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Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, under the European Communities Act 1972, the directive could have been transposed into law without the full range of scrutiny that the Bill allows? My history is sufficiently good for me to remember that the 1972 Act was introduced by a Conservative Government. Surely the hon. Gentleman accepts the assurances given by my right hon. Friend, and admits that we will have much more detailed and effective scrutiny of the system than would have been the case if the directive had simply been implemented in its own right.

Mr. Burns: The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that when we went into Europe--the votes were taken in 1971

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and 1972--it was under a Conservative Government with the support of, I think, 69 Labour Members of Parliament--

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North): Sixty-eight.

Mr. Burns: I think that the hon. Gentleman is forgetting the deputy leader of the Labour party, who resigned his position as a result of that vote.

The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) may be right to say that the Government and the previous Government would have had the choice of introducing the measure under the 1972 Act or through primary legislation. I believe that the Government have taken the right decision to use primary legislation in the House, rather than implementing the system under the 1972 legislation, which would have produced three competing regimes.

My complaint is not that the Government are using primary legislation, but that the primary legislation is simply a series of clauses giving the Secretary of State unlimited powers to issue orders and regulations in the future to flesh out what I believe should be written into the Bill. I cannot think of any other legislation of this nature that has come before the House under any Government which is so much a skeleton to be fleshed out by secondary legislation.

The present Secretary of State may have benign intentions and may use the legislation wisely--I do not question that. However, it remains to be seen whether his successors can be relied on to do the same. The claim that the Government would never dream of using the powers to harm industry or agriculture may or may not be true, but, sadly, in the real world, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation commented:

I welcome the initiatives in another place to improve the Bill so that it meets that aim. That strikes me as a common-sense way to amend the Bill at an earlier state. However, it does not contribute to good environmental practice if businesses are forced to operate under conditions of great uncertainty about the legislative framework.

One of the problems with regulation in general is that it often encourages organisations to adopt a culture of minimum compliance--they comply to the letter with regulations, but make no effort to improve their activities further. That is human nature and not an unreasonable attitude.

Organisations look to the Government to provide a definition of what constitutes responsible environmental practice. If they are faced with an ever-changing vista of laws and regulations, they will not know where they stand. What is acceptable environmental practice one day could, under the Bill, become unacceptable within weeks.

There is no obligation on the Secretary of State to engage in proper consultations, despite clause 2(4). It may be the Secretary of State's intention to widen the consultations, and I welcome the fact that in another place the Government accepted an amendment on the consultation process to include agriculture in the specified

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organisations and bodies that were to be consulted. However, after a Government have gone through the process of consultation, there is nothing to oblige them to take account of the representations that they receive. That is why--[Interruption.]

Mr. Burns: The Under-Secretary rather demeans her post by making sedentary comments such as that.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson): I pose again the question that I put to the hon. Gentleman from a sedentary position: what is the point of consulting if one does not listen to the responses of the consultees? That might have been the country's experience under the previous Administration, but it is not its experience under this Government.

Mr. Burns: I do not want to fall foul of the rules of debate, but the Minister might like to have a word with the disability groups in her constituency because, in the light of the vote before the Whitsun recess, I do not think that disability groups in this country think that the Government go through meaningful consultations and listen to their representations.

We are not calling for an end to environmental legislation. On the contrary, one of our chief criticisms of the Government is that, despite making a raft of promises to improve on the UK's already excellent record, they have yet to produce a major piece of environmental legislation. Sadly, the Bill is not proper, fully fleshed out environmental legislation, but simply a framework--a skeleton for the Secretary of State to build on through secondary legislation.

Our case is simple: important decisions should be subject to appropriate scrutiny, but we do not believe that that will happen under the Bill. For example, I invited the Minister for the Environment to intervene to discuss clause 2(7). Would he or the junior Minister be kind enough to give a simple explanation of what that provision means? We may have misread it, which is why it is important to have clarification. Could the negative resolution procedure be used in respect of draft regulations that are laid before the House? If so, that significantly undermines what the Minister has said about use of the affirmative resolution procedure.

Mr. Meacher: In the past several minutes, the hon. Gentleman has made a number of statements that simply do not stand up to scrutiny. First, he expressed doubts about the consultation. Clause 2(4) states:

That seems to me to be as extensive a pattern of consultation as one could ever ask for.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman said that he wants every matter to be dealt with in primary legislation; my point is that business would prefer flexibility. A set of regulations relating to the needs of industry is likely to be far more flexible than primary legislation, which, as he knows, is difficult to amend.

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Thirdly, my statement on parliamentary scrutiny stands. If the hon. Gentleman wants information, clause 2(9) refers to cases that have to be approved by affirmative resolution. Otherwise, clause 2(7) provides a choice between the negative or the affirmative procedure, but none of that diminishes the point that I made, and that statement stands.

Mr. Burns: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but may I press him a little further? He rightly draws attention to clause 2(9), but used the word "otherwise" in respect of clause 2(7). Will non-draft orders made under subsection (7) be subject to the negative resolution procedure, and will other orders have to be made subject to the affirmative resolution procedure? That is the nub of the matter. Is there any way--are there any circumstances--in which regulations made under subsection (9) could be subject to the negative resolution procedure?

Mr. Meacher: I was correct to remain seated when first challenged because the further we proceed with what is supposed to be a Second Reading debate, the more we get into the kind of detailed and precise argument that normally takes place in Committee. I will answer the hon. Gentleman's question briefly, but he is abusing the procedures of the House by making such arguments now.

All the cases specified in clause 2(9) have to be decided by affirmative resolution. The position is somewhat different under clause 2(7), which provides that there should be a choice between either the negative or the affirmative procedure, but I have made it clear that we accept that it would be correct to use the affirmative procedure for making important changes to provisions in the Environmental Protection Act 1990. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Perhaps I can help the House. It is not an abuse for any matter to be raised during a Second Reading debate, but it is certainly customary for such debates to be confined to points of general issue and principle.

Mr. Burns: I will move on now, although that point is fundamental.

Mr. Gray: Before my hon. Friend moves on, which he says he is about to do, does he agree that the Minister and the junior Minister made great play of the consultation process that they have gone through? Is he aware of the letter from the Federation of Small Businesses, which states:

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