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Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 210:

Page 36, line 18, leave out from ("under") to end of line 19 and insert ("any of sections 41 to 43, 53(8) or 62.").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have already considered this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 68 [Crown application]:

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 210A:

Page 37, line 8, at end insert--
("(3A) If, in respect of a suspected infringement of the Chapter I prohibition or of the Chapter II prohibition otherwise than by the Crown or a person in the public service of the Crown, an investigation is conducted under section 25--
(a) the power conferred by section 27 may not be exercised in relation to land which is occupied by a government department, or otherwise for purposes of the Crown, without the written consent of the appropriate person; and
(b) section 28 does not apply in relation to land so occupied.
(3B) In any case in which consent is required under subsection (3A), the person who is the appropriate person in relation to that case is to be determined in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State.
(3C) Sections 60 and 61 do not apply in relation to land which is occupied by a government department, or otherwise for purposes of the Crown, unless the matter being investigated is a suspected infringement by the Crown or by a person in the public service of the Crown.
(3D) In subsection (3C) "infringement" means an infringement of Community law relating to Article 85 or 86 of the Treaty establishing the European Community.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 210B:

Page 37, line 15, at end insert--
("( ) Any amendment, repeal or revocation made by this Act binds the Crown to the extent that the enactment amended, repealed or revoked binds the Crown.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 12 [Minor and Consequential Amendments]:

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 210C:

Page 84, line 40, at end insert--
("( ) In section 81 (procedure in carrying out investigations)--
(a) in subsection (1)--
(i) in the words before paragraph (a), omit from "and the Commission" to "of this Act)";
(ii) in paragraph (b), omit "or the Commission, as the case may be," and "or of the Commission";
(b) in subsection (2), omit "or the Commission" and "or of the Commission"; and
(c) in subsection (3), omit from "and, in the case," to "85 of this Act" and "or the Commission, as the case may be,".").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 210D:

Page 85, line 18, at end insert--
("( ) In section 135(1) (financial provisions)--
(a) in the words before paragraph (a) and in paragraph (b), omit "or the Commission"; and
(b) omit paragraph (a)." ").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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[Amendment No. 211 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 211A:

Page 85, line 21, at end insert--

("The Estate Agents Act 1979 (c. 38)

. In section 10(3) of the Estate Agents Act 1979 (restriction on disclosure of information), in paragraph (a)--
(a) omit "or the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976"; and
(b) after "the Coal Industry Act 1994", insert "or the Competition Act 1998".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 211B, 212A, 223A, 223B and 223C. These are minor consequential amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 211B:

Page 88, line 9, at end insert--

("The Consumer Protection Act 1987 (c. 43)

. In section 38(3) of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 (restrictions on disclosure of information)--
(a) omit paragraphs (e) and (f); and
(b) after paragraph (o) insert--
"(p) the Competition Act 1998." ").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 212 not moved.]

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 212A:

Page 89, line 16, at end insert--

("The Coal Industry Act 1994 (c. 21)

. In section 59(4) of the Coal Industry Act 1994 (information to be kept confidential by the Coal Authority)--
(a) omit paragraphs (e) and (f); and
(b) after paragraph (m), insert--
"(n) the Competition Act 1998."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 13 [Transitional Provisions and Savings]:

Lord Morris of Manchester moved Amendment No. 213:

Page 91, line 21, after ("determined") insert--
("(a) in the case of proceedings under the RPA, before the date of enactment; and
(b) in the case of proceedings under the RTPA,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper.

While it may be helpful for me very briefly to recall the case for this group of amendments, I shall not, of course, repeat tonight the arguments with which I commended these amendments to your Lordships' House in the short debate made possible by my paving amendment to Clause 1 of the Bill on 9th February.

What was established then, by speeches from all parts of the House, was that this Bill will determine whether community pharmacy has any future in Britain. Independent researchers have shown that as many as 3,000 local pharmacies are today barely viable. But if Retail Price Maintenance (RPM) on over-the-counter medicines was abruptly to end, thousands more would

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face closure at a time when the public service they provide has never been more important to local communities, more especially to millions of elderly and disabled people, mothers with small children and the less well-off with no private means of transport, who rely so crucially on their chemists' shops.

The tabling of the amendments had two purposes. Briefly stated, the first was to stay the Director General of Fair Trading's legal proceedings under the old Act: for not to do so would put community pharmacies in double jeopardy. My second purpose was to secure RPM for over-the-counter medicines for a minimum 5-year period of transition before it could be tested by the director general under the new Act, so as to provide time for a proper analysis of the pharmacy market; to allow community pharmacies to develop their role in the Government's healthcare agenda; and to facilitate due consideration of the effects of the large and growing body of European case law.

In response to the wide-ranging support given to my amendments on 9th February, my noble friend the Minister undertook to look sympathetically at the case for RPM to be granted for a minimum 5-year transitional period once his Bill comes into force. He has been as good as his word and I am most grateful to him for tabling his amendments, thus making it possible for me not to press my amendment on the issue. In 34 years at Westminster I have rarely known a Minister go to so much trouble both to consult and help a parliamentary colleague.

There still remains, however, the highly important issue of staying, for a limited period, the legal proceedings which have now been commenced by the director general under a law that, not improbably, will be replaced on the day the court action is concluded. The director general would then have a second opportunity to litigate under the provisions of the new Act. That classically is double jeopardy and is what my amendments to Schedule 13 sought to avoid. For their part, not surprisingly, the community pharmacists want the case for RPM to be tested only once, under the new law, and against up-to-date criteria for determining the public interest.

They have overwhelming public support, as the MORI poll demonstrates, and already 108 Members of another place, of whom 99 are Labour Members of Parliament, have put their names to an Early Day Motion supporting the community pharmacists. It is worth stressing as well that to force the closure of thousands of community pharmacies would be to act in flat contradiction of the Government's stated policy of promoting small businesses. For so many such businesses to be forced to close to the advantage of big business is also surely both socially and morally indefensible.

But there has now been an ugly and disquieting new development in relation to my amendment on staying the director general's legal proceedings under the old law. In Last Thursday's Evening Standard it was reported that:

    "The Office of Fair Trading today launched a fierce rearguard action as the drugs industry scented victory in its fight to keep price-fixing for over-the-counter medicines.

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    "The House of Lords was set to debate an amendment to the Competition Bill ... which, if passed, would enshrine price-fixing in law for non-prescription drugs.

    "Last month the OFT launched legal action in the Restrictive Practices Court to have price-fixing for drugs outlawed--although the case will not be heard until next year at the earliest. If the amendment successfully passes through Parliament the legal action will automatically fail.

    "The director general, John Bridgeman, set out to lobby peers, concerned that in the past the Labour Party had supported the pharmacists' case for keeping the status quo. Last year there was cross-party backing in the House of Lords for exempting pharmacists ..."

The newspaper goes on to report the director general as directly implying that the "drug giants" are behind my amendments, even although they sell medicines as readily to hypermarkets as they do to local pharmacies, and quotes him as saying that,

    "drug companies are among the biggest spenders on advertising",

as if our debate tonight was one between drug companies and the consumer.

I most strongly repudiate the suggestion of involvement by drug companies of any size in the drafting or tabling of any of my amendments. I am not retained by the drug companies or by anyone else, nor have I ever been retained by any drug company, large or small, giant or dwarf, in all my years in Parliament. My commitment is to community pharmacy and the most vulnerable of its customers. If the Evening Standard report is accurate--and I have seen no attempt by Mr. Bridgeman to correct what it says--I have been very seriously misrepresented; and indeed in the view of experienced parliamentarians who have discussed it with me, the report is grossly contemptuous of your Lordships' House. Mr Bridgeman's remarks are at once partial and unfair and constitute a blatant and unprecedented attempt by a public official to intervene in the parliamentary process.

His remarks also imply that those who support my amendments are seeking special protection. They are not. In fact they fully accept that community pharmacy should ultimately have to make its case under the provisions of this Bill after it becomes law. But they believe that the director general's action in bringing proceedings under an Act that is about to be repealed and replaced by new legislation is oppressive and unjust.

It is demonstrably wrong for Mr Bridgeman to suggest that these amendments are either inspired by, or aimed at supporting, the drugs industry. It is wrong for him to quote as a fact, and then exaggerate, an assumption made in one study, which is completely baseless, that price-fixing costs consumers

    "at least £180m per annum".

It is also wrong for him to say that pharmacy is seeking special protection when it is simply seeking to argue its case once, under this Bill's provisions, and thus to avoid double jeopardy. And it is wrong again to suggest that the British public pay too much for their medicines, when in fact local pharmacists can help them to get the right medicine at the right price, together with good advice.

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I am reminded of Lloyd George's famous dictum that war is too important to leave to the generals. Those who know most about Lloyd George's private life might say that there were some things too important to leave to Lloyd George. But we must profoundly hope that what Mr. Bridgeman has now done will not have influenced too many people to conclude that fair trade is too important to leave to the Office of Fair Trading.

Clearly, his attempt to influence this debate ill-becomes a public servant and merits comment from the department. I trust that my noble friend shares my concern about its implications and am sure that he appreciates how strong and genuine feeling is in this House and beyond about allowing the director general to continue, at vast expense to the public purse and to small businesses alike, with legal proceedings that are so widely regarded as a waste of public money.

If the Minister is unable to respond conclusively tonight to my amendment on staying those proceedings--I know that he is still in dialogue about it with colleagues in other departments--I urge him and them, when they are free to act, to do so as parliamentary and public opinion want and expect them to do. In that regard I can hope for no better outcome than that, when we come to Third Reading and the need then for a definitive decision from this House, my noble friend will be seen to have done as well for us as he did in satisfying the call for a five-year transitional period under the new law. I beg to move.

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