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Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said. This has been a relatively long Bill. It has been extremely technical, and interesting for those of us who have participated in it. It has not quite drawn the houses that the "Titanic" has been achieving in recent weeks: nevertheless, for those of us who have participated, particularly in the presence of some of the most extraordinarily skilled and knowledgeable people in competition law, it has been a very worthwhile experience.
I cannot say the Bill leaves your Lordships' House in quite the shape we would like. There are a number of respects in which we would still like to see progress and improvement but we note with appreciation the undertakings that the Minister gave at earlier stages and also today. The legislation does not yet have quite the right balance that is required of an enforceable
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for dealing with amendments in his usual courteous fashion and for the receptive way in which he understood our concerns. I say particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Simon, that his reputation in your Lordships' House is very considerably enhanced. The Bill is extremely complicated. Not only has he dealt with it with great courtesy, but we have all appreciated his deep and profound understanding of competition matters. for some of us it is reassuring that in this government there is at least one significant intellect that will shape competition policy in the future.
I hope that the noble Lord appreciates that there is one aspect in which we have improved him. When he first began on the Bill he seemed irresistibly drawn to using the second person plural. As the Bill leaves this House, he is firmly thirled to the third person plural. I compliment him on that improvement. It is unfortunate that he has not been able to provide greater satisfaction as regards the voting ambitions of the engineers. I doubt, however, that the matter will preoccupy those in another place. Very sincerely, I compliment the Minister on the way he has handled the Bill. Our appreciation extends, of course, to those who stand behind him in the Bill team. The Bill is technical and they have done an exceptionally good job in complicated circumstances.
Lord McNally: My Lords, may I associate myself with those sentiments, particularly the compliments to the noble Lords, Lord Simon and to Lord Haskel, who have throughout shown courtesy and good humour. I thank also the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, who probably took chestnuts out of the fire for me more times than was entirely within his job description during the passage of the Bill. I am still a relative newcomer to the House and I am grateful to him, as I am to my colleague, my noble friend Lord Ezra, whose wisdom and experience has often contributed to our debates. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, who has been a kind of uncle to the debates.
I should make clear to the Minister and the ministerial team that it is not their Bill now; it is our Bill. It goes to another place with two significant amendments which I had the pleasure of carrying. I appreciate that the Minister said that the Government were still pondering on those issues. The most significant debate was that on predatory pricing. Whatever else emerged from that debate we found that there are almost as many directors of The Times in this House as there are bishops. So that was an advancement. Since that famous night we have come to realise, if we did not know before, that Mr. Murdoch is not by nature a self-regulator. Nor does he seem over-zealous in keeping to undertakings about ownership and editorial independence. I hope that the Government will look on the amendment, to quote the Minister, as "a real improvement." Parliament, I submit, will have to draw
Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, when I spoke on Second Reading on 30th October, I declared a registered interest in British Telecommunications plc, and I do so again. I spoke about the convergence of the telecommunications, computing and media industries and the conclusions of Oftel that:
I also raised questions about the responsibilities of the OFT and the interrelationships between that body and the industry-specific regulators. My position as vice chairman of the BBC makes me even more concerned about the issue of convergence. I also raised a question about Microsoft and its alleged packaging of Internet software and asked who would conduct an inquiry into that.
I wish to emphasise what has been said about the quality of the debates that have taken place on the Bill. I hope that those considering the future of this House have taken note of them. The House is of immense value, and whatever replaces it must be of an extremely high standard in order to match it. I also hope that notice has been taken of the Government's readiness to listen. That is in keeping with the Government's willingness to listen and to "get it right" in the national interest.
There have been a number of changes which we welcome. On studying the debates, it is clear that Clause 60 is the key to the Bill. The Government have stated their intention to align the UK system more closely with the European system. Among the benefits to both industry and consumers will be increased simplicity and certainty in the application of the law throughout Europe. Alignment does not mean that UK competition law will incorporate European law "warts and all". It does mean that we will align the system of law and jurisprudence to create greater certainty and clarity.
Perhaps Clause 60 can be tidied up a little more, but where we make improvements it should be clear that we have done so. That enables us clearly and proudly to set the pace in Europe rather than appearing to be out of step with Europe.
Although we have had very good debates, the issue has been complex and the key issues have emerged clearly. They are the role of regulation, the role of competition policy, and the relationships between the relevant authorities. The debate over the plurality of the media and its consequent implications for the limits on competition policy generally have brought the House alive to overreliance on competition policy alone. Today we have debated the pharmacies, which is another example of the conflict between a wider social policy and the consequences of applying purist competition policy without reconciling that with other aspects of the
I return to the Microsoft question. It was answered on 24th February in the Financial Times by the outgoing Director-General of Oftel, Mr. Cruickshank. After a visit to Microsoft, he is reported to have said that:
The article goes on to record that Mr. Cruickshank wants more regulation to deal with the problems he sees. Following my Second Reading speech, Mr. Cruickshank had the courtesy to write to me and I have read those letters with care. My response is that, in relation to the information technology sector, these matters do not arise in one area of the economy alone and are of such importance to the economy generally that they should be dealt with by the authority best able to pursue them in the national interest.
The Government have indicated that they wish to see a system of competition law modelled on Europe. Ensuring that the right policeman has the ability to call on the right resources at the right time is now the important task. I suggest that there remains a substantial role for the Government. Where there are instances of market failure, where the nation believes that there ought to be a diverse media ownership, or where we consider the continued existence of community pharmacies to be more important than economic efficiency, there needs to be a clear mechanism in the Bill to enable this to take place. To an extent, such mechanisms exist in Schedule 3, but are not well developed in European law.
This area may also need to be revisited in the light of the convergence between markets which has taken place in the information technology sector in order to deal with our European obligations. I welcome the Green Paper recently issued by the European Commission.