By Marcus Leach

A new independent body to adjudicate between suppliers and retailers and protect against unfair practices moved a step closer today. Consumer Minister Edward Davey published the draft Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill and invited pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill by Parliament.

Ministers are determined that suppliers should be protected against retailers passing on excessive risks or unexpected costs.

The Bill seeks to establish an adjudicator to monitor and enforce the Groceries Supply Code of Practice who will be able to:

- act as arbitrator in disputes between retailers and their direct suppliers
- start investigations about potential breaches of the Code based on complaints from suppliers and/or information in the public domain

“Preventing unfair practices and increasing certainty for suppliers will safeguard consumer interests, as large retailers won’t be able to take advantage of their position of power, as set out in the Code," consumer Minister Edward Davey said.

“This is an important step towards establishing the Groceries Code Adjudicator, which the Government is strongly committed to.”

Agriculture and Food Minister Jim Paice said:

“We want to see a food industry where farmers and food producers are getting a fair deal, and consumers can buy the high-quality, British food they want at a price they can afford.

“This Bill will give teeth to the Code of Practice, will mean that bad practice can be stamped out and that suppliers can raise legitimate disputes confidentially, and without the fear that they’ll be penalised for speaking up through lost business.”

In August 2010, the Government published its response to the consultation to take forward the establishment of a body to monitor and enforce the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP). This draft Bill is the result of this consultation and the Competition Commission’s Market Investigation on the Supply of Groceries in the UK.

Pre-legislative scrutiny will start the parliamentary process for enacting the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

As part of the Government’s commitment to increase transparency and accountability of Parliament to the public, the draft Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill is written in a way that helps wider understanding.

Without compromising on its legal clarity and force, the Government hopes that this is one of the easiest to understand Bills ever published. With the use of simple language, we hope that those affected by the legislation — such as Parliamentarians, interested groups and the public — will be able to engage more actively in the legislative process and understand the impacts of the Bill.