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Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for responding to Amendment No. 24. In the light of his remarks, I will reflect carefully on his points and those of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. I thank the Minister most warmly for his response to the manuscript amendments. We will carefully consider not only what he said publicly but also that which he is reputed to have said privately to his officials about the procedures of the House. In all those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 25:

"( ) The Secretary of State—
(a) may designate a body only if it appears to him to represent the interests of consumers of any description, and
(b) must publish (and may from time to time vary) other criteria to be applied by him in determining whether to make or revoke a designation."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Tribunal: procedure]:

6.30 p.m.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 26:

    Page 205, line 16, after "particular" insert "—

"(a) provide for time limits for making claims to which section 47A of the 1998 Act applies in proceedings under section 47A or 47B;
(b) provide for the Tribunal to extend the period in which any particular proceedings may be brought; and

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am conscious that this is a large group of amendments but they are all similar, in that they primarily make technical changes to the Bill to improve its functioning. They reflect work that has been done over the summer to respond to certain points raised by noble Lords in Committee and to check through the Bill for accuracy. Our hope is that none of the amendments in this group will cause your Lordships any difficulty. Given the size of the group, I will keep my commentary to a minimum and focus on those amendments that are likely to be of most interest.

I said in Committee that we would consult on what would be the appropriate period for bringing an action following a decision in a merger or market investigation. We have now launched our consultation

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on the tribunal's rules. Part of that seeks views on whether the periods should be one month for a merger and six weeks for a market.

I emphasise that we have not yet come to any view on the appropriate length of either period. However, we have decided that as we may end up changing these periods in the tribunal's rules at an early stage in the life of the legislation, it would be better to remove the reference to three months from the face of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 26, 79 and 141 guarantee that whatever the outcome of the consultation we have the flexibility we need.

There are 28 technical amendments aimed at improving the clarity of the public interest regimes under the Bill. The most significant changes to the EPI scheme are Amendments Nos. 50 and 117, which clarify that there is a power to add new public interest considerations, unrelated to any considerations already specified in Clauses 57 and 148. That was always our clear policy intention.

Amendments Nos. 89, 90, 143 and 144 are technical amendments to provide for the situation where an order effecting a change to the public interest considerations specified in Clause 57 or 148 is subsequently not approved by Parliament. These amendments ensure that the changes are reversed.

We are also tabling 20 amendments to improve the enforcement regime in Parts 3 and 4 of the Bill. Of those, 14 are required to ensure that more than one undertaking can be accepted—for example, when the OFT is considering accepting undertakings in lieu. The remaining six make minor technical changes to other parts of the regime.

Amendment No. 64 is concerned with the interaction between the special regime for water mergers and the general mergers regime. Mergers between conglomerates and multi-utility companies can involve the merger of a range of different businesses. It is possible that a merger between two water enterprises falling to be assessed under the special regime could be a component of a bigger merger. The amendment clarifies that the general Part 3 mergers regime can apply to the bigger merger but, where that happens, excludes from consideration any merger between water enterprises that is subject to the separate mandatory assessment under the Clause 67 regime.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, moved an amendment to the definition of "business" in what is now Clause 178, which I agreed to consider further. The purpose of the noble Lord's amendment was to make clear that the conduct of public bodies, where it has an impact on competition in a market, can be taken into account in the context of a market investigation.

In our view, amending Clause 178 is not the best way of resolving that point. We propose instead to delete the words "in the course of business" from Clause 126(2). That means that the conduct of public bodies supplying or acquiring goods or services in a market will always be capable of being taken into account as a "feature" of a market within the meaning of this

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clause. Given that the conduct of public bodies is capable of having a significant impact on competition in many markets, we believe that that is appropriate.

Clause 191 provides for professional privilege in respect of legal and banking material in the context of investigations of the cartel offence. Amendment No. 157 provides a different way of accounting for the equivalent in Scotland of legal professional privilege. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and to his colleagues who drew attention to that matter in Committee.

The Government's intention throughout Part 6 has been to model the OFT's investigatory powers and safeguards for those under investigation on those contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1987. The original Clauses 191 and 197 followed the Criminal Justice Act 1987 precedent. That was done to ensure consistency in approach regardless of whether the OFT or SFO are investigating or prosecuting.

However, having considered the matter further, we recognise the concerns that current Scottish customs and practice be properly reflected in the Bill. I am therefore pleased to move the amendment which draws on the opposition amendment brought forward in Committee. It follows the more recent precedent of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and provides a definition which corresponds more closely with Scottish practice.

Amendments 149 and 150 allow for the appointment of independent members to the Competition Commission's governing council. The function of those independent members will be solely and specifically to sit on the council. We see the addition of independent members to the council as a way of strengthening the leadership of the Competition Commission and reflecting best practice in corporate governance. The council would now consist of the chairmen, the deputy chairmen, the chief executive and one or more independent member.

A number of other amendments are being made, but as I stressed at the outset I do not intend to go into any more detail now. I re-emphasise the minor and technical nature of the amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 27:

    Page 205, line 19, leave out sub-paragraph (3).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 27A not moved.]

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

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Northern Ireland

6.36 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:

    "As the House knows, over the past weeks and months the political process in Northern Ireland has encountered increasing difficulties. I do not need to remind the House of the magnitude of the project on which we are embarked in Northern Ireland, nor that in any great historic process of this kind there will be setbacks and difficulties. My sincere hope, therefore, was that we would be able to overcome those challenges in the short term. That is why the Prime Minister and I have had intensive discussions in recent days with the Northern Ireland political parties and the Irish Government. However, it had become clear that an impasse had been reached and that decisive action was needed in order to safeguard the progress made and tackle the remaining challenges.

    "Because of the difficulties we have encountered, I yesterday made an order under the Northern Ireland Act 2000 suspending devolved government in Northern Ireland. It came into effect at midnight yesterday.

    "The real losers here are the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, those who appreciate and deserve local decisions which affect local people being made by local politicians, not least because the devolved administration has achieved so much on their behalf, and in their interest. I take this opportunity to pay warm tribute to the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and his predecessor, and to their ministerial colleagues, for all they have done. I very much hope that the devolved institutions can be restored quickly.

    "I would stress that this impasse affects one aspect of the Belfast agreement, albeit an important one. As the joint statement by the Prime Minister yesterday made clear, this Government remain totally committed to the full implementation of the agreement. It has already brought great benefits to the people of Northern Ireland.

    "In their statement, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach also recognised that the recent difficulties in Northern Ireland stemmed from a loss of trust on both sides of the community. There has been much apportioning of blame and there is no doubt there is a lack of confidence on both sides of the community. However, at the heart of the recent political difficulties have been concerns about the commitment to exclusively democratic and non-violent means.

    "Let us be clear that we have seen violence from all sides of the community, including a campaign, sometimes murderous in its intent and effect, from the so-called loyalist paramilitaries. Let it be quite clear that the Chief Constable and I are combating it

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    and will combat it with all the means at our disposal, wherever it happens, whoever is behind it. We will go wherever the evidence leads. That is why I have recently redoubled our efforts by setting up the new Law and Order Action Group bringing together the key agencies to strengthen our drive against all forms of racketeering and violence, from wherever it may come.

    "I have to tell the House that an arrest was made this morning in connection with the shooting of Danny McBrearty in Londonderry on 29th September. Police inquiries are continuing.

    "I have absolutely no doubt that episodes such as the trial of republicans in Colombia and the break-in at Castlereagh have seriously damaged confidence in the power-sharing arrangements. It would, of course, be entirely improper to prejudge the outcomes of any cases involving outstanding criminal charges. But it would be naive for any politician to ignore the impact on political and public opinion of the recent charges brought against republicans, including members of Sinn Fein, as a result of the police operation on 4th October.

    "Like me, the House will be particularly concerned about the position of prison officers and others and their families, for whose assistance the police have now established a special unit. The Prison Service is working closely with the police and has established a helpline.

    "And I say this to the House: there is no authority, no legitimacy, no morality and no political basis for anyone, in today's Northern Ireland, to have recourse to violence or paramilitary activity. Whatever may have happened 30 years ago or 300 years ago, in today's Northern Ireland the path to power through democracy is open to everyone.

    "It is also essential, as the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach noted, that each community has confidence in the commitment of the other to the agreement. That is now our challenge; that is now our task. Yesterday was, not surprisingly, filled with recrimination. Today, we should be about rebuilding. But that rebuilding has to be done on foundations which are firm, sound, and lasting.

    "It is against this background that the Prime Minister and Taoiseach said yesterday that,

    'it must be clear that the transition from violence to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, which has been ongoing since the Agreement, and indeed before, is being brought to an unambiguous and definitive conclusion'.

They also said:

    'It is now essential that the concerns around the commitment to exclusively democratic and non-violent means are removed. The time has come for people to clearly choose one track or the other'.

    "We face some difficult and challenging weeks ahead of us. Our tasks are threefold. First, we need to move rapidly and decisively from the recent weeks of political uncertainty. I have no doubts that the people of Northern Ireland—who should be always

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    the ones at the front of our minds in all that we are doing—welcome, appreciate and deserve devolved government.

    "Like them, I would have much preferred devolved government continuing, with local Ministers making local decisions. But until it can be restored, I and my colleagues will dedicate ourselves to working for the good of all the people of Northern Ireland to the best of our abilities. In the meantime, we will carry on the process of government in Northern Ireland proactively, and in the interests of all of its people.

    "This must not be a matter of mere care and maintenance. We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland that effective government should be moved forward. We will not duck the difficult issues. And we will be able to build on the progress made by the devolved administration in many areas, taking careful account of the "Programme for Government" and the principles of re-investment and reform on which it is based. I have already met yesterday with the First and Deputy First Ministers.

    "The Policing Board is widely agreed to have been one of the finest achievements of the agreement. I want its work to continue. I have invited all the existing board members to continue providing their excellent service to the community. I sincerely hope that they will all accept reappointment.

    "In this context, I welcome two members of the ministerial team. I am making available separately the details of ministerial responsibilities under suspension. In broad terms, the Minister of State's additional responsibilities will focus on education and those of the Under-Secretary of State on social issues including health. The portfolios of my honourable friends the Member for Dudley South and the Member for Basildon will centre respectively on economic affairs and environmental issues.

    "Secondly, under the terms of the agreement, we need to embark on a process of review. I will be in touch with the parties and the Irish Government about how that should be taken forward. I want to stress that this is an impasse—I hope, short-lived—in one aspect of the agreement. It is not the whole agreement. It is not the whole peace process. We will continue, in co-operation with the parties and our colleagues in the Irish Government, to carry forward that process and the implementation of the agreement.

    "Thirdly, we will bend every effort to find a basis on which to bring back the devolved institutions, and as quickly as possible. The role and responsibility of the political parties in achieving this is vital. It is our aim to find a basis on which all the institutions of the agreement can be brought back into operation as soon as possible. The election date scheduled for 1st May stands.

    "These three priorities: the good governance of Northern Ireland; carrying forward the agreement; and addressing the present impasse, will inform the approach of the Government over the coming weeks

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    and months. In those tasks we will call upon the co-operation and support of the parties, our colleagues in the Irish Government and those far beyond our shores like the President and people of the United States who have been unstinting in their support.

    "For our part, I can promise the House that we will bear ourselves with determination and endurance, because we recognise that the magnitude of the prize we seek is commensurate with the challenges we face.

    "We have come an enormous distance in recent years. The peace process and the agreement have increased prosperity, revitalised society, safeguarded rights, and—above all—saved lives. I am determined that these benefits should not be lost, but should increase. The agreement will remain a template for political progress in Northern Ireland. I hope the decision I have explained to the House today creates a breathing space—a chance to gather strength—before that progress moves forward once again".

6.46 p.m.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the other place earlier this afternoon. This is undoubtedly a sad day for Northern Ireland. Four and a half years after the signing of the Belfast agreement, with all the hopes and aspirations that surrounded it, devolved government has had to be suspended for a fourth time and direct rule imposed from Westminster.

It is all the more tragic because the political institutions that flowed from the agreement—the Assembly, the Executive, the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council—were generally considered to be working well. As someone who lives in the Province I am convinced that devolution, with locally elected politicians taking decisions over local matters, will always be a much more responsive form of government for Northern Ireland than will ever be the case under direct rule.

We hope that this period of direct rule will not only be short but will also be the last. It must be our intention, as the noble and learned Lord said, to return powers to locally elected politicians as soon as is practically possible. However, as things stand today none of us can be confident about when that might be. In the meantime, we trust that the Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office, including the two new appointees, will exercise their responsibilities in an impartial and even-handed manner in the interests of all sections of the community.

The House will have noted, perhaps with surprise, that both the new Ministers in the Northern Ireland are from another place. As for as I know this the first time there has been direct rule without a Minister from the House of Lords. Perhaps the Prime Minister considers these two to be far better than anyone

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available to be appointed from the Government Benches here. I do not know the new Ministers, but I would dispute that conclusion.

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