Their comments come just days after Albert Owen’s Private Members’ Bill – the Grocery Market Ombudsman Bill – failed to make it into the ‘wash-up’ period in which Bills can be fast-tracked through parliament before it is officially dissolved. The Bill will effectively disappear now that parliament has been dissolved and any new legislation on a supermarket ombudsman must be started from scratch.
However, “it is not entirely clear that we will need new legislation to bring about the kind of ombudsman that we would like to see”, said a Conservative Party spokesman. “An independent ombudsman within the Office of Fair Trading, for example, could fall under The Enterprise Act. If this is the case, then a supermarket ombudsman could be set up very quickly indeed, as its establishment would not be slowed down by legislative demands.
“Establishing a supermarket ombudsman would be top priority for a Conservative government and we are clear that we would like to see it instituted as quickly as possible.”
However, the Tories would also like to see a cap set on the size of business that an ombudsman would protect to make sure it was firmly focused on small to medium sized suppliers rather than multinational branded manufacturers that were “often bigger than the supermarkets themselves”, he added.
Second time lucky
Albert Owen, Labour MP for Ynys Môn, said that he was disappointed his Bill had not made it into the wash-up period. “But I have to be realistic, there were other pressing issues that needed resolving in this short period. But I do feel that the Bill will act as a good vehicle for moving the legislation forward.”
Liberal Democrat MP and chairman of the Grocery Market Action Group Andrew George, agreed that although the Bill had not made it through Parliament, he was “very confident that the establishment of a supermarket ombudsman is now high on the political agenda”.
Despite the Bill’s popularity with MPs of all parties, it has failed to gain support from The British Retail Consortium, which claimed that the consumer would ultimately end up paying for it. This “unnecessarily piles on costs and pushes up shop prices”, argued a spokesman. He also agreed that, if established, a cap should be set on the size of businesses covered.
The Food and Drink Federation, however, said that it looked forward to working with the next government to ensure the ombudsman operated as an “effective, low cost monitoring and enforcement body”.