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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the amendments are diminishing in importance. However, this one about the registration of bands is most interesting. Certainly, the Government do not intend immediately to register bands, but they are taking power to enable them to do so. At the time of the earlier discussion on the Bill in this House, the only thing that the Government seemed certain about was that if they did do that then it should be done by the courts. Now they have decided that they are not even certain about that aspect. Indeed, I am only slightly surprised that they have not deleted the clause from the Bill. I believe that that would still enable them to introduce such a scheme by order under other legislation. Nevertheless, they have decided to leave it in, and I shall not argue the matter any further.

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Clause 16, page 10, line 27, leave out ("or other")

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 10. The amendment refines the meaning of a band in the public processions Bill. It has the effect of restricting the meaning of a band to cover only those playing musical instruments, rather than the strange "other instruments" mentioned in the previous draft. I hope that we are not creating too big a loophole for the creation of dustbin lid bands or possibly the skiffle bands, which some noble Lords may remember from the dim and distant past. Where legislative provision is meaningless or unclear, this Government have no hesitation in dispensing with it.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 10.--(Lord Dubs.)

Lord Lyell: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can assist me. Apart from bagpipes and flutes,

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can the noble Lord say what other instruments are classified as being musical? I missed this discussion during the earlier stages of the Bill, so can the Minister give me some indication as to what is defined as music? Noble Lords will be aware that people have differing views in that respect. To myself, a Scot, and to those in Northern Ireland bagpipes are most attractive, while flutes may be equally attractive to one section of the community in Scotland. Can the Minister give me and my noble friend Lord Cope some assistance in that respect?

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, no one with the name Johnny Cope is going to argue about whether or not bagpipes constitute music; indeed, that would be much too dangerous ground for me to cover. As far as I am concerned, the amendment is something of a relief; otherwise, the courts might have been in danger of registering a group of klaxons or something of that nature. I support the amendment.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I do not think that I shall be tempted too far down the path that the noble Lord tried to lure me down. Does the noble Lord wish to intervene?

Lord Lyell: My Lords, I apologise for saying, from a sedentary position, "feel free". The afternoon is ours but I shall wait.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I still do not wish to be tempted too far or I might get into difficulties. I do not think the noble Lord would want that to happen. I should have thought that in any commonsense approach bagpipes and flutes are clearly the kind of instruments played by bands.

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Page 10, line 38, at end insert--

(""protest meeting" means an open-air public meeting (within the meaning of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987)--
(a) which is, or is to be, held--
(i) at a place which is on or in the vicinity of the route or proposed route of a public procession; and
(ii) at or about the same time as the procession is being or is to be held; and
(b) the purpose (or one of the purposes) of which is to demonstrate opposition to the holding of that procession on that route or proposed route;").


Page 11, line 2, at end insert--

("(1A) For the purposes of this Act a protest meeting is "related" to a public procession if the purpose (or one of the purposes) of the meeting is to demonstrate opposition to the holding of that procession on its route or proposed route.")


Clause 18, page 11, line 25, at end insert ("or protest meeting")

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 11 to 13.

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Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 11 to 13.--(Lord Dubs.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Page 11, leave out lines 33 to 36

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 14, which removes a privilege amendment.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 14.--(Lord Dubs.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Schedule 1, page 12, line 16, at end insert--

("(3) The Secretary of State shall so exercise his powers of appointment under this paragraph as to secure that as far as is practicable the membership of the Commission is representative of the community in Northern Ireland.")

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 15.

I am sure that this House will agree that it is desirable that the Parades Commission should be representative of the community in Northern Ireland. While this Government have sought balance in the existing commission and will continue to do so, we are also legally obliged to appoint on merit. There cannot be a quota for certain parts of the community. We must appoint on merit first of all.

However, following the provision in the Police Act relating to the Police Authority, this amendment has the effect of making it a duty for the Secretary of State to ensure that the Parades Commission is, as far as is practicable, representative of the community in Northern Ireland. I believe this is a useful amendment.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 15.--(Lord Dubs.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, this is an important amendment in that it declares the necessity for the membership of the commission to be representative of the community. We always thought that it would be in general terms, but it is a good thing that it should be written into the Bill in this way. My only question--which was raised in another place but which I do not think was answered entirely--is whether the amendment would have the effect that no one from another part of the United Kingdom or elsewhere could be a member of the commission because he or she would not be representative of the community in Northern Ireland? It is difficult to think that someone from elsewhere in the United Kingdom could be regarded as being representative of any part of the community in Northern Ireland, although that is not impossible. However, I would not like to think that was so, particularly as I understand the present chairman of the Parades Commission does not live in Northern Ireland.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, the noble Lord has posed a question and indeed he has answered it. The chairman

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of the Parades Commission is not a Northern Ireland resident. It would be quite proper for the Parades Commission to have among its membership people who are not from Northern Ireland. However, in so far as they come from the six counties, it is appropriate that one should attempt to seek balance, subject in the first instance to having achieved appointment on merit.

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Schedule 3, page 15, leave out lines 23 to 26


Schedule 4, page 16, line 25, at end insert--

("1970 c. 9 (N.I.).The Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1970.In Schedule 1, paragraph 15(2) to (4).")


Page 16, line 31, column 3, at end insert--

("Article 5(2).")


Page 16, line 36, column 3, at end insert--

("In Schedule 1, paragraph 4.")

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 16 to 19.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 16 to 19.--(Lord Dubs.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Competition Bill [H.L.]

3.33 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Enactments replaced]:

Lord Morris of Manchester moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 14, at end insert--
("( ) Paragraphs 5 to 9 of Schedule 13 make particular transitional provision in relation to the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976 and the Resale Prices Act 1976.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, while it has never involved any financial benefit to me personally, I have an interest to declare in the debate and it is one in which I take pride. My interest is that of a recent former President of the Co-operative Congress, the highest honour the British co-operative movement can bestow. Moreover for 33 years in another place I was a co-operatively-sponsored Member of Parliament for my native city. Thus the concern expressed by National Co-operative Chemists about the issues addressed by my amendments to this Bill is of particular importance to me. I am grateful to them as well as to David and Sue Sharpe and Justine Keil of the Community Pharmacy Action Group for their invaluable help.

I want also at the outset to pay tribute to my right honourable and noble friend Lord Graham for all his work on these issues at the Bill's Committee stage. He is temporarily abroad and, while he has been away, I have heard the excellent news of his having been made a fellow Privy Counsellor. Naturally I look forward very much to his return when I can congratulate him on the award and, as it were, welcome him aboard.

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In Opposition we on these Benches gave our backing to community pharmacy, whose future depends very much on this Bill, because it was the right thing to do. It is still the right thing to do and I was heartened to hear the statement in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health on 27th January 1998 when he said that, we (the Government),

    "want to retain as many local community pharmacists as possible".--[Official Report, Commons, 27/1/98; col. 131.]

The Competition Bill provides the means of helping us to do just that.

The amendments I have tabled have two purposes: first, to ensure that the Director-General of Fair Trading cannot proceed with litigation under the old Act. It is unfair and wasteful and indeed could involve pharmacists in double jeopardy to fight under an Act that is more than 30 years old just when Parliament is discussing a new competition regime. Thus my amendments call for proceedings by the Office of Fair Trading to be stayed for a period of two years, so that regulations needed to give effect to the new Act can be brought into force. In the unlikely event that the new Act does not commence within two years then, of course, the director-general can resume proceedings.

Secondly, my amendments seek to ensure for resale price maintenance (RPM) on over-the-counter medicines a minimum five-year period of transition before it can be tested by the Director-General under the new Act. I cannot emphasise too strongly the central importance of staying, for a limited period, the legal proceedings now commenced under the old law. Community pharmacists are not looking for an indefinite exemption. But at the very least they should be allowed an opportunity to develop their role in the Government's healthcare agenda and RPM should stay in place while there is a proper analysis of the pharmacy market and the full implications of ending RPM are known.

Community pharmacy plays a key role, not just in the provision of medicines, but in a wide range of primary healthcare services which are crucial to the communities they support. Pharmacists give free advice on common health problems 1 million times a day. They provide a 24-hour emergency cover and on-call services. They dispose of unwanted medicines and provide drug addict care. They keep a product range of 2,000 items: far more than any supermarket would ever stock. But the future of community pharmacy is now under threat. If this Bill abolishes RPM on over-the-counter medicines it could precipitate the closure of thousands of pharmacies as more and more businesses become no longer viable, and the threat of that happening is made more urgent and more serious by the Director-General of Fair Trading having sought leave to end RPM through court action.

Mendes France said that to govern is to choose and at the heart of today's debate is a crucial choice of public policy--that between access to medicines and the advice that small community pharmacies offer on the one hand, and a slightly lower cost of those medicines on the other. We cannot have both and must choose; but as we do so let it be acknowledged that prices in Britain today are among the lowest in Europe. Let it be clearly

9 Feb 1998 : Column 875

understood too that if RPM on over-the-counter medicines goes, thousands of local pharmacies will face closure at a time when independent researchers state that perhaps as many as 3,000 are already barely viable. They clearly would be among the first to close if RPM goes.

The Office of Fair Trading's own investigations have found that 36 per cent. of those surveyed would switch their purchases to Asda and other chains, and away from community pharmacy. It is said, much to its credit, that paradoxically your Lordships' House is often the most reliable barometer of public opinion in this country. So what do the public think? In a MORI opinion poll conducted only three weeks ago they were asked whether they would prefer to pay slightly more for medicines, around 6p to 10p per week, to keep their local pharmacy open or see RPM go. Overwhelmingly they supported RPM as a means of safeguarding access to medicines and primary care advice. Seventy per cent. believe access is more important than price. And let no one be in any doubt who will suffer most if chemists close. They will be the people who use local chemists most. They include elderly and disabled people, mothers with young children and people with no access to a car. Believe it or not, they are a majority of the British people and they deserve all the protection we can give them.

What use is it to them if the supermarket on the edge of town is loss leading on a few products if they cannot get there? In any case, supermarket shelves cannot offer the advice or care on which they so often depend. Supermarkets do not build close relationships with customers or keep their medical records. Nor do they refuse to sell products that could harm the individual customer. But pharmacists are bound by a code of professional ethics, which means that they have to refuse to sell what may be harmful.

In an important statement today, the medical, pharmacy and nursing professions state:

    "We firmly believe that medications should not be treated in the same way as ordinary articles of commerce and should be purchased for the most part only where advice from an appropriately qualified health professional is available".

Medicines are not like other products. This has been recognised also by government which is why, for example, a limit has been imposed on the size of packets of Paracetamol to prevent people overdosing.

From the evidence that I have seen, we do not have too many pharmacies in the UK. Nor are they charging too much. A further independent study by National Economic Research Associates has shown that large supermarket retailers enjoy substantially higher gross margins than their smaller competitors; that the UK is not over-provided with pharmacies compared with the average for the European Union; that UK pharmacy margins are the lowest in the EU; that our over-the-counter prices are among the lowest in the EU; and that far from being unusual, price controls for over-the-counter medicines are found in a large number of EU countries.

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It is no exaggeration to say that this Bill can determine the fate of community pharmacy in this country. The public service it provides makes its cost an undoubted bargain for British consumers, not least, as I know my noble friend the Minister recognises, for the most needful and vulnerable among them. Moreover, the service it provides does not cost the Treasury a penny; but if RPM goes and pharmacies close, then the health service and ultimately the Treasury will have to pick up the cost. The case for protecting community pharmacy is socially and morally of high importance. It is in my view unanswerable. I beg to move.

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