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Mr. Lansley: It is no criticism of the hon. Gentleman's Committee that the Government have not chosen to put orders before it, nor is the reasoned amendment a criticism of the scrutiny carried out by that Committee. It is a criticism of the Bill.
We believe that the Bill is inadequate because the proposed consultation outside Parliament is inadequate. Scrutiny is also inadequate because of the limits on the nature of the material to be provided in the document to be laid before Parliament; and notwithstanding what the
Mr. Pike: I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, but his remarks are misjudged and give a mistaken impression of the Bill. However, we are debating that matter here and there will be further debate in Committee.
The hon. Gentleman's view is that the Bill will add to regulation, not deregulation. Importantly, however, two main changes dealing specifically with that point were made in the other place, and such matters were of concern both to the Deregulation Committee and to its opposite number in the other place and Lord Alexander of Weedon, its Chairman. There is excellent liaison between the Committees and their members maintain a good relationship--they know what we are doing, we know what they are doing and the two Chairmen correspond. Although we do not always exactly agree, we try to work together to ensure that we are doing the job that we are there to do.
In all fairness to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, who will make the winding-up speech, he told the Committee that the Government, after further consideration, would accept amendments in the other place to change and improve the balance between regulation and deregulation, and we were glad to hear that. As a result, amendments were made in clause 1 to introduce a major restraint; it is now essential that provision must be included so as to reduce or remove burdens. There will therefore be a balance, so that the main purpose is the consideration of such reduction or removal. That point is extremely important.
There has been no example of a better scrutinised draft Bill. There has never been better liaison between the Department that produced the Bill and the Committee that considered it in draft. A consultation paper was issued. The Committee made known its views to the Government. They responded, and the Committee replied to that response. We then considered the draft Bill. There has been every opportunity to express our views.
There may not have been 100 per cent. agreement with every provision, but the Government have moved a long way and have taken cognisance of the constructive proposals made by the Deregulation Committee. Indeed, last week we produced our first special report of this Session--"The Handling of Regulatory Reform Orders". That follows the publication of a report by the Lords Committee after the completion of the Bill's passage through that place.
I am the only Member who has been on the Committee since it was established--I joined it on day one--and I am not sure whether that is a reward or a punishment. I have chaired the Committee since 1997.
At one point, I even asked a parliamentary question asking whether our Committee was a deregulation Committee or a gambling and bingo Committee, because most of the measures that we dealt with before the election were on precisely those matters.
All along, the Committee has said that it is time there was some uniformity of age as regards soft gambling--for bingo, lottery tickets and so on. We have still not achieved that, so there is more to be done.
The most important measure that we dealt with was one that most people would not even notice--banks and cheque truncation. That measure was to be implemented in two stages--I am not sure whether the second has been fully implemented--and it means that when a cheque is paid into one branch it does not have to go back to the branch where it originated. In these days of modern technology, it was nonsense for millions of cheques to move around the country every day. That must have cost financial institutions--and, ultimately, their customers--a great deal of money.
Our original fears about how the legislation and the Select Committee would work very soon proved totally unfounded. As I said in an earlier intervention, we did our job strictly as any Select Committee would do. At the end of the day, after a lot of debate and discussion on some issues, we reached unanimous decisions on every item that we considered before the election. Indeed, in all our time as a Committee, we have divided on only one measure. We did so after the election, on a measure about which the employers and the trade unions agreed, involving a change in the trade union check-off provisions--but the Opposition decided to vote against the proposal at the last minute.
The Committee already provides good scrutiny. It is a good system; it has been proved to work, and good consultation is tied up with it. There is a good procedure of reporting to the House and debating any matter on which the Committee divides. Indeed, the House had to debate the check-off provisions because the Committee had divided on them. That was totally different from the procedure of European Standing Committees A and B when they were set up. They could amend a Government motion, but the Government could still table the original motion in the Chamber, and the House would have to agree to it without debate, forthwith. That is nonsensical, because the fact that a Committee has amended a motion should be reported to the House. Of course the Government always have the right to reamend the motion so that it states what they originally wanted. When I was a member of European Standing Committee A, I thought it nonsense that its proposals could be totally ignored and a motion different from the one agreed could be tabled in the Chamber, and agreed with a Division, if necessary, but without debate. So the Select Committee's procedure is good.
Right from the day after the general election, when I became Chairman of the Select Committee, its view and that of all my hon. Friends has been that it has not had enough business. The Committee has been disappointed about that and has tried to ensure that more proposals come before it. Indeed, we have met every Minister who has been involved, and they share our concern; they also want more proposals to go before the Committee. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) laughs, but that happens to be true.
The Labour party is in favour of doing something, but the participation of Conservative Members on the Committee has been almost nil. The hon. Member for Weston- super-Mare (Mr. Cotter) nods, because he has taken a full part in the proceedings from the Liberal Democrat Benches. Indeed, I wrote to the Conservative Chief Whip, because the Committee was extremely worried that the Conservative Members were not taking part in its proceedings. One Member no longer wants to be a member of the Committee, but has not been replaced to this day. So, far from being advocates and campaigners for deregulation, the Tories have been backward in that work.
The then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), was concerned from the start. Indeed, we looked at the position, and it was agreed at a fairly early date that a consultation paper should be issued. Unfortunately, that was not done as speedily as one would have hoped, but it was ultimately issued. I met my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), when he was the Minister dealing with deregulation issues, and he too was anxious that we should increase the Committee's work load and encourage more Departments to put matters before it.
One of the effects of the Committee's not having enough work is that its staffing has been reduced--not in calibre, but certainly in number. That point must be addressed if the Bill makes progress and if the Committee's work load increases.
The Committee called my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields to give evidence and we had a good evidence-taking session. The chairman of the better regulation taskforce, Lord Haskins, also came before us to give evidence and the Committee produced a report.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields was replaced, my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) took responsibility for deregulation. He was also concerned about the position, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), and the latter came before the Committee before this Bill was introduced. The Bill is a result of all the steps that have been taken over the years, so it is important to examine how we reached this stage.
The Committee considered the possibility of a Bill and published a report. In due course, a draft Bill was introduced; my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office appeared before the Committee and we considered the draft Bill in a useful evidence-taking session. In May 2000, the Committee published its second special report. The Government considered the report and produced their response and, quite rightly, the Committee examined their views. We did not agree with everything
When the Bill was introduced, it was clear that the Government had not taken account of everything that the Committee had said, but some of our key points have since been accepted. Amendments made in the other place take the Bill very much nearer to what the Committee wanted, and we welcome the positive approach that the Government have adopted. They have not taken a rigid view and they have been willing to consider other views and accept improvements to the Bill. I and my Committee welcome that.