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Lord Borrie: I preface my remarks by saying that I fully recognise the noble Lord's commitment over many years to the desirability of commerce and industry enjoying a competitive structure. We shall therefore avoid the threat of the noble Lord to make lengthy speeches to prove that he is indeed pro-competition. No doubt many Members of the Committee are of the same view. I recognise also that the noble Lord is in favour of the provision of adequate powers to ensure that those who engage in price fixing or other anti-competitive practices have their conduct investigated and, if it is proved, are perhaps condemned. On many matters both I and the noble Lord are in full agreement.
However, by the nature of this amendment the noble Lord suggests that the Director General of Fair Trading, who heads an office of 300 or 400 people, would have to investigate personally the facts of particular cases. The noble Lord desires to delete that part of the clause which specifies that an authorised officer should be enabled to do that. There are other amendments yet to be discussed--I do no more than mention them--which suggest that there should be some qualification attaching to particular members of staff of the Office of Fair Trading and that they alone should be permitted to engage in these investigations. It is normal practice--my experience of the Office of Fair Trading is that it is not abused--that if an official on the staff of the Office of Fair Trading is duly authorised to do certain acts which the legislation permits him to do that is surely sufficient. According to the resources available, that is carried out and the director general is fully responsible for the proper conduct of the investigation.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I should like to make a short rejoinder to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. First, he should not take me further than I desire to go. This amendment is simply exploratory. I made clear that I was conscious of its defects and that I did not expect it to be accepted by the Government. I merely asked that the Minister should look at the points to which I referred. Secondly,
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I believe that all noble Lords have a degree of enthusiasm for the Bill. Certainly, I have. By and large, in principle the Bill is a very good one. I am concerned that there should be a calm approach to a reasonable balance of protection. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, I believe that my noble friend has raised a very important point in the context of reasonable protection. I have some practical experience. I am not concerned with what the director does. However, I am a little concerned that an officer should be authorised by the director or given a licence to conduct a fishing expedition in relation to documents which fall,
That seems a bit too wide. It seems unreasonable. I am not sure, in actual practice, what "category of document" means. I am conversant, in my profession, with discovery in categories of documents. That I understand, but I do not see in this context what "category of document" can conceivably mean.
If I cannot understand what it means, how can the authorised officer understand what it means even if the director understands what it means? Category of document? Contract? Invoice? They would form categories, but it is difficult to know what conceivable restrictive effect the term "category of document" could have. If, in practice, it does not have one, I respectfully suggest to the Minister that it is fair to ask him to reconsider the point.
Lord Peston: Not for the first time in this place, I do not have the faintest idea of what is going on. Am I right in saying that we are still discussing the third group of amendments on the Marshalled List which contains six amendments?
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: There is no one I would rather help than the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I moved Amendment No. 95A. If the noble Lord has the paper available, he will be able to tell very quickly what we are talking about.
Having said that, perhaps I may reiterate that I would have expected the proposers of the other amendments to have had their say, because they all fit with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I share all the noble Lord's fears about bureaucrats and people poking their noses into things they should not poke their noses into. I share his approach. It is the Committee's duty to try to expose these matters or to prevent their happening. I interpret the subsection that the noble Lord wishes to delete as saying no more than that the director general may use his staff to do his job. That is all I interpret that to mean, and no more. He may not use his staff in a Draconian way, a Nazi way, or any other way. The provision merely says that he may use his staff.
I agree with everything that the noble Lord said about his fears. However, I do not see that we could have a Bill that did not allow the director to have people to do some work for him. That is the only point here. The reason I made my acerbic remarks is that the remaining amendments deal with points of detail concerning what the staff may do and which staff we are talking about. I suppose that in due course we may reach those topics. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is to be congratulated on putting his fears on the record, but I hope that he does not push further than that in the sense of getting us to a position where no work could take place, which I believe would be the sole consequence if my noble friend the Minister were to agree to Amendment No. 95A. One person could not possibly do all the work himself.
Lord Kingsland: On this occasion I did not take the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to be acerbic. I had been under the misapprehension that we were debating just Amendment No. 95A. I think I am wrong about that, and that we should be looking at all the amendments, so I apologise to the Committee for not having intervened earlier. I understand that if Amendment No. 95A is adopted, Amendments Nos. 96 and 97 will fall. Nevertheless, I should say something about them. Both relate to page 13, line 13. Amendment No. 96 inserts between "any" and "officer" the word "senior". That is very much in the spirit of what my noble friend was seeking to obtain by his amendment.
So the only two categories that remain as a definition of the "appropriate person" are the director or a person authorised under Clause 25(2).
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