Clause 3 - Annual plan

Enterprise Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:15 pm ar 16 Ebrill 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

The clause will oblige the OFT to publish an annual plan before each financial year. The plan will include a statement of the OFT's main objectives and priorities for the year ahead. The OFT must consult as it prepares the plan, and it must lay the

published document before Parliament. As I said, this is an important means by which Parliament and the public can hold the OFT to account. It will have published objectives and priorities, which people will be expected to meet. Through the annual report provision in clause 4, the OFT will have to report on its progress against those objectives and priorities.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Ceidwadwyr, Eastbourne

We welcome the requirement to produce an annual plan. It will be beneficial for the OFT and help it to get its thoughts and priorities in order if it has to set broadly in context its plans and activities for the ensuing year and tell people what to expect, within and without the organisation. It will also help outside bodies, individuals and companies. We shall have more to say on annual reports.

I hope that the Minister will comment on a small practical point. In the clause, as in other provisions in this part of the Bill, there is a requirement to consult before publishing the annual plan. The clause states that

''the OFT shall consult such persons as it considers appropriate.''

That is a bit loose; is it really sensible to leave it to a body like the OFT to decide who it thinks appropriate to consult? We have not got our heads round a suitable amendment listing those who would be appropriate and there is always the worry of disappointing those who are not on such a list. The Government should look at that matter again as it must be in everyone's interest, including that of the OFT, if there is as wide a consultation as possible on the annual plan and on its general activities. Too often, bodies regard consultation as a tiresome formality, and I hope that the OFT will not take that view. However, if the Minister had some thoughts on how the provision could be tightened up, they would be welcome.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

We deliberately left the matter open to reflect the fact that things enshrined in primary legislation are remarkably difficult to change. As the hon. Gentleman said, it might be a while before there is another Bill that allows the flexibility to change something that is already on the statute book. Were we to specify people whom the OFT should consult, we might rapidly find ourselves with an exhaustive list, which would be dangerous. Such lists are seldom exhaustive, although they are frequently exhausting in Committee. On the grounds of future flexibility and because there may be unforeseeable developments, we would not want any further specification.

I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point that there may be an interest in who the OFT plans to consult, but it is part of its accountability that it will have to explain who it is consulting and why. I am sure that representations will be made by bodies or persons who are not involved in the process but think they should be, and by the House and its Committees in deciding whether consultation has been appropriate.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.