Clause 27 - Public interest interventions in markets investigations

Part of Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 10 July 2012.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 4:45, 10 July 2012

I thank the Minister for that clarification. The CMA will investigate the public interest but it remains the decision of the Secretary of State. Why is the CMA being asked to investigate the public interest around something like national security, simply because it has expertise in competition? I do not believe that that is a consistent approach. We are keen to support the Government in ensuring that the CMA is highly skilled and has some of the best competition minds in the world, as well as the expertise necessary to deal with, consider and assess competition issues, but we believe that the skills concerning issues of public interest should be found within the Government or perhaps the civil service.

The example of energy provided by the Minister is particularly interesting. Energy is a complex market in competition terms, and Ofgem has many experts, both in technical matters and on energy competition. Should they consider issues of national security? Surely, national security issues to do with the energy markets—security of supply—should be a matter for the Government of the day, as they control the regulation of those markets and relevant policy issues. I am not reassured by the Minister’s description, distinguishing between the public interest as the CMA will assess it and the public interest, which is the responsibility of all hon. Members as parliamentarians and for which we should be held accountable.

The final point that the Minister made about rolling over a successful approach for mergers to markets does not recognise the essential difference between the two.  The CMA responds to a merger, which is a time-limited affair in comparison with the review of markets. I urge him to consider whether it is appropriate to make such a change for the limited benefits that he has described. If not, we must put the issue to the vote.