(Adds explanation of public interest intervention)
LONDON May 6 Britain could use its public
interest powers to intervene in U.S. drugmaker Pfizer's
potential takeover of British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca
, Business Secretary Vince Cable said on Tuesday.
Prime Minister David Cameron is facing growing pressure from
lawmakers to secure undertakings from the New York-based company
if it pulls off Britain's biggest takeover by a foreign buyer.
"The government must and will approach it from a position of
even-handed neutrality and recognise that this is ultimately a
matter for the shareholders of both companies," Cable told
"One of our options as the government would be to consider
using our public interest test powers. This would be a serious
step and not one that would be taken lightly but I'm open-minded
about it whilst stressing that we are operating within serious
European legal constraints."
The public interest test is enshrined in British merger law
and gives ministers the power to intervene in deals, but only
for a limited number of reasons, mainly national security, media
company mergers and banks.
Cable said the current structure did not give the government
scope to address concerns about jobs and research and
development investment raised by the potential Pfizer takeover.
On Sunday Cable said that he was considering all options,
including reviewing the terms under which the public interest
test could be applied, to protect Britain's scientific research
The legislation was previously altered during the 2008
financial crisis to give the government powers to intervene in
banking mergers in the interests of preserving financial
(Reporting by William James and Sarah Young, editing by Guy