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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I begin by reminding noble Lords that the term "business", as defined in Clause 178, appears in Clause 126, subsections (2)(b) and (c), where the conduct of persons supplying goods or services in the course of business and the conduct of the customers of persons supplying goods or services in the course of business are part of the definition of "features" of a market which applies both in Part 4 and in relation to the making of super-complaints under
To the extent that the amendment seeks to clarify that the conduct of local authorities or public bodies can provide grounds for a market investigation where they are operating commercially, I have no quarrel with it. However, as drafted, the amendment does not fulfil that purpose: the point of the definition of "business" in Clause 178 is to clarify that certain types of activity count as business activity for the purposes of Clause 126; whereas the amendment refers to a particular kind of organisation, which may or may not be engaged in such activity. However, I am happy to take this away and to consider whether an amendment should be made.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Amendment No. 177 provides that the Competition Commission "shall" publish advice and information on any matter connected with the exercise of its function. It is important to understand how the Bill understands the issue of publishing advice and information.
There are two clauses in the main body which deal with this. Clause 103 provides that the Competition Commission should prepare and publish general advice and information about the consideration by it of merger references and the way in which relevant
The intention of paragraph 7 of Schedule 11 is not to add a further requirement on the Competition Commission to publish advice and information. It is intended to allow the advice and information required by Clauses 103 and 166 to be published by the Council of the Competition Commission acting for the rest of the commission. The council is the board of the Competition Commission and is made up of the chairman, deputy chairman and secretary of the commission.
Although the new paragraph 7A refers to "Commission", the location of this provision within the text of Schedule 7 to the Competition Act 1998 means that this would be a council function. That is the primary purpose of new paragraph 7A, although it will also allow the Competition Commission to publish advice and information on other matters where it sees the need. It is not intended to create a wider obligation on the Competition Commission to publish advice and information in respect of everything the Competition Commission does.
We believe we have identified the most important areas for publishing advice and information in the clauses I mentioned. We are also confident that the Competition Commission will publish further advice and information on other areas but want the decision on what advice to publish and when to be a matter for the commission itself. We see no value in requiring the commission to publish advice on everything it does. Such a requirement would be unnecessary and unrealistic and I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Kingsland: I shall willingly withdraw the amendment because I accept that it would be wholly unrealistic. However, it has achieved a purpose this evening because it has elicited from the Minister a great deal of useful information about the expected approach of the commission to publication.
It would be helpful if it took an early opportunity to indicate, within the framework that the Minister has outlined, what specific areas of public communication it intends to engage in. As its experience develops, no doubt the pattern will change somewhat. It would be extremely helpful for the market to know what the commission has in mind initially. Apart from anything else, suggestions may be made to it about matters it might not have thought about which it would find acceptable and helpful both to its work and that of its customers, if I may refer to them in that very general way. The Minister very kindly nodded so I believe that I can leave it at that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: This amendment is concerned with Clause 182 of the Bill, which requires the chairman of the Competition Commission to make rules of procedure to regulate the conduct of merger and market reference groups. Before making rules the Bill requires the chairman to consult the other members of the commission and other persons as he considers appropriate.
The amendment would reduce the chairman's discretion about who he chooses to consult. I do not believe that there can be any disagreement with the proposition that there should be open consultation on the rules of procedure. The issue is how this is best expressed in statutory terms. We have a choice between what I would characterise as a flexible consultation provision which relies on the chairman's common sense and a more prescriptive requirement which will not carry us any further forward in practice and which may have an unintended constraining effect.
For example, I am not clear who we mean by "interested parties" in this context. Is it all companies which have been involved in merger or monopoly references in the past? Does it extend to those who might be involved in mergers or market investigations in the future? If it refers to just business parties it is rather limiting. What about consumer groups and others?
The consultation provision which we have in the Bill avoids these definition difficulties. I do not believe that there is any need to be more prescriptive. We can leave it to the common sense of the chairman. On that basis I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
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