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House of Lords

Monday, 13th March 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Hereford.

Lead Shot Working Group

Lord Kimball asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will reconvene the lead shot working group to assess the effectiveness of the Environmental Protection (Restriction on the Use of Lead Shot) (England) Regulations 1999 (S.I. 1999/2170), as announced on 9th November 1999.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Lead Shot Legislation (England) Review Group meeting is planned for Thursday, 30th March 2000 in Bristol. Letters of invitation have already been sent out to a number of organisations covering all interests in this issue.

Lord Kimball: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. I see that the invitations were sent out immediately after my Question was put down. Will the Minister bear in mind that, whatever may have been said when we debated the orders, non-toxic bismuth shot has not and will not come down in price? Will the Minister bear in mind that that is causing great hardship to very many shooters? Will she look carefully at the possibility of permitting other tailored non-toxic shot? In addition, will she review the existing order and return to the original designation of listed SSSIs, removing from it the moorland species of snipe and golden plover?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the remit of the working group is specifically to review the Schedule 1 list of sites. Furthermore, the Government would like to discuss other issues relating to the effectiveness of the legislation, including of course the availability of alternative shot, compliance by shooters and police experience. For the benefit of the House, perhaps it may help if I say that the National Farmers Union has been added to the list of consultees. I believe that this morning the NFU agreed to take part in the meeting.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is the Minister aware that these regulations look as though they were drawn up by someone who would suffer from agoraphobia on Islington Green? Is there not a fundamental error here, in that the restrictions are not related to where the shot falls, but to the species of bird being shot? No harm can come from shooting a duck over a dry meadow, except, of course, to the duck. However, shooting a pheasant over wetland does present a hazard because the shot

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could fall into the wetlands. Does the Minister agree that the Government have simply got it the wrong way round?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the order covers both specific sites and specific species of birds. I have no doubt that, if the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is widely held, it is exactly the kind of issue that will be raised at the review group meeting. However, given the membership of the original working group, I hardly think that one could claim that a fair cross-section of wide-ranging experience in this field was not present when the order was originally drawn up.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how long the working group has been in existence?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the working group was established once its members had had enough time to gain valid experience of the order. It is due to report in time to influence any possible changes by the start of the shooting season.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Kimball referred to the high cost of bismuth. Is the noble Baroness aware that the most effective main alternative to bismuth is, similarly, more than three times the cost of lead shot? That is causing a great deal of distress to many people. Furthermore, is the Minister aware that efforts are being made to develop alternatives which would be less expensive, equally effective and, in my opinion, environmentally friendly? Will the Minister give an assurance that the working group will be entitled to study such alternatives once they have been produced, and to make recommendations accordingly?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am sure that the working group will take into account any representations that are made. I welcome the news that detailed work is being carried out on alternative shot. However, no one should be in any doubt about the damage that can be caused to the environment by the use of lead shot.

Go: Fares Complaint against Lufthansa

2.38 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they intend to take to support the British airline Go in its complaint to the European Commission of alleged anti-competitive behaviour by Lufthansa on the London-Munich route.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, competition between airlines brings real benefits for passengers in terms of value for money and improved choice. UK

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airlines have a good record in competing energetically and fairly, and we expect all airlines in Europe also to compete fairly. We have not yet received details of this particular complaint from the European Commission. The Commission is required to carry out its investigations in close and constant liaison with member states and we would expect to be consulted by the Commission in due course. We will ensure that Go's legitimate interests are protected. It would be a great pity if, in the meantime, passengers on the London to Munich route ended up paying higher fares.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. The allegation is that since Go started trading on this route, Lufthansa has systematically tracked its fares. When Go announced its departure from the route, Lufthansa raised its fare from £59 to £129. However, when Go filed a complaint with the Commission, the Lufthansa fare mysteriously reduced again from £129 to £55. However, is not the real worry that this case could take up to two years to be settled by the Commission? For that reason, will the Government press the Commission to try to deal with the matter more quickly? It is to the long-term disbenefit of both passengers and potential competitors in the airline industry if such complaints take as long as two years to be sorted out.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I share the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon. The complaint was made only on 28th February. As I understand it, the case has yet to be assigned a case officer within the Commission. The first step will be for the Commission to determine whether it is in the interests of the Community for the case to be pursued. Should such an investigation be initiated, it will be conducted in liaison with other member states. It is likely to be several weeks before any papers reach us. However, I agree with the noble Lord that investigations by the Commission can take an unduly long time. If necessary, we will use our best efforts to press the Commission to proceed quickly.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, what are the best efforts that the Government are able to make in this regard? Is it not a scandal that Go should be penalised for a period as long as two years? I apologise for not being able to articulate more clearly, but I suffered a stroke on 3rd December. I do not want Go to have a stroke in the interim.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say how pleased we all are to see my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis back in his seat. I am always daunted by having him sitting at my back, staunch friend though he is, because his knowledge is so much greater than mine in these areas.

It is true that the Commission's investigations can be lengthy. It does have powers to take interim measures against anti-competitive practices where

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there is clear prima facie evidence of such behaviour. We shall certainly work with Go and do everything we can to ensure that British interests are protected.

Lord Elton: My Lords, as regards the noble Lord's anxiety to curtail the duration of these proceedings, is it not the case that if someone in the United Kingdom notices that someone else is about to undertake an illegal or anti-competitive practice there is recourse to an injunction that has immediate effect and can be proceeded with quickly? Is there an equivalent procedure available within the Community? If not, should not that situation be remedied?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, we understand that the Commission has advised Go that it is unlikely that it could take interim measures as predatory pricing is a very difficult allegation to prove. However, noble Lords can be assured that we shall certainly investigate every avenue of recourse for British interests.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the British public will not take lightly any suggestion that the Commission can deal with this affair, in so far as it affects Great Britain, at its own convenience? The fact that we have raised a complaint in the matter should be sufficient to ensure that it is attended to immediately, and the Commission should be told so!

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