Clause 1 — Office of Fair Trading

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

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire 5:30 pm, 30th October 2002

I apologise to the Minister and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for not being here for the opening speech on this group of amendments. I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I reiterate a point that she has already made.

I had thought that I understood what the Government were trying to do when we discussed in Committee the issues related to Lords amendment No. 1. The Government had previously vested the powers in one person—the Director General of Fair Trading—but had resolved that it would be better in future for powers to be vested in a board, or body corporate, rather than a single individual. It is therefore suggested in the schedule that there be a chairman and not fewer than four other members.

The other place helpfully explored the underlying intention of that change. The intention is, of course, to try to ensure corporate responsibility—a division of powers that does not allow their arbitrary exercise by an individual. No one is accusing the Director General of Fair Trading of acting in such a way, but there is a tendency in the media, if not in the business community, to personalise matters and to suggest that the exercise of powers by a single regulator relies excessively on that person. That is especially true when a regulator might be replaced.

Corporate responsibility makes possible a sense of continuity and consistency on the part of a body corporate over a period of time, regardless of changes of personnel. That is a positive move, but it is curious that the Minister, in her response to my hon. Friend Mr. Robathan, seemed to be reinventing the idea that the OFT chairman would be its director general. However, although the chairman may act as chief executive, under the Bill it is possible for the chairman to be appointed and for another OFT member to be the chief executive.