Review of Industrial Organization 16: 267–285, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Fifty Years of U.K. Competition Policy
Department of Economics, University of Reading, PO Box 218, Whiteknights, Reading, RG6 6AA,
Abstract. The ﬁrst statute of modern times in Britain dealing with competition policy was passed
50 years ago. Since then the policy has been extended and changed in a number of ways but usually
in a piecemeal fashion. The 50th anniversary coincides with probably the greatest change in U.K.
policy, embodied in the 1998 Competition Act. The paper reviews the changing scope of the policy,
its effects and weaknesses. It also considers the likely future impact of the new Act.
Key words: Monopoly, merger, restrictive practices, policy reform.
The passage of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Enquiry and Control Act
in 1948 by the post war government was the ﬁrst statute of modern times which
speciﬁcally dealt with that area of economic policy which in Europe tends to be
called “competition policy” and in the U.S.A. “antitrust”. The need for some mea-
sure of control had been foreseen in the famous wartime White Paper (Employment
Policy, 1944) in which the Coalition Government pledged for the ﬁrst time to take
measures to ensure full employment after the war was ended.
After an initial exploratory phase lasting until 1956 during which time the newly
founded Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission reported in great detail
on a number of cartels and positions of single ﬁrm dominance (Rowley, 1966) the
policy developed both in form and scope so that it embraced both judicial and
administrative procedures and covered restrictive agreements, single ﬁrm monop-
olies, “complex monopolies” (concentrated oligopolies), anticompetitive practices
and mergers, not to mention the privatised utilities.
Now that ﬁfty years have elapsed since the start of competition policy in the
U.K. it seems appropriate to attempt some kind of assessment of its achievements
and its shortcomings especially since the anniversary coincides with the far reach-
ing reforms of the 1998 Competition Act. Within the conﬁnes of one paper a
complete appraisal of such a large subject is, of course, impossible but it is feasible
to give a summary impression of where it has been, where it is now, and where it
might be going in the future. Section II gives a brief factual account of the operation
I am grateful to Martin Howe, Henry de Jong, Geoffrey Shepherd and an anonymous reader for
helpful comments on an earlier draft. However, the usual disclaimer applies.