I support the Bill because the principles that guide it are exactly what the country needs in order to get back on its feet after 13 years of what could be described as misappropriation of the public purse by the Labour Government.
The Bill will empower consumers and enable them to make choices. It will also simplify regulations—particularly those governing small and medium-sized businesses, which are the life blood of the economy—and help small businesses and consumers to tackle manipulative, anti-competitive and monopolistic practices by creating a form of speedy redress. Above all, it will help us to continue the process of facilitating the fierce competition between businesses that will not only improve public and consumer services, but help to lift the economy further in the future.
This is a Bill that takes competition seriously, and raises the game for everyone. It empowers people, and it backs British businesses. I listened carefully to what was said by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), and I accept that some small changes may be required in Committee, but, on balance, I think that the Bill and the principles behind it will be good for the United Kingdom’s economy.
Competitive markets are a successful country’s bread and butter. They are what we need in order to lift all the boats, not just the yachts. Competition raises standards and pushes down prices: every person who has been in business knows that, as does every person who has ever bought a product or service, including those who have done so online.
We know that if we can choose where to buy a product, and if the contract terms and the information about what we are purchasing are clear, the means of exchange will be facilitated, and our ability to make a choice will drive down prices. I believe that any business that does not respond to those signals from the market and from consumers, and to the extra signals that will be conveyed by the Bill, will in fact no longer be in business. Principles such as that are at the heart of the Bill, and at the heart of the competition that will enable businesses to create a better country.
The Bill will give the consumer the power to shop elsewhere, and it will also drive innovation. If businesses have clear, fair contracts which their customers understand, they will need to work harder and innovate more quickly to remain in business. That, indeed, is the joy of being in business: competing, innovating, and knowing that the business is not only making profits for its owners and shareholders, but lifting economic growth nationwide, and providing better goods and services for everyone involved.
I also think that the Bill should be welcomed by Members on both sides of the House because, for the first time, consumers’ rights are contained in a single piece of legislation. To that extent, the Bill is a consolidating measure, but I can say with my business hat on that consolidating those rights in one simple piece of legislation will enable business productivity to increase. Instead of spending hours being trained and briefed on legislation that does not actually help anyone, staff will be able to concentrate on providing better services for their customers, and on making a return for the business—as well as a return for the Exchequer in the form of the increasing tax takes that that will generate.
The simplification in the Bill is no small matter. Estimates vary, but it may scrap up to 100—perhaps up to 1,000—pages of existing legislation, and bring measures together in a package that is easier to understand. I hope that it will also close many loopholes created by disparate pieces of legislation, some of it dating back to the 1800s and certainly much of it to the 1970s, which have enabled unscrupulous businesses to escape from the spirit of the law.
Given that many others wish to speak, I shall make only a couple of observations about part 3, which I believe should also be welcomed with open arms. For the first time, consumers and small businesses will be able to challenge anti-competitive practices. We all know, as consumers, that if a company does not quite deliver what it is supposed to deliver in the case of a low-value item bought on the internet or perhaps in a supermarket, it is futile to suggest that we should attempt single-handedly to argue that competition was not working effectively, or that monopolistic practices were involved. The Bill and the competition tribunal will make it a great deal easier for smaller businesses to get together, and consumers to get together, to ensure that their voice is heard, not by means of incredibly expensive court battles with corporate companies that have multi-million-pound budgets for lawyers, but by means of a simple and cost-effective tribunal route.
The principles that guide the Bill are the principles that will guide us further out of recession and further into economic growth. I very much hope that Opposition Members will support those principles. I also hope that any modifications that they seek to make will be proportionate, will have the consumer’s interests at heart, and will not overlook the fact that the purpose of the Bill is to enable fiercely competing businesses to drive down prices, giving citizens and consumers the choices that they need.