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 Hunt of Wirral Lord Hunt of Wirral Conservative 5:30 pm, 15th October 2002

My Lords, I rise with some trepidation because I think that I am about to disagree for the first time with my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. I feel trepidation because, in 1979, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Secretary of State, I was one of my noble friend's very junior administration members when she took through, against all the odds, the Price Commission (Amendment) Act 1979 which abolished the Price Commission. I have always had the profoundest respect for all that she utters—at least until today when she said that she did not agree with these amendments, particularly Amendment No. 22. I agree with her on the issue of consumers, but I think that the attraction of this amendment is that it seeks to put competition itself in a context of responsibility as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury.

I listened to my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots when we debated this issue in Committee. Now that we have had some tautological discussion about "affect" or "effect", I think that it is entirely apposite to insert the word "affect" in place of "benefit". I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, that these two amendments would be beneficial to the way in which the OFT will perform its functions. I hope that the Minister will see the amendments as genuine attempts to try to present a balanced approach. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots put it, we have to try to strike a proper balance between competition per se for its own sake and the more interesting discussion of ways in which it can affect consumers either positively or negatively.

While I am on my feet—I wanted to do this in our debate on an earlier group of amendments—I should like to thank the Minister for listening in Committee to my noble friends and to other noble Lords. We are grateful to him for having listened and coming forward with those amendments on Report. I hope that he will listen and be as positive about these two amendments as well.