Performance of Companies and Government Departments (Reporting) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:10 pm on 30th January 2004.

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Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister of State (Trade), Foreign & Commonwealth Office 2:10 pm, 30th January 2004

I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman is interested in the Government's view. I assure him that I will explain at some length the Government's view on each of those factors.

As my hon. Friend said, in July 2002 the Government published a White Paper, "Modernising Company Law", which contained some illustrative clauses on the OFR that were designed for discussion. The draft clauses form the basis of clauses 1 to 7 of the Bill. The initial clauses that we drafted were essentially to provide the opportunity for the public, various company directors, non-governmental organisations and others to give feedback on what they thought such a Bill might look like. We published the White Paper as part of our overall reform of company law. However, we have since decided to take forward the OFR in regulations, not in primary legislation. On 10 July last year, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and the Regions announced, in a written statement on company law, that we would publish draft regulations for consultation in due course.

We have now had the benefit of considering more than 250 responses to the White Paper regarding the OFR. They are mostly supportive of the principle of a statutory OFR, although a wide range of views is expressed on the detail. We have continued to develop the policy and to draft detailed legislation on matters such as the role of auditors and enforcement, which are somewhat sketchy in the White Paper. One of the objectives of the revised proposal was to ensure that we do not impose unnecessary burdens on companies by requiring them to comply separately with the requirements of the OFR and the EU modernisation directive, which was adopted last year. Understandably, my hon. Friend's Bill takes no account of that directive, part of which requires additional reporting by companies, including on information relating to environmental and employee matters. As that comes into force at the beginning of 2005, it makes sense to deal with it and the OFR in a single, coherent piece of legislation to avoid companies having to make two separate but overlapping reports, which would be duplicative and bureaucratic. We want to place this on a much more rational and sensible basis.