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Mr. Mark Field: The Under-Secretary rightly points out that we are all consumers. However, we must remember that that is so because we have successful businesses. We want them to thrive, which is why we tabled our amendments. Clearly, we must get the balance right, but we all rely on a thriving and successful business sector.
Miss Johnson: The Government recognise the importance of a thriving business sector, which is the basis for our economic prosperity. Indeed, everything flows from that. Money for public services ultimately derives from that prosperity.
The intention of the super-complaints provision is to alert the OFT to market failures that significantly harm the interests of consumers. Individual consumers are unlikely to have access to that information, or the relevant resources or skills to formulate complaints. The aim is to enable consumer bodies to do that on their behalf. The procedure is designed to benefit consumers, and will therefore be available only to designated consumer bodies. Producer bodies do not have as their principal raison d'etre the protection of consumer interests. Producer bodies can already put complaints about market failure or other issues to the OFT, and nothing in the Bill prevents them from continuing to do so.
I want to speak about section 12 of the Fair Trading Act 1973. Amendment No. 217 would preserve that provision. The provisions relating to the consumer protection advisory committee will become superfluous because clause 10 abolishes it. As an independent body, the OFT should be free to set its own priorities in the new regime. The existence of the powers of direction under the Fair Trading Act could inhibit that freedom.
The amendment would change the intended functions of the OFT and would, in some cases, impose unnecessary burdens and constraints on it. I do not think that there would be a benefit to consumers, businesses or producers, and I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire will not press his amendment to a vote.
Regarding my earlier answer to the hon. Member for Eastbourne on fines, I want to clarify the fact that the fines will go into the Consolidated Fund, so they will be in the public purse, but the money from the new consumer grants fund will be used for the projects that I described. That concludes my remarks on the amendments in this group.
Mr. Waterson: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the trouble that she has taken to provide that explanation. I am pleased, not least because one of our concerns is being dealt with in a different part of the Bill; that seems to make sense. I do not want to prolong the debate about 60 days versus 90 days. We have probably beaten that argument to death, one way or another.
I was pleased that the Minister corrected what she had said earlier about fines. It is clear from the Bill that there is no mechanism for those fines to be diverted towards something useful for consumers, and that they will just go the way of all finesthat is, they will, as she has just confirmed, disappear into the Consolidated Fund.
I made it clear that we welcome the separate provision for funding for consumer information and so on, but it seems to usalarmingly, perhaps, the Liberal Democrats seem to take a similar viewthat it would be rough justice if the money could be directed towards consumers when fines were imposed. Diverting fines in that way would be particularly appropriate in cases of fines being imposed because of a particular practice or set of practices in which it was impossible to identify those who had been harmed. We therefore remain disappointed by the Minister's approach to the matter. We seem to have gone round in an enormous circle, having debated it more than once.
On business costs, I simply do not understand the problem. It would be a modest but necessary discipline on the new system if, once a year, or whatever, the Government were required to make an assessment of the costs to business of what they were doing. Otherwise, there would be no mechanism by which they could make a cost-benefit analysis of their activities. This is a modest proposal. It is all very well for the Minister to say that we would end up with regulatory impact assessments of every piece of legislation every year. If the legislation impacts directly on business, what would be wrong with that? We cannot keep on churning out pages and pages of legislation that affect business and add to its costs, without giving some thought to what it is costing the business community.
We are disappointed by the Minister's response on both those issues, but I shall not press the new clause to a Division. The matters should be further debated in another place, and I am sure that they will be. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
'(2) Sub-paragraph (1) does not apply in relation to any document which is, or is to be, signed in accordance with the law of Scotland.'.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 90, 246, 247, 162 to 164, 284, 287 to 295, 185 to 187, 321, 322, 356 to 370, 98, 323, 188 to 190, 301, 135, 136, 192, 193, 302, 194, 137, 191, 303, 138 and 139.
Miss Johnson: This is a big group of Government amendments, and I do not propose to speak to all of them. They are minor or consequential, and cover several different areas. I shall speak briefly to amendments Nos. 321, 322, 356, 357, 359, 360 to 369 and 370.
I place on record our thanks to the City of London Law Society for its help and support in developing these exemption provisions. This is a very technical and specialised area, and, on behalf of the Department and the Government, I thank members of the society for giving so generously of their time and expertise in meeting officials and commenting on the drafting of the clauses. The amendments clarify and bring greater certainty to the exemption provisions. I shall be happy to answer any questions that hon. Members may have on the other amendments. I commend the amendment to the House.
Amendment made: No. 156, in page 2, line 31, leave out subsection (5).[Miss Melanie Johnson.]
Amendment made: No. 157, in page 3, line 17, leave out subsection (3).[Miss Melanie Johnson.]
Amendment made: No. 223, in page 3, line 37, leave out subsections (2) to (5) and insert
'(2) In carrying out that function the OFT may (without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1)) make arrangements for approving consumer codes and may, in accordance with the arrangements, give its approval to or withdraw its approval from any consumer code.
(3) Any such arrangements must specify the criteria to be applied by the OFT in determining whether to give approval to or withdraw approval from a consumer code.
(4) Any such arrangements may in particular
(a) specify descriptions of consumer code which may be the subject of an application to the OFT for approval (and any such description may be framed by reference to any feature of a consumer code, including the persons who are, or are to be, subject to the code, the manner in which it is, or is to be, operated and the persons responsible for its operation); and
'(1A) A person is not eligible for appointment as an ordinary member unless he appears to the Lord Chancellor to have appropriate experience and knowledge (whether of competition law and practice, other relevant law and practice, economic and business practice, or experience in relation to any sector of industry to which the Competition Appeal Tribunal exercises an appellate function'.