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Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend has rightly highlighted the importance of proportionality and fair balance. Does he not agree that it would be useful to gain from the Government an understanding of whether they intend that equal weight should be given to every word in the title of the Committee? Specifically, what are we to expect from a Committee that was previously called the Deregulation Committee and is now to be called the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee? Does my hon. Friend, fair-minded specimen though he invariably is, not suspect, like me, that we are likely to get rather more of the latter than of the former?
Mr. Lansley: The weight and meaning of words should be considered carefully. The Minister may, or may not, wish to speculate on that, but I imagine that the title proposed for the Committee recognises its responsibility to continue to consider orders introduced under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 as well as orders that will be introduced under the 2001 Act. When, in due course, the Committee comes to consider only orders introduced under the 2001 Act, no doubt the intention is that it will change its name to the regulatory reform Committee. If Ministers ever get the chance to introduce such a further revised Standing Order, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and I will, of course, observe and criticise it.
Mr. Pike: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is right. The first special report suggested that in the first instance the Committee should be called the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee, but recognised that the name would probably be changed in due course. Whether or not it will, I cannot predict, but there has been no attempt to amend its name today. Two or three amendments have been tabled, but none proposes a change in the Committee's name.
Mr. Lansley: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments. If I am to infer from what he says that the Committee, as well as Ministers, may in due course wish to rename the Committee the Regulatory Reform Committee, I would be critical of that. In the light of the passage of the Act, it seems reasonable that the Committee has a job to do in respect of both deregulation and regulatory reform. If titles matter--sometimes they do--it would be better for the Committee to retain the reference to deregulation, because the prime purpose of the measure was always to be deregulation and ought to be so.
I revert to the point that I was making about preliminary consultation. I note with interest that the Department of Trade and Industry's most recent consultation document on removing the 20-partner limit does not seek to prejudge the regulatory impact assessment, and proposes that that should be put together in the light of consultations. Sometimes that is desirable, although it is interesting that no attempt has been made to quantify in advance the extent of the impact.
In particular, those impacts should be disaggregated as far as possible between persons affected. The fair balance test, as the Minister will recall, must balance the public interest with private interests. As the Minister knows, the public interest is often expressed in terms of large numbers of people or public bodies, for whom there is a marginal benefit, as distinct from persons affected, for whom there might be substantial detriments and disbenefits. It is important that such information should be available to the Committee for its work. If the impacts are disaggregated, the Committee can consider the specific impacts on categories of persons and establish whether it is reasonable for them to suffer such detriment, in addition to all the other tests that must be applied.
It will not surprise the Chairman of the Deregulation Committee or the Minister that I hope that when the Committee comes to do its work under the Standing Orders, it will attach special importance to the deregulatory effects. The Committee has two opportunities to do that, under paragraphs 6(A)(b) and 6(B)(l), which give an opportunity for the Committee to consider the extent to which the measures proposed will have a deregulatory impact. I am glad that the Liberal Democrats in another place joined my noble Friends in stressing that point, and that Ministers took it on board.
Before I conclude, I shall deal with the undertakings that Ministers have given and seek the Minister's further response. I also have a number of questions. First, the Minister has been helpful in reiterating the intention that Ministers will not proceed against the advice of the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee. Does that undertaking extend to accepting that where the Committee proposes amendments to an order before it is made, which is one of the conclusions that the Committee can reach, those amendments will be incorporated?
My second question relates to the subordinate provisions orders. On that new responsibility for the Committee, will the Minister give an undertaking that where the Committee recommends that an order should be made by affirmative procedure, Ministers will respond positively to such a recommendation?
Thirdly, I was interested to hear that the Committee may divide on an order. I will be corrected if I am wrong but, to my recollection, that has not occurred in the past. However, such a Division on a matter of substance may show that it was more controversial than was anticipated. Ministers have said that orders will not be made in relation to large and controversial measures, and I suspect that any order which is substantially controversial should not be made using this procedure, so I hope that, in the event of such a Division, they will undertake to consider whether to proceed, without necessarily giving each Committee member a veto. The matter would have to be weighed and if there were a suggestion that it was highly controversial it should not necessarily be proceeded with.
Mr. Stringer: The Government gave assurances that regulatory reform orders would have a statement attached to them, as Bills do now, expressing the Minister's view that they are compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. The House has set up a special Committee to test such assertions.
Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to the Minister but, presumably, it has not been Ministers' intention to bring forward legislation using the deregulation legislation that they believe is incompatible with our obligations resulting from membership of the EU. The question is whether, since the Committee has a role in questioning other opinions of Ministers, the Committee has any role in testing that assertion of compatibility made by the Minister. The hon. Gentleman or the Chairman of the Committee may wish to reflect on that further.
I accept that the Minister was responding to our debates when he suggested that the Committee should consider whether orders were written in plain English, but the points made in Committee concerned not simply the quality and clarity of the language, but whether all the measures had been taken which could be taken to achieve simplification in legislation. Will the Minister consider further whether the Committee will be able to consider simplification as well as clarity.
I was surprised to see that, although the proposed Standing Orders include a series of additional considerations following the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, they do not appear to require the Committee to consider inconsistencies and anomalies, which the House will recall is one of the purposes of section 1 of that Act for which orders may be made.
If an order is concerned principally with the removal of inconsistencies and anomalies, alongside the reduction or removal of burdens, it would seem reasonable on the face of it that the Committee should examine whether those inconsistencies and anomalies exist or have been satisfactorily removed and whether additional measures could have been introduced to achieve greater consistency and lack of anomaly.
The Committee faces an important task. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned consensus. We should not be disparaged for seeking to proceed by consensus in relation to regulatory reform orders, as it does not necessarily mean compromise. Controversial measures should not be proceeded with without proper agreement, and the exceptional powers and procedure of the House for making legislation should be used only when there is agreement between parties that such measures are desirable. As we all know, it falls substantially to the Committee--as to all Committees of the House--to undertake detailed and effective scrutiny. We know from bitter experience that if we do not provide such scrutiny, too much legislation is introduced that we later regret. I therefore hope that the Standing Orders will be effective, that the Parliamentary Secretary can assure me that they will serve their purpose and that the Committee will be effective in discharging its functions.