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Mr. Roger Gale accordingly presented a Bill to amend the time scale within which payments may be made to bereaved persons: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 May, and to be printed [Bill 92].
(1) the matter of raising the economic performance of the regions and tackling regional imbalances, being a matter relating to regional affairs in England, be referred to the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs;
(2) the committee meet at half-past One o'clock on Thursday 10th May at Westminster to consider the matter referred to it under paragraph (1) above; and
(3) the proceedings at that meeting be interrupted at Four o'clock.--[Mr. Dowd.]
A. That Standing Order No. 141 (Deregulation Committee) be repealed and the following new Standing Order be made--
(1) There shall be a select committee, called the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee, to examine--
(i) every document containing proposals laid before the House under section 3 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 (the 1994 Act) or under section 6 of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 (the 2001 Act);
(ii) every draft order proposed to be made under section 1 of the 1994 Act or section 1 of the 2001 Act; and
(iii) every subordinate provisions order or draft of such an order made or proposed to be made under sections 1 and 4 of the 2001 Act.
(2) The committee shall report to the House, in relation to every proposals document referred to in paragraph 1(i) of this order, either
(a) that a draft order in the same terms as the proposals should be laid before the House; or
(b) that the proposals should be amended before a draft order is laid before the House; or
(c) that the order-making power should not be used in respect of the proposals.
(3) The committee shall report to the House, in relation to every draft order referred to in paragraph 1(ii) of this order, its recommendation whether the draft order should be approved.
(4) The committee may draw the special attention of the House to any subordinate provisions order or draft order referred to in paragraph 1(iii) of this order, and may report its opinion whether or not the order or draft order should be approved or, as the case may be, annulled.
(5) The committee may report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said proposals, draft orders or subordinate provisions orders.
(6)(A) In its consideration of proposals the committee shall consider in each case whether the proposals
(a) appear to make an inappropriate use of delegated legislation;
(b) remove or reduce a burden or the authorisation or requirement of a burden;
(c) continue any necessary protection;
(d) have been the subject of, and take appropriate account of, adequate consultation;
(e) impose a charge on the public revenues or contain provisions requiring payments to be made to the Exchequer or any government department or to any local or public authority in consideration of any licence or consent or of any services to be rendered, or prescribe the amount of any such charge or payment;
(f) purport to have retrospective effect;
(g) give rise to doubts whether they are intra vires;
2 May 2001 : Column 871 those witnesses; but no Member not being of the committee shall otherwise take part in the proceedings of the committee or sub-committee, or be counted in the quorum.
It is now a little over three weeks since the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 reached the statute book. The debates on the Bill as it went through Parliament, both here and in another place, were for the most part characterised by thoughtful and well-informed contributions. The result, I believe, is an excellent tool for regulatory reform. The Government have already published six consultation documents and I fully expect to see more issued soon.
As was made clear in debate on the Bill, the superaffirmative process that applies to deregulation orders and now to regulatory reform orders is a model of thorough parliamentary scrutiny. In order to ensure that the superaffirmative order-making process remains effective, we need to amend the two Standing Orders now before the House so that they cover all the innovations introduced by what is now the Regulatory Reform Act 2001.
Throughout the debates on the Bill, I stressed that it was a matter for Parliament, and not the Government, to decide the manner in which the Committee would consider proposals for regulatory reform. I am therefore happy to say that the Standing Orders that we are considering today reflect very closely those suggested by the Committee in its first special report of this Session, published on 16 March.
I am sure that it will be of interest to the House if I outline briefly the procedure for the scrutiny of regulatory reform orders. The 2001 Act requires that the relevant Minister undertake extensive public consultation on the proposal in question. Under section 5, this consultation must involve all interested parties, including those that might be adversely affected by the proposals.
The process is, therefore, front loaded, by which I mean that the onus is very much on the Minister to work the policy through fully. The Minister proposing a piece of regulatory reform would need to think through the possible consequences thoroughly and then convince the Scrutiny Committee of the merits of the case. That can only be done on the basis of evidence gathered during the consultation process.
Let me make it clear that the purpose of this extensive public consultation is not only to seek views on the policy but to elicit evidence against a prescribed list of matters without which the proposal cannot legally go ahead. During Third Reading, I placed in the Libraries of the House a draft of an advisory note for Departments on consultation. We will shortly be issuing the final version. I believe that it would be helpful if I reiterated some of the key points.
The consultation document must include all aspects of the proposal. Each consultation on a prospective regulatory reform order must elicit all the information needed to complete the explanatory document that the Minister must lay alongside the proposed order. The consultation responses will need to provide evidence to support any assertions. The Government therefore accept the need for Departments to structure their consultation documents so as to follow the list of matters at section 6(2) of the Act--in particular, the extent to which burdens are to be removed or whether any burdens are to be restated or created; whether any proposal could prevent any person from continuing to exercise any right or freedom that he or she might reasonably expect to continue to exercise, and if so, how he or she is to be enabled to continue to exercise that right or freedom; whether the proposals would create a burden affecting any person in carrying on an activity, and if so, how the conditions concerning proportionality, fair balance and desirability are satisfied; whether any provisions of the proposed order are designated as subordinate provisions, and if so, why they are being so designated; whether any savings or increases in cost are estimated to result from the proposals, and if so, the reasons why savings or increases in costs should be expected; and if it is practicable, the documents should make an estimate of that amount and how it is calculated, and any benefits--other than savings in cost--that are expected to flow from the implementation of the proposals.
The reason for this degree of detail in consultation documents has as much to do with the specific requirements of the Act as with the Standing Orders of the Scrutiny Committee. Consultation documents on proposals for regulatory reform have two purposes. First, they must set out the proposal against the tests and safeguards in the order-making process in such a way that the intended audience can readily supply the information that the Minister needs to satisfy himself and the Scrutiny Committees that the proposal meets those tests and safeguards. Secondly, they must explain clearly and comprehensibly the policy on which views are being sought, including the implications for the devolved Administrations. These aims may result in a longer consultation document than would otherwise emerge with a straightforward consultation exercise aimed at developing policy.
The Standing Orders require the Scrutiny Committees to pay special attention to the inclusiveness of the consultation process, such as the extent to which it captured the views of those who might be adversely affected, whether directly or indirectly, by the proposal. That is obviously entirely right. It means that the emphasis must be on a wide distribution, covering representative bodies, consumer bodies, trade unions, employers' representatives--including representatives of small business and the Small Business Service--and other likely interest groups. The document should be expressed in a way that all these different interests can understand. It must include sufficient background material for a newcomer to understand the proposal. It should not assume any prior knowledge.
During debate, undertakings were given that highly charged or politically controversial measures are--and will remain--better suited to the Floor of the House. The consultation process will be key to establishing whether a proposal is suitable to enactment as an RRO or whether it would be best dealt with as a Bill. Of course, some proposals, such as the trade union check-off deregulation order, may initially appear controversial but prove amenable to the consensual nature of the order-making process, based, as it is, on the careful gathering of evidence which is weighed up by a scrupulous and independent Committee. The Standing Orders before the House are key to ensuring that the Committee can continue in that vein. Committees have in the past rejected proposals on grounds of inadequate consultation, and the Government fully expect them to maintain their vigilance.
After the consultation process, the proposals are put before the Committee under section 8 of the Act. The Committee considers them for 60 days. The Standing Orders outline the areas that the Committee will study, which reflect the tests and safeguards contained in the Act. We discussed those at considerable length at various stages and I have already run through them today.
At the end of the 60-day period, the Committee will issue a report on the proposals and it is for the Minister to decide how to respond. However, there is a firm Government commitment--which I am happy to repeat--that they will not proceed with an order in the face of the Committee's opposition. The Standing Orders then lay down a further 15 days for the consideration of the
If the Committee's report is favourable, the question to approve the draft order is put forthwith without debate. If the Committee's report is favourable but it had divided on the issue, the question to approve the draft order is put after a maximum of one and a half hours of debate. If the Committee's report is not favourable, the question to approve the draft order is put after a maximum of three hours of debate. Again, I stress that that is what is laid down in the Standing Orders. In practice, the Government have made a commitment not to proceed with an order following an unfavourable report.
Experience with the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 has shown that this is an excellent system for scrutinising orders. The Committee's input has frequently been invaluable and the Government have changed many of their proposals in the light of their comments. It has also, on occasion, taken us to task on what it has seen as inadequate consultation on deregulation proposals, and the Government have always taken whatever corrective steps the Committee has recommended.
Although the useful life of the 1994 Act has come to an end, the procedures that governed its use have stood the test of time. The requirements in the Act and the effect of the Standing Orders ensure that the emphasis is on getting it right first time. As a result, it would, for instance, simply not be possible for a Minister to introduce a skeleton order, nor would the Minister be able to make large-scale and piecemeal amendments while the proposal was before the House for scrutiny.
Departments will, of course, also need to address at an early stage the implications of the three devolution settlements for their policy proposals. They must be reflected in the consultation document. Although not expressly provided for, the Standing Orders, as drafted, will ensure that the Scrutiny Committee can address any devolution-related issues when it considers the vires of each proposal. The devolution settlements are reflected in the vires of the Act, and the Committee is charged specifically with considering vires questions.
I am sure that it will be of interest to the House if I outline briefly the changes proposed by the Committee concerning existing Standing Orders Nos. 18 and 141 and the other minor modifications that I am suggesting be included in the Committee's draft. The new Standing Orders take account of two issues. The first is the advent of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. The Standing Orders before us reflect the new and strengthened criteria against which proposals will be judged.
Secondly, the Standing Orders take account of the fact that proposals under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act that were placed before Parliament before the 2001 Act received Royal Assent are still being considered by the Committee. Four such orders are currently before Parliament. Once they have been dealt with, there will need to be further minor changes to the Standing Orders to reflect the final disappearance of the 1994 power. This will not need to take place until later in the autumn.
As I have said, the orders before us differ slightly from those drafted by the Committee in its first special report. Most of the changes are merely consequential to ensure that references to other Standing Orders remain consistent. The only change of substance is the addition
Under these Standing Orders, the Committee members will focus on the new safeguards in the Act. They must ensure that no proposal removes any necessary protection or deprives people of any rights or freedoms that they could reasonably expect to continue to enjoy. They must test to see whether any burdens imposed are proportionate to the benefits expected from them. Any orders imposing burdens must also strike a fair balance between the public interest and the interest of those affected by the burden, and the extent to which they remove burdens or bring other benefits must make the proposals as a whole desirable.
The Standing Orders also include some matters that are not on the face of the Act. For example, the Committee will consider whether proposals are in plain English. Hon. Members will remember that I resisted including such a provision in the Act itself. I was, and remain, concerned that legal clarity should not be sacrificed for superficial simplicity. I know that many Committee members are keen to highlight the issue, and I have no objection to its inclusion in the Standing Orders.