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 Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation) 5:12 pm, 15th October 2002

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 17 to 21. These amendments respond to points made by noble Lords in Committee and fulfil commitments I made to agree to consider these points further. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 6 and 7.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 require the OFT to publish a summary of its rules and procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest. The OFT is already required to consult the Secretary of State when drawing up these rules and procedures. The publication of a summary of them under this amendment will ensure transparency in how the OFT conducts itself in this important area. The amendments are in response to an amendment tabled in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 require the OFT to lay the proposals for its annual plan, as well as the final version, before Parliament and to hold a public consultation on the proposals at least two months before the final version is published. This removes the discretion that the OFT currently has under the Bill to consult such persons "as it considers appropriate", and, I hope, satisfies noble Lords' concerns that the OFT should consult widely on the plan. These amendments respond to an amendment by the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in Committee.

Amendment No. 21 provides additional requirements for the content of the OFT's annual report. Noble Lords expressed concern in Committee that more detail should be placed on the face of the Bill. The amendment provides for significant new requirements covering the main activities and investigations over the year, the allocation of financial resources and enforcement practices and performance. This last requirement would include, for example, an assessment of how OFT has complied with the Enforcement Concordat, which I believe will be welcomed by business. This amendment responds to amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Graham, the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland, Lord Hunt, Lord Razzall and Lord Sharman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in Committee.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7, tabled by my noble friend Lord Graham, seek to ensure that the OFT board is made up of people who are representative of the key areas of OFT responsibility and that such people will not be disqualified from taking up board appointments on grounds of conflict of interest. We will be holding a fair and open competition for non-executive board posts in accordance with Nolan procedures. In answer to the points made by my noble friend, I hope very much that this will not consist of the great and the good but of people who can bring some real skills to this area.

The range of skills and qualities that we are looking for may mean that some members of the board will be drawn from, for example, competition, consumer or business backgrounds, and it is to be hoped that some will have experience of European matters. Our aim is to appoint the best candidates, not to have quotas or de facto appointments representing certain interests. Although board members are likely to have other outside interests, they will be appointed to the board in their own right, not as representatives of a particular interest. Their role on the board will be to see that the OFT takes the right strategic decisions to fulfil its functions effectively and to achieve its goal of making markets work for consumers.

We want to appoint the best people to give the OFT a strong and strategic board with a balance of skills, expertise and abilities. Experience of, for example, general management or strategic skills will be as valuable to the board as a wide-ranging and in-depth experience of competition and consumer issues, but not every candidate need necessarily have all these qualities, skills and expertise in all these areas.

I reassure my noble friend that candidates with backgrounds relevant to OFT's responsibility will not automatically be disqualified from taking up board appointments on grounds of conflict of interests. Provided that they comply with the OFT rules and procedures on conflicts of interest, which I mentioned, there is no need for them to be disqualified. It is unnecessary to set this out on the face of the Bill. If noble Lords agree with the amendments that I am moving in this group, the Bill will be clear that OFT will have published rules and procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest, and board members will have to act in accordance with these or face removal by the Secretary of State. I do not think that there is any need to add anything more to the Bill. In view of these arguments, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendments.