Grocery Market Ombudsman Bill
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
This clause is necessary. For those who know about mid-Atlantic democracy, a thousand years ago Iceland had a Parliament that met each summer when someone who remembered would recite a third of the laws. So anyone who went for three years running would know all the laws. None of those laws carried any penalty. They got along quite well but I do not think we will get along well enough. The idea of being able to impose a penalty is a good one as is the ability to award costs, which is dealt with in the next clause.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli, Labour)
It gives me great pleasure to speak on this Bill and I should like to echo the congratulations on its introduction that have already been offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn. We want the clause to provide the Bill with teeth. Any Bill that establishes an ombudsman must give that ombudsman the power to do something. It is not that we want to see massive penalties imposed, but we want people to know that they are there and can be used. The threat needs to be taken seriously and therefore the work of the ombudsman needs to be taken seriously. We do not want people to simply think, Oh well, so what? If I get taken to the ombudsman it doesnt really matter because at the end of the day it is pretty meaningless anyway.
We want to ensure that the clause will make the ombudsman respected and make everyone who is involved in any way, whether in providing evidence, making a complaint or being criticised, judged, adjudicated or possibly even punished by the ombudsman, take the whole process sufficiently seriously to make it a worthwhile exercise. Are there are any further plans afoot to clarify the way that the Secretary of State may go about this and will my hon. Friend make every effort to ensure that the clause is strengthened as much as it can be?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Worthing, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli. I did not understand what the hon. Gentleman meant but he made the point earlier when he said that simply highlighting problems would be an embarrassment for the retailers. That is one of the biggest penalties. To have it exposed in the newspapers and in trade journals would be a huge disincentive to any retailer. In later clauses it will become clear that the Secretary of State will lay regulations before the House and that those regulations will have to be agreed by both Houses. That will strengthen the penalties even further where necessary. It is up to the ombudsman. We will give him the freedom to do the job and to carry out the role that we expect of him. There will be the ability to have penalties, but I emphasise that naming and shaming is also a tough penalty.
I agree that naming and shaming is most important. Nobody wants it emblazoned across the six oclock news that unfair practices have taken place. However, on fines, none of us knows what sort of sums we are talking about at this stage. Where would he envisage the money ending up?
The formula says that it is self-financing, so it would end up in the ombudsmans department. The OFT would collect the money. I am looking to the Minister to help me here. The point of the Bill is that there will be monetary penalties. That will be paid for in the formula. That formula will be looked at annually. The OFT and the ombudsman would be able to consult if they needed to vary any of the penalties. I do not have a direct answer for the hon. Gentleman but I can assure him that we are trying to ensure that the code and the penalties work. They can be reviewed regularly but they have to be agreed by both Houses.