Enterprise Bill

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Mr. Waterson: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am a great supporter of CAMRA. It used to own a pub—I do not know if it still does—called the Cruel Sea, which I think they renamed the Nag's Head—

Mr. Field: The Waterson Arms.

Mr. Waterson: Yes. CAMRA has done a great service to beer drinkers over the years. Would it qualify? I know that the hon. Gentleman asked me the question, but I am sure that he is really asking the Minister.

Mr. Field: I wonder if my hon. Friend has given any thought to the prospect of large lobbying organisations, such as Greenpeace, developing some sort of designated consumer arm and using that

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mechanism—as it did in its high-profile campaign against Shell a few years ago.

Mr. Waterson: My hon. Friend makes a very good point.

Mr. Djanogly: The issue is very important. The Under-Secretary has often said that super complainants will not make frivolous or vexatious complaints because they will be responsible and will want to maintain their reputation. However, with a single issue, that may well not be the case. If the group is concerned with a single issue, it will not be thinking about other campaigns in which it may get involved. It exists to deal with the specific issue and its reputation will depend only on the success that it has with that. I was happy to hear the Under-Secretary say that single-issue bodies will not be allowed.

Mr. Waterson: This discussion might be more appropriate on amendment No. 23, with which we will deal in a minute. However, it raises another interesting question about the Government's thinking on the matter. One of the most important changes in modern politics has been the growth of one-issue groups, some of which exist purely to lobby on one issue, whether it is foxhunting, housing, beer or whatever, to the exclusion of everything else. It will be interesting to hear what the Under-Secretary has to say.

Miss Melanie Johnson: I have already said what I have to say on this. As the hon. Member for Huntingdon said, I do not envisage that type of group being designated.

Mr. Waterson: I think that I must have been looking forward to the debate on the next amendment. We have grown excited because of all this discussion. We have put down some markers and tried to tease out of the Under-Secretary what bodies we are talking about. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Waterson: I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 5, line 20, at end insert—

    '(6A) The status of ''designated consumer body'' for the purposes of this section shall be renewed by the Secretary of State on an annual basis and revoked if he thinks fit.'.

This amendment has a very narrow compass. It would give the Secretary of State power to renew the designations on an annual basis and to revoke them if she thinks fit. That seems to be a sensible safeguard. The sort of bodies that I am talking about would have their licences renewed year after year with no difficulty. It is another safeguard against bodies on the list that do not come up to scratch and behave in the way in which we expect, and it is another way in which to remove them from the list. In response to an earlier amendment, the Under-Secretary suggested that the Secretary of State would have the power to remove the designation from organisations and that should be the case.

Mr. Field: Although, in principle, I support that sensible administrative suggestion, one potential difficulty is that if a body were designated as a super complainant it would be subject to an annual review.

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If during a 12-month period it had not put forward any complaints to the OFT, there would be pressure on it to make sure that it was active in the market. There is a slight danger that the annual review process would lead to more bureaucracy from certain super complainants, which would otherwise be silent.

Mr. Waterson: My hon. Friend may be worrying unnecessarily.

Mr. Field: I was probing the probing amendment.

Mr. Waterson: My hon. Friend is right to probe my probing amendment. We covered some of that matter in a previous discussion in which I mentioned Tempo.

Bodies may come and go. Perfectly legitimate and well-run bodies may be set up and go on to the list, but their purpose in life may disappear either because they are successful or, more probably, because they are unsuccessful. It is important that there is a right to remove them from the list. I suspect that the Under-Secretary is going to tell me that that is dealt with in a different way in a different part of the same forest.

Mr. Carmichael: At the risk of disappointing the hon. Gentleman, I am enamoured of the amendment and I would be minded to support it. When I heard him talk about the growth of single-issue pressure groups in politics, I wondered whether he was talking about the Conservative party and Europe. I realised, however, that that could not be the case because he was talking about growth, which is not something that one readily associates with the Conservative party.

The amendment is useful because that sort of control would be helpful. I do not share the concerns of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster about an increase in bureaucracy. It is important that bodies designated for the purposes of

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making super complaints should be subject to regular and routine scrutiny. To that extent, I am interested to hear what the Under-Secretary has to say not only about that sort of regular scrutiny, but the possibility of the removal of designation without there being an annual review in an instance in which a consumer body has acted inappropriately or vexatiously.

Mr. Djanogly: I support the amendment. Clearly, management and standards can change in an organisation over the years. An organisation that might have done very well over a period of time may suddenly start to get an awful lot wrong. There should be a method by which it can be reviewed on an annual basis.

What if a consumer body, a member of a consumer body or someone lobbying a consumer body had a commercial interest in a super complaint proceeding? In those circumstances there should be a means of redress against the body making the complaint. We assume that the current high standards in the Consumer Association and other such bodies will continue, but what safeguards will the Government put in place carefully to check that there are no commercial interests behind designation?

Miss Johnson: I am delighted to do some more probing on the probing of the probing of the amendment. There has been a great deal of discussion this morning.

I shall bear in mind the last point made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon. When we look at the criteria, we will need to consider such issues and decide how to deal with them.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Beard, Mr. Nigel (Chairman)
Barnes, Mr.
Borrow, Mr.
Burnham, Andy
Cable, Dr.
Campbell, Mrs. Anne
Carmichael, Mr.
Djanogly, Mr.
Field, Mr. Mark
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Johnson, Miss
McWalter, Mr.
Pearson, Mr.
Pugh, Dr.
Purchase, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.
Waterson, Mr.

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