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Regulatory Reform Bill [Lords] (Programme)

10.18 pm

Mr. Stringer: I beg to move,

The motion proposes that the Committee stage of the Bill should be completed by Thursday 29 March. It also provides for the Committee to sit twice on the first day. It further provides for the standard procedure for the Third Reading debate--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members leaving the Chamber must do so quietly.

Mr. Stringer: We believe that the motion provides adequate time for the Committee to scrutinise what is, after all, a short 15-clause Bill, which has undergone extensive pre-legislative scrutiny. Let me remind the House of that scrutiny, which consisted not only of public consultation but of scrutiny by the Deregulation Committee in this House and the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee in another place. As in previous debates, those Committees' reports have proved invaluable.

Mr. Leigh: Does the Minister consider that arguments adduced on Second Reading should affect the amount of time given for the Committee stage?

Mr. Stringer: That is a matter for the Programming Sub-Committee--but, having listened to the Second Reading debate, I am confident that the time allocated will be adequate to deal with all the points that have been raised, especially given the length of the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The Minister has already expressed the opinion that we--

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I assume that he included himself in that plural--believed that the scrutiny time was sufficient. That being so, he is in a position to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). Will he please tell us now whether he thinks that arguments raised on Second Reading affect his judgment in any way?

Mr. Stringer: I obviously did not answer that point to the satisfaction of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), but I answered it as clearly as I am going to. It might have been helpful to the debate--or perhaps not--if the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) had turned up and listened to the arguments. He was noticeable by his absence throughout the entire debate.

The Bill has also undergone rigorous debate in another place, concentrating on its parliamentary and constitutional aspects. As a result, the Bill has been amended and now contains even stricter safeguards than before. As a result of amendments made in another place, every order must now be based on deregulatory measures, which I am sure right hon. and hon. Members will welcome.

This is not some skeleton Bill, to be fleshed out during the parliamentary process. It is a fully thought-through product, and the Government see no need to make any further amendments to it. Therefore, the time in Committee can be spent on debating the issues in the Bill, not on considering Government amendments. We have no intention of producing any amendments in Committee at this stage.

One of the most important features of the Programming Sub-Committee is that it gives Opposition Members the opportunity to decide on priorities. It will be for them to stipulate the amount of time that the Standing Committee will take in examining particular aspects of the Bill.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): The Minister has stipulated that he is not at all affected by the Second Reading debate and has guaranteed that the Government have no intention of proposing amendments in Committee, so what is the point of having a Committee stage?

Mr. Stringer: The hon. Gentleman--I am sure inadvertently--misquotes me. I said that I was sure that sufficient time had been allocated by the programme motion to take care of all the points that had been made on Second Reading. As I said in response to a previous intervention, it would probably have been more useful if the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) had been present during Second Reading--his contribution might have been more apposite.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I believe that the Minister is being quite helpful. I am interested in the procedures of this House, as he knows. Will he confirm that if the Programming Sub-Committee would like to have more sittings within the timetable--that is, by the time the Bill leaves Committee--the Government would be happy to agree to that to allow the Opposition parties to ensure that all their concerns were dealt with properly in Committee?

Mr. Stringer: That is clearly a matter for the Programming Sub-Committee and its Chairman, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

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The Government will not stipulate the amount of time to be spent on, say, the first four clauses; that will be for Opposition Members to decide. I hope that the House will recognise that it is not the Government who win from the programme motion. The Opposition gain from being able to set out how they want the debate to be held, and the whole House wins from added certainty about the timetabling of Bills.

I ask the House to support the programme motion.

10.23 pm

Mr. Lansley: I am astonished by the Minister's assertions. In introducing his programme motion, he seemed to combine arrogance with regard to the Bill's proper scrutiny by the House with incompetence.

The Minister of State in the other place also seemed to suggest when the Bill arrived there that it had been the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny and examination by deregulation committees. Yet in the course of its examination in the House of Lords, amendments were made to the Bill concerning parliamentary control of subordinate provisions orders, the imposition of burdens and the extent to which they needed to be removed or reduced, and the extent to which cost savings were illustrated in clause 6. A Bill that the Minister described as "perfectly formed" was certainly not so when it was introduced in another place, and it was the subject of amendments there.

The Minister is saying that the Second Reading debate has had no impact on him. It is possible that he paid no attention to it, but in my hearing of it, a number of matters were raised--and not only by Conservative Members, which is interesting. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White), who is no longer with us, and the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) said that they believed that the Bill did not go far enough on simplification and comprehensibility. Yet the Minister seems to be discounting not only points made by Conservative Members but those made by his colleagues.

Mr. Stringer: When my noble Friend Lord Falconer introduced the Bill in the other place, he made it clear that the Government were open to particular amendments because of the recommendations of the Deregulation Committee in this House, as hon. Members will see if they read Lords Hansard. I said--I want the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and others to be clear about this point--that the Government have no intention of tabling amendments in Committee. We will, of course, listen as carefully as possible to the arguments put forward by Conservative and, indeed, Labour Members.

Mr. Lansley: The mention of the Minister of State in the Lords reminds us that incompetence and arrogance seem to go together in this Government. The Minister says that the Government do not intend to table amendments, but that does not absolve them of the necessity to have regard to the extent of amendments that might be tabled in Committee by Conservative Members, Liberal Democrats or even, heaven forfend, Labour Back Benchers. Yet the Government seem to have assumed that the Committee stage can be completed by 29 March, regardless of the number of amendments that are tabled.

That is all of a piece with the way in which this Government behave. They are not interested in what others have to say; they are interested only in passing their

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Bill according to their timetable. As the Second Reading debate demonstrated, they want their fig leaf of deregulation to cover the nakedness of their regulatory activity over the past four years.

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