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Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Some 13 amendments are in my name and in those of my hon. Friends. They fall into three categories. In some, the words "and producers" is inserted after the word "consumers". There is one category where that operates in connection with the super-complaints procedure. A separate amendment seeks to keep alive section 12 of the Fair Trading Act 1973, as compared with certain aspects of this legislation where it affects producers and the public interest. I have much more sympathy with the Fair Trading Act than with some items in this Bill, even though there is much more in the Bill which deals with consumers, which is a distinct improvement.
As I said, I want to insert "and producers" after "consumers". While all of us cannot exist without being consumers, we depend on producers, and I hope that the great majority of us are producers for considerable sections of our lives. We are producing legislation on this occasion, so we are part of that procedure. Everyone is just about covered by the categories of "producer" and "consumer", but that does not mean that the way in which they operate is the same, or that they have identical interests.
I attempted in Committeeit has already been dismissed to some extent by the Opposition Member who talked about G.D.H. Coleto draw that distinction. I was a bit late in doing that. This is complex legislation, and the day after I found out that I had been placed on the Bill, I had to turn up at one of the meetings to try to fathom what we were dealing with.
By the time I had tabled an amendment to introduce the word "producers", it was in a rather odd positionit meant producers being involved merely in matters that were of consumer interest. That will be the case to some extent with some of these amendments, but the main intention is to say that producers will have specific producer concerns themselves. In particular, the producer provisions in connection with the super-complaints procedure in amendments Nos. 218 to 222 are meant to produce a situation in which producers, as defined in amendment No. 222, will be able to have a say and an influence, and to make representations to the OFT about their concerns and their interests, in the same way as consumers do.
It is not entirely a G.D.H. Cole measure, as the producers are not defined just as being workers by hand or by brain. They are defined as people who are involved in the productive selling and manufacturing system, so it cuts across class barriers to some extent. The Minister may have some problem in determining the weight that should be given to different sections. I want to refer to the concerns and interests of the TUC and particular trade unions in such matters.
Various trade unions have pressed us on the matter. Members of the Committee received a letter from the Transport and General Workers Union's agriculture food section, in which it suggested that producers' interests should be considered as well and that we should have something about that in the Bill, presumably in line with the type of measures I am putting forward.
I saw one representation relating directly to the Bill in the Financial Times on the day of Second Reading. It was from Ed Sweeney, general secretary of Unifi, the financial sector trade union, who said:
I am keen that we should progress because I am interested in the public interest provisions. I would not want to talk myself out on those, but I have an amendment that seeks to preserve section 12 of the Fair Trading Act 1973. It allows the Secretary of State to give directions to
The right to refer monopoly cases to the Competition Commission is part of the argument that I will seek to advance later when we deal more particularly with mergers and the public interest provisions, but Unifi and the wider labour movement are clearly concerned that mergers and monopoly development situations will seriously affect the well-being of people and the future of their firms, which may close. In those circumstances, producer interests in terms of earning one's livelihood are to the fore. The Secretary of State needs to be able to continue to take that into account as an interest.
If we have producer bodies and a producer's super-complaints procedure, that will provide an avenue for bringing concerns to the attention of the Director of Fair Trading. In addition, later amendments will enable such matters to be brought to the attention of the Secretary of State so that he or she can act. Amendment No. 217 is necessary to facilitate matters that appear later in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will respond favourably to the notion that producer interest can be squeezed by this sort of legislation, admirable though it is in dealing with consumer interests. There might be a need for balance if other viewpoints are to be put forward.
G.D.H. Cole suggested in his early days that Parliament should be reformed and there should not be a House of Lords and a House of Commons. He advocated that instead there should be a House of Producers and a House of Consumers. The consumers would be rather like the House of Commons because we are all consumers. The producers would be organised through guild trade unionspresumably there would be a form of indirect electionand would operate the other House. He thought that within a socialist society these bodies would not conflict with each other. However, he felt that if they were in conflict, over-riding provision should be given not to the House of Consumers but instead to the House of Producers, that being the nobler ideal.
Dr. John Pugh (Southport): First, I shall respond to the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes). One suspects him of trying to introduce social revolution on the back of the Bill, that is by smuggling in Marxism through the back door. I am sure that that is not far away from the plot. In this instance, however, he seems to seek only an innocuous change of wording. Clause 6(1) states:
I move on to the issues raised by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), and on some I do not want to trespass. There is a sophisticated legal debate on the appropriate term for legal proceedings. That is whether it should be 90 days or 60 days. I can leave that to others.
The spirit behind the idea of using fine income to reprocess for the benefit of the consumer seems to be entirely correct. It has an element of earmarking, which is attractive. There is also the element of restitution. Presumably those who are offended will have an opportunity to contribute to the common good. It even brings in modern concepts such as hypothecation. It seems that the idea will do good.
The Minister's argument appears not to be that the idea will not do good, but that it may lead to further harm. It is suggested that the OFT will take an aggressive attitude towards charging producers that it thinks errant or wrong and accumulate money to use for other purposes that it has in mind. That is an objection in principle to many fines in many places. The same objection could be made in respect of traffic-calming measures and speed cameras, for example. It could be made also in terms of traffic wardens. There seems not to be a fundamental objection.
The wording suggested by the hon. Member for Eastbourne is surprisingly mild. It is that the OFT will consider whether any fines that are imposed under chapters 1 and 2 of the Act might be applied for any purpose. The wording does not command the OFT to do that. It merely gives a power to the office should it consider that to be an appropriate and good thing to do. The Minister might well wish to revisit this idea. Ministers are not loth to throw away powers unnecessarily offered to them. In this instance, the hon. Gentleman is offering a new power to the Government, in a sense. The OFT is not exactly the same thing as the Government, but it may find the process of administration useful in future circumstances.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on one issue, and it is an issue on which we disagreed in Committee. It relates to illustrating the additional costs that are incurred by business as a result of the various procedures in which the OFT will engage when investigating mergers, cartels and the like.
I share the hon. Gentleman's scepticism in that the Government are often thoroughly wrong when they talk about the effects of a piece of legislation, the red tape that will be involved and the cost to business. We have the shocking example of the Government declaring not too long ago that the effects of the increased burden on care homes would be cost neutral. I think that that is what the Government's investigation showed. Everybody accepts that the costs amount to about £300 million. If the effects of that legislation are cost neutral, care homes are behaving in an add way: they are going out of business.
There is a problem, and it was aired in Committee. An easy assessment to make is that of the costs involved in complying with a piece of legislation. The Government should get that right, and conventionally they get it wrong. However, businesses can do all sorts of things in responding to an investigation into their affairs. For example, they can hire the most expensive lawyers in the land. They can engage their top management night and day. They can inflate costs as and when they wish. In this context, they are not merely complying; they are reacting. Although I am sympathetic to the remarks of the hon.