a completed or anticipated merger. If so, the CC would report on whether the transaction could be expected to operate against the public interest, and (where the reference has been made on competition and public interest grounds) whether the transaction could be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition. If either or both of these findings were adverse, the report should also contain advice on how to remedy, prevent or mitigate identified adverse effects. The CC will have to give reasons for its conclusions.
Section 51: Time-limits for investigations and reports by Commission
171.This section (subsection (1)) provides for an upper time-limit of 24 weeks for the CC to send its report to the Secretary of State in a case raising public interest concerns. FTA 1973 currently sets a time-limit of six months. Subsection (2) ensures that, where the merger has been referred back to the UK from the European Commission, the CC will report within a shorter time-limit if necessary.
172.Subsections (3)-(8) provide for extensions to the 24-week timetable. The CC may extend the timetable once by up to 8 weeks where it has special reasons to do so. FTA 1973 currently allows an extension of up to 3 months. The CC will also be able to extend the timetable where a party to the merger fails to deliver required information – the extension in those cases would be for the period between the deadline for receipt of the information and the actual receipt of that information, or until the CC cancelled the extension.
Section 52: Section 51: supplementary
173.This section limits the ability of the CC to extend its timetable in a case that has been referred back to the UK, where that would conflict with the timetable set by the ECMR. It also provides that the extensions provided for special circumstances and delays in obtaining information can be cumulative, but that multiple extensions for failure to provide information can run concurrently where they overlap. The section also allows the Secretary of State to alter the standard timetable and extension time-periods (but provides that the periods must not be set above 24 weeks and 8 weeks respectively).
Section 53: Restrictions on action where public interest considerations not finalised
174.This section provides that the CC will only continue to consider a public interest consideration cited in a relevant intervention notice where it has previously been approved by Parliament (either in the Act, or subsequently), or is so approved within 24 weeks of the serving of the intervention notice in the case.
175.In a case raising a new public interest consideration, the CC will not report to the Secretary of State, unless either Parliament has approved the creation of a new public interest consideration, or a period of 24 weeks has passed since the serving of the intervention notice, or the case is subject to the ECMR timetable. In any case, the CC will disregard any public interest consideration that is not finalised at the time it gives its report to the Secretary of State.