Clause 1 — Office of Fair Trading

Part of Orders of the Day — Enterprise Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:00 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 6:00 pm, 30th October 2002

I have already explained that there will be an annual plan, an annual report, and mechanisms for accountability. Those were discussed at considerable length during the Bill's proceedings. If serious problems arose or if a future chairman acted inappropriately and abused their power, the Secretary of State has the power under paragraph 3 of schedule 1 to remove from office the chairman or any other board member

Xon the ground of incapacity or misbehaviour".

We thus have provisions to deal with the Xmad and bad" under the proposed arrangements.

The other main issue raised by hon. Members relates to aspects of corporate governance. We propose to amend those provisions because not all the principles of corporate governance are relevant to a public body or a Department. For example, the principles refer to remuneration practices and relations with shareholders, which are obviously not relevant to the Office of Fair Trading. The amendment simply ensures that the OFT has regard only to what can reasonably be considered relevant to it.

To respond to the remarks made by Mr. Djanogly, the amendment is intended to ensure that the guidance, which was originally aimed at private companies, does not override for the OFT any guidance specifically for public bodies. The OFT is a public body, not a private company. Indeed, all the Hampel provisions were designed for public, listed companies. Clearly, the OFT is not a public, listed company.

To reassure hon. Members, I stress that we expect the OFT to have regard to the combined code principles in so far as they relate to it. However, it will also have to act in accordance with rules and guidance: for example, that on public accounting, which is a different area. As I explained in response to the questions of the right hon. Member for Wokingham, if there is abuse we can deal with it.

Under the present arrangements, it is possible for the OFT to appoint a separate chief executive officer. Currently, that is true. We envisage that we shall reconsider those arrangements in 2005 when John Vickers retires from his post to assess whether they will be appropriate after that time. They are entirely appropriate at present, however, and I hope that the House will support the motion.