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Lord Knights: My Lords, should it eventually be considered appropriate for accelerated disciplinary proceedings to be started before or continued after

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retirement, can the Minister say what penalties would be thought appropriate to impose should guilt be established?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, plainly a certain range of penalties, which are available when an officer is serving, would no longer be available--for example, a reduction in rank or other such measures. It seems to me that we should wait to see what the report of Sir William Macpherson says, consider carefully the lessons to be learned, tie them in with the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee and then take the matter forward. We must be fair to the overwhelming majority of police officers who are fair, honourable and decent. However, we also have to maintain public confidence, which has been very severely eroded following the racist murder of an innocent young man.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, does the Minister think that the criminal standard of proof is appropriate in disciplinary proceedings when it is necessary to maintain the confidence of the public in the force, as he has outlined?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: No, my Lords. I am happy to reiterate what Jack Straw said. He believes that that is a significant disadvantage in the context of disciplinary inquiries.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware of the situation with which the Greater Manchester Police Authority is now faced following the prosecution of one of its officers who was initially found guilty? The latter was successful on appeal and that has landed the police authority with a bill of £10 million, which it has to pay out of its own resources. Does my noble friend realise the enormous cuts that will have to take place in Greater Manchester in order to fund that settlement?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, if a police authority is sued in the civil courts and if it is found liable--or, as I understand has occurred in this case, wants to compromise the case--it seems to me only right and proper that the damages and the costs should be borne by the authority which has been found to be in default of its duties and obligations.

Times Newspapers: Pricing Policy Inquiry

2.59 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to receive from the Office of Fair Trading the results of the inquiry into the pricing policy of Times Newspapers.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): My Lords, the decision to undertake an inquiry into the pricing policy of The Times newspaper was taken independently by the

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Director General of Fair Trading. It is a matter for him how and when he makes his findings public. I understand that he is aiming to complete his investigation by the end of February.

Lord McNally: My Lords, that means it will have taken the OFT a year to conduct an inquiry that it said originally did not need to take place. Is the Minister concerned that we are at a dangerous time when one piece of competition law is being phased out, with a rather lethargic regulator in charge, and a new piece of competition law is not to be implemented until March 2000? The Mirror Group is in play and we are assured by Andrew Neil that the Telegraph is still Mr. Murdoch's prime target. Is not the Minister worried that, without proper protection, the quality and diversity of our press are still under threat?

Lord Simon of Highbury: No, my Lords. I think we have a vigorous law and a vigorous Director General of Fair Trading.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, does the Minister agree it is regrettable that the inquiry has taken a year? If a case of predatory pricing is established, those who have suffered as a result of that will have done so now for over a year, and if no such case is established, those who have been attacked for engaging in predatory pricing will have suffered those attacks for a year. This delay has been bad for the industry.

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, as regards matters as complex as the one we are discussing, we all wish to ensure that investigations are sound and thorough. As noble Lords will be aware, there have been three or four similar investigations in the past, none of which has revealed sufficient evidence of any kind to bring a case. This series of investigations must be carried out thoroughly and well. I am sure the director general is doing that.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that the investigative powers of the Office of Fair Trading at the present time are inadequate, particularly as regards demanding information and accounts of all kinds? Does he further agree that when piloting the Competition Act through this House last year he sought to establish adequate provisions in the new law which would much enhance the existing position? Does my noble friend also agree that it would be desirable to implement at the earliest opportunity the investigative powers contained in the Competition Act of last year, even though full implementation may have to await the date which my noble friend has given in the past; namely, 1st March 2000?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that interesting contribution. It is true that the new Act introduces far more stringent powers of investigation. The Chamber thoroughly debated the matter. We set the date of 1st March 2000 for implementation of the Act largely to allow industry appropriate time for preparation. I believe that that date,

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which was chosen after much discussion in this House, is appropriate. As regards the investigation we are discussing, I say only that the length of the proceedings has been due in part to a request for further investigation and information which was made during the autumn, which was freely given by News International. That process will reach a swift conclusion in February.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister accept that when he persuaded this House not to insist on the insertion of the predatory pricing clause in the Competition Act, he did so on the basis that the Office of Fair Trading would have the appropriate powers under the new Act to deal with the situation mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McNally? Does he accept that as those powers do not come into effect until the year 2000 this issue will not go away?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his implied flattery as regards my powers of persuasion. However, the House decided with its own good sense that that was the appropriate way to take the Act forward. I believe we all agreed that this was a sensible interim period to enable the industry to prepare for the new regulations. As I say, I have no evidence that there is any shortage of capacity under the current legal system for the Director General of Fair Trading appropriately to carry out this investigation.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, in view of the noble Lord's answers to previous questions, would it be helpful if the Director General of Fair Trading had greater resources to enable him to deal with these matters rather more speedily?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, if I may say so, that is an appropriate suggestion. I believe that in the latest budgetary process an extra £15 million has been dedicated to extending the capacity of the Office of Fair Trading over the next three-year budgetary period.

Lord McNally: My Lords, will the Minister confirm reports of an interview with Mr. Stephen Byers on the radio last night in which he said that although the Government wanted to see the removal of any political judgment with regard to most takeovers and mergers, the newspaper industry was a special case and that Ministers would wish to reserve powers to his department in cases of mergers and takeovers in the newspaper industry?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I must confess that yesterday evening I was close to Highbury for a particular event. I upheld the name which I am fortunate enough to bear while making a lot of noise about it. Therefore I have not caught up with the Secretary of State's latest statements. However, it was a perfectly satisfactory home win!

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Lord Carter: My Lords at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on Kosovo.

Social Security Contributions (Transfer of Functions, etc.) Bill [H.L.]

3.7 p.m.

Read a third time.

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Commencement conditional on compensation arrangements for contributors

(" .--(1) This Act (apart from this section) shall not come into force until the conditions set out in subsections (2) and (3) are satisfied.
(2) The first condition is that the Department of Social Security guidelines on compensation are revised to ensure that no loss is suffered by any individual claimant, who has made contributions, as a consequence of the breakdown of the Contributions Agency computer.
(3) The second condition is that all such compensation due has been paid.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment results from a series of debates we had during the debate on the social security uprating orders and at Committee and Report stages of the Bill. On the latter occasion we discussed a series of concerns expressed on all sides of the House as regards the situation which has arisen as a result of problems in connection with the computer system which monitors social security contributions. A number of people have not received payments to which they are entitled on the dates those payments were due.

At Report stage the question arose of compensation. I pressed the Minister to clarify the position. It became apparent that the Government were proposing to compensate various people in the category I have just described and that various provisions had been made. However, it also emerged as a result of the debate that the compensation would be paid only on the basis of the existing departmental rules. In reply, the Minister said that,

    "there is no intention at the moment of which I am aware to depart from them".--[Official Report, 25/1/99; col. 810.]
That gave rise to considerable cause for concern in that people entitled to a large amount of the money which had not been paid would receive compensation under the rules, but poorer people who were entitled to smaller amounts would apparently receive no compensation whatever. The amendment is intended to enable the rules to be amended to deal with the problem. That being so, I could spell out in considerable detail the arguments in favour of the amendment. However, I have heard a rumour that conceivably the Government are persuaded by the arguments that I advanced previously.

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It is best perhaps if I do not prolong my remarks. I wish to hear whether the Minister has something helpful to say.

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