Regulatory Reform Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

The Chairman: Order. I should perhaps clarify that point. I have some experience in business, but I have no vested interest in it. My sole purpose in being here is to ensure that members of the Committee behave themselves.

Mr. Cotter: I have obviously started off on a bad footing, Mr. Cook. I did not wish to imply that you had any interest. Indeed, I should declare my interest as managing director of a small manufacturing company. I have no specific interest in terms of the issues that will be raised in Committee, but I share the general interest of all those in the business community in ensuring that the House safeguards their interests and does not goldplate matters or take other nasty measures that are unhelpful to business.

We had a useful discussion yesterday, when the Government told us that they did not plan to table a large number of additional amendments. As a result, I am satisfied with the amount of time allotted for discussing the Bill. It is perfectly in tune with the need for hon. Members to give a lead by being business-like, rather than waffling on indefinitely. When I was a member of the Committee that considered the National Minimum Wage Bill, certain Opposition Members who are now sitting to my right waffled on indefinitely, unnecessarily and, as it turned out, erroneously about irrelevant matters. However, we have a clear picture of the time available to us, so I am sure that we shall have none of that nonsense. Indeed, you would not allow it, Mr. Cook, and on that basis I look forward to getting to the meat of matters.

Question put and agreed to.

10.45 am

The Chairman: I must remind hon. Members that adequate notice of amendments should be given. As a general rule, I do not intend to call starred amendments.

Clause 1

Power by order to make provision reforming law which imposes burdens

Mr. Cotter: I beg to move amendment No. 36, in page 1, line 3, leave out `(3) to (5)' and insert

    `(3), (3A), (4) and (5)'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 35, in page 2, line 5, at end insert—

    `(3A) No order under this section may be made unless each House of Parliament, following any report made by a select committee of that House charged with functions of examining orders made under this Act, has passed a resolution expressing the opinion that the order is consistent with one or more of the objects set out in subsection 1(a) to (d).'.

Mr. Cotter: The Programming Sub-Committee discussed the fact that a great deal of work was done in the other place, but through this and other amendments I want to highlight certain matters that could cause concern. Amendment No. 36 would amend the wording of subsection (1). Amendment No. 35 would add a new subsection (3A), which states:

    ``No order under this section may be made unless each House of Parliament, following any report made by a select committee of that House charged with functions of examining orders made under this Act, has passed a resolution expressing the opinion that the order is consistent with one or more of the objects set out in subsection 1(a) to (d).'.''

If the amendment were accepted, no regulatory reform order could be made unless we and both Deregulation Committees agree that it is consistent with the objectives in clause 1. The amendment would also formally require both Houses of Parliament to ratify such reports.

Although clause 4(1) states that an order

    ``shall be made by statutory instrument.'',

and clause 4(2) states:

    ``no such order shall be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'',

the amendment to clause 1 is still necessary to provide an extra safeguard against misuse of the procedure. The Bill might well prove an immensely useful tool for removing any unnecessary regulation—indeed, we hope that it will—but the concern remains that it will confer significant constitutional powers on a Minister, who will be able to legislate by order.

I accept that it might be necessary to introduce new regulations to replace those that are being removed, but we must strike a balance and ensure that safeguards are in place. I further accept that debating every order in the House could take up a great deal of parliamentary time, and we do not want to do that. However, the amendment is necessary in order to establish a mandatory provision to examine extensively any order made under the Bill in relation to the criteria laid down in clause 1.

It is true that the Minister will have to explain in a document laid before Parliament how an order relates to the provisions in clause 1. However, the amendment would perhaps deter those who might want to abuse the power in the clause in future. It specifically draws attention to the fact that parliamentary scrutiny should occur with regard to the objects outlined in clause 1.

An order would have to be approved after favourable Select Committee reports and ratification by both Houses that would concentrate on those objectives. The amendment is intended to place in the Bill a statutory requirement that a Select Committee of each House must report to Parliament on the proposed order. Although it is not for the Government to prescribe parliamentary scrutiny procedures, it is necessary to outline how the procedure should operate because of the unprecedented powers that are available in the Bill. Indeed, concerns about that matter have been expressed in the other place. Additionally, the future operation of the other place is in a state of transitional reform. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response in light of general concerns about the lack of balance on deregulation in the Bill.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): I shall declare any interests that may be relevant to the Bill, which is extraordinarily wide in its scope. People may know that I have a small management consultancy through which I advise the Communications Management Association and a company called Trevor Gilbert and Associates. I also own several houses that are let out as a business.

I should like the Minister to address my concern about changing the procedures of the House. I would not argue that the time legislation takes in Committee or on the Floor of the House should be shorter or that legislation should be programmed. My concern, which relates to the amendments, is about the speed with which a Government proposal can become law. People outside the House may not have an opportunity to make representations to Ministers and Members of Parliament. That is relevant to the amendments because, if a Committee approves legislation and moves rapidly through a deregulation order, the matter will not be considered in both Houses of Parliament.

The Government, who want to get to the end of a Bill's consideration and rush legislation in Committee, have a tendency—I have seen it recently—to leave an insufficient gap between proposal and enactment. In the nature of our affairs, legislation that goes through both Houses of Parliament is subject to a delaying factor. If it has been discussed in the House of Commons there is a pause before it goes to the House of Lords, or vice versa. That enables people to say, ``I have examined what was said in Committee and I am concerned. However, I can make representations that will be discussed in the other place.''

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): I sit on the Select Committee on Deregulation, which is currently considering three orders. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a consultation procedure built into that process? The Committee examines consultations and has the power to call witnesses, which we have done on several occasions. That provides the safeguards that he is discussing.

Mr. Bruce: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I admit to being unfamiliar with Select Committee procedure. I commend the excellent process whereby Select Committees do such work, which involves full consultation. My concern, which is why I am making these brief remarks on the back of the amendments, is to ask the Minister whether the new procedure will include periods during which representations can be made. At the end of the day, the regulations make little difference to us as parliamentarians, but they may be life or death to those trying to run a business. I hope that the Minister will respond to that.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): I am delighted that you are chairing our proceedings, Mr. Cook. You always keep me in order and you are much stricter than other Chairman under whom I have served.

I start by declaring an interest. I have businesses, which groan and suffer because of the extra regulation that has required unnecessary bureaucratic time-wasting. My staff complain to me continually about the time they must spend dealing with regulations. I am delighted to be a member of the Committee and to try to bring about a reduction in the burdens that have increased dramatically during the past four years.

When I read the amendments, I was amazed, as always, at the Byzantine skills of parliamentary draftsmen and those who table amendments. The amendments have an arcane beauty and I usually have great difficulty following them. Amendments Nos. 36 and 35 must hang together because they cannot hang separately.

We are not against the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Cotter), although they seem to have an element of goldplating. I take the points made by him and by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) who said that the Bill will provide tremendous power above and beyond what is normally given to Committees and operations in the House. This Committee's responsibility is to ensure that that power will be used sensibly and correctly and will not be open to abuse.

It was difficult to appreciate what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said and to square that with the words of the noble Lord Goodhart, the Liberal Democrats spokesman when the Bill was discussed in the other place. On Second Reading he expressed strong views on some aspects of the Bill, particularly the first part. He said that paragraph (c) is objectionable because it

    ``would enable an order to be made to increase burdens without any offsetting removal of other burdens''

He continued:

    ``I am unhappy with a free-standing power to impose new burdens. I believe that the thrust of the Bill should be deregulation—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 December 2000; Vol. 620, c. 861.]

I know that my noble Friends in the other place were very much taken with the wise words of Lord Goodhart and supported some amendments. I commend that rare and unusual event of the Liberal Democrats working with the Conservative party—the Liberal Democrats are blood brothers with the Labour party and work with it daily. You will remember Mr. Cook, the enthusiasm with which the Liberal Democrat representative supported the Minister during the procedural debate the other day. He had to ask the Minister how he should vote to support the Labour party on that measure. You are giving me that steely look again, Mr. Cook, so I shall get back to the amendment.

The amendment would introduce subsection (3A) into the clause and refers to the orders being passed by both Deregulation Committees. We have to accept that those two Committees will not always be independent paragons of parliamentary procedure, unattacked by or unattached to party pressures. We have already seen how Committees, with their large majorities, can push through measures with which certain members of the Government may be unhappy.

11 am

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 March 2001