Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Robathan: I do not doubt the Minister's good faith. Like her, I sometimes tread with trepidation in the fields of parliamentary technicalities, and therefore rely to a large extent on the advice of counsel. However, I have a question for her that goes to the heart of the matter. Clause 2(2) states:

In other words, regulations are to be subject to negative, not affirmative, action. If that subsection is withdrawn, is it possible that, without a statutory instrument or order of any sort, a future Government might introduce under clause 2 a blanket ban on fireworks? The Bill allows the Government enormous powers, and I am concerned that they could ban whatever they like without affirmative action. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me on that.

Mr. Chope: For those of us who are concerned about changes of mind by Ministers, this episode does not give us much confidence. In Committee, the Minister said:

The Committee did so desire, which resulted in subsection (2) being added to the Bill. That is the very subsection that the Minister now seeks to take out through the Government amendment, for the reasons that she explained. I hope that she has suitably castigated her advisers in Committee for not having drawn her attention to the difficulties that would arise were she, in a fit of generosity, to accept the amendment, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). However, that is all in the past. I leave it to the House to judge whether it is sensible to accept the Government amendment, because it will result in there being less control over the regulation-making process than there would be if subsection (2) were retained.

I am sorry that the Minister chose not to comment on my amendments.

Miss Melanie Johnson: That is because I would rather hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say first, and respond later.

Mr. Chope: I accept that.

13 Jun 2003 : Column 964

I hope that the Government will accept amendment No. 47. It is more for the Government to accept it than the promoter of the Bill, because I am sure that he would have no difficulty with it whatsoever. It would require the Secretary of State to issue a regulatory impact assessment before making regulations. One might have thought it unnecessary to legislate for that, given that it is already Government policy, but I have to report to the House my disappointment that the regulatory impact assessment that was promised for this Bill was signed by the Minister only yesterday, and I received a draft of it only the day before. I was told that the reason was that the Minister was returning from Slovenia, or possibly Slovakia—somewhere beginning with "S" in eastern Europe—on Thursday, and would not be able to sign it until then. I told the parliamentary clerk at the Department of Trade and Industry that that was not satisfactory, because it meant that we would not be able to see it before the deadline for the tabling of amendments to the Bill.

The Minister should have a go at her officials for having failed to produce by Second Reading an RIA for a private Member's Bill that the Government are supporting. The Cabinet Office Minister responsible for the regulatory impact assessment process has expressed concern about the matter. On 3 April, there was no less than a written ministerial statement by that gentleman, which said:

12.15 pm

That was a written ministerial statement, so we did not have the chance to ask any questions. The Minister of State did not comment on why the regulatory impact assessment that should have been produced for the Fireworks Bill on 28 February had not been produced by then. I tabled a parliamentary question in March and was told that the assessment was in the process of being produced. As I said, it was only when I phoned the parliamentary clerk to the DTI on Wednesday to ask what had happened that the RIA was forthcoming.

That is why amendment No. 47 should be built into the Bill. It is difficult enough for the House to deal with Bills on which amendments can be tabled. However, it is even more difficult when the House has to deal with regulations introducing various restrictions to fireworks without any full regulatory impact assessment having been conducted—notwithstanding what the Government say about the importance of such assessments.

The person in charge of the better regulation taskforce—or is it the regulatory impacts assessment unit, I do not know—addressed a lunch of parliamentarians not long ago. In response to a question, he said that he needed our help—the help of parliamentarians—to make the system work. He advised that one way of making it work would be to embarrass Ministers when they had not complied with the requirements that had been laid down.

13 Jun 2003 : Column 965

Let me remind the House that those requirements are contained in a document—quite a thick document, which I downloaded because it is often difficult to acquire these items in hard-copy form—called "Better Policy Making: A Guide to Regulatory Impact Assessment". It was produced in 1998 and embellished with a foreword by the Prime Minister. It worth reminding the House and embarrassing the Minister with what he said:

Hon. Members will note that some of that language is adopted in my amendment.

The document stresses the full requirements of the process by which the Government are to introduce regulatory impact assessments. It makes it clear beyond peradventure that, for a private Member's Bill supported by the Government, a regulatory impact assessment should be available on Second Reading. We have barely had one today in time for Report and Third Reading, which is not good enough.

I hope that the Minister will accept that, because of the manifest failure of her Department to comply with the requirements of the Prime Minister—and, indeed, good common sense—amendment No. 47 should be put on the statute book. I hope that she will make that concession.

I hope that the Minister will also respond to the other amendments in the group. Amendment No. 48 is modest and would ensure that, if the Government needed to legislate instantly for emergencies or other eventualities without seeking the approval of Parliament, any such legislation would apply for only six months rather than a year. That is a sensible amendment. However, the regulatory impact assessments need to be produced in better time than in the past.

Many hon. Members will not have seen the regulatory impact assessment that has been produced for this Bill because the Minister signed it only yesterday, and I am not even sure that there is a copy in the Library—as there should be. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that. The RIA identifies a concern shared by almost all hon. Members about enforcement. Many rules and regulations already exist to control the use of fireworks, but the problems our constituents face are caused by lack of enforcement.

The RIA mentions costs and the Minister, in Committee, talked about the importance of getting tough and sorting out the problems that our constituents face. That is why I was concerned to read in the RIA that the Bill is not expected to add to the burden on the police. Most of our constituents expect that the Bill will result in the police becoming hyperactive in dealing with firework abuse and antisocial behaviour. In paragraph 9.3, the RIA states:

13 Jun 2003 : Column 966

That will come as a disappointment to many of us, because the Bill will not be enforced unless by the police.

The RIA also sets out some of the costs associated with the process, and it seems that most of the burden will fall on local authorities. The assessment states:

Despite the short time I had after receiving the RIA so late, I looked at how the Government intended to amend the Noise Act 1996. The changes mentioned in the RIA are contained in clause 47 of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. I discovered that, far from putting a duty on local authorities, clause 47 will relax their responsibilities to control noise nuisance, including the abuse of noisy fireworks, after 11 pm. That is amazing, because most issues raised in correspondence about fireworks relate the use of fireworks to antisocial behaviour. The Government are in a mess, because the regulatory impact assessment is not consistent with clause 47 of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. I am sure that if more hon. Members had had the chance to read the RIA, they too would have become concerned, because it shows that the Government are talking tough on dealing with antisocial behaviour relating to fireworks but have hardly anything substantive with which to address the problem.

Next Section

IndexHome Page