Clause 1 — Office of Fair Trading

Part of Orders of the Day — Enterprise Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 30th October 2002.

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Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry 5:15 pm, 30th October 2002

Lords amendments Nos. 1 and 176 to 186 provide for a statutory post of chief executive to the Office of Fair Trading. The Bill provides that the OFT consist of a chairman and no fewer than four other members appointed by the Secretary of State, who would consult the chairman before appointing any other member. That is a depersonalisation of consumer and competition regulation. We expect the OFT to have a majority of non-executive members and are giving it significant independence from Ministers.

We have taken account of the OFT's particular circumstances in deciding not to separate the roles of chairman and chief executive at this time. The Secretary of State will appoint John Vickers as chairman for the remainder of his current term as Director General of Fair Trading, honouring the commitment that was made to him when he was appointed to that post. John Vickers will work with other members of the OFT. Given his position and the need to provide some continuity in this period of great change, I do not think that the OFT should necessarily separate the roles of chairman and chief executive. Although the Bill does not provide for a separate post of chief executive, it does not preclude it either. If the OFT wishes at any time to take that route, it can create a separate post of chief executive and select the appointee.

The amendments would create a post of chief executive appointed by the Secretary of State. By contrast, our approach ensures that the OFT could appoint a separate chief executive if it wished to do so and gives it much more independence and discretion. It is also consistent with the approach taken throughout the Bill and with other regulators. The chief executive of Postcomm is appointed by the chairman, who is appointed by the Secretary of State, and the chief executive of Ofcom will be appointed by the board. That is why I urge the House to accept the Government motions to disagree.

On Government amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 2, I am very happy to accept the principle of the proposal that the OFT should have regard to generally accepted principles of good corporate governance in its affairs, but after much consideration, we consider it necessary to amend the Lords amendment to ensure that the OFT must have regard only to the principles of good corporate governance that may reasonably be regarded as relevant to it and that it must also have regard

Xto such general guidance concerning the management of the affairs of public bodies as the OFT considers appropriate."

The OFT will be a non-ministerial Department and not a public limited company, and many of the principles of corporate governance are aimed at business practices that do not have obvious equivalents in government. I believe that the changes that I recommend reflect the will of the Lords to ensure that the OFT has regard to the principles of good corporate governance, but achieve that in a way that is appropriate to it as a public body.

Finally, Lords amendments Nos. 3 to 6, 187 and 188 were tabled in response to points made in Committee. They improve the accountability and transparency of the OFT and require the Secretary of State to publish criteria for designating bodies as super-complainants. I am happy to speak in more detail about those amendments if hon. Members wish me to do so.