Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Borrie: It was helpful of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to supply that quotation, but it would have been more helpful if he had cited the whole sentence, not just a part of it. Perhaps I may do so. It states:


In other words, the word "include" applies to those other bodies, it is in no way diminishing to the word "business". Such an interpretation would be wrong.

I am pretty sure—this will appear in Hansard, so I hope that this is so—that, among the five to seven members, there will be two people from the world of business, who may well be directors of public limited companies. But, having been a distinguished Minister for many years, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, knows only too well that it is not appropriate for Ministers to suggest a close limiting of the formula set out in legislation for appointments to such boards.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The amendments would write into the Bill that a proportion of the Office of Fair Trading board must be active businessmen at the time of their appointment. I share the Committee's desire for strong candidates from business to apply to be members of the OFT board. Clearly, their experience and insight would be extremely valuable. But we will run a fair and open competition to appoint those members. We want to appoint people with a range of skills, expertise and abilities, as the advertisement demonstrates.

We will be looking for at least some candidates to have a wide ranging and in-depth experience of competition and consumer issues. I see no reason why a former editor of the Financial Times, or a former

16 Jul 2002 : Column 1128

academic expert on competition policy should not be able to play a part on the board. I draw the Committee's attention to the long and distinguished career of my noble friend Lord Borrie as Director-General of Fair Trading. I may be mistaken, but I do not think that he had long business experience. We want those who are the best people to do the job and who have experience from a wide variety of backgrounds.

I do not think that it would right or fair to say now that any proportion or number of those appointed will come from one background or another—to impose a quota. If we stipulate that a certain number should come from industry, should we then also stipulate that a number should represent consumers? We will appoint the best candidates from the recruitment process. Because of their experience, I hope that a number of those will come from the business community. That would add great value to the board.

In view of those arguments, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I thought that the case for the amendment had been so eloquently and convincingly made by my noble friend that there would be no point in my intervening. Knowing and respecting the Minister as I do, I was reasonably confident that he would say that he could not accept the amendment because he did not like its drafting or because the point was made sufficiently elsewhere in the Bill. The latter is a powerful argument when dealing with a Bill of this length. I should be the first to admit that there are many things in the Bill that may still surprise me. I am not aware of what every line in this compendium says.

What caught my ear and my attention was the Minister saying, "We will choose the best people". I should be happy to think that all Ministers had the same acumen, intelligence and experience as has the noble Lord. But unfortunately and unhappily, that is not so. Were another Government to be in power, I can well hear myself saying exactly the same. I do not always feel total confidence in Ministers when they say that they intend to appoint the best possible people.

Personally, like my noble friends, I look for some assurance that people with adequate current experience of business—people who know what can be the impact of such laws—will be on the board as a certainty. That is not much to ask. I am astonished by my moderation, but the very least that the noble Lord should say is that he has been much impressed by the weight of argument, that he will take the matter away to consider it and may return to it later.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: What a wonderful performance by my noble friend Lord Peyton. When I hear him make speeches in this wonderful Chamber, I am always impressed by the cogency of his argument. When his argument is in support of an amendment that I have moved, I find it overwhelming. He is

16 Jul 2002 : Column 1129

absolutely right. Although the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, may like to read the whole of the advertisement, there is a huge difference between an advertisement that says that a strong track record,


    "that could include business, regulated industries, or public bodies including NGOs",

and what Mr Byers said of the setting up of this new body. He said:


    "This will give businesses a stronger voice at the heart of the OFT".

My noble friend Lord Hodgson made a good point: we are discussing a new body—I almost said, "a new body, not an old Borrie"; but that would not be courteous. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie will agree that the Director-General of Fair Trading is now—and in particular, will be in the new body—a different person with a different range of functions from those which the noble Lord assumed when he was first appointed.

We shall have to go away to think carefully about what the Minister has said, because he has not given us the reassurance that we sought. But for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6A not moved.]

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 7:


    Page 191, line 7, after "chairman", insert "and shall secure his consent"

The noble Lord said: I can be extremely telegraphic in moving this amendment. Schedule 1(1)(2) states:


    "The Secretary of State shall consult the chairman before appointing any other member".

The amendment would add, after the word "chairman", the words "and shall secure his consent".

The purpose of the amendment will be patently clear to the Minister: there is not much point consulting the chairman if he is then ignored. The chairman is entitled to a board with which he is confident that he can work. Consequently, the drafting of Schedule 1(1)(2) is inadequate. I have suggested the expression "and shall secure his consent". I should be perfectly content with another form of words that had the same effect. I beg to move.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The amendment would give the chairman of the Office of Fair Trading a veto over appointments to the OFT board. It is certainly our intention that the chairman should play a full and active role in the selection of board members. The schedule already provides for him to be consulted by the Secretary of State on such matters. It is important that the chairman has board members with whom he can work, but it would be wrong for the chairman to have the final say. OFT board members will, ultimately, carry out their responsibilities on behalf of the Crown. It is imperative that the Secretary of State has confidence in board members, and, for that reason, she should have the final say in appointments.

Appointments to the OFT board will be made following Nolan procedures, with an open competition. For the first appointments, John Vickers

16 Jul 2002 : Column 1130

will be a member of the selection panel that will make recommendations to the Secretary of State on the final appointments. He will therefore be fully involved. Future appointments will also be made in an open and accountable way, following the Nolan rules.

I hope that that reassures the noble Lord, and I invite him to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Kingsland: I am grateful to the Minister for his response, but it did not surprise me. I shall reflect on what he said. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 8:


    Page 191, line 8, at end insert—


"(3) The Board shall be broadly representative of interests in the area of responsibility of the OFT."

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 8, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 9.

I am one of those people who, sometimes, get irritated when people insist that they want words in the Bill, rather than accept ministerial assurances. I am in the happy position of being able to say that, if the Minister can assure me that the purport of the amendments is in his mind and the mind of his advisers, I shall be content. He has already gone some way towards that in the debates in the past hour. I want the Minister to say that the thrust and intention of the amendments is well understood, even if it is not necessary to make them.

So far, the Minister has eased the situation somewhat. He told us that the size of the board could go up to seven members, rather than sticking rigidly to a membership of four. That strengthens the board. In his responses to other amendments, the Minister has clearly indicated that the scope of the Bill is important. It will have a huge impact on business and economic affairs in this country. A great deal of expertise is available, and I hope that, when we hear of the appointments, we can be satisfied that all sectors of the economy and of life in this country will feel that there is somebody there with experience of their position. I have some little knowledge of retail, and it will be good if there is someone on the board—not necessarily a retailer—who can be seen by the retail world as knowing what he or she is talking about.

I put forward the amendments in the confident hope that the Minister will tell us that they are unnecessary and that the Bill will, as intended by his ministerial colleagues, give effect to the provisions in the amendments in some other way. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, but I must start by saying how surprised I was that the Minister—I looked in his direction—did not respond to the telling intervention of my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil. The amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of

16 Jul 2002 : Column 1131

Edmonton, make the same telling point. I hope that the Minister will do my noble friend the courtesy of responding to him.

It is vitally necessary for the board to be broadly representative of interests in the OFT's area of responsibility. I did not intend, in any way, to disparage the editor of the Financial Times; there can be a wide range of interests represented on a board. However, if the board is to be composed of retired civil servants, authors and journalists, it will lack the substance that we seek. It was not necessary for the Minister to defend the editor of the Financial Times. The director-general had already said, as had the OFT, that the advisory committee was, in no way, intended to mirror the board that might be set up or its character.

The Committee wants reassurance from the Minister about the sort of people that he and his colleagues intend to appoint. Normally, as my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil would remind me, when a Minister places an advertisement in a newspaper, not only does he approve the wording but he will probably have in mind already the range of people that he would like to see responding to it. The Minister does not just sit in his office and hope that someone somewhere will apply. He should already have some view of the ideal board.

Why does not the Minister throw away the brief, just for a moment? He should certainly not listen to the whispered comments of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. The Minister should tell us about the ideal board and tell us what he would he like to see. If he did, influential people such as my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil and the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, will leave the Chamber and go out as emissaries for that ideal board, so that we can ensure that the necessary people apply—if only we had some idea of what the Minister intends. Will he tell us?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page