Clause 37

Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 19th April 2007.

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Extension of the Council’s functions: Great Britain

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in clause 37, page 22, line 3, at end insert

‘, including companies and industry experts who would be affected by such an order’.

This probing amendment relates to subsection (3)(c). Its purpose is to ensure that the Secretary of State consults other stakeholders when extending the NCC’s functions. Given that the NCC will, under clause 21, have the power to establish business connections and therefore receive support from business and industry, it is important that those companies should be consulted if the functions of the council change. The purpose of the amendment is to seek the Minister’s view and to discover exactly how the Government intend to proceed.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his characteristic generosity, which is so typical of his noble spirit, in allowing me to intervene yet again. How would he define “industry experts”? Karl Marx was an expert on industry, and if he were alive, I doubt whether he would want to be consulted—or perhaps he would. What is an industry expert? Surely, either we are all industry experts, or there is a specific category of people who belong to the national federation of industrial experts.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

The national federation of industrial experts would be a fascinating body. What a gathering it would be and what a glitterati of business expertise would join.

The hon. Gentleman rightly points out that the language must be clear. This is a probing amendment, but my interpretation is that industry experts would be experts in their industry, and would principally be trade and representative bodies. Their expertise might be sector specific, but it might not. The aim is to ensure that, as principal players in the field, they should be consulted appropriately.

Photo of Susan Kramer Susan Kramer Shadow Secretary of State for Trade & Industry, Trade & Industry, Shadow Secretary of State, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I want to make one short comment, which was made earlier. The NCC’s primary role is to represent consumers. It is obviously appropriate to consult with industry when it might be brought under the umbrella, and there are occasions when industry is a consumer. Will the Minister reinforce the perspective of the NCC, which will not primarily be open to lobbying by business? It will primarily face the consumer’s lobby.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Employment Relations & Postal Services)

I shall respond to the hon. Lady’s point. We had a useful discussion on Tuesday about the definition of “consumer” and we agreed that businesses, particularly small businesses, are consumers in many respects, so there is a role for the NCC to represent business in a number of ways. That is not what the amendment is about; it is about consumer entitlement. None the less, I hope that I have clarified the hon. Lady’s point.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford for tabling the amendment, but I am not saying that we will accept it—one is probably enough today. There was a good debate on this point in the other place, but perhaps this is an opportunity for further clarification.

Clause 37 will permit the Secretary of State, by order, to confer on the new council any other function if he

“considers that it in the interests of consumers generally, or consumers of a particular description, to do so.”

The clause provides two key conditions for the use of that power. First, the functions envisaged must relate directly to an existing or former function of the council. Secondly, before making an order under the clause, the Secretary of State will be obliged to consult the council, Welsh Ministers in cases that might affect  Wales and the functions exercisable by Welsh Ministers, and such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

The amendment to the last category would add

“including companies and industry experts who would be affected by such an order”.

Any consultation undertaken under the clause would be public consultation. As is our established practice, any consultation should try to reach all those who may have an interest in the subject, together with all those who may have a valuable contribution to make if their interest can be sparked. It follows that it is part of good consultation practice to seek to reach all those potential consultees who are affected by the proposals and who may have a contribution to make.

The range of stakeholders consulted will depend very much on the nature of what is proposed and on those who may be affected by it. However, it stands to reason that if businesses would be affected by the proposed new functions, it would be right, proper and necessary for the Secretary of State to consult businesses and trade associations as appropriate. In addition, as the consultation would be public, it would certainly be open to anyone, including companies and industry experts affected by any proposed extension of functions, to contribute their views.

I believe that the existing provision makes sensible and adequate provision for consulting a range of appropriate persons, and for those reasons and my additional clarification, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand why we do not believe that the amendment is necessary.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

Just for a giddy moment, I thought from the Minister’s opening remarks that we were going to get two crumbs from the table; but sadly, it is not to be. Nevertheless, his remarks that it would be right, proper and necessary for the organisations to which I refer, including industrial experts of all character, to be consulted are encouraging. On that basis and having heard that and got it on the record, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 38 to 41 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Steve McCabe.]

Adjourned accordingly at three minutes to Two o’clock till Tuesday 24 April at half-past Ten o’clock.