Clause 194 - Powers of entry

Enterprise Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:45 pm ar 23 Ebrill 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

We now move on to part 7. I covered many issues relating to the clause in our debate under clause 186 about warrants issued in respect of criminal cartel investigations. I do not want to cover that ground again. However, clause 194 contains the same provisions for warrants issued in civil chapter 1 and chapter 2 investigations, which clearly represents a ratcheting up of the OFT's powers. Why does the Minister feel that that is necessary in the context of civil prohibition investigations?

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

Under the clause, a warrant issued by a High Court judge may authorise a named officer of the OFT and any other officer of the OFT whom the OFT has authorised in writing—and, indeed, officials of the European Commission, under sections 62 and 63 of the 1998 Act—to enter premises using such force as is reasonably necessary. The warrant also authorises those named in it to search the premises, take copies of documents, take possession of documents and preserve them, and to require explanations of the documents or statements regarding their whereabouts. Information may also be extracted from computer systems.

Under the Competition Act 1998, it is possible to send officers of the OFT alone on raids to companies. Since that Act came into force, the OFT has experienced a need to authorise people not employed by it to accompany OFT officials on searches under a warrant. Such people are required to provide expertise in fields such as IT, which is unavailable within the OFT but required for the OFT to make full use of the warrant and obtain the information that it requires.

The clause would enable warrants to be issued that authorise non-employees of the OFT to accompany and assist OFT officers in a search. The external experts will always be required to work under the direction of the OFT; there is no question of their being able to enter premises without OFT officials.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

I would appreciate knowing why, after only four years, the Government feel it necessary

to ratchet up the investigatory powers in the civil context.

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

I always give very good answers, as my hon. Friend is well aware.

The power to enter premises under a warrant is an important power, and without it the prohibition regime under the Competition Act 1998 would not be effective. It is important that the OFT can use the warrant to search for the required information without being hindered by a lack of specialist expertise, for example. That is the purpose of the clause. The expert would have to be named on the warrant and approved by the High Court judge issuing the warrant, which is an important safeguard as warrants are not lightly issued by the judiciary. All those factors stack up to ensure that investigations are effective.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 194 ordered to stand part of the Bill.