Select Committee on Liaison First Report



Memorandum to the Liaison Committee

1.  The Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee was established this year, with new terms of reference, as a successor to the Deregulation Committee. Our establishment follows passage of the Regulatory Reform Act, extensive pre-legislative scrutiny of which was carried out by our predecessors, and reported on to your Committee in a memorandum last year.[47]

2.  The passage of the new Act was expected to bring a new lease of life to the previously all but moribund deregulation procedure. Unfortunately, progress in bringing forward proposals under the new Act has thus far been slow. However, having completed both stages of scrutiny of one Order (Special Occasions Licensing), and dealt with one of the remaining four deregulation orders, we now have before us five regulatory reform proposals and one further draft deregulation order, with more promised in the near future.

The handling of Regulatory Reform Orders

3.  On 11 May 2001, our predecessor Deregulation Committee published its fourth and final Report of the 2000-01 Session, entitled The Final Deregulation Proposals. As the title suggests, the Report was chiefly concerned with the three final proposals for orders under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. However, the Report also made a number of important points concerning the consideration to be given to proposals and draft Orders under the new Regulatory Reform Act.

4.  On 24 October 2001, the Government submitted to us a memorandum replying to those points, and making further comments on the handling of regulatory reform orders. We in turn published in November our own Special Report, entitled Further Report on the Handling of Regulatory Reform Orders. We considered that it might be useful if we were to draw your particular attention to three issues in that Report which are concerned with relations between the Government and the Committee.

5.  Firstly, the Government had objected to the Committee's request that no more than one proposal or draft Order be laid in any one sitting week. This request was intended to ensure a regular and even flow of items coming before the Committee, so as to enable effective scrutiny. We stood by this request, arguing that it was necessary if we were to be sure that the larger and more complex proposals which would come forward under the Regulatory Reform Act could be given the requisite level of scrutiny. However, we also indicated that if a situation should occur in which this requirement had caused, or was likely to cause, a serious log-jam, we would be prepared in the short term to entertain requests from the Government that we accept more than one item in any given sitting week. We have already done so on one occasion, to ensure timely passage of one of the remaining draft Deregulation Orders (but see para 10 below).

6.  Secondly, we indicated that we would be happy to entertain requests from the Government for guidance on technical issues connected with the use of the regulatory reform procedure in advance of formal scrutiny of a proposal. This would, as we made clear in the Report, be without prejudice to the formal element of the regulatory reform scrutiny process. However, if successful (and we have not yet received any such requests, though we are awaiting communication from the Government on one intended proposal) this and the above example are perhaps useful instances of how Committees and the Government can work together to ensure the mutually satisfactory progress of business.

7.  Thirdly, we took note of the Government's expressed intention to make use of the procedures provided for in Standing Order No. 18 in the case of disagreement between the Government and the Committee. We accepted that it might be the case that agreement could not be reached about particular aspects of a proposal; and that the House had provided for procedures which can be used in the event that that happens. Ministers having given a commitment to the House "not to force orders through in the face of opposition from the Committee", however, we considered it unfortunate that the Government should not have made it clear that it was its intention to use the procedure in the way described either in debate on the Bill or, more particularly, in the debate on the Standing Order changes which were made as a result of passage of the Regulatory Reform Act. In order to demonstrate that the Government was acting in good faith, and within the spirit of the undertakings given to the House, we therefore recommended that the Government undertake to provide for a free vote in such circumstances.

8.  The Government has not yet responded to the Report, so we do not know whether this recommendation has found favour. However, we suggest that there are implications here for your Committee's suggestion (which we fully support) that Committee reports be debated on a substantive motion. It would be very unfortunate if any Member found him- or herself instructed by the Whips to vote against a conclusion of their Committee. We hope that we will receive a positive response, and that this might serve as a precedent should the Government accept your recommendation about debate on other Select Committee reports.

Relations with Government Departments

9.  Besides the rather disappointing pace at which regulatory reform proposals have thus far been brought forward, our main complaint in respect of relations with the Government would be the inordinate delays which have been experienced in bringing forward draft Orders consequent upon the final deregulation proposals. Some eight months elapsed between our predecessor's Report on the proposal for the Deregulation (Disposal of Dwelling-Houses by Local Authorities) Order, and the laying of the draft Order itself; and we still await the laying of any of the three proposals upon which our predecessors reported in May last year.

10.  We also retain a certain amount of concern about the Government's commitment to the proper handling of proposals and draft Orders. In November the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, found it necessary to write to the Chairman of this Committee to request that the Dwelling-Houses draft Order be laid in the same week as another item. Whilst, in the interests of ensuring the speediest possible passage of this small, but worthy, measure on to the statute book, he was happy to grant the request, he nevertheless expressed on our behalf some concern that the Government did not appear to be making more effort to ensure that the business to come before the Committee was arranged in such a way as to facilitate the most effective scrutiny. Our concern was particularly marked because, as noted above, a considerable period of time had elapsed since our predecessor's Report on the proposal for this Order, and there appeared to be no very good reason why that should have been the case for such a straightforward measure. Insofar as these difficulties have relevance for the work of other Committees, we trust that, should the Government come good on its promise to allow Parliament more opportunities to see legislation in draft and undertake pre-legislative scrutiny, it will ensure that it does so in a manner which enables Committees to participate in a proper and effective manner.

11.  A further question concerning relations with the Government has also arisen. Several Members of the Committee are very often being required to attend Standing Committees which may clash with meetings of this Committee. The Chairman has written to the Government Chief Whip, reminding her of the importance of the Committee's work and the necessity of ensuring that Members are able properly to perform their functions as Committee members. This, of course, applies equally to all Committees, and it is most important that the Government party (and, indeed, other parties in the House) do not compromise the ability of any Select Committee member to play a full role in the work of his or her Committee.

12.  The Chairman also found it necessary to remind the Chief Whip that only seventeen Members have yet been appointed to the Committee, whereas the Standing Order provides for eighteen.

Committee's future programme

13.  Our predecessor Deregulation Committee, in its Report on the Final Deregulation Proposals, suggested that it might be appropriate for us to consider referring regulatory reform proposals to the relevant departmental select committees for their opinions before reporting our recommendations thereon to the House. This would allow colleagues with particular acquaintance with the Department concerned to assess the Department's intentions in the context of its overall policy objectives.

14.  Thus far, we have done so in two instances, inviting the views of the Education and Skills Committee on the proposal for the Regulatory Reform (Voluntary Aided Schools Liability and Funding) (England) Order 2002 and those of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee on the proposal for the Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) (England and Wales) Order 2002. We are grateful to the Chairmen of those Committees for their willingness to assist us in our work, and we hope that other Committees will also be willing to offer us the benefit of their expertise in particular cases in future.

15.  Besides our normal programme of work scrutinising proposals and draft Orders, we shall be taking a close interest in the overall use which is made of the broadened procedure under the Regulatory Reform Act. In particular, we await with interest publication of the Government's Regulatory Reform Action Plan, and we have previously indicated our intention to take evidence from the relevant Minister on the use of the Regulatory Reform Act over the previous year.

January 2002

47   First Report of the Liaison Committee, Session 2000-01, Shifting the Balance: Unfinished Business, Vol II - Further Appendices to the Report (HC 321-II), Appendix B Back

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