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Mr. Brooke: I am disappointed by the Minister's response, as is my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). However, the Minister knows the way to my heart. The original Committee set up in the House of Lords to look at delegated legislation was chaired by my late noble father. When it was decided

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that there should be a Joint Committee of both Houses, my father was approached by the Leader of this House, who said how desirable it would be to have at least one member of the House of Lords Committee serving on the Joint Committee, and how helpful it would be if he would chair the Joint Committee. My father did that as well.

Under those circumstances, it would be churlish of me to resist the plea that the Minister is making--although I hope that the Government will not rue the day. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 13

Transitional Provisions and Savings

Amendments made: No. 27, in page 101, line 31, at end insert--

'( ) The fact that to a limited extent the Chapter I prohibition does not apply to an agreement because a transitional period is provided by virtue of this Schedule does not require those provisions of the agreement in respect of which there is a transitional period to be disregarded when considering whether the agreement infringes the prohibition for other reasons.'.

No. 28, in page 105, line 16, after 'proceedings' insert

'under section 3 or 26 of the RTPA'.

No. 29, in page 106, line 26, at end insert--

'( ) There is no transitional period for an agreement to the extent to which, before the starting date, a person has acted unlawfully for the purposes of section 27ZA(2) or (3) of the RTPA in respect of the agreement.".'

No. 30, in page 106, line 42, after 'period' insert

'for the exempt provisions of the agreement'.

No. 31, in page 106, line 44, at end insert--

'(2) In sub-paragraph (1) "exempt provisions" has the meaning given by paragraph 14(3).'.

No. 32, in page 112, line 25, leave out '(other than section 131)'.--[Mr. Nigel Griffiths.]

Schedule 14

Repeals and Revocations

Amendments made: No. 33, in page 118, line 37, at end insert--

'In section 50(4), paragraph (c) and the "and" immediately before it.'.

No. 34, in page 119, line 16, at end insert--

'In section 36A(5), paragraph (d) and the "and" immediately before it.'.

No. 35, in page 119, line 49, at end insert--

'In section 43(4), paragraph (c) and the "and" immediately after it.'.

No. 36, in page 120, line 22, at end insert--

'In section 31(5), "or in subsection (3) above".

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In section 31(6), "or in subsection (3) above".'.

No. 37, in page 120, line 49 at end insert--

'In section 67(4), paragraph (c) and the "and" immediately after it.'.

No. 38, in page 120, line 52, at end insert--

'Section 131.'.

No. 39, in page 122, line 4, at end insert--

'( ) in paragraph (4), sub-paragraph (c) and the "and" immediately after it.'.

No. 40, in page 122, line 40, at end insert--

'( ) in paragraph (4), sub-paragraph (d) and the "and" immediately before it.'.
--[Mr. Nigel Griffiths.]

Order for Third Reading read.

11.56 pm

Mr. Ian McCartney: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

First, I thank the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) for his assistance. If he keeps it up, he may be in for a job on this side of the House. [Laughter.] This is new new Labour.

The Competition Bill is a major step forward for British consumers, business and competitiveness. It will radically reform and strengthen the laws to deal with anti-competitive behaviour, such as cartels and abuses of a dominant market position.

Both consumers and business deserve a better deal, which the Bill will deliver. The Government have acted swiftly, whereas the Conservative Government dithered for years and did nothing. Anti-competitive behaviour hits ordinary people; it means lower quality, at higher prices. Competition is vital to ensure choice and value. The vast majority of businesses that work so hard to compete also deserve better protection from the few that seek to cheat and bully.

The current competition regime is often bureaucratic, slow and ineffective. The powers for rooting out and dealing with serious anti-competitive behaviour are notoriously weak. In the meantime, customers and competitors suffer. Smaller companies have been driven out of business while complaints were investigated. Even the most blatant cartels can get away with little more than a slap on the wrist. As a result, there is very little deterrence to anti-competitive behaviour, and no recompense for firms and consumers that are on the receiving end of it.

The Bill will put those failings right. The Director General of Fair Trading will be able to act swiftly to stamp out anti-competitive practices. Those on the receiving end of such practices will have new rights to seek damages. Moreover, the Bill will sweep away the

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existing bureaucratic restrictive practice laws, which require many thousands of harmless commercial agreements to be registered.

The Bill modernises our competition law to bring it more in line with the prohibition regimes that already operate in the European Union and in many of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Many UK firms already have to deal with EU competition laws. The Bill will greatly simplify matters for such firms by introducing prohibitions that are modelled on those in the EU rules.

Reform of the current regime is long overdue. The Bill will give us a really modern and effective competition regime at last. The result will be stronger markets, a better deal for consumers and more opportunities for good British businesses to thrive. I commend the Bill to the House.

11.58 pm

Mr. Boswell: We have all enjoyed listening to the Minister's press release. The Government have been ambitious, even courageous, in introducing a complex Bill which attempts to merge the European philosophy on competition with British domestic legislation. The attempt is massive in scale, but it has by no means wholly succeeded.

In preparation for tonight, I read my Second Reading speech, and I have never before found that so many queries that I raised on Second Reading remained on Third Reading. Many additional issues of concern arose in Committee. My old philosophy tutor used to say, "Always start your essay with a query, try to answer it, and end with another." The Minister must have been one of his pupils, too.

There are some concepts in the Bill about which industry may be happy, but the CBI and other representative and responsible organisations retain considerable reservations on various aspects. In our haste to consider the Bill, one or two issues were not fully rehearsed. For example, the CBI brought to our attention in its latest letter the interaction of the continuing powers on scale monopoly with the new prohibitions. Much will depend on how the Government and the director general interpret the law.

There is a need for clarity in explanation forbusinesses, and especially small businesses, at all stages of implementation. As has been clearly revealed tonight, there is a huge, and in my view unhealthy, reliance on the order-making process--for example, in relation to the director general's rules and issues such as fees, of which we know nothing yet. The House will need to give those subjects further detailed scrutiny.

Real concerns remain about the compliance costs, even conceptually. We have not explored tonight, as we did in Committee, the imperfections, inconsistencies and incoherence in the Government's analysis of compliance costs, which does not do nearly enough to acknowledge the problems that businesses will face in seeking legal advice.

Most businesses are legitimate and want to trade fairly, so it is incumbent on the Secretary of State and the director general to proceed whenever possible by exception, and with sensitivity. We move now from press release to implementation, which affects business, whose costs need to be kept to a minimum.

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There are still gross imperfections and a tendency to excessive intrusion in the Bill, which has been greatly oversold in its effects, but we do not think it appropriate to divide on Third Reading: like the Minister, no doubt in his case with his fingers crossed, we stand back to see how it will work in practice.

12.3 am

Dr. Ladyman: This is the first Bill on which I have served throughout its passage through the House. I apologise to my hon. Friends for irritating them at times, and beg their indulgence. I am grateful to Opposition Members for the challenge that they have offered throughout.

Opposition Members seem on occasions to have minimised the crimes with which the Bill is designed to deal. When people act anti-competitively, they are stealing just as much as someone who burgles or steals from one's house, so it is important that we take the matter seriously. The Government have done so; they have done good work in producing the Bill, and I am proud to have helped with some parts of that process.

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