'A debate on nationalisation and cartels', 1 so one American observer described the British general election of 1945. The Financial News noted, 'All parties in this Election are concerned about Monopolies', 2 and certainly all political parties included policy on monopoly and restrictive practices in their election manifestos. 3 Of these the Labour Party's manifesto was the most hard hitting. It bristled with antipathy to 'the concentration of too much economic power in the hands of too few men . . . bureaucratically-run private monopolies . . . profiteering interests . . .' These were not to be allowed to 'prejudice national interests by restrictive anti-social monopoly or cartel arrangements'. 4 The manifesto's section on industrial policy argued for the nationalisation of coal, railways and iron and steel as the alternative to 'the enthronement of private monopoly'. Immediately after nationalisation proposals came policies for the rest of industry: top of the list was the promise that 'anti- social restrictive practices will be prohibited.'
But the actual policy record was very weak, when compared to the hyperbole of the manifesto. The centre-piece of the government's legislation was the 1948 Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Act. This established an independent tribunal with powers to investigate conditions of 'monopoly', defined as control over production or supply of one-third of the goods in question, either by one firm or by several acting together in such a way as to restrict competition. The Act gave the government power to ban specific practices in a specific industry, found by the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission to be against the 'public interest'. The Commission worked very slowly: by the 1951 election only two reports had been published, on dental goods and cast- iron rainwater goods used in building.
Indeed, Labour's actual policies were no different from the Coalition government's declaration of intent in the White Paper on Employment Policy of 1944. 5 This had promised the investigation of restrictive practices on a case-by-case empirical basis, precisely the outlook of the 1948 Act. The policy was also in line with the Conservative election manifesto, and the Federation of British Industry, the peak business