OFT post puts Enterprise Bill at risk

Link: Bankruptcy bill under Tory fire

Government whips were engaged in delicate behind-the-scenes negotiations in a bid to persuade either Tory or Liberal Democrat peers to accept a pledge that the leadership of the OFT be placed in the hands of a separate chairman and chief executive when existing director general John Vickers retires in 2005.

This would replace a weaker undertaking to review the position on Vickers’ departure, which the Opposition has already rejected.

It would only take one of the two parties to back down to allow the Bill through – an amendment requiring two individuals to occupy the two posts at the head of the OFT board was defeated by just 12 votes.

Plan ‘B’, sources suggested, was for DTI secretary Patricia Hewitt to back down today or tomorrow (Wednesday) when the issue will return to the Lords and secure the Bill as amended, with the disputed clause specifying separate chairman and chief executive posts – but not to actually appoint a chief executive.

It was not clear earlier what the reaction of the Tories and Liberal Democrats would be, but sources suggested the government needs to secure the Bill and is prepared to eat humble pie to do so.

The deadline for its final approval by both the Commons and the Lords is Thursday this week, when the Commons and Lords are due to be prorogued ahead of the next session of Parliament, which is due to begin with the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday next week.

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