Enterprise Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:12 pm on 15th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour 5:12 pm, 15th October 2002

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 7, which relates to line 8 on page 195. It reads:

"Members shall be appointed on the basis of their expertise in areas of responsibility of the OFT and such expertise shall not disqualify them on the grounds of conflict of interest".

I begin by declaring marginal interests: I continue to have active links with the Co-operative Movement and with the British Retail Consortium, with both of which I have had useful consultations.

In striking at this aspect of the Bill, perhaps I may say how pleased I was to be present for the earlier debate when Members on all sides of the House spoke clearly and with authority. They did the Bill proud—I do not refer to the result of the vote, but to the intelligence that they brought to the debate from their experience elsewhere. I was delighted to be present.

These matters were raised at an earlier stage. I simply want to remind the Minister that I welcome the main thrust of the reform of the OFT; namely, its transformation into a board, the requirements for an annual plan and its new remit for promoting the benefits of competition for consumers and the economy.

These amendments take up an idea introduced in earlier amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. They support the Bill, but attempt to shape or re-shape its provisions by obtaining from the Minister intelligence and advice on what he and his colleagues have in mind as regards those who will carry out its provisions.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, posed the 64,000 dollar question: who regulates the regulators? It is no good saying after the event that we ought to have done such and such; or the Minister saying, "If only you had only mentioned this, I could have taken it into account". The purpose of my amendments is to seek assurances from the Minister that the thrust of what I seek is taken care of in the Bill in general—in which case he will no doubt be kind enough to point that out to me.

I should be interested in hearing from the Minister how, for example, the process of selecting the members will take place. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt—that is the third and last time that I shall mention him in this debate—drew attention to the advertisement that had appeared giving some indication, but that is not sufficient to satisfy me.

The Minister is aware of my strong connection with the Co-operative Movement, which is a consumer movement. I am naturally interested in hearing from him the steps that he and his colleagues have in mind to ensure that those who have wide experience of consumer matters will be considered. I do not mean opening the drawer of the great and the good, pulling out names and saying that it is the turn of this or that person. I should like to hear what he has in mind in terms of trawling over the wide range of people—north and south, male and female, black and white—who are prominent in the consumer movement. A great deal of legislation comes to us these days from Brussels. Do the Minister and his colleagues have the European dimension in mind when considering who will serve on boards?

We should not be looking for people who are "experts" or even "authorities" in these matters. I am always prepared, when reading a list of people who are to serve on a committee, not to know any of them. Then, when I look into their credentials, I am pleasantly surprised to see how well qualified they are, even to my untutored mind. Within the confines of the Bill, the Minister has a great deal to offer to us. I beg to move.