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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Before my noble friend sits down, I do not want to let my inquisitiveness go too far, but I wish he would make clear whether he gives his broad general support to the amendment which I moved.

Lord Kingsland: I thought that I had done that, perhaps not in so many words. I think I expressed support for the spirit of what my noble friend said when dealing with every amendment to which I spoke.

Lord Simon of Highbury: I am aware of the sequential nature of the amendments. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, will not mind my answering the general point before going on to deal with the definition of the level of person, brought in by the later amendments. I shall try to answer in sequential terms.

I am aware of the anxieties about the investigatory powers in the Bill and that the matter is difficult and sensitive. The idea that the investigation will be handled by junior, inexperienced or untrained personnel in the office of the director general or sector regulators is being probed. I appreciate that Amendments Nos. 96, 97, and 124 seek to address that anxiety by specifying qualifications or rank. However, I do not believe that we can sensibly provide for such matters in statute. How would one define "senior"? What qualifications would be regarded as appropriate to the work of investigating?

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Amendment No. 95A would prevent the director general from authorising one of his officers to conduct investigations or enter premises without a warrant. Therefore, he would have to undertake those functions himself. That would be unworkable, as many of my noble friends have observed. The provision enables the office of Director General of Fair Trading to work. Any officer is merely a definition of the requirement that there must be a delegatory management power within the organisation.

Amendment No. 124 would additionally require the director general and sectoral regulators to separate their organisations internally and to create a discrete investigation division. It was trailed by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, when he asked me how the investigatory and judgmental functions could live together.

The Bill, like many others, creates functions for the officers concerned. It would be undesirable and impractical to go beyond providing the statutory framework and to try to provide for the internal organisation of such officers. The director general will have statutory duties and functions to perform under the terms of the Bill. He must ensure that his staff and organisation is adequate for that purpose. Therefore, I urge the noble Lords to withdraw their amendment specifying the nature of "officers" who can receive the delegated power of the director general to do the reasonable business of the Office of Fair Trading.

Amendment No. 142 would remove the power for persons acting on behalf of the director general, other than those authorised by him to exercise investigative powers to apply for a warrant. The reason for the provision is to enable other suitable members of the director general's staff to make application for a warrant. That could be, for example, a lawyer in his office. An application for a warrant is a serious business. The information must be given on oath and I have no doubt that only suitable persons would make the applications. Therefore, I invite noble Lords to withdraw their Amendment No. 142.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: As regards Amendment No. 95A, I am bound to say to the Minister that if I were sitting on the opposite side of the Chamber, which was the case a year ago, I should say that I was extremely disappointed in his reply. I did not ask him to accept my amendment; I made it clear that it made no sense and was silly. On the other hand, it gave him an opportunity to go away and consider what has been said.

I say to the noble Lord with the utmost courtesy that there are few things more irritating to an Opposition than a Minister, when a serious point is made, at best deploying the answer typed out in his brief long before the argument is made. The noble Lord is a man of great experience and I hope that he will agree to take the issue away and look at it again. The provision "any officer of his" is too broad. There is no indication of rank or seniority; so far as I know the person could be a temporary officer employed last week. As the Bill stands, it is not good enough.

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I hope--and I really mean this--that the Minister will agree to do nothing more than look at the matter again without any commitment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: The clause, for clarification in Hansard, is Clause 24(3)(b). While I am on my feet, perhaps I may say it is quite wrong, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that either--

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I thank my noble friend for allowing me to intervene. I believe that it would be easier if the Minister could reply to my simple invitation. I hope that he will agree to take the matter away and look at it again without further commitment.

Lord Simon of Highbury: In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, while it is often necessary to read one's brief and to follow the careful line of one's department, I happen to believe most strongly that it is important that the director general should have delegatory powers to manage his own system. Those are difficult to define in the structure of words in the text qualifying "any" or "any senior" officer that we have discussed. Perhaps I may humbly submit that because I spent many years trying to run large administrative groups I thought hard and sincerely about whether the qualification of "any officer" should be made on the face of the Bill or by the management of the office, which in these terms is the director general when he sets about fulfilling his task. Therefore, the brief was not read lightly or without consideration; it was given as my experience of how best to organise serious departments of office.

I will think again and think seriously about the point which the noble Lord raised. However, I want him to know that I have already considered hard. I am not just a reader, but the brief helps me to keep my place. Perhaps I may deal with the earlier point--

Lord Peston: Before the Minister responds, perhaps we can complete this section of the business. The Minister was right about the ability to delegate, but the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is right in expressing concerns about the misuse or even abuse of delegated powers. I am always troubled about such issues because of the legal dimension. I take it for granted that, legally, one does not have to write into Bills that powers must not be misused or abused. I believe that that is a general characteristic of all our legislation and of human beings.

I am delighted that my noble friend the Minister will look at the matter again. I hope that his answer is that we do not need to write the provision into the Bill because it is part of our system of law and government. However, I do not believe that that detracts from the importance of the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: Because there is abuse, there is a procedure of abuse of power. That is no reason whatever, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for not seeking to narrow the area of licence in a Bill. All I seek to do in supporting my noble friend Lord Peyton is to suggest, as I have suggested, that the Bill is unnecessarily wide. The Minister has been kind enough to

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say, without commitment, that he will consider the matter. That generosity is accepted. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will accept that the object is not at all to make the regime unworkable. I want--and I believe my noble friend Lord Peyton wants--the regime to work but to work fairly. That is all.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I do not wish to prolong the proceedings. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. Until the very last minute, I was not sure that he was supporting my amendment but I am glad that he has made that point clear.

The noble Lord, Lord Simon, was good enough to say that he appreciated the point I am trying to make, and I certainly appreciate his difficulty. I appreciate also his courtesy in saying what he did and, on that basis, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 96 and 97 not moved.]

Clause 25 agreed to.

Clause 26 [Powers when conducting investigations]:

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 98:

Page 13, line 16, leave out ("any person") and insert ("any officer or senior employee of an undertaking").

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 98, 102 to 104, 109, 116 and 129 look at the same issue as we addressed from the other end of the telescope. They concern the rank of the person questioned. Most of these amendments are, on their face, fairly straightforward. Amendment No. 98 seeks to leave out the words "any person" and insert the words,

    "any officer or senior employee of an undertaking".

Amendments Nos. 102, 103 and 104 deal with a slightly different point; that is, the extent to which former employees should be questioned. The amendments seek to promote the notion that the investigatory action is taken against the company and not against an individual and that once an individual has left the company he should not be subject to that questioning regime. Such documentary evidence that is required by the investigator will be on the files and the successor should be in a perfectly good position to answer any question which the investigator needs to ask.

Amendment No. 109 seeks to replace the word "person" with the expression "officer or senior employee", as do Amendments 116 and 129.

To put the matter in a rather absurd but not wholly imaginary context, one does not wish to see an investigating officer shimmying up to the cleaning lady and extracting from her the skeleton key, because in those circumstances a wide-ranging extraction of documents could take place without any controls at all. I beg to move.

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