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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I recognise the force of what the noble Lord says and his long

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standing interest in this subject. The proposals currently on the table would require member states to take action on the taxation of savings. They would have the option either to provide information--reciprocal information--or to withhold tax on interest payments. Given this choice, the United Kingdom has made it clear that it would take the first option--reciprocal information.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people, including myself, have been very concerned about the remarks made on 20th November by M. Pierre Moscovici, the French Minister for Europe, that taxes would have to be harmonised within the next 10 years? Even if the British Government resist, is this not a further move to establish tax harmonisation through the single market, which would mean that tax harmonisation could take place by qualified majority vote and we would not have a veto?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government are not in control of off-the-cuff statements or indeed any statements made by finance Ministers of other countries. The present position--and the only basis on which I can answer these questions--is that taxation is a matter for member states. I remind my noble friend that at the Council the question will have to be decided on the basis of unanimity.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, am I being too suspicious when I wonder whether the decision to impose a pensions tax of £5 billion a year on pension funds has something to do with the desire to harmonise the tax on savings? Furthermore, will the so-called harmful tax competition include corporation tax? We in this country have a corporation tax level of 31 per cent. In Germany, it is 45 per cent. Will our tax be considered harmful? Will we be forced to increase it to 45 per cent.?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's first question is, yes, he is being too suspicious. The answer to his second question is that, indeed, a lot of the thrust for the harmonisation of taxation relates to corporate taxation, but none of that implies that we can be forced to change our corporate tax levels.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House whether the Government have taken or will take legal advice--

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I am sorry to intervene, but we have seven minutes left for the fourth Question.

Pedestrianisation: Benefits

3.9 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What encouragement they are giving to proposals for pedestrianisation in city centres in the United Kingdom.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the decision to pedestrianise areas of city and town centres is a matter for individual local authorities rather than central government. The Government welcome the improved safety, convenience and environmental benefits a well-designed scheme can bring to local communities. Government advice in Planning Policy Guidance Note 6 encourages local authorities to give greater priority to pedestrians, including pedestrianisation in town centres. Detailed advice has also been given on planning, design and legal implications in Local Transport Note 1/87, Getting the Balance Right.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. While such plans deserve general encouragement, has she visited some cities abroad where pedestrianisation has made the centres no-go areas for disabled people who are dependent on wheels? Will efforts be made to ensure access for vehicles for those who cannot do without them because the publicity and reports seldom mention that factor?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I have visited very few places since 1st May. However, the point the noble Lord makes as regards access for disabled people is very important. In the local planning guidance note we make very clear that the key to a successful scheme is that it achieves a sound balance between all users and that the authorities ensure reasonable access for disabled people. In fact, a well designed scheme can provide benefit for disabled people by reducing their exposure to traffic and extending their mobility.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, has the Minister had time to visit the exhibition next door on the pedestrianisation proposals for Old Palace Yard and Trafalgar Square? I do not know whether any other noble Lords have had time to visit it as well. Does the Minister agree that if the scheme is implemented it will provide a much better environment for pedestrians, for tourists and for those of us who work in the area, and a much enhanced opportunity to view the wonderful buildings there? Does she agree that the key to a successful scheme is the restriction of most traffic except buses and, in some cases, taxis, as proposed?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I have indeed visited the exhibition. I know that other noble Lords have done so. There has been some lively debate about the two proposed schemes. I believe that the World Squares Initiative is very exciting; it could do a great deal to improve the central and historic areas of London which at the moment suffer from congestion and pollution. However, it is important, as in all pedestrianisation schemes, to get the balance right. That is why Westminster City Council, which

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is taking the lead in this area, is inviting comment and undertaking the consultation process.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that a proper scheme for pedestrianisation must include a supporting part played by private vehicles and public transport?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I have made clear the importance of achieving a balance and of making sure that there are no unintended consequences of pedestrianisation. That can happen in ill-designed schemes, resulting, for example, in town centres that are empty at night or not available for people who need to use them. I believe that public transport is central to maintaining access to town centres.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I recognise that arrangements for the pedestrianisation of Parliament Square are matters for the local authority. However, does the noble Baroness agree that there is a particular reason for both Houses of Parliament considering this matter and making sure that access to Parliament, especially for the disabled, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is not denied? Is there any way in which the Government, without impinging on the prerogative of the local authority, can ensure that taxi drivers in particular are consulted about proper access for the disabled so that they can reach both Houses of Parliament?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. While it is the responsibility of local authorities, the World Squares Initiative is being led by Westminster City Council. The client group involved includes the Government Office for London, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, English Heritage, London Transport and others. So we have very much taken on board that this issue is not simply a matter for one local authority. The senior officials of the Parliamentary Works Group sit on the steering group for the world squares study. The steering group is well aware of the needs and concerns of the House both in terms of access for Members and particularly the needs of disabled Members.


Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the Pre-Budget Report.

Competition Bill [H.L.]

3.15 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Simon of Highbury.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 49 [Rules]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 191:

Page 24, line 35, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: I believe that the purpose of these amendments is self-evident. I shall be very grateful to hear the Minister's reaction to them. I beg to move.

Lord Simon of Highbury: I am speaking to Amendment No. 191, but I take the grouping to include Amendments Nos. 192 and 193.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: Perhaps the noble Lord would also like to speak to the next group of amendments, Amendments Nos. 194 to 197, because, as far as we are concerned, they are all linked.

Lord Simon of Highbury: I shall try to catch up with the speedy movement of amendments. I am always encouraged to be moved along rather than hindered. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving me this opportunity to explain to the Committee our thinking on a timetable for dealing with applications, and on giving business adequate notice of the rules and the general advice and information under Clause 50. These are important matters, and as a former businessman I am well aware of the need to give business adequate time to prepare for the application of the prohibitions.

Schedule 9 to the Bill elaborates on the kind of rules that may be made under Clause 49, although it is not binding that such matters will be covered or exhaustive. Paragraph 2 of the schedule says, among other things, that the rules may make provision for an application for a decision and an application for guidance to be dealt with according to a timetable. I can confirm to the Committee that the Secretary of State intends that the director should make rules setting himself a timetable once the system has bedded down. She has a power in Clause 49(9) to direct the director to make rules about a particular matter if she thinks he ought to do so.

Turning to the question of preparation time for business, I accept entirely that the main elements of the new regime should be in place in good time before the prohibitions are brought into effect. We would not expect to commence the prohibition clauses until about a year after Royal Assent. Early in that period I would expect the rules under Clause 49 to be made.

At this point it will be helpful for me to refer the Committee to a letter I have received from John Bridgeman, the Director-General of Fair Trading, a copy of which I have had placed in your Lordships' Library. The letter concerns his office's work, in consultation with the sectoral regulators, on drawing up rules under Clause 49 and the advice and information under Clause 50. It provides useful background to the Committee's discussion of several groups of amendments today. So far as rules are concerned, the letter explains the consultation that has begun with other sectoral regulators, and confirms the director's intention to consult with business

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and its advisers on the draft rules. He says that he aims to publish a consultation draft of the rules as soon as possible, perhaps by late spring.

Given what I have said about a year's delay to the commencement of the prohibitions, this should give business adequate time to prepare for the new regime. There will, of course, also be a transitional period for agreements, but I see that there are amendments down to that schedule to the Bill and it may be best to discuss those transitional arrangements, as opposed to the period between Royal Assent and entry into the law base of the prohibitions, later in our deliberations.

The making of rules must necessarily allow proper time for consultation and for consideration of the points raised during consultation. If for any reason the rules could not be issued early in the period after Royal Assent, I would expect the Government to consider carefully the case for delaying the commencement date for the prohibitions.

To sum up, I am satisfied that the regime will provide businesses with both adequate preparation time before the prohibitions are brought into force and with a timetable by which they can expect their applications to be dealt with once they are in force. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord whether he is prepared to withdraw his amendment. I understand that he was speaking also to Amendment No. 194.

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