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Lord Lucas: I should be grateful, if not now then later, if the Minister will enlighten me as to how this Bill works in with copyright law. A similar difficulty to that raised by the noble Baroness exists in relation to buying US books in this country. People set much higher prices for the same book in the UK than would be paid in the US, even counting the cost of postage. I should be grateful for the noble Lord's advice as to whether this Bill overrules that sort of practice under copyright law.

Lord Simon of Highbury: I take note of that question. It sounds to me as though we are into extraterritoriality, which was a word that I knew if I tried to say it twice, I would get wrong. I take note of the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and I shall return to it if necessary.

Baroness O'Cathain: I am grateful to the Minister for his comments on my amendment. I was slightly concerned when he referred to the fact that the Bill would set up an effective framework against anti-competitive actions, assessing whether the actions are anti-competitive and taking action against those anti-competitive actions. All of that made me return quickly to the Official Report and the Second Reading where I registered one major concern at col. 1166 about the hidden costs of the Bill. I hope that by having a three-pronged attack or approach to the problem, we are not building in huge costs. I have thought long and hard about my amendment and it seemed to me an easy way

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to tackle the problem. However, I shall read most carefully what the Minister said. I shall think again on the matter. I shall go back to Article 86 and its jurisprudence, and do my homework. If I am not satisfied, I shall return to the matter at later stages of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 [Excluded agreements]:

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Baroness Wilcox moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 2, leave out line 42.

The noble Baroness said: I have been asked by the Whips' Office to apologise on its behalf for the fact that there is a mistake in the way that Schedule 4 has been placed on the Marshalled List. It shows the schedule as standing part in isolation when it should be grouped with Amendments Nos. 12, 51 and 52. Therefore, I am speaking to Amendment No. 12 under Clause 3, and I shall also oppose the question that Schedule 4 be the fourth schedule to the Bill.

It is important for us to have a debate about the way in which the reformed competition system, and this Bill in particular, will deal with professional rules. Perhaps I may make some general points about professional services. They have been a growing area of our economy over recent years. Many more of us now have contact with professional services than we did 20 years ago, whether it be accountants helping us to wrestle with self-assessment or lawyers helping us to enforce our rights. It is therefore important that we, as consumers of those services, are adequately protected from any anti-competitive practices. Although I would not agree with Bernard Shaw that,

    "all professions are conspiracies against the laity",

there has been concern that some of the professions have operated rules over the years which have been anti-competitive. They might relate to advertising or to the setting of fees, or the range of services that can be offered in one firm. Of course, after prodding by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, many of the professions have improved to some extent.

The Office of Fair Trading has published a number of reports about the professions, many of which were produced when the noble Lord, Lord Borrie--and I am extremely glad to see him in the Chamber today--was Director General of the OFT. For example, in 1986 Members of the Committee may remember looking at restrictions on multi-disciplinary practices among architects, accountants, barristers and solicitors; and, indeed, supporting the idea of mixed partnerships. In 1989, the National Consumer Council published a document called, Ordinary Justice in which, under the doughty leadership of my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, who is sitting here beside me, it supported the concept of multi-disciplinary practices. I believe that consumers could be provided with more choice in professional services on offer. For example, when buying and selling houses, should not people have

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the option of obtaining a mortgage, a survey, help with the selling of a house and also conveyancing services all in one place?

The legal restrictions on solicitors as regards multi-disciplinary practices were removed by the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. However, as pointed out by the Director of Competition Policy at the OFT, Margaret Bloom, in July of this year, the Law Society's practice rules do not reflect the legal position. I know that the situation is being monitored by the OFT. It has been pressing the Law Society to change its rules. Despite the improvements that we have seen in recent years, it is important that we do not now start to go backwards. The way professions behave should be monitored carefully and action taken when necessary. That is why we need to debate the way in which this Bill deals with professional rules.

As the Bill is currently drafted, the professional rules will be excluded from the prohibition on agreements which prevent, restrict and distort competition. In considering that, perhaps the Minister could answer the following questions. Under the reformed competition policy, how could the OFT deal with the situation that I have just outlined with regard to the Law Society and multi-disciplinary practices? More generally, why should the professions listed in Schedule 4 be treated any differently from any other service sector of the economy? Should the competitive aspects of the professional rules of surveyors be treated any differently from those of an estate agent? Will we have the ludicrous situation where the Director General of Fair Trading could force estate agents to change their rules, but not force surveyors to change theirs?

Why not keep the professional rules within the prohibition in Chapter I so that the OFT has the power to investigate and take action over any of those rules which are anti-competitive? I ask the Minister: how did the Government arrive at the particular professional services which are listed in Part II of Schedule 4? Why are not licensed conveyancing services or osteopaths, for example, included? I should like to suggest that it would be a much simpler process if those rules were included within the scope of the prohibition so that the Director General of the OFT could scrutinise the rule books. He could then exempt those parts of the rule books which guarantee genuine consumer protection.

I should like to hear what the arguments are for excluding professional rules listed in Schedule 4 from the prohibition in Chapter I. I must say that I will need some persuading that they should be treated differently from equally important and valuable consumer services. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: I rise to express my support for the noble Baroness in her amendments. For the convenience of the Committee, perhaps I may speak to Amendments Nos. 51 and 52 which are tabled in my name. I should, first, declare an interest as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. I believe that we shall find ourselves in a situation where we shall be talking about sheep and goats--that is to say, those who are included and those who are not.

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My view on this particular aspect of the Bill is that, if we support the principles of the legislation, we have to consider any exclusion extremely carefully. This Chamber has a right to hear the reasons which the Government may put forward regarding any exclusions which are to remain in the Bill. The noble Baroness gave us a clear explanation of why she believes that Schedule 4 should be excluded. My amendments were tabled with a view to something which is perhaps a little easier to accept; in other words, leaving the exclusions in if there are proper legal reasons for them but, nevertheless, excluding anything which affects competition between members of that profession. I do not believe that I have drafted them particularly well, but perhaps I may explain the reasons behind my amendments. That will at least enable the Minister to consider them.

I have taken on board what my noble friend the Minister said about the role of the director general and of the competition commission and the powers that they will have to consider exemptions and exclusions. One has to ask why we should exclude them specifically now. I cannot speak about Schedules 1 and 3, but Schedule 4 has the effect of excluding only Chapter I prohibitions and not those under Chapter II, though I suppose we should be grateful for that fact. But why are the professions any different?

I can only speak for engineers, but we have a long list in Schedule 4. One engineering company that I know well is a big firm of civil engineering consultants. It is owned by a company which used to be called Welsh Water and is now called Hyder. I believe that it is now a publicly-quoted company and, indeed, there are many others like it. Why is that company any different from estate agents or window cleaners? Why are accountants included along with lawyers? I am sure that there are very good reasons for that, but surely they have a duty to compete among themselves and with others in the same way as any other company or organisation in this country is required to compete for services. Surely they should be prohibited from engaging in restrictive practices which are obviously against public interests.

I am not convinced about this long list of,

    "civil engineering; mechanical, aeronautical ... agronomy ... metallurgy, chemistry",


    "(f) any other form of engineering or technology analogous to those mentioned in sub-paragraphs (a) to (e)".

There must have been a reason for that incredible drafting. Perhaps it is to be found in the reasons for which these organisations were set up in the previous century; namely, to protect the interests of their members. We could debate whether they do protect the interests of their members now. However, I strongly believe that this whole schedule, or certainly the anti-competitive element, has no part in this Bill. I shall be pleased to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say on this matter.

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