|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Lyell: My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, said on Amendment No. 17. I, too, have to declare an interest. I am a non-practising member of the Chartered Accountants of Scotland. The Minister will be interested to know that much of my apprenticeship was spent under the green and yellow banner, which I think occupied him until recently. The firm Traneby will not be unknown to the Minister.
There was much merit in the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, especially when he referred to paragraph 11 of Part II in Schedule 4. The definition in that paragraph is narrow. The noble Lord tempted me, and I suspect your Lordships, to look at the other services performed by accountants and others. For that reason, I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Bruce.
Even with all the training that I received in Scottish commercial and other law, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, lost me when we came to Clause 58. I was fascinated. I wonder what the Minister has been able to do to his noble friend, because I ask the Minister to agree that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has been turned into something of a tabby cat this afternoon. I do not know what persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, to be so succinct and brief. I was expecting considerably more in line with what happened in Paris on Saturday or at Lansdowne Road. All the same, I was impressed by his opening remarks in relation to Amendment No. 17. I shall desist from commenting on the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Wilcox. Will the Minister reply to the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce?
The Earl of Buckinghamshire: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 17, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. I do so despite the fact that I had the good fortune in my maiden speech some years ago on the Insolvency Bill to follow him. I do not wish to risk the
So far as I can see, without the amendment there is no power for the Secretary of State to amend the list of professions, which would then accordingly require primary legislation. If the answer from the Minister is that primary legislation is not required, and we can rely on Clause 58 to do the job, I should be glad of that confirmation.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. A number of amendments make special pleas for various professions. Again, I declare an interest as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. The advice from my own profession is intertwined between audit accountancy and taxation work. More generally, I support in particular my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire. It is a waste of time for an amendment to have a primary legislation effect. All these professions are organically growing and secondary legislation--orders--would be most helpful in this context.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, it is not a phrase which would have come to my mind. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 5, 17 and 67. We discussed the question of whether Schedule 4 should stand part of the Bill on the first day of Committee. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, was not convinced by our arguments at that stage. Perhaps I could try and re-formulate them and explain the provisions for competition scrutiny of professional rules under the Bill. Schedule 4 to the Bill is not in any sense a licence to introduce anti-competitive rules. We shall discuss amendments to the schedule later. For those professions whose services were exempted under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act, the Government do not believe that it would be right to subject their professional rules to the procedures in the Bill.
We believe that it would be unwarranted to apply processes designed primarily for private sector business to the quasi-public law processes of drawing up and enforcing professional rules. I think that my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon put this well in Committee when he said that he opposed competition at the design stage. But it is only the design stage. Far from excluding from the director's scrutiny those rules which professional bodies do draw up, Schedule 4 requires him to retain a copy of each designated professional rule and to
that is to say, to enjoy the benefit of exclusion. The price, therefore, which must be paid for exclusion at the design stage is that the director is required to review the rules and consider whether the exclusion is justified. I hope that that answers the point raised by my noble friend Lord Bruce. The Secretary of State has certain obligations.
If there are competition concerns there must of course be some mechanism for addressing them. One would hope that a professional body would have regard to any criticisms the director may make and consider whether its rules should be amended. If not, and if after consulting any relevant Minister, the Secretary of State considers that the exclusion should end, the Bill will enable her to revoke the designation of a professional rule and bring it within the Chapter I prohibition, subject to affirmative resolution by your Lordships and another place.
Thus, the Bill will ensure that any competition concerns to which professional rules give rise will be addressed, but in a focused and targeted way, without subjecting the professions' rule-making and enforcing processes as a whole to the procedures in the Bill. I hope that on reflection the noble Baroness will see that this is in no sense letting the professions off from the requirements of competition law. If there are competition concerns about professional rules I assure her that the Bill will enable them to be addressed.
The noble Baroness asked about solicitors' rules. Unlike, say, the profession of barrister, solicitors' rules are, we believe, statutory ones. They are a requirement of the law. As such, they are not "agreements" and would not therefore ever be prohibited under Chapter I.
The noble Baroness also asked about multi-disciplinary practices involving solicitors. I think there is some confusion about this. Section 66 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 abolished the section of the Solicitors Act 1974 which, in effect, prevented solicitors from entering into partnership with persons who are not solicitors, but without prejudice to the Law Society's ability to make rules on such matters. Such rules would in all likelihood be statutory. They would have nothing to do with Chapter I of the Bill, which is about a prohibition of agreements.
The noble Baroness also asked about professional rules. They are not necessarily the same as the normal run of agreements that businesses may enter into. Their purpose is to protect the public. They have attached to them disciplinary arrangements which often involve some judicial process and under which penalties can be severe. They are often subject to approval by Ministers or members of the judiciary. In these ways, they are a form of quasi public law.
I turn to Amendment No. 17 and the points raised by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington. In the first place, it is clear that the amendment would enable the scope of the exclusion in the Bill to be widened, and it would therefore potentially provide for a wider exclusion of professional rules than that provided under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act.
Given the ambition of this legislation to provide a thorough and effective reform of competition law--and the fact that we have, as I have explained, narrowed the existing exemption of professional services under that Act--I do not think that that would be appropriate. Perhaps I may again recall that some noble Lords have expressed some concerns about the width of the existing exclusion, never mind increasing the exclusion.
However, perhaps more importantly, I do not see a case on procedural grounds for excluding professions which have hitherto been subject to competition law in the shape of the Restrictive Trade Practices Act. Those professions must have had to accommodate that law, and I do not see why their procedures cannot accommodate the new law. The unique point about the professions on the list in Schedule 4 is, of course, that they have not been subject to the Act.
The Government have reflected on the point raised in Committee by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington and the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, but have concluded that it would not be right to provide the Secretary of State with a power of this kind.
My noble friend Lord Bruce was displeased with Clause 58. The purpose of the Bill is to make British competition law consistent with Community law. Competition law must be relevant in all countries. Clause 58 explains that rather well. It must be consistent, and that is what the clause provides.
I hope that my noble friend will understand the reasons for that and will feel able to withdraw his amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness will understand the reasons that I have explained about the professions and will also agree to withdraw her amendment.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page