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Lord Ackner: I support everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. It must be a fundamental purpose behind Clause 18 that abuses of power should be prevented. What has been described seems to me to be a most blatant indication of power being abused. As has been stated, competition has been distorted and the diversity of opinion among the press is threatened. There is a threat to the very freedom and variety of expression. I should have thought that it would be remarkable if this Government were not prepared to see such a situation properly catered for. That is not the case as Clause 18 now stands.

Lord Haskel: The concern of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for predatory pricing in the newspaper industry has been well documented and I have a great deal of sympathy. He has conducted the campaign well

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and with a great deal of ability. However, it would be quite wrong of me to comment on the specific complaints relating to the newspaper industry as discussed. The purpose of the Bill is to establish a legal framework under which the Director General of Fair Trading, the Competition Commission and the courts can assess whether individual agreements and conduct are anti-competitive. I shall therefore restrict my comments to the issues of principle raised by the amendments. Perhaps I may remind Members of the Committee that when Sir Bryan Carsberg was Director General of Fair Trading he rejected previous complaints, taking the view that the decision of The Times to reduce its prices was a reasonable commercial strategy.

The amendments relate to predatory pricing tactics; that is, price cutting designed to force competitors out of the market or to discourage new competitors from entering the market. However, it is perfectly clear that such practices carried out by a dominant undertaking may constitute an abuse under Article 86 of the treaty, depending on the particular circumstances of the case. This Bill introduces stronger legislation on abuse of dominance and that, depending on the circumstances, also covers predatory pricing.

As well as referring specifically to the newspaper industry, the noble Viscount spoke also about vertical agreements. That is proper territory for the Director General of Fair Trading, the tribunal and the courts. This amendment carries the same risk as other amendments which seek to depart from the illustrative list in Article 86. Over and above that, it would be especially undesirable to refer in the list to any particular sector of the economy. Clause 18 is a general prohibition on abuse of dominance modelled on Article 86 and it provides a clear legal framework against which to assess whether any particular conduct is abusive and likely to restrict competition.

In view of the fact that this Bill introduces stronger legislation on abuse of dominance and covers predatory pricing, I should have thought that the noble Lord would support the Bill as drafted and withdraw the amendment.

Viscount Astor: Will the noble Lord confirm that if a company is dominant in one market but the abuse is in an entirely different market, that will be covered by this Bill when in the past, it has slipped through the gap?

Lord Haskel: As I said on the previous amendment on abuse of economic strength in another market, EC case law shows that in certain circumstances Article 86 may apply where an undertaking that is dominant in one market commits an abuse in a different market.

Lord McNally: I thank the Minister for his kind comments. I ask him to observe that in a fairly lightly attended Chamber, speeches of support have been made from Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Cross Bench Members of the Committee. Therefore, I hope that Ministers do not underestimate the strength of feeling on this issue. There is some disappointment that there has been such a spectacular U-turn from what the party spokesman was saying in opposition.

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I shall not press the amendment this evening. However, I shall consult the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, to see which of us can come up with the best course for the next stage of the Bill. We shall probably seek the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and even of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, if he is not too expensive.

Lord Ackner: There will be cut prices on this occasion only!

Lord McNally: I am even more encouraged. However, I warn Ministers that we may well test the opinion of the House on this matter on Report. However, at present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Haskel: I beg to move that the House be resumed. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begins again not before 8.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Fishing Vessels (Decommissioning) Scheme 1997

7.45 p.m.

Lord Carter rose to move, That the scheme laid before the House on 5th August be approved [10th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as frequently happens when the House debates fisheries issues, the immediately topical questions are not always those covered by the substantive motion. This is likely to be the case today when the scheme we are considering relates essentially to clearing up unfinished business while noble Lords and the fishing industry will be anxious to hear about our plans for tackling the new obligations to which the Government are committed under the terms of MAGP IV.

It may therefore be helpful if I make clear at the outset that the 1997 decommissioning scheme is aimed at reducing the shortfalls against MAGP III targets, which will otherwise carry over into MAGP IV, and does not pre-empt, prejudge or otherwise anticipate the measures which we are still considering, in consultation with the fishing industry, for the implementation of MAGP IV. The final MAGP IV figures have only just been considered by the EU's Fisheries Management Committee and remain to be formally adopted by the Commission as decisions addressed to each of the 13 maritime member states. It would therefore be premature for me to attempt any analysis of them at this stage.

It is, however, relevant that, in making its proposals for these MAGP IV decisions, we finally succeeded in persuading the Commission to reflect the various adjustments to the UK's MAGP III figures which

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correct the long-standing impression that matters were actually worse than they really are. I understand that the corrections were extremely technical and officials are to be congratulated on the way in which the corrections were made.

The detailed position is a little complicated but is set out in full by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Elliot Morley, in a recent Written Answer to the honourable Member for Boston and Skegness. In brief this confirms that the UK has met its overall MAGP III target for power and is within 3 per cent. of the total tonnage figure in gross registered tonnage. Within that the main shortfalls are in the pelagic and beam trawl segments where there have been few candidates for decommissioning in previous rounds. There are also shortfalls in the demersal trawl and distant water segments. However, as it is proposed that the definitions of these segments should be modified in MAGP IV, the read-across in terms of carry-over is not so direct. Nevertheless any further progress we make now--in any or all of the areas of shortfall--will help to reduce the task ahead in MAGP IV. It may again help to clarify matters later if I emphasise now that there is no objective need to decommission any more nephrops vessels to meet MAGP III targets, which were over-subscribed in this segment by some 40 per cent.

My last general observation, before turning to the details of the scheme, concerns financial provision. As the House will know, the previous administration made provision for expenditure on decommissioning totalling £53 million over five years. In the four rounds which they operated, some 8.2 per cent. of fleet capacity was removed at a cost of £36.4 million. However, their public expenditure plans for this final year of the programme contained only £12 million. By re-ordering priorities, I am pleased to be able to announce that we have been able to increase this to a maximum of £14.5 million, subject, of course, to the value for money of the bids received. But, as I said, that is entirely without prejudice to our response to the industry's calls for further decommissioning expenditure in MAGP IV. We are still consulting on the means of achieving the new UK objectives and will need to take account of the outcome of our current spending review as well as the position resulting from the success or otherwise of the 1997 scheme itself.

I turn now to the details of the 1997 scheme. That is closely based on previous schemes but excludes vessels belonging to segments which have met their MAGP III targets. Applications are therefore restricted to vessels holding a valid Category A licence, excluding nephrops vessels. Provision is also made for the exclusion of vessels in other segments which have met or are close to meeting their MAGP III targets. To improve value for money and permit vessel owners to secure the value of their track record, successful applicants will, on a pilot basis, be permitted to retain or transfer their vessels' track records. Detailed arrangements for that have been drawn up in consultation with the industry and given appropriate publicity.

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The scheme provides, as before, flexibility for Ministers to set deadlines for the scheme. My honourable friend has already announced that applications had to be received by 24th October and that successful applicants will be expected to have decommissioned their vessels and surrendered all licences and entitlements before 27th February 1998.

As the deadline for applications has already passed, we will be notifying applicants of the outcome of their bids within a short period of time. Save for the changes that I have already highlighted, the scheme is similar to its predecessors. The key points are that vessels must be over 10 years old, be seaworthy and hold a valid Category A fishing licence; that, if accepted, vessels must proceed to decommission or be excluded from any future scheme; and that the tendering system, which is again used, is fair and well understood by fishermen and gives good value for money.

Finally, noble Lords will wish to note that my honourable friend has recently made available an independent report on the economic evaluation of the decommissioning schemes to date. That supports the changes that we are making this year and confirms that the tendering system has indeed offered good value for money. It also notes that the scheme has facilitated the renewal and modernisation of the fleet and concludes that there is a case for seeking an industry contribution to any future expenditure. I beg to move.

Moved, That the scheme laid before the House on 5th August be approved [10th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Carter.)

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