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Lord Lucas: My Lords, that has nothing to do with the Question. As the noble Baroness is aware, we have designated about 500,000 hectares of special protection areas. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment have extensive programmes to help

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our native birds, in particular those which she mentioned. Her attempt to insert into the Question some moral outrage at the Government's behaviour is totally inappropriate.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, the Minister made the encouraging comment that possibly other areas might be created. If so, will he be good enough to keep in touch with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am delighted to say that we keep in constant touch with that august and responsible organisation.

Independent Pharmacies

3.1 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to ensure the continuance of the independent pharmacy in view of the recent referral of resale price maintenance to the Office of Fair Trading.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, the review of resale price maintenance on medicaments being undertaken by the Office of Fair Trading is a matter for the director general. Representations concerning the viability of independent pharmacies and other aspects of the review should be made direct to him.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that reply. Does he agree that the community pharmacist plays an important part in both the social fabric of this country and in the National Health Service? People are now recommended to seek advice from their community pharmacist and 94 per cent. of the population trusts the advice received. Does the Minister think it important to retain the availability of that service for people who are unable to get to supermarkets whose aim is to transfer most of the business to themselves?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend appreciates that the director general has a duty to monitor and review the supply of goods exempted from the general prohibition on resale price maintenance. Clearly, the existence of the present exemption would reveal that there is good reason for there being such an exemption. I entirely agree with my noble friend that community pharmacies have an important part to play. As she rightly emphasised, the aim of improving health promotion is something which the Department of Health encourages.

Beyond the essential small pharmacies scheme, of which I am sure my noble friend is aware, which would protect pharmacies which may not have sufficient prescription business to be viable, the Government are bound to await the outcome of the review by the director general.

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Lord Peston: My Lords, until recently I was a member of the Council of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, so I have an interest to declare. I am also chairman of the Office of Health Economics so I have a pharmacy interest. In addition, is the noble and learned Lord aware that as an economist I am, and have always been, implacably opposed to resale price maintenance? I deplore the extent to which it continues, albeit apparently illegally, despite the efforts of the OFT.

Having said that as background, I ask the noble and learned Lord whether in this case one should reflect upon whether items of medicine, even general sales list medicines, should be treated as ordinary items of commerce. That is the central issue here. It relates to the continued existence of the independent pharmacist but there is the general question of whether one would like to see in shops price headlines such as "Get your insulin cheap today". One sees that in the United States. Is it an appropriate environment in which medicines should be traded? Have the Government reflected upon it?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, if the Government have reflected on it, then at present I do not believe they are prepared to reveal that. They are bound to allow the director general to carry out his examination to see whether the present exemption should be continued.

Yes, of course there are powerful arguments over the matter. That is why there has been an exemption in the past. I invite the noble Lord, given the strength of his views, to make them known to the director general.

Lord Peston: My Lords, has the noble and learned Lord noticed that my method of making my views known to the director general is to express them at this moment?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I hope the noble Lord appreciates that I had registered the fact.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will my noble and learned friend confirm that I am correct in thinking that the Office of Fair Trading is reviewing whether there have been sufficient changes in the market for non-prescription medicines to justify asking the court for leave to apply for a full hearing? Is he aware of the statement made by the supermarket chief executive in the Sunday press condemning the fact that the Office of Fair Trading was taking some time over the matter? He said that it was not a complex matter. However, it is a complex matter and it is important that it should be considered thoroughly.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, it is a complex matter and the OFT anticipates that it will take until September to complete its review. I should have thought that in the circumstances that was entirely reasonable. My noble friend is right in saying that the director general is considering whether there is prima facie evidence of material change in the relevant circumstances since the exemption granted by the Restrictive Practices Court in 1970. It is not that I am unwilling to give an answer but, given that there is a statutory procedure to be followed, I am sure that it

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would be wholly inappropriate for me to anticipate the outcome not only of the first stage but of a possible second stage before the court.

Petitions: Asylum and Immigration Bill

3.6 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to present a Petition bearing the names of students around the country and supporters of the Children of the Storm which claims that the provisions of the Asylum and Immigration Bill will have a detrimental impact on all asylum seekers and, in particular, on children, and calls upon the House to amend the legislation accordingly to reject the devastating and barbaric legislation that is the Asylum and Immigration Bill and all its inhumane consequences.

Petition presented.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I beg to present a Petition from a number of individuals and organisations including Barnados, CAFOD, Child Poverty Action Group, Children of the Storm, the Children's Legal Centre, Christian Aid, Faith Asylum Refuge, Family Service Units, International Social Service, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, Save the Children, the Refugee Council, the Refugee Legal Centre and the United Nations Association. The Petition shows that the provisions of the Asylum and Immigration Bill will have a detrimental effect upon all asylum seekers and, in particular, on children, and calls upon the House to amend the legislation accordingly. The Petition bears 9,670 signatures.

Petition presented.

Business of the House: Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc.) Bill

3.8 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

This Motion invites the House to agree that the Second Reading and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc) Bill should be taken on Thursday of this week. Your Lordships will be aware that the Bill gives effect to the announcement on 21st March by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister of arrangements leading to all-party negotiations in Northern Ireland.

Her Majesty's Government regard it as of the utmost importance that the momentum of the peace process should be maintained. I hope that I am right in thinking that that view is generally shared by your Lordships' House. There are of course varying shades of opinion about the detailed contents of the Bill; but I think I am right in saying that the main thrust of the Bill commands widespread support and agreement that it should be enacted in time for the election in Northern Ireland to take place as planned on 30th May so that the negotiations may begin on 10th June.

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The House will be aware that from the very beginning the Government have been operating to an extraordinarily tight timetable, and I have been more than grateful to your Lordships for the patience and understanding which have been shown in the Government's adumbration of their plans. Equally, I know that some noble Lords will regret that it is necessary for such an important Bill to be taken through all its main stages in this House in a single day. It is a regret that I share.

The House rightly sets great store by its function as a revising Chamber for legislation. Indeed, that is a function that is not obviously compatible with the speedy passage of a Bill. After all, our Standing Orders safeguard our procedures and provide that legislation is customarily considered to a timetable which allows the fullest opportunities for scrutiny. It is only right, therefore, that those Standing Orders should be set aside only by the wish of the House.

I have, however, made it clear, not only this afternoon but on previous occasions, that there is widespread support for the intention to hold elections in Northern Ireland on 30th May. In order for that to be achieved, the necessary powers for the returning officer to make arrangements for polling must be put in place very soon. I hope I am right in thinking that your Lordships would not wish to prevent that timetable being met.

It might also be asked why it was thought necessary to allow longer for consideration of the Bill in another place than is proposed for this House. I hope the reason for that will commend itself to your Lordships as a pragmatic and sensible one under the circumstances. The presence in another place of representatives of all the main Northern Ireland parties whose interests will be directly affected by the provisions of the Bill made it desirable that, of the short overall period available for the parliamentary proceedings, more time should be spent in another place. Perhaps this is a little self-regarding, but I hope your Lordships will acknowledge that I am usually among the first to defend the interests of this House, both as Leader of the House and in a personal capacity. I suggest that on this occasion the particular circumstances of the legislation are such as to make this the most sensible way to proceed.

I have no doubt at all that it will be possible on Thursday for those noble Lords who wish to take part to give the Bill careful consideration. If your Lordships should see fit to amend the Bill, another place will of course consider those amendments in the usual way. I beg to move.

Moved, That, if the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc) Bill is brought from the Commons, Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to enable the Bill to be taken through its remaining stages on Thursday 25th April.--(Viscount Cranborne.)

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