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Mr. Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare): Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the Committee was a little concerned by the Government's lack of commitment to an annual review of the Bill's operation? It is an important Bill, and although the Committee said that it would carry out an annual review, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be far better if it were carried out far more publicly by the Government?
Mr. Pike: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point; I was going to touch on it in my speech. It is clear that the Committee was not 100 per cent. happy with what the Government said. The latter have moved and said that they will carry out a review after three years to see how the Bill is working. That review will be published and debated, but the Committee has made it clear that it intends to produce an annual report. That is legitimate. I do not know who will sit on the Committee after the general election or who will chair it--the new Committee may take a different view. However, I hope that it will take note of our reports.
The Government are aware of the differing views. Indeed, I spoke to the Parliamentary Secretary about them in the Division Lobby and mentioned them to him last week when we had finalised our report. They are not confidential. The Committee has a right to its opinion, which I accept is slightly different.
The other place amended the Bill. It is now closer to what the Committee wanted. We certainly welcome that. Assuming that the Bill receives early approval and Royal Assent, the Government must act speedily to ensure that it is implemented. Initially, the measures will be contained in two pieces of legislation--the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and the new Act. I understand that the Government intend to introduce three proposals next week, which I shall deal with shortly. The measures to which my right hon. Friend the Minister referred are being consulted on and will be part of the new legislation.
I have touched on staffing resources. That will need to be dealt with speedily so that the Committee can carry out its work efficiently. We have always been served by excellent Officers of the House, but we will need sufficient staff to cope with the amount of work. My right hon. Friend mentioned some of the matters with which the Committee might have to deal. Indeed, they are listed in an annexe to the Committee's first special report which was published last week. They are a response to a parliamentary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) and they relate to issues that the Government have every intention of addressing at an early date.
Mr. Lansley: The hon. Gentleman mentions the Committee's regret at the paucity of deregulation proposals that it received. Has it had an opportunity to consider the 51 proposals that have been mentioned by Ministers in relation to the new power and examined whether, and to what extent, those could have been introduced as part of the 1994 Act?
We have spelled out our opinion on producing reports. It is an extremely important job. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will recognise that the report makes it clear that we intend to conduct an annual review. If need be, the Committee will call a Minister to give evidence. That could be the Minister with responsibility for deregulation or a departmental Minister. We have the power to do that and to consider particular failings. We may, of course, decide that the Government are doing an extremely good job and are giving us too much work to do in the new Parliament.
Three proposals are to be tabled next week. It is important that Ministers recognise that, once they have been tabled, the Committee clock starts to tick. We have a specific number of days in which to consider the proposals: all days count, including weekends, unless the House is not sitting for more than four days; therefore the timetable stops for the duration of an election, but restarts on day one of the new Session. I mention that because it means that the Committee must be established with all possible speed after the general election if it is to be able to carry out its responsibilities under the Bill.
The first special report also proposes a new name for the Committee and provides some draft Standing Orders. Our attitude to our draft Standing Orders is not rigid; we have published them to provide helpful guidelines, in the hope that they will be taken into account by those responsible for formulating Standing Orders, as they too will be required fairly speedily if the Committee is to carry out its work. We propose that the Committee's name become "the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee",
Mr. Lansley: I should be interested to hear the Committee's and the hon. Gentleman's personal view on precisely what is too tight in the provisions of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act. The comments of the Minister for the Cabinet Office suggest that if the purpose is deregulation, the only real restriction is imposed by section 1(5)(c) of that Act, which limits the measures to which orders can be applied to those that were enacted in Sessions up to and including the 1994-95 Session. Would it not have been simpler to amend that provision than to engage in a wholesale extension of the power?
Mr. Pike: I do not accept that view. It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman appears not to have listened to the opening speech made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, and that Conservative Members did not take part in scrutinising the Bill. The second special report of the 1999-2000 Session addresses those very issues, as does the previous report. Anyone who becomes a member of the Committee on the Bill will, during the few days available to that Committee, find the Deregulation Committee's reports an extremely useful aid to constructive debate on the legislation.
Before I gave way, I was making the point that the Bill will open the door to more deregulation. Finally, to answer the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, from day one the Committee found that one cannot deregulate without putting some other regulation in place. We want sensible, workable and better regulation, and the Government have tried to achieve that. We all want to remove unnecessary bureaucratic regulation that serves no useful purpose. Even when the Committee was under the chairmanship of my predecessor and had a Conservative majority, almost every time we looked at a proposal, we found that we had to replace deregulation with something else to make the system safe and secure, and protect those from whom we were trying to remove burdens.
What a sad testimony we have just heard from the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), the Chairman of a Committee that once rejoiced in the title of the Deregulation Committee. I am delighted that he was so honest because one thing became crystal clear in his long narrative: the Government do not believe in deregulation. They are not at all apologetic for the massive increase in regulation in their four years in office. They have left the Committee entirely devoid of purpose. We saw a rather pathetic image of members of a Commons Committee sitting around having meetings and writing letters to members of a Lords Committee, who were also sitting around having meetings, because they had nothing else to do, and wondering if they could have more meetings together.
We then heard that if there were a serious chance of any deregulation emerging, the Committee would need a massive increase in staffing because, poor things, its members were already enormously overworked. The only argument against the Conservatives was that some of them did not always turn up. I am not surprised, given that the Committee was boring and did nothing; I am sure that my hon. Friends had better things to do with their time.