Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Bercow: It occurs to me now that there is a practical and worthwhile illustration of the argument, which I neglected to offer to the Committee.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why prior scrutiny by the House is important is that we have evidence from the 71 pages of A4 appertaining to the working time directive, and the 112 pages of A4 appertaining to the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, of the damage that can flow from poorly drafted and inappropriate regulations—a point which Ministers, by their subsequent amendment of those regulations, have obviously accepted. Does my hon. Friend agree that if, when the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the regulations on the working time direction and the National Minimum Wage Bill had been properly scrutinised by the House instead of being laid before it the day before the summer recess, without debate, the problem that confronted the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) when he became Secretary of State for Trade and Industry would not have confronted him.

Miss McIntosh: My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester has such detailed knowledge of other regulations that I can only agree with him.

Mr. Bercow: Buckingham.

Miss McIntosh: I apologise—but the hon. Member for Colchester is not paying attention anyway.

Mr. Russell: Yes, I am. I am listening.

Miss McIntosh: I apologise again. [Interruption.]

Mr. Bercow: I am glad that my hon. Friend is here. We are all glad that she is here.

Miss McIntosh: What my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham just said strengthens my point. Discussions in the Committee have already been curtailed by a stringent timetable, to which we humble Back Benchers were not privy, and so could not contribute, which is disappointing. It was something that the previous Administration, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), tried to stamp on. Clearly officials so enjoy what they are doing that they will not miss an opportunity to stretch the provisions of a Bill such as this through a statutory instrument. I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is right and proper and appropriate that members of the Committee should have time, certainly before Third Reading, to consider in detail the relevant statutory instruments and other regulations, so that we can ensure that they are in keeping with what has been agreed in the short debate that we have been allowed.

Mr. Clarke: First I shall make a technical point, which I do not emphasise. The resolution does not establish an affirmative resolution procedure; it simply deletes the negative. Therefore, it does not fulfil the purpose that the hon. Member for Buckingham intended. I do not say that in a critical spirit; it is important to debate the issue anyway.

I sought to intervene because I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's general statement is right. I did not take his comments as personal or party political criticism: he was making a general point about the way in which Governments operate. There is no general rule, but all Governments try to ensure that Parliament is fully engaged in their deliberations. I also accept that for Parliament to debate regulations is a good way to improve the quality of legislation. That is why almost every piece of legislation that I have had anything to do with has been changed and modified through the process of parliamentary debate, because in that way legislation is improved. We can all think of pieces of legislation that would have benefited from that approach. I shall not embarrass the hon. Gentleman by citing a number that were passed under the Government of which he was a supporter. I am not making a party political point. It is generally true that it is right to debate these matters.

However, there is an important argument on the other side. If we are to develop a legislative structure in this country that can genuinely change with the change in society—we are living in a more rapidly changing time than ever before, economically, socially, politically and so on—secondary legislation is a good way to do that, and is not something that should be avoided at all costs at all times. Things change and move forward, and Governments should change and move forward. One of the problems that Governments have is being seen to be out of touch with movements taking place generally. One can always argue whether the procedure should be affirmative or negative at any given juncture, but I believe that secondary legislation is an intelligent way to proceed. In other Bills for which I have had responsibility, secondary legislation has often provided the basis for proper dialogue and discussion with all those interested and concerned before we move. I am not defensive on this subject—and I shall give way to the hon. Member for Buckingham before asking him to seek leave to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Bercow: I have tried to be as fair-minded as possible. My view is that there were far too many regulations under the previous Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York fairly draws attention to the efforts, herculean or otherwise, of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley to tackle the problem. He did, belatedly, attempt to tackle it, but I have always thought that his achievement in that regard was exiguous. The present Government have made the position far worse.

My position on this matter has been consistent all along. Before the Minister rushes to go on about my support for the previous Government—

The Chairman: Brief interventions, please.

Mr. Bercow:—of course in general terms I supported them, but I have strong reservations about their performance in this regard, which I have expressed before and will doubtless express again.

Mr. Clarke: I know that you too, Mr. Sayeed, had specific reservations about many of the policies of the right hon. Member for Henley when he was Deputy Prime Minister.

I urge the hon. Gentleman to seek leave to withdraw the amendment, first because it is defective, and secondly, because it is wrong.

Mr. Bercow: I am prepared to concede that the amendment may be technically defective, although the argument in support of it is not, but I am not prepared to concede that it is wrong. It is certainly not wrong to make the attempt, and we have not had a remotely adequate, or even respectable, explanation from the Minister as to why the matters concerned should not be properly debated.

I made the point, and it was right to do so, that some of the regulations are extensive. With the best will in the world, Sir Humphrey, and the products of Sir Humphrey, always want to make regulation as detailed, as all-encompassing, and, I sometimes fear, as burdensome as possible. That is the nature of the beast.

It is a well established fact—God knows how many times I have heard the point made—that there is a fundamental difference between our attitude in this country to regulation— especially to the incorporation of European directives and regulations—and that of our continental friends and partners. Their approach is to sign up to high-falutin declarations, apparently without the slightest intention of conforming to them. Our approach is always to sign up to, or even to instigate, regulation, and then, as a matter of pride, to apply it as zealously as possible. The trouble with that is that, although it may satisfy those who are busily drawing up the regulations and consuming vast forests of trees in the process, it does considerable damage to those affected by it. The Minister has not been able to gainsay the argument about the extensive, burdensome and flawed regulations made under the working time directive and the National Minimum Wage Act.

The simple fact of the matter is that those regulations constituted 71 pages of A4 in the case of the working time directive and, in the case of the Act, 112 pages of A4. They were shot through with holes. They were, to use the Minister's term, thoroughly defective and wrong. They were beginning to have damaging consequences, particularly for small businesses, which are directly affected by the Bill. Precisely because the Department of Trade and Industry made such a pig's ear of the process, at the start of 1999 the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North, had to revisit all those regulations and make them less burdensome.

The fact is that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool had made a complete mess of the matter. Either he was not aware that he had done so or he knew that he was storing up trouble, and that was why he chose to place the regulations before the House for the negative procedure just before the summer recess in July 1998. He presumably expected to be trotting on elsewhere before long. In fact he was trotting on somewhere else before long: he was trotting out of the Government. In view of the mess that he made of those regulations, there was every good reason why he should.

However, this is not an abstract speculation or a bald theory; we have concrete evidence that regulations have been flawed in the past. It is not impossible that they will continue to be flawed, but they are less likely to be if we can scrutinise them properly in advance. The Minister merely gives us the ritual line that one invariably encounters from Ministers in these circumstances—that we have to preserve flexibility, the provision is sensible, and there is nothing to worry about. He then advises that the amendment be withdrawn.

I will withdraw the amendment, for the simple reason that we have tabled other amendments, which we want to debate. However, I am not persuaded by what the Minister says, and he should at least be aware that there are two different and legitimate points of view on the subject. As I am keen to debate those other amendments, within the truncated timetable for consideration that we have been obliged to accept, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 35

Access to certain motor insurance information

11 am

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