Competition Bill [Lords] — 11 May 1998
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
I am proud to be able to stand before the House to move the Second Reading of the Competition Bill. This is yet another example of the Government's delivering quickly on their manifesto commitments. We are a Government who are clear about our aims, in contrast to the years of drift under the Conservative party.
It is par for the course for a Labour Government to act in the public interest and in the interests of consumers. The precursor to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission was established under the Attlee Government of 50 years ago, so it is fitting that it falls to this Government to modernise and update it. For close on 10 years under the previous Government, the need for and the content of such a Bill were discussed. Indeed, in the year before the last election a draft Bill was published and widely welcomed by, among others, the then Labour Opposition. However, absolutely nothing happened, and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), in his search for any portmanteau criticism, has the cheek to accuse us of dithering.
The Bill will radically reform and strengthen our laws to deal with cartels and with abuses of a dominant position in the marketplace, such as when firms act together to limit choice for customers or to raise the price they face, or both. It is a Bill for consumers, for business and for jobs. It is another step in the creation of strong markets that will make Britain a more competitive economy.
Strong competition in our domestic markets makes for strong British companies that are able to compete and succeed in the global marketplace. It provides a spur to companies to innovate and invest, and builds up the competitiveness that safeguards and creates jobs. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the European Union in his employment action plan, competitive markets are crucial to creating sustainable jobs in the United Kingdom.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham):
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for trying to make clear her intentions in the legislation. As she wants it to be tougher than the present law, will she tell us what current legal business practices she hopes and expects the Bill to make illegal?
I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Competition Bill [Lords] because the Government has failed to spell out the consequences for a whole range of business that will result from this legislation, and specifically has failed to tackle the problem of independent community pharmacies; expresses its concern at the decision of the Office of Fair Trading to commence legal proceedings to end retail price maintenance on over-the-counter medicines at a time when the Government is already seeking to review this agreement in the Bill; notes that the loss of retail price maintenance on over-the-counter medicines could lead to the closure of many independent community pharmacies, an outcome which would seriously undermine the Government's health strategy and increase the burden on GPs; and calls on the Government to ensure that a nationwide network of community pharmacies remains in place to serve the needs of the community, in particular the elderly, the infirm and mothers of young children, before proceeding with the Bill."
The Times 's pricing is not only a marketing mechanism but a deliberate strategy of predatory pricing. The purpose of the pricing seems to be to undermine The Independent , to put it out of business, and then to attract some of its readers so that The Times might be able to overtake The Daily Telegraph . Certainly there is a prima facie case. I agree that that must be proved--which is the purpose of the Office of Fair Trading. It has not been proved so far, but, of course, the matter has not been examined since 1994, which was quite a long time ago. As has been said in this debate, it may be that some of the predatory practices are used not just by News International.
Question put, That the amendment be made:--
The House divided: Ayes 169, Noes 314.
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