Schedule 11 - The Competition Commission

Enterprise Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:15 pm ar 7 Mai 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendments made: No. 356, in page 232, leave out lines 10 to 12.

No. 357, in page 232, line 24, leave out from 'Commission''' to end of line 27.

No. 358, in page 232, line 34, leave out paragraph 6 and insert—

'6 Paragraph 7(4) (approval of Treasury) shall cease to have effect.'

No. 359, in page 232, line 39, leave out paragraph 8 and insert—

'8 In paragraph 9 (staff)—

(a) sub-paragraph (2), and in sub-paragraph (3) the words ''and the President'', shall cease to have effect;

(b) in sub-paragraph (4), for paragraphs (a) and (b) there is substituted the words ''the Secretary of State as to numbers and terms and conditions of service''.'.

No. 360, in page 233, line 3, leave out

'Paragraphs 10 (procedure) and 12 (accounts)'

Question proposed, That this schedule, as amended, be the Eleventh schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Djanogly: After the ream of Government amendments that have just been made, it would help if the Minister were to give a brief review of the purpose of the changes proposed in schedule 11, as it is a relatively short period of time since the Competition Commission was set up. For instance, I note that paragraph 5 provides that appointments to the commission have been extended from five to eight years. That seems a long time, and it is likely that the only people who will apply will be those at the end of their careers or academics and civil servants, rather than, as we discussed previously, business men leaving their businesses for a while and then returning to them.

Miss Johnson: The reason for making the changes is principally to introduce strict security of tenure in order to ensure the independence of members of the commission. That was the result of a Whitehall-wide review in July 2000, prompted by ECHR concerns. Previously, members were in practice appointed for three-year terms, with second, third and even fourth appointments. Under schedule 7, we prohibited the appointment of any person as a commission member for more than five years at a time. Appointments were subsequently made for two terms of four years only,

with an automatic renewal after the first term. Paragraph 5 embodies that eight-year term in the schedule. I believe that it is an improvement on the existing provision.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 11, as amended, agreed to.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Ceidwadwyr, South Cambridgeshire

On a point of order, Mr. Beard. I confess that I may have been insufficiently quick in understanding what was going on, but am I right in thinking that, because, we debated a group of Government amendments under clause 175 that included Government new clause 8, we will be held to have debated the form of the annual report of the Competition Commission? In the form presented by the Government, it does not include any of the cautionary words that my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon intended to propose in a debate about what should or should not be included in the commission's report.

Only when we reached clause 176, which was subsequent to that group of amendments, did it became obvious to Opposition Members—and, it seems, some Labour Members—that the Competition Service's report was to disappear and that the report of the Competition Commission would replace it. We were therefore being invited to discuss the deletion of the annual report under clause 176—after the point at which we had agreed to include the report of the Competition Commission. We were seeking to debate that point under a false premise. I wonder whether it would be in order for us to debate Government new clause 8 separately.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Llafur, Bexleyheath and Crayford

A new clause that has been grouped would not normally be debated again, but I shall consider the hon. Member's point of order and respond later.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Ceidwadwyr, Eastbourne

I beg to move amendment No. 338, in page 129, line 19, leave out

'such other persons as he considers appropriate'

and insert

'other interested parties or their representatives'.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Llafur, Bexleyheath and Crayford

With this we may take amendment No. 339, in page 129, line 34, leave out

'such other persons as he considers appropriate'

and insert

'other interested parties and their representatives'.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Ceidwadwyr, Eastbourne

Bits keep falling off the Bill. We lurch into the last half hour of the debate and, on my arithmetic, we have about 24 clauses and schedules to get through.

I hope that the purpose of amendment No. 338 is clear. It would narrow the discretion of the chairman of the Competition Commission to decide on its rules and procedures and make it clear that it is not entirely up to him whom he consults. It is much less important than it might have been, thanks to the shift in the role

and importance of the Competition Commission that was brought about by clauses that we have already debated.

Much the same points may be made about amendment No. 339. There should be a specific obligation to consult interested parties before issuing the rules and procedures.

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

In this area of the Bill, we have a choice between a flexible, common-sense consultation provision and a more prescriptive measure that would require the Competition Commission to act in a certain way. In helping the Committee to take a view on that, it might assist if I outline how the Competition Commission chairman plans to develop the rules of procedure.

Later this year, there will be a formal consultation process with members of the Competition Commission about the rules. However, the chairman also intends to hold a wider public consultation. The draft rules are to be placed on the commission's website and there will be an accompanying press notice, explaining the consultation process and inviting views. The commission has confirmed that it will consult those who responded to the competition White Paper published last July. The respondents included business organisations, law firms, trade unions, other regulators and consumer groups. The Competition Commission's plans will, therefore, ensure that a broad cross-section of interested parties are consulted. The consultation will not be limited to parties who are likely to engage directly in mergers and their representatives, but will extend more widely. For those reasons, I do not agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Eastbourne, whose amendment is more prescriptive. The broad formulation adopted in the Bill avoids the need to define terms such as ''interested parties or their representatives''. I hope that, with that clear expression of intent in this regard, Opposition Members will be reassured about how the draft rules will be developed and will agree that the amendment is unnecessary.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Ceidwadwyr, Eastbourne

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 195, in

page 129, line 43, after '1973 (c. 41)' insert

', section 32 of the Water Industry Act 1991 (c.56)'.

The amendment extends the duty of the Competition Commission chairman to make and publish rules of procedure to regulate the conduct of Competition Commission reference inquiries. It extends that duty to include rules for mergers referred under the special regime set out in clause 66 for assessing mergers between water enterprises.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 178, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.