|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Stringer: I am sure that the Committee's interest in plain English will give rise to interesting debates between its members and the lawyers who advise Departments. That should improve regulatory reform orders. The Committee is required only to "consider" the issue. As I agree that plain English is desirable wherever possible, I am happy for it to do that.
I am sure the House will agree that the Standing Orders are evidence of the Committee's positive input to the process. It is based on consensus, and the Government have been at pains to involve the Committee as much as possible. It has been an exemplary process, and I pay tribute to the Committee's work.
I note that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has tabled amendments. Amendment (a) would increase the Committee's quorum from five to seven. Its size and quorum remain unchanged from those that applied under the previous Administration. Had the Committee suggested a change--which it did not--the Government would have taken its request seriously. The fact that the matter was not raised suggests that there is no need for the quorum to change for those people who are involved in the Committee.
Mr. Stringer: We are undertaking that process now by considering the views of the House. I am using the fact that the Committee did not think it necessary to change the quorum to support my argument. Other arguments could be used in favour of the current quorum. For example, it is an important consideration that all Select Committees in the past have accepted it.
Mr. Bercow: Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend, not only are the views of existing Committee members not the only consideration, they are--frankly--scarcely a consideration at all. I put it to the Minister, who has lived a bit, that it is hardly a surprise that a tiny coterie of individuals--who for most purposes are otherwise largely, if not totally, obscure--should wish to preserve and enhance what pettifogging influence they may have, and are thus likely to oppose an increase in the quorum. As the late Enoch Powell would have said, that is so blindingly obvious that only an extraordinarily clever person could fail to see it.
Mr. Stringer: I repeat that we are not relying totally on the Committee's opinions in reaching our conclusions. I remind the hon. Gentleman that on Second Reading, Report and Third Reading, it was brought to the attention of hon. Members that Conservatives were the worst attenders of the Committee. Of course all hon. Members have a right to have their views heard. In particular, it is important to take into account the opinions of people who have had the responsibility of serving as Committee members.
Mr. Pike: Would it not be useful to note the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) as possible volunteers for the Committee after the election? They might well want to help to make up the quorum.
Mr. Stringer: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is incumbent on hon. Members who want to amend a Standing Order to make the case for a positive change. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said from a sedentary position that he did not give a stuff about what quorum the previous Government had set. We think it important that they set that standard, and we are satisfied with it.
Mr. Cotter: I do not want to labour the point, but is it not bizarre that Conservative Members are talking about increasing the quorum when I, as a member of the Committee, know that we had frequently to make up the quorum without their attendance?
Mr. Stringer: That is a very good point. I said earlier that Conservative Members' attendance of the Committee has not been good. One conclusion that we can draw from the amendments and the comments that have been made is that Conservative Members do not want the Committee to function.
I must tell the hon. Member for Buckingham that I wanted to make progress because his colleague on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), has courteously told me that he has a prior engagement, and I should like to finish my remarks to give him time to speak.
The second amendment seeks to raise from two to four the quorum of the sub-Committee that could be formed. Again, the proposals do not alter existing procedure. The sub-Committee could of course report only to the Committee proper, for which the usual quorum would be required. The Deregulation Committee did not recommend any change to the status quo.
I do not believe that the Standing Orders would benefit in any way from the amendments in the name of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, so in the light of the small changes that I have outlined, I am happy to accept the Committee's draft for the Standing Orders, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): I am grateful to the Minister for his understanding of my requirement to be elsewhere in the House. I intend no discourtesy if I have to leave the Chamber shortly after the introductory speeches, but of course I hope to return in time for the winding up of the debate.
As the Minister said, we have recently debated some of the important measures in the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. As I said in those proceedings, the powers are exceptional and go beyond what was intended in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. The initial consultation documents issued in anticipation of Regulatory Reform Act orders show clearly that they will comprise not only deregulatory measures but those for re-regulation and restructuring of regulation, and will incur expenditure.
For example, it is intended that the vaccine damage payment scheme should be reformed and extended by way of those orders. The review of fire safety legislation that we have discussed will no doubt proceed. That is a large, comprehensive measure, and it is important that we get it right. We are dealing with the amendment of primary legislation through statutory instruments, and the Committee's important work on that should not be under-estimated.
I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends that the Committee's record of attendance and much of its activity, valuable though it has undoubtedly been, is of little account. It has been of limited effect in the past few years because the Government have taken relatively few deregulatory initiatives since 1997. The fact that there will now be a volume of orders to be considered means that we are coming to the matter afresh, with these new powers, and it behoves us to look forward rather than back. The addition of regulatory reform to the Committee's title is itself resonant of its wider powers and purposes, so we have to make sure that it is effective.
In that context, once again we touch on the membership of Select Committees, not just issues concerning the quorum and so on; I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will deal with that. I do not propose to reiterate arguments made by the Opposition in debates about the selection of members of Select Committees. However, it is important to recognise that there is a special need for Members chosen to serve on the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee to have a critical approach to draft orders and a sense of independence. I hope that, when the Committee is reconstituted, it is borne in mind that a sense of independence and willingness to scrutinise is vital.
We are pleased to see the Chairman of the Deregulation Committee in the Chamber and, when he contributes to the debate, I am sure that he will stress the need for a critical approach and independence, and for the Committee to be reconstituted quickly after the general election, whenever it takes place. There is a 60-day limit on the work of the Committee and, although the clock stops for an election, it restarts immediately after, so it is vital for the Committee to be in place and able to discharge that function.
The Committee's effectiveness, as I am sure that the Minister recognises, will largely depend on the quality of the preliminary consultation under section 5 of the 2001 Act and, indeed, the quality of the document laid before Parliament. I have made points in Committee and on Report about the requirements for preliminary consultation. I am therefore grateful to the Minister for the further changes that he has made in the advisory notes to Departments about consultation documents, and I look forward to any future draft that he may introduce.
The Minister referred to consultation documents that have already been issued. I have addressed the first five, but I note that the sixth, which relates to removing the 20-partner limit and was issued by the Department of Trade and Industry the day before Report and Third Reading, seems to have avoided the errors--perhaps that is too harsh, inconsistencies may be a better word-- that characterised previous consultation documents. In particular, the preliminary consultation document does not attempt to prejudge Ministers' opinions on proportionality in the relationship between burdens imposed and benefits