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 Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 5:15 pm, 30th October 2002

I come to the Bill rather late in the day after it has undergone a marathon. I pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend Mr. Waterson, who represented the Opposition in earlier proceedings, and my colleagues in the House of Lords who have done sterling work.

The Bill tackles many issues; enterprise is only an incidental part of it. It deals with consumer protection, insolvency and competition. The question of how to stimulate enterprise has taxed Governments and others throughout the ages. Not many have succeeded in answering it. The Bill returns to the Commons in a much better state than when it went to the Lords. However, it should be a grave embarrassment to the Government that it left the House of Commons with 420 amendments and nine new clauses. In the House of Lords, 326 amendments were made, the majority being Government so-called technical amendments.

The Bill is highly complex and deals with people's livelihoods. Like so much legislation, it may have serious unintended consequences. It is a gross understatement to describe it as ill prepared and badly drafted. The Government should be ashamed of themselves. However, it was examined in detail in the House of Lords and we broadly agree with the Government about some of the amendments that were forced upon them in the other place.

The amendments that we are considering deal with good corporate governance. The Government should be particularly interested in that, especially in view of the Enron scandal and others which have occurred since the Bill was first drafted. Those scandals have brought corporate governance into not only the public eye but that of Governments everywhere.

Let us consider the two amendments with which the Government disagree. First, on what basis do the Government believe that the chief executive officer and the chairman should be the same person? We believe that it is important to emphasise the chairman's independence because the heart of the Bill involves the creation of a body that is free from political interference.

I appreciate that the Office of Fair Trading will not be a public limited company, but apart from the Financial Services Authority, where else does no separation of power exist between chairman and chief executive officer?