Enterprise Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 15th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Borrie Lord Borrie Labour 6:15 pm, 15th October 2002

My Lords, I am among those who have only just seen these manuscript amendments. It may be due to my own inadequacy that I cannot understand why they are coupled with Amendment No. 24, which relates to Clause 11. They seem to deal with entirely different matters. Perhaps there has been a slip-up somewhere. I do not know whether I am the only person who has had that difficulty.

However, I want to speak to Amendment No. 24. It is somewhat similar to amendments that we discussed in Committee and, indeed, is somewhat less extreme than one proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, at that stage. But there was an interesting division on the Liberal Democrat Benches. For some reason, several noble Lords on those Benches have deserted us at this moment. But I noticed that, in relation to the similar amendment moved by his colleague, one other member of the Liberal Democrat team—the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury—said that it would put a torpedo under Clause 11 if it were passed.

To my mind, that is an appropriate phrase because, if this amendment were carried, it would seriously inhibit the work of consumer bodies, which are meant to promote super-complaints and which must be designated—no doubt after careful consideration by the Secretary of State. According to my knowledge of consumer bodies, it is very unlikely that they are rolling in money and are able easily to manage to pay the type of costs that might be envisaged by the amendment.

Surely the whole point of Clause 11 is that such bodies have special expertise. They are given a remit in Clause 11 to assist the public interest in bringing forward complaints that deserve closer investigation. It would seem a great pity to hobble that work by the proposed costs deterrent provided by the amendment.

I remind your Lordships that the guidance that will come from the Office of Fair Trading will ensure—indeed, it will insist—that super-complainants present a reasoned case. That, surely, is sufficient to dispel any notion that vexatious complaints will arise which would be a thorough nuisance and cause a cost problem to the businesses or undertakings concerned.