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Lord Ezra: I should like to thank all noble Lords who have participated in the discussion. I believe that each contribution has been most important. We have covered different angles of the issue and it is clearly an essential part of the Bill. While I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for his very firm support, which I welcome--indeed, I only wish that the Government were swayed by it--I gain the impression that the feeling is that, while this could come, this might not be the right time. The question that then arises is: when will the right time be? Will it be when the Government's eagerly waited review of the regulatory system is completed and has been discussed? Am I to take it that we shall then return to the issue? Is it the Government's intention to reconsider the whole question of concurrent jurisdiction in the light of the conclusions which will be reached in that review? If that is so, I am happy to wait until then, assuming that it will be sometime next year. That means that we will return to the matter.

Regrettably, the weakest part of the Minister's response was where he dealt with the conglomerate situation. He said that no doubt they would all get together and that, possibly, they could leave it to the director general to deal with. That immediately injects an area of uncertainty. If I were the chairman of one of those conglomerates--and I rush to point out that I am not--I would be in a state of grave uncertainty as to whom I should be dealing with in such matters.

Let us assume that I am covering all the utility sectors--indeed, that is perfectly conceivable--the lines and the operations are being merged, gas and electricity are indistinguishable in my operations, and railways are coming into it, with telecommunications overarching the whole lot. I would be in difficulty as regards knowing to whom I should turn for advice, let alone knowing who would finally decide whether or not I was contravening the legislation. I find that a rather unsatisfactory situation.

When this particular section of the Bill was drawn up, it does not seem to me that sufficient attention was paid to the way in which the market is developing. I have but two thoughts in my mind. The first is that I gain the impression that we shall return to the matter when the review is complete; and, secondly, I feel grave concern as to how the developing number of conglomerate companies will be dealt with. However, this is not the time to be pressing Members of the Committee for a decision on the matter. We have had an extremely useful debate. I shall reflect carefully on everything that has been said, while leaving those two thoughts in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Simon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 207:

Page 26, line 7, at end insert--
("(1A) When exercising the functions under this Part which a regulator has concurrently with the Director, the regulator shall consult and follow the advice of the Director in order to ensure consistency in the application of this Part.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment brings us back to the question in a different way. Whereas the amendment that we have just debated proposed that there should not be concurrent jurisdiction, Amendment No. 207 assumes that there will be such jurisdiction but suggests that the risk of overlap could be overcome by requiring the regulators on the face of the Bill to consult and follow the advice of the director general when exercising their functions under the legislation. The director general would thereby take a leading role which would ensure consistency in the application of the legislation. The obligation to consult and to follow the advice of the director general would also apply when the regulators exercise their functions under monopoly provisions of the Fair Trading Act 1973.

I hope that even though the Government were not prepared to accept a more far-reaching proposal in Amendment No. 206, they will, in the interests of trying to avoid overlap--which they say they want to avoid--accept the less far-reaching proposal in Amendment No. 207. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Mottistone: I trust that the Government will resist this amendment with the same strength as they did the previous amendment because it seems to me that it just says the same thing all over again and weakens the power of the regulators at the wrong time.

Lord Simon of Highbury: I find it difficult to resist the urge to be brief that was revealed in the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. I shall not resist it. I feel that I have made the arguments before. We think that overlap is inevitable. Indeed it may be helpful under certain circumstances. Therefore we do not believe that the amendments are necessary in the light of the arguments that I made with regard to the previous amendments.

Lord Ezra: This is all part of the same debate. I shall take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Simon, has just said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Simon of Highbury moved Amendment No. 207A:

Page 26, line 8, after second ("in") insert ("paragraphs (a) to (g) of").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 207A I wish to speak also to later amendments standing in my name, Amendments Nos. 236A, 240A, 242A and 252A. These amendments do no more than rectify minor drafting deficiencies in the Bill. Amendments Nos. 207A and 252A clarify the definition of "regulator". Amendments Nos. 236A, 240A and 242A correct cross-referencing errors.

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In moving these amendments I should like to add that we may also wish to make minor amendments to those provisions in Schedule 10 which make consequential amendments flowing from the establishment of the new competition commission. There are further matters on which we may wish to bring forward amendments to Schedule 10 at Report stage. The first of these concerns the way that the disclosure provisions of this Bill and the utility statutes interact in governing information obtained by regulators exercising concurrent functions. Some clarification may be needed on this.

The Bill provides for regulators to be able to exercise concurrent functions in relation to Part I of the Bill. However, it does not at present provide for them to exercise concurrent functions in relation to the transitional arrangements in Schedule 13, even though some of these are related to functions under Part I. I believe that the Bill needs to be amended in this regard and accordingly I would expect to come forward with amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 208:

Page 26, line 9, at end insert ("other than the Director General of Telecommunications").

The noble Lord said: This amendment again forms part of the various amendments relating to a concurrent jurisdiction. We have already debated that matter and I shall speak briefly. This measure deals specifically with the concurrent powers of Oftel. It is considered by many that the massive expansion of telecommunications in its various forms is such that it will be difficult to draw the line where the concurrent authority of the Director General of Telecommunications ends and the functions of the Director General of Fair Trading begin.

Almost every large concern, and indeed the majority of small ones, are involved in one way or another in telecommunications. Therefore it is felt that this matter requires a different treatment. I can guess the kind of answers I will receive on this matter because I am sure that, if nothing else, the noble Lord, Lord Simon, is consistent today, although what we are aiming for is to obtain consistency in the application of this legislation. He seems to be consistent in rejecting that desirable objective. When he replies after other Members of the Committee have spoken, as I hope they will, I hope he will tell us how this issue is treated in other countries of the European Union. How do they treat the telecommunications industry in relation to competition law? Is it handled by the government organisation set up to deal with competition law, or is handled by a separate directorate? It would be interesting to know what others do in this matter before we come to a conclusion. I beg to move.

Lord St. John of Bletso: I also wish to support this amendment. We have already debated the position of regulators generally. Amendments Nos. 210 and 213 are particularly relevant to Amendment No. 208. As I said on Second Reading, I am interested in a simple and workable competition law. I support the centralisation of the application of the new law in the DGFT, who has wide experience of competition matters in all sectors,

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including his dealings with mergers and acquisitions. That point has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie.

As I mentioned when we discussed Amendment No. 206, I am not convinced, however, that the information technology field should be the subject of sectoral rather than national scrutiny as regards competition. The IT field is a dynamic and evolving field with strong international features. The DGFT's expertise and experience in this field are already strong and should be built upon. However, this Bill seems to envisage that the de facto competition authority for this field would be Oftel. It appears to me that that is not the best way forward, despite the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. The arrangement would possibly undermine the effectiveness of the DGFT's position. I support the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Desai, on Amendment No. 206 that these important decisions should not be taken before the results of the Government's review of the utilities are known. As the Minister has mentioned, it is hoped that we shall have those results by the end of January next year. Oftel's submission on the review of utility regulation states on page 3:

    "The changes in competition law will have the most profound impact on the work of the DGT".

One reason for this might be that under Clause 10, the Bill proposes to change fundamentally the current position under the 1984 Telecommunications Act.

Under that Act competition powers--that is, the powers to exercise the Fair Trading and Competition Acts--are kept separate from the Telecommunications Act powers. Under Section 3 of the Telecommunications Act, Oftel is not allowed to take into account its telecommunications objectives when exercising its competition law functions. Despite the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and the strong words of rejection by the Minister, I have received information about a number of concerns, and support, from a number of organisations. The Federation of Electronics Industries has expressed its concern and broad support, along with a number of its members. They include--I mention a few--Erikson, ICL, Digital, IBM, Intel, Norton, Phillips, BT, Racal, Fujitsu and Xerox. I hope that these concerns are taken into consideration and that we shall receive a more encouraging reply from the Minister.

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