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Column 402There are some anxieties about the context in which the debate is taking place and I hope that the Leader of the House will realise that he has a duty to go away and think longer and harder about some of the longer-term issues that stand behind the proposals that we are considering.
Putting all that to one side, speaking for myself, I am willing to contemplate a fast-track procedure and I think that the Committee was right to propose it. I would add the qualification that it is essential, for the procedure to operate safely, that the House has ultimate control of the way in which the legislation and the new provisions are executed.
I say to the Leader of the House that I believe that an important factor in that--it may be a minor point--is that the Government should seriously consider offering the chairmanship of the Committee to an Opposition party. It is a special Committee and we must mark it out as a special Committee. The Leader of the House gave me an understandable response to my intervention, that the usual channels will dispose of questions such as that. From my perspective as someone who plays a minor part in the usual channels, I am not convinced that that will not be lost in the normal carve -up of perfectly ordinary and acceptable party interests. It will simply be lost.
I believe that the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is right in saying that the Committee should be set slightly apart from Select Committees. One of the ways that we can slightly set it apart--it is done in terms of the Public Accounts Committee and it works perfectly well in that regard--is to select and nominate a chairman from the Opposition ranks.
Mr. William Ross : The hon. Gentleman said that he was hoping that the Chairman would come from a minority party, or rather from an Opposition party. How many minority party Members does he think will be on that Committee ?
We can have an argument about the rights and the balances and the opportunities that minority parties have--and as shop steward for the minority parties on the Committee of Selection I try to do my best, within the confines of the contest between the two major parties, to protect our interests ; however, although I accept what the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) said, my argument is slightly different. By virtue of our allowing the chairmanship to fall into the hands of the Opposition parties, the Committee will be given a certain distinction. Such a move would set the Committee apart and give the House added protection in the sense that the Committee would not then be driven simply by the perceptions, needs and desires of the Executive, which is a significant worry.
If the Government are not willing to do that, and if they are not willing to put proper safeguards into the fast-track procedure, which gives the House some sense that it has ultimate control, they will fail in what they are setting out to do. That would be a retrograde step.
I hope that the Leader of the House will consider the longer-term issues as well as some of the shorter-term ones. In particular, I hope that he will give some added thought to the question of offering the chairmanship to a party that is outwith the party of government, because if those Committees are to be enshrined for all time, Governments will come and Governments will go. I know the Leader of the House well enough to trust him. I do not
Column 403subscribe to the conspiracy theory that the procedure will be taken over and used in some nefarious way for Government political purposes. I do not believe that in the current context, but we cannot say that that will not change in future Parliaments, with different incumbents in the office that he holds. He must tackle those genuine anxieties to assure the House that that is being done properly. 8.48 pm
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead) : That was a terribly disappointing close to the hon. Gentleman's speech, and I think that he might have been better informed about the true nature of the measures and the procedural infrastructure that is being instituted this evening to bring the measures into effect. If the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) had been here last night or this evening, he would have been better informed. He at least was able to see the beast face to face.
Although the Government have fielded some jolly decent coves this evening, and have shown us a decent face--although, as one paragraph made clear, the report is not as nice as the person who introduced it looks--the measures are an affront to the constitution. They are an abuse of democracy. That is something that has not been fully reflected during a debate in which we have ranged very widely : we have had the latest battle in the hundred years war over Britain's membership of the European Union ; the Jopling report ; and all sorts of other essentially extraneous issues.
What we are talking about is the procedural infrastructure to give the Government what have been described as Henry VIII powers, so draconian are those powers in relation to Parliament and to the further accretion of control on the part of an Executive who have done more than enough over the past 15 years to lead us to conclude that their purpose is ignoble. The Government's accretion of executive powers is an ignoble crusade, however nice the gentlemen sent here to argue for it may have been.
I said in the Committee that considered the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill that the Government were ill advised to choose Henry VIII as a role model at this parlous time in the Conservative party's political history. Henry VIII was a mass murderer ; he was a serial adulterer, leaving what I think are known as love children all over the country ; he disposed of parliamentary and any other opposition in the most brutal and undemocratic fashion. He even tucked his trousers into his socks. They were not actually trousers--more a kind of frock. But perhaps I had better not go further down that line.
All in all, Henry VIII was a very unsavoury character in British history. It is inappropriate for any Government in a modern democracy to be bent on taking powers so dictatorial that they have now become known universally as Henry VIII powers. From some mail received today I see that the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists is to bring Henry VIII back to life with a personal appearance, including axes and stocks, on Westminster bridge at 11.15 tomorrow. No doubt the country's media will be there in force.
We are talking about giving a discredited Executive, a discredited Cabinet, a discredited Government, draconian
Column 404powers to dispose of primary legislation that the House, in its proper way, has passed in years gone by. This is no laughing matter. A reading of the speeches of the hon. Member for Aldridge- Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and of other Conservative Members during the Second Reading debate on the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill makes it clear that attitudes to the constitutional aspects of this matter are shared by Members on both sides of the House and will be shared in another place. I, for one, am not at all sure that the other place will tamely roll over to the constitutional implications. I come now to the very emollient and gentlemanly discourse that the Chairman of the Procedure Committee gave at the beginning of the debate. In the few minutes available to me I shall deal with one or two aspects of it. The idea that we can be satisfied with the proposals that the Procedure Committee has come up with, especially with regard to the issue of the chairmanship, simply will not wash. The very decent Leader of the House made it clear by implication that an Opposition Member will not chair the Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), in an intervention today and repeatedly in Committee, elicited, by implication, the answer that there will be a Chairman's sift. There is to be a Conservative placeman in the Chair, and that Chairman will have power to sift. There will be a majority of Government placemen, as is clear from responses to interventions during this debate. There will therefore be no real protection whatever.
I am very sure that the usual procedures, the Government's powers of patronage, fear of the Whips and the inducement of promotion and of other favours will be such that the Minister bringing forward a deregulation proposal will manage, no doubt with 40 or 60 days' huffing and puffing but ultimately with very little difficulty, to get it through by partisan vote. After that, we shall have only a 90-minute debate at the end of the evening, when the press have gone home and the nation sleeps. Primary legislation will be swept away as the Whips whip the majority through the Lobbies.
This is a coarsening, cheapening and brutalising of the procedures of the House of Commons that sits well with the coarsening, cheapening and brutalising project that the deregulation legislation itself represents. The legislation chips away yet more of the edifice of civilised British society. This is the necessary concurrent procedural infrastructure. I am very disappointed at the tame response of the Liberal party, as enunciated by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, whom I admire very much and with whom I very rarely disagree. It will not be the tame response of the Labour party. We reject these proposals, as we reject the Bill.
The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tim Sainsbury) : Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman, in the course of his hyperbolic defence of democracy, that the reason for others taking a different view is that, unlike him, they think that deregulation is a good idea ?
Mr. Galloway : If it is a good idea, why cannot it be brought to the Floor of the House with debate on an annual deregulation Bill ? If it is such a good idea, it would no doubt stand the test of parliamentary democracy and would be approved by a majority of the House after due debate. If it is such a good idea, let the Government put it to the test. The truth is that it is a rotten idea, at least in so far as
Column 405it exists in the minds of Ministers, who are engaging in the exercise at the behest of vested interests, many of whom have stuffed the Conservative party's coffers with gold in exchange for deregulation measures.
It is because it is such a rotten idea that the Government want to push these things through in a 90-minute debate, after normal parliamentary business and while the nation sleeps. The purpose is to dispose of the business as quickly and in as much shadow as possible. This is to be done precisely because it is a rotten idea conceived by the rotten lot opposite.
There is undoubtedly legislation that should, and could easily in a bipartisan way, be dispensed with. We could take a couple of hours upstairs night after night and, with the statute book in front of us, agree among ourselves that this or that piece of legislation is no longer necessary. However, we know that this project, this bonfire--how inappropriate that term may turn out to be in the context of the deregulation of fire protection with which we dealt last night--of civilised society in Britain is something that the Government would prefer to hold very quickly and quietly and, if possible, when no one is looking.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) : I shall be brief because I know that several of my colleagues wish to contribute to the debate. It is a privilege to be able to take up the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), for what he said was essentially correct. It is true that the entire exercise that we are debating is ideologically driven. It is true also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said, that if the Government wanted to clear away the legislative undergrowth they could do so annually in a deregulation Bill. They could repeal redundant legislation by that means.
I smiled wryly to myself when the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) made his ignorant contribution. We know from the Minister and his ministerial colleagues--this was made clear in Committee--that 71 per cent. of the regulations that the Government want to sweep away were introduced since 1979. They are Conservative, not Labour, regulations. A full fifth of the regulations have been introduced since November 1990, when the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) moved into No. 10. The idea that satanic socialists from previous Administrations are responsible for all the regulations is nonsense.
Who will chair the Deregulation Committee ? It should be a member of one of the Opposition parties. The Chairman will have the power to sift. He will decide what goes to the full Committee. In Committee, the Minister said that the Government
"do not intend to introduce many draft orders initially. We shall begin with a small number, depending on how many proposals the new Committee wished to inquire into in greater detail. That aspect may not have been appreciated. We anticipate that a Chairman's sift would identify those which the Committee wished to spend time on, or call witnesses to, or have further papers on."--[ Official Report , Standing Committee F, 24 February 1994 ; c. 231.]
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, who is not in his place, gave evidence to the Procedure Committee. He said :
"For example, if a procedure were adopted that did entail a sift, a chairman's sift, of the kind that exists under some other
Column 406arrangements, or perhaps a sift by a sub- committee to decide which one seemed not to require a great deal of attention by the proposed new committee and others which really did require some investigation, then there would be the possibility, for example, that the Government would put forward a number which appeared, on the face of it, unlikely to be felt by the committee to require a major investigation."
So the role of the Chairman and the Chairman's sift is crucial.
I move on to the evidence that was given to the Procedure Committee by no less a person than the Clerk of the House, Sir Clifford Boulton. He was asked specifically about the proprieties of the Chairman's sift by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire). She wanted to know whether it was established procedure in the House for a Chairman to act on a Committee's authority without the Committee actually meeting. Sir Clifford said :
"it is . . . not the practice of our Committees to give devolved powers to the Chairman and then ask for some kind of restrospective approval of action he had taken, if that was going to go to the extent of certifying to the Leader of the House that the Committee would not be bothering with certain proposals or something like that."
Later, he said :
"our Committees do not have power to sub-delegate authority to the Chairman."
Sir Peter Emery : May I make it absolutely clear to the hon. Gentleman that there was no intention in any aspect of the recommendation in the Procedure Committee's report that anything but every regulation should go to the complete Committee for its consideration ? That is absolute. It is most important that the hon. Gentleman should realise that that was the Committee's judgment.
Mr. Prentice : It has not been thought through. One of the problems was that the Standing Committee which was considering the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill was running in parallel with the Select Committee on Procedure and the latter could not realistically be expected to know what was being discussed and being debated in the Standing Committee. I forget the number of occasions on which we were speculating on what would be the response of the Procedure Committee. We did not know because the Procedure Committee had not got round to dealing with the matters with which we were wrestling in the Standing Committee.
I say to the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) that a fundamental contradiction exists. If there are a large number of deregulation orders and lots of legislative undergrowth needs to be cut and hacked down, there has to be a Chairman's sift. If there are not many deregulation orders, why bother in the first place ? The whole thing is ideologically driven.
I shall say bluntly what, perhaps, my hon. Friends would not say. I do not think that the Procedure Committee report measures up. It falls far short of what we are entitled to expect from such a senior Committee of the House. The genesis of the proposal was in the minds of Conservative Members who could not conceive of Britain ever electing
Column 407anything other than a Conservative Government. It was Conservatism in perpetuity. After the local elections and after what happens next month, Conservative Members ought to start considering--not chortling--that the boot may be on the other foot.
Mr. Prentice : I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has considered that. It is a problem that we are considering tomorrow in the final stages of a Bill that will dramatically alter the constitutional landscape of the country. The report that we are discussing does not measure up to that.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood) : We are, in a sense, discussing clause 4 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill tonight. Clause 4 has a certain history in the annals of my party and I suspect that the present clause 4 will acquire a certain historical significance in the annals of the Conservative party. Perhaps it was because Conservative Members had been in power too long that they thought that the time had come when they could start to legislate by order. They began to get worried, because people--some in the other place, some constitutional lawyers outside and, indeed, some citizens--said that they did not think that they should proceed like that, and, if they did, there would be certain consequences. So Conservative Members thought to themselves, "Well, we had better introduce a certain parliamentary device to make it all right and to legitimise what we want to do." So clause 4 was introduced. Clause 4 refers to the role of Parliament in the order-making process. There will be a device for parliamentary consideration and it is, of course, that device, that clause 4 mechanism, that we are being asked to consider. I believe that that mechanism will acquire a significance when the current period is considered, as our own clause 4 has over the years.
I want to consider the Procedure Committee report at face value. I shall not say what the report should have contained or, as some of my hon. Friends have said, how it is inadequate generally and that its genesis has problems. I shall take it as it comes because, remember, it is the device that we are being offered to make the process of the Government doing what they wish all right.
In its own terms, the Committee tried to do that. Indeed, it came up with what it called five safeguards, which, if any hon. Member would care to consider them, are in paragraph 102. Those safeguards are the bottom line that the Committee offers the House as the device to make the process all right. I will not read out all five of those safeguards as they are in the report.
However, it is most revealing that two of those extremely important safeguards have been rejected by the Government. They are : "the Deregulation Committee should have the power to summon Ministers to give evidence."
"a Deregulation Committee report that the order-making power should not be used for a specific deregulation proposal would prevent a final deregulation order being laid".
The Government rejected that and said that they would prefer to use the process in relation to draft orders rather than proposals. [Interruption.] The Chairman of the
Column 408Procedure Committee wants to know whether that is correct. He seems to be asking the Leader of the House whether that is correct.
Dr. Wright : That is very interesting. Time is short, but I simply advise the right hon. Gentleman to consider the Government's reply contained in paragraphs 15 to 18, which state precisely what I have just described.
The Procedure Committee report refers to the importance that the Committee attaches to the rejection power. Paragraph 64 states : "We recommend that, if the Deregulation Committee reports that the order-making power should not be used in respect of a specific deregulation proposal, no deregulation order should be laid before the House in respect of that proposal."
That could not be clearer. It is a bottom-line demand in relation to the safeguards that are being suggested, but the Government have rejected that bottom-line demand.
We have five safeguards, but two of them have been rejected. In addition, the Procedure Committee's report states that the existing Government suggestions do not go far enough and paragraph 104 states very clearly :
"We recommend that acceptance of these recommendations should be signified by the Government before the third reading of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill in this House."
There we have it.
There is a clear declaration that the order-making machinery is acceptable to the Procedure Committee only if those five safeguards are met and the acceptance is given before the Third Reading of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill. However, two of the five safeguards have been rejected and we are to have Third Reading tomorrow. The Chairman of the Procedure Committee may be happy with that. Indeed, the House may be happy with that. However, I warn against the consequences of having embarked on a road of providing protections, but having two of those fundamental protections rejected, and then still pressing on.
I have raised important points and I want briefly to add a further point. During consideration of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill we offered the Government several tests of good faith. One test asked whether the Government were sure that nothing controversial would be introduced under the order-making power. We were not given that assurance in Committee. The Leader of the House seemed to give that assurance tonight, but there is great uncertainty about that point.
The Government do not know whether the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill is a little Bill or a big Bill. If it is a big Bill, the order-making power is not appropriate. If it is a little Bill, how on earth can it deliver the promise of deregulation ? That is the contradiction which is more exposed the more we talk about it. The Government would not respond to the tests of good faith that we put to them.
When we asked that certain key areas of protection, such as health and safety and employment protection, be written into the Bill so that they could not be included in the order-making powers, the Government refused to do so. They failed that test of good faith. We asked the Government to accept in full the Procedure Committee's report. We specifically asked the Government to accept the recommendation of the Procedure Committee if it said that it was not appropriate
Column 409to use the order-making power for a particular proposal. That was one of the Committee's five recommendations, but the Government rejected it. All tests of good faith, such as the suggestion about an annual renewal of the Bill, were rejected. Yet we are being asked by the Chairman of the Procedure Committee to say that it is all right and that we can proceed nevertheless.
I am tempted to conclude my remarks here, but I want to go a little further. I cannot really join in the paeans that some of my hon. Friends have delivered to the normal legislative process in the House. I wish that there were enough time for me to share all the information that I have with the House. However, I will share some and my hon. Friends can tell me when to stop.
I have just emerged from the Committee which considered the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill--which I suppose in one sense is an untypical Bill, but in another sense is very typical. It is the first big Bill that I have considered in Committee in this place. I hear regular descriptions in the House--I have heard them today--of the glories of the legislative process. Frankly, it is an illusion ; it is self-delusion. It is a collective delusion of the Parliament. We have been rumbled outside, but in here I presume that we still believe this sort of thing.
I have made a quick analysis of exactly what happened with the deregulation Bill in Committee. The Committee sat from 15 February until 28 April. We sat for 35 sessions and for 88 hours. About 200 amendments were moved. Shall I give the House the terrible details ? The 100 amendments moved by the Government went through and two of ours went through. One of those was passed because the Whip on the other side was asleep--I hope that it will not do irreparable damage to his political advancement. I am giving the House only the barest details.
I am afraid that this is the reality of the legislative process in the House. It is a case of Members not being present, Members conducting business in the corridors, being summoned by bells and doing their correspondence in Committee. The textbooks call it "scrutiny". It is an hilarious situation, and the hilarity was compounded when the Bill came back to the House last night. We spent many hours in Committee talking about markets. We explained to the Government that we thought that we needed new liberalising legislation to clear away some of the antique provisions and to regulate where unregulated markets were causing trouble. We were assured that this was not an issue at all and that the thing to do was simply abolish charter market rights. Of course, all hon. Members from the Government party voted happily for that provision when the bell rang and they were required to do so.
After that process was completed, the Minister came into the House last night and told us that what we had said all along was right and that it would be sensible to bring in some new provisions. But this did not happen as a result of scrutiny in the House or because of the legislative process ; it happened because the Opposition could not get away with it. That is the only way that changes are made. To make it even worse, there was a new provision about racing which had never been discussed in Committee and which had had no scrutiny at all. The Minister said that he was sorry that the matter had not been not consulted upon, but it was introduced and passed. That is the reality of the legislative process.
Mr. Bennett : I accept the cynical view which my hon. Friend is putting forward, but I would suggest that, on markets, perhaps spending those 80 hours in Committee did something useful. While the Committee was consuming time, an awful lot of people were lobbying outside. Therefore, while the scrutiny in the House may not have been very effective, the scrutiny in the country perhaps was.
I have a certain ambivalence about the whole matter. In some ways, I find the new scrutiny machinery quite interesting. I do not like it in so far as it allows Ministers to legislate by order, but in so far as it begins to address some of the problems with the normal legislative process in the House, I begin to get interested.
Mr. Spearing : Is my hon. Friend aware that, for 10 or 15 years, those who understand what he has been saying have made strong efforts to introduce a public Bill procedure where, prior to the legislative procedure of amendments, Ministers appear as witnesses in a Select Committee format to justify their Bill ? Does my hon. Friend agree that that would improve things enormously ?
There is a reform agenda, and there is no difficulty in knowing what we ought to do. The Hansard Society produced the definitive reform agenda for the legislative process two years ago. The weight of evidence which came in from every part of society to that learned commission showed that there was massive and profound dissatisfaction with the way in which this place operates.
The society produced an agenda for reform which incorporated some of the ideas which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) mentioned, and it included First Reading Committees and a wider consultative process. Those ideas were available to us. The tragedy is that the House is not taking advantage of them. I am not going back to the Jopling report, because I do not think that Jopling begins to go far enough. However, I shall quote from the Leader of House, who said on 2 July 1992 in reference to a debate on the Jopling report on the following Monday :
"I hope that the debate . . . will pave the way for the House to reach some decisions very soon after it returns in the autumn."--[ Official Report , 2 July 1992 ; Vol. 210, c. 964.]
That was two years ago.
Of course, the problem is that the House seems incapable of reforming itself. Everyone outside knows that we have to do that, but the House seems incapable of understanding that.
A result of our not acting in this case is that we will allow an order- making power to be introduced. We will do it in a way which does not have adequate safeguards built in, and which does not incorporate the safeguards which were suggested by the Procedure Committee. More important, the House is refusing to reform its own procedures in a sensible and comprehensive way.
Worst of all is that the House does not care about this at all. Tomorrow night, hon. Members will troop through to vote for the Third Reading of the Bill which has
Column 411inadequate protections. The Government will have got the Bill, but the House will have fallen a further notch in the public's esteem. 9.23 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : The deregulation Bill will not solve the problem of the number of regulations produced by the Government. I have some sympathy on that score with the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), although I think he missed the point about the sheer number of regulations that Ministers produce. While the debate was going on I slipped out to the Board to collect my agenda for the Select and Joint Statutory Instrument Committees, just to see the number of instruments that we shall have to scrutinise next week. There are more than 30 of them, and the Government turn out that many week after week.
Last year the Government introduced more than 3,000 sets of new regulations and already this year the number has reached more than 1, 000. Although the Government continually churn out regulations, Ministers do have a choice. They have tried to tell people that, because there is too much regulation, they intend to introduce a deregulation Bill--but the Bill is irrelevant to the problem. They have therefore tried to devise a new parliamentary procedure which I would suggest is wholly inadequate, as was the whole Procedure Committee report. It did not even consider the crucial issues. Most regulations confer freedom on one group of people and restrictions on another group. I therefore can see no constitutional difference between a Bill that deregulates and a Bill that regulates.
Mr. William Ross : The hon. Gentleman has forgotten to point out that many of the pieces of legislation that we scrutinise in Committee every week are defective, so we often have to look at them twice or three times before the Government get them right. Does he agree that if Departments did their work properly there would be a great deal less work for us ?
If the Government will go along with my proposal for new legislation, I will accept that the procedure they propose is reasonable. Let us imagine, in the next Parliament, that an Act is passed to allow, by regulation, for the safety and good governance of the United Kingdom, and to ensure the fair distribution of wealth and power. If we passed such an Act and then proceeded by regulation to achieve those ends, would the Conservatives think that that was a fair use of parliamentary procedure ? I suspect not. But that has not stopped the Government arming themselves with sweeping powers to make legislation under the terms of our accession to the European Union. The sort of Act that I have described might provide my constituents with much speedier remedies for many of the problems that they face. Still, I think that it would be constitutionally unacceptable. The Chairman of the Procedure Committee said that deregulation measures should be treated like primary
Column 412legislation. If so, I find it puzzling that the Committee failed to analyse the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that there be a deregulation Bill every year. I believe that such a Bill, scrutinised on the Floor of the House, would take up less time than the proposed new procedures might take. We are told that there is a possibility of 20 or 30 deregulation orders. Assuming that many of them are controversial, that would mean an hour and a half for each, or 30 or 40 hours of parliamentary time. If there were a deregulation Bill, it would mean some six hours for a Second Reading. A small group of people would discuss the Bill, possibly for a long time, in Committee. There would then be 10 or 12 hours for Report and Third Reading. So in terms of efficient use of parliamentary time, an annual deregulation Bill would be a more efficient procedure than the hybrid mess that the Procedure Committee has come up with.
The main safeguard of a proper piece of legislation would be the amount of time that would be taken. I tend to accept the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) that the time spent in Committee often is not very useful. But while that time is being consumed, debate often takes place outside. Groups of people lobby Ministers and come to see individual Members of Parliament. It is an important part of the parliamentary process that a certain amount of time is taken up. One of the problems with the deregulation measure is that the time will be compressed, and there is a possibility that things can be stampeded through.
On the proposals for markets, I find it remarkable that, although I spoke to one or two of my constituents when the Bill was first published, only in the past fortnight have a substantial number of letters begun to come in. We are talking about almost six months from its publishing to this stage. It is a sad fact, but in a democracy it takes a lot of time for the information to be disseminated to the country. One of the fatal flaws of the procedure suggested is that it does not allow sufficient time for trade associations, trade unions and lobbying groups to get the information out to their members, find out whether people are concerned and start the lobbying process. We are told that, under the new procedure, 40 days will be allowed. If the Committee thinks that the matter is more extensive, it can be extended to 60 days.
Mr. Newton : I am beginning to wonder increasingly whether some hon. Members who are making speeches--I say this with due deference to the hon. Gentleman--have read the proposals. No proposal goes to the Deregulation Committee unless it has already been the subject of consultation, and a report on the outcome of that consultation is made to the Committee with the proposal.
Mr. Bennett : Who does one consult ? The proposal will not be widely publicised. I find it amazing that the Leader of the House does not understand what happens with the general public. There is a substantial time lag. One can write to a particular group if one knows that a regulation affects a trade union or an industry, but that is the limit of the consultation. Only when it gets into the public domain do people become concerned about it.
If the Government are saying that there will be a 12-month process from the point at which a Minister proposes the deregulation to the point at which the order goes through, they might as well go along with the
Column 413proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood to have a deregulation Bill each Parliament. The only excuse for the procedure is that it is supposed to be a short cut--a quicker way of doing it than having legislation. The Government cannot have it both ways. If there is to be all the consultation and safeguards that I think there should be, they might as well do it through primary legislation rather than their intended short-cut.