Clause 50 - Officers of enforcement authorities other than OFT

Consumer Credit Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs) 12:15 pm, 28th June 2005

In response to the questions asked by the hon. Member for Wealden, I will outline the clause for the rest of the Committee.

New sections 36C and 36D inserted by clauses 47 and 48 will enable the OFT to ask offices of other enforcing authorities to carry out information gathering on its behalf. In practice, those other local enforcement authorities are likely to be local authority trading standards offices. They should be able to act as the OFT’s legs on the ground, carrying out routine monitoring visits and executing search warrants obtained by the OFT.

Under new section 36F inserted by this clause, anything done by an enforcement officer in the course of this activity will be treated as though it has been done by the OFT. That will not apply if the enforcement officer does anything that results in criminal proceedings. The OFT will enter into an arrangement with the trading standards authorities to carry out such activities. Trading standards officers must not disclose any information obtained as part of the such activity without the approval of the OFT, although that does not apply if the officer is under a duty to disclose the information.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment carries out the function performed by trading standards officers in England, Scotland and Wales. The Bill will enable the OFT to work with the Northern Ireland body to carry out information-gathering activity in Northern Ireland. Trading standards officers have both the local knowledge and the proximity to carry out information and investigation work on behalf of the OFT, and they already have the expertise to take on the role. However, the OFT will also provide training and support. Working in partnership, the OFT and trading standards officers will be able to monitor licensees to ensure that they remain fit to hold consumer credit licences. The new powers will mean that the resource is used more effectively. The OFT will remain the primary enforcement body under the legislation and licensing decisions will still rest with it. That will improve standards and result in better protection for consumers.

Trading standards officers already enforce part of the 1974 Act, and they will work with the OFT to provide additional training. The OFT will fund trading standards activity under clause 50, and the OFT and trading standards staff will operate under appropriate agreements, so there will not be an on-cost to local trading standards authorities. We will debate later the role of trading standards in the wider context of the Hampton review. With that explanation, I hope that hon. Members will feel able to support the clause.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Higher Education and Intellectual Property), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification. In the course of his comments, he said that it is likely to be trading standards officers who do the work. Does that mean that it will either be OFT officers or trading standards officers? Is there a third way?

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Higher Education and Intellectual Property), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

The Minister says that there is always a third way. I thought that we had moved away from that concept.

Are there circumstances in which the work could be subcontracted out to other organisations? Could it be subcontracted to a private sector organisation? It would cause some anxiety if such work were done by people who were not regulated either by the Government or by local government.

Earlier, we spoke about the credentials that would be needed by those who provide credit. What credentials will the enforcement officers need, particularly if they are people who are outside the remit of the trading standards offices, and, once again, will they be people who will need to be checked by the Criminal Records Bureau?

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs)

I hope to help the hon. Gentleman. The work cannot and will not be subcontracted out. It will be done by officers of the OFT or of trading standards acting on its behalf, who will be trained to deal with the issues in a sensitive and reasonable   manner. The question of police checks does not arise, because the work will not be subcontracted to anybody else.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 50 ordered to stand part of the Bill.