Clause 23 — Orders

Part of Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 26th February 2013.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:23 pm, 26th February 2013

I could not possibly; it would embarrass the hon. Member for Ogmore too much.

Now that I have awarded bouquets around the House, I want simply to say that the Bill establishes an adjudicator to enforce the groceries supply code of practice. As recommended by the Competition Commission’s market investigation in 2008, the adjudicator will ensure that large retailers treat their direct suppliers lawfully and fairly. The adjudicator will be able to receive anonymous complaints from any source and may decide to launch an investigation if it is felt that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the code has been broken. We anticipate there will be around two to four investigations per year and if the adjudicator is satisfied that the code has been broken, a range of sanctions will be available. The adjudicator can make recommendations to a retailer, require it to publish details of the breach, and, in the most egregious cases, impose a financial penalty.

We also announced our preferred candidate for the adjudicator last month. Christine Tacon has a wide range of experience in the groceries sector, has held senior corporate roles in retailers and direct suppliers and spent 11 years as managing director of Co-operative Farms, the largest farming operation in the UK. Members will be pleased to note that she will undergo her pre-appointment hearing with the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee tomorrow, although Ministers retain the final decision on her appointment. We are confident, and we hope that the Committee agrees, that she will be an excellent adjudicator.

We are satisfied that we have given the adjudicator sufficient powers to enforce the code effectively and during pre-legislative scrutiny we broadened our drafting so that the adjudicator could receive information from any source, giving us a good Bill. At the urging of hon. Members on Second Reading, we tabled amendments in Committee to give her the powers to impose fines from the outset. On Report we proposed additional safeguards in relation to clause 15(11) to cover the Secretary of State’s powers to restrict the information on which the adjudicator can start an investigation.

At every step along the way we have improved the Bill, and we now have a Bill of which the House can be proud. The Government have listened to the concerns of hon. Members from all parties to ensure that we create the most effective adjudicator possible, and we believe that we have now achieved that goal. I am delighted to note that a press release from the grocery market action group on 8 February announced in large letters:

Fair Trade campaigners say Supermarket Watchdog has teeth.”

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary wanted a watchdog with teeth and even brought the visual aids to support that contention on Second Reading.

We have done our work. I believe that we have a good Bill. I commend it to the House. The sooner we get this adjudicator in place, the better it will be for our producers, consumers and retailers.