Enterprise Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 15th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative 5:30 pm, 15th October 2002

My Lords, my Amendment No. 23 is in this group. I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is trying to achieve. I do not want to go over issues debated in Committee, but I have read carefully what the Minister said on that occasion. I did not find his words convincing.

The amendment refers to Clause 6, the heading of which is,

"Provision of information etc. to the public".

It is not the provision of information; it is the provision of one side of the argument. Therefore, the heading of the clause is misleading in terms of what is contained in the clause. My amendment seeks to remove the word "benefit" and insert the word "effect", which is a more even-handed way of dealing with the issue.

The OFT is a regulatory body; it holds the reins. It needs to be seen to be even-handed, not a propagandist for one side of the argument. That is not to say that the operation of the market is not important and is not supported by me and all other noble Lords in the House. It is an educational role, but not a propagandist role. Let the public know about competition. In Committee, replying to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, the Minister said:

"Quite simply, I believe that we should require the OFT to concentrate and focus on its primary task; namely, the promotion of competition. We should have the confidence to let it promote the benefits of competition, because that is its role".—[Official Report 16/7/02; col. 1159.]

The Minister, however, has given only half its role. The OFT's role is actually to hold the ring, not to speak in that particular way.

We have already referred today to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. As I was a member of one of the regulatory bodies—the Securities and Futures Authority—subsumed under the FSMA, I learned a little about the discussions in your Lordships' House, before I became a Member, about the roles given to the Financial Services Authority. Section 2(2)(b) of the Act states that one of the FSA's regulatory objectives is to promote "public awareness", which is a perfectly fair objective. The Act goes on, in Section 4, to explain what is meant by "public awareness". It states:

"The public awareness is: promoting public understanding of the financial system . . . It includes, in particular . . . promoting awareness of the benefits and risks associated with different kinds of investment or other financial dealings".

The duty to inform and educate the public and to help them understand what happens in the financial services arena is therefore absolutely fairly and squarely defined and imposed on the Financial Services Authority. It is Clause 6 of the Bill that is lopsided and should be made much more even-handed.