Regulatory Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Page: As you can gather, Mr. Cook, I am very disappointed that, despite the fact that I moved the amendment, the Minister has not accepted it. I hear his arguments, and yet again there is a tendency not to let the Committees do their job fully, taking the view instead that ``nurse knows best''. However, in view of his explanation, and because one of the most important factors is the working practices that will be established as the process gets under way, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Parliamentary consideration of proposals

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Ian Bruce: One concern that I have expressed in this and other Committees is whether there is enough time to consider proposals. Often, we depart for the summer or Easter recess, only for a spate of orders and such like to be laid before Parliament. Our constituents then tell us, ``A regulation has come into force that Parliament has not had the chance even to comment on''. In future, will such regulations and deregulations be published, so that our constituents will have a fair chance of contacting us and we can make representations on their behalf? Indeed, the reason why I always open my post in Committee first thing in the morning is because otherwise, representations can come to light two or three days after we have considered the matter in question. People should have proper notice that something is happening, and time to make representations.

Mr. Stringer: I agree with the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) that it is important to have time for consultation and to consider representations. We debated the initial consultation process on Tuesday. The Government are committed to a standard three-month consultation period. The procedure is extracted from the 1994 Act, under which the Committees had 60 days to consider representations and to undertake their own consultation, followed by a further 15-day period. If the House does not sit for four days, or is in recess, the time that it is not sitting is not included in the consultation period.

There must be a balance between detailed consultation and time to get things done, and I think that the Bill achieves that balance.

11 am

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): There have been problems when the Deregulation Committee has been set up immediately after the start of a new Parliament. The Committee's Chairman made that point strongly on Second Reading. House procedure must take account of that so that the Committee can properly consider reforms.

Mr. Stringer: My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) made that point and I am sure that the House authorities were listening carefully.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10

Making of codes of practice byministers of the crown

Mr. Lansley: I beg to move amendment No. 39, in page 8, line 42, after ``Wales'', insert—

    `(ba) bodies representative of persons substantially affected by the enforcement activity to which the code of practice relates,'.

The amendment refers to Ministers' consultation on codes of practice for enforcement bodies. A Minister will have to consult representatives of enforcement officers, the National Assembly for Wales, and

    ``such other persons as he considers appropriate.''

That could include persons affected by the enforcement activity, but does not necessarily do so. When drawing up codes of practice for enforcement, it would be appropriate, in all circumstances, to consult representatives of those substantially affected by enforcement, to ensure that the code of practice met their interests, as well as those of the public or statutory bodies. The amendment would include in the Bill a requirement for Ministers to consult such persons. I hope that the Minister will accept it—that would make the hon. Member for Peterborough very happy.

Mr. Stringer: There is little substantial difference between our viewpoints. If such powers were used it would almost certainly be because enforcement powers had been exercised too vigorously. That is likely to have been brought to the attention of the Government or of the Welsh Assembly by the persons affected. Speaking practically, they would already be involved in the process.

On any reading, the word ``appropriate'' will include people on whom regulations are being enforced. The wording already covers the hon. Gentleman's aim, so there is no reason to accept the amendment.

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to the Minister. I shall take it that in all circumstances where the enforcement activity substantially affects persons who should be consulted, Ministers will undertake to consult them and that the Bill covers that eventuality. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 11 to 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15

Short title and extent

Mr. Stringer: I beg to move amendment No. 34, in page 11, line 4, leave out subsection (4).

This is a standard amendment to show the primacy of the House of Commons in financial matters.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 15, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Annual report

    `The Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office shall produce an Annual Report to Parliament every year setting out the operation of this Act and any other relevant regulatory or deregulatory matters during the previous year and describing the government's programme for the use of this Act for the forthcoming year.'.—[Mr Page.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Page: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 2—Expiry of this Act—

    `(1) This Act will expire five years after the day on which it is passed unless in the fifth year the Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office by order made by statutory instrument provides for all of the provisions of this Act to continue in force for a further period of five years.

    (2) No order shall be made under subsection (1) above unless a draft of the order, which shall be accompanied by a review of the operation of the Act over the previous five years, has been laid before and approved by a Resolution of each House of Parliament.

    (3) Every further successive period of five years after the day on which it is passed this Act will expire unless a further order equivalent to that described in subsection (1) above, subject to subsection (2), is made.'.

New clause 3—Annual report—

    `.—A Minister of the Crown shall lay before both Houses of Parliament every 12 months from enactment of this Act a report on the operation of this Act, including a report on the operation of orders made under the Act, and any need for their amendment.'.

New clause 4—Review of orders—

    `.—(1) Every order made under section 1 will include a provision for the Minister to present a report on the operation of the order in the fifth year after it has come into effect and for the order to cease to be in effect if there is a resolution to that effect by either House of Parliament within ninety days of that report being laid.

    (2) In reckoning the period of ninety days referred to in subsection (1) above, no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which either House is adjourned for more than four days.

    (3) The report described in subsection (1) above should include a review of the effectiveness of the order and of each of the matters set out in Section 6(2) above in comparison to the statements laid before Parliament when the order was first made.'.

Mr. Page: New clause 1—I am looking at the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare as I say this—has many similarities with new clause 3, with which we have a great deal of sympathy. However, I must delicately put it to the hon. Gentleman that our new clause is more finely honed and polished than his own, and I am sure that members of the Committee will take that into account.

The new clause has two simple purposes. First, it would ensure that Parliament receives an annual report on the operation of the legislation and on other regulatory or deregulatory matters. Secondly, it would give Parliament advance notice of the measures that the Government intend to introduce under the legislation in the next 12 months. Ministers in both Houses have been explicit about their regulatory and deregulatory aims, laying most stress on the latter. Conservative Members say amen to that. We want to see deregulation introduced in an effective and continuous fashion. However, what kind of organisation relies on a three-year assessment? No business relies on looking to see how it is doing every three years—in fact, I know of many companies that rely on a monthly assessment. In suggesting an annual report, we are merely falling in line with accepted standard practice throughout the commercial world.

With regard to our own deregulation Bill—which was vehemently opposed by the Labour party in opposition—I freely admit that we made a serious mistake in providing that it could deal only with pre-1994 legislation. That meant that the Committee could fish only in that pond of regulation and could not go further forward. The date should have moved forward annually. That is another reason why we should ensure that we flag up problems that have been experienced and successes that have been recorded. The Government were pleased to indicate in appendix C to the explanatory notes that they are contemplating 51 potential regulatory reform orders. If hon. Members can be tempted with that type of information before the Bill reaches the statute book, why should the Government be coy about their future intentions?

Ministers have made considerable use of the opportunities offered by the Bill. They include preliminary consultation with interested parties and outside bodies, such as the Law Commission, the Scottish Law Commission and the National Assembly for Wales. Draft orders will be laid before Parliament so the effect of prospective proposals and burdens may be judged. Future benefits, costs and savings will be assessed along with changes to a Minister's original proposal. Obviously, there will be parliamentary scrutiny of such proposals by either House or their Committees. The regulatory impact unit in the Cabinet Office, which will be aided and abetted by the Small Business Service and the Better Regulation Task Force, will back up that process, and the Minister for the Cabinet Office lovingly described its work on 19 March when she moved the Bill on Second Reading.

The amendment raises a straightforward issue. The Government have told the House that they are happy to have the advance assessment of proposed reform orders scrutinised, which is fine. However, the actual record should be examined annually so that the two Houses and the country can see how orders work in practice and take a view on their effectiveness and/or their failings. We hope that there are no failings whatsoever, but one must be realistic. There will be weaknesses, the swift eradication of which would surely be in everyone's best interests, rather than waiting for three years.

New clause 1 is the logical corollary to clauses 5, 6 and 8. It would ensure that both Houses were aware of the Bill's impact on orders. Members here and in another place would be able to form their own view on whether the burden of regulation was falling or growing and whether changes must be undertaken. It would also allow outside organisations to compare their experience of regulation with Ministers' claims. Small and medium-sized businesses have a better idea of where the shoe pinches than the bureaucrats in Whitehall and town halls. We should give them a chance to make their views known and to comment as soon as possible. I am sure that the two Deregulation Committees would welcome an assessment, and although I understand that everything will proceed swimmingly in the first flush of deregulation, the Act, as it would then be, and the two Committees are in for a long haul. They should, therefore, have regular assessments to ensure that everything is being kept up to snuff.

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