Supermarket watchdog ‘in Queen’s Speech’

Plans for a supermarket ombudsman are expected to be included in the Queen’s Speech next week.

The government’s priorities for the coming parliamentary session will be outlined next Wednesday (9 May).

Politicians and farm leaders widely expect the parliamentary agenda to include plans for a Groceries Code Adjudicator.

“I don’t know how much this is public but we are expecting very firmly that it is in the Queen’s Speech,” said NFU president Peter Kendall.

There was still some way to go before the draft legislation was satisfactory, suggested Mr Kendall.

It was continuing to put pressure on the government to ensure that farmers were able to report complaints anonymously to an ombudsman, he said.

But the union had moved on from expecting an adjudicator to be granted the power to fine supermarkets and retail chains that abuse their position.

It was vital that farmers who had invested millions of pounds to supply supermarkets felt able to report abuses of power without fear of retribution, said Mr Kendall.

But he warned: “We have been told pretty clearly that the notion of what I’ve been calling ‘fines that hurt for abuses that hurt’ will be a facility of secondary legislation not primary legislation.”

This meant it was likely fines would only be introduced if a policy of “naming and shaming” didn’t prevent retail buyers from unfairly treating farmers.

Shadow farm minister Huw Irranca-Davies said the adjudicator must have the powers to do its job.

“The government must ensure not just that the groceries code adjudicator finally makes the statute book, but that it also has the powers to ensure a fair deal across the supply chain.

Labour wanted to see the bill introduced to parliament as early as possible after the Queen’s Speech and with sufficient powers to tackle abuses, said Mr Irranca-Davies.

“This means an adjudicator with the power to investigate the claims of trade associations or whistleblowers and to penalise companies who breach the code,” he said.

There was cross-party consensus to make this happen, supported by the House of Commons Business and EFRA select committees, added Mr Irranca-Davies.

“It is time for ministers to listen,” he said.

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