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Power to remove or reduce burdens

‘(1) A Minister of the Crown may by order under this section make any provision which he considers would serve the purpose in subsection (2).

(2) That purpose is removing or reducing any burden, or the overall burdens, resulting directly or indirectly for any person from any legislation.

(3) In this section “burden” means any of the following—

(a) a financial cost;

(b) an administrative inconvenience;

(c) an obstacle to efficiency, productivity or profitability; or

(d) a sanction, criminal or otherwise, for doing or not doing anything in the course of any activity.

(4) Provision may not be made under subsection (1) in relation to any burden which affects only a Minister of the Crown or government department, unless it affects the Minister or department in the exercise of a regulatory function.

(5) For the purposes of subsection (2), a financial cost or administrative inconvenience may result from the form of any legislation (for example, where the legislation is hard to understand).

(6) In this section “legislation” means any of the following or a provision of any of the following—

(a) a public general Act or local Act (whether passed before or after the commencement of this section), or

(b) any Order in Council, order, rules, regulations, scheme, warrant, byelaw or other subordinate instrument made at any time under an Act referred to in paragraph (a),

but does not include any instrument which is, or is made under, Northern Ireland legislation.

(7) Subject to this Part, the provision that may be made under subsection (1) includes—

(a) provision conferring functions on any person (including functions of legislating or functions relating to the charging of fees),

(b) provision modifying the functions conferred on any person by any enactment,

(c) provision transferring, or providing for the transfer or delegation of, the functions conferred on any person by any enactment,

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(d) provision abolishing a body or office established by or under an enactment,

and provision made by amending or repealing any enactment.

(8) An order under this section may contain such consequential, supplementary, incidental or transitional provision (including provision made by amending or repealing any enactment or other provision) as the Minister making it considers appropriate.

(9) An order under this section may bind the Crown.

(10) An order under this section must be made in accordance with this Part.'.

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.37 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Pat McFadden): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (a) to new clause 19, in line 2, after ‘he', insert ‘reasonably'.

Amendment (b) to new clause 19, in line 3, leave out second ‘or' and insert ‘and'.

Amendment (c) to new clause 19, in line 17, leave out from ‘means' to end of line 23 and insert ‘a public general Act'.

Amendment (d) to new clause 19, in line 28, leave out ‘functions of legislating or'.

Amendment (e) to new clause 19, in line 36, at end insert—

‘(7A) Provision made under subsection (7)(a) may only confer functions relating to the function of legislating to the extent permitted by section [Sub-delegated legislative functions].'.

Government new clause 22— Northern Ireland.

New clause 1— Restriction on powers under Part 1

‘A Minister may not make any provision by Order under Part 1 unless that provision would have the effect of—

(a) simplifying or modernising legislation,

(b) making the overall effect of legislation less onerous, or

(c) removing inconsistencies or anomalies in legislation.'.

New clause 4— Part 1 (limitation on burdens and costs)—

‘(1) Save insofar as the Order relates to a person exercising a regulatory function, a Minister may not by order under Part 1 make provision which—

(a) makes more onerous any duty which may be owed by any person, or any obligation under which any person may be;

(b) imposes any duty or obligation on any person which is greater than any duty or obligation from which it relieves that person;

(c) results in increases in cost for any person; or

(d) creates any disbenefit for any person which is greater than any benefit to that person.'.

New clause 8— Section 12 (Limitation on Burdens and costs)—

‘Each draft Order laid in accordance with section 12 shall contain a certificate made by the Minister to the effect that it does not make provision which—

(a) makes more onerous any duty which may be owed by any person, or any obligation under which any person may be;

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(b) imposes any duty or obligation on any person which is greater than any duty or obligation from which it relieves that person;

(c) results in increases in cost for any person; or

(d) creates any disbenefit for any person which is greater than any benefit to that person.'.

New clause 9— Part 1 (impact on small business)—

‘(1) An order under Part 1 must, where its application extends to small businesses, be for the purpose of—

(a) removing or reducing any burden,

(b) re-enacting provision having the effect of imposing any burden in cases where the burden is proportionate to the benefit expected to result,

(c) the removal of inconsistencies and anomalies.

(2) In this section, the meaning of “small business” is the same as in section 249 of the Companies Act 1985.

(3) In this Act “burden” includes—

(a) a restriction, requirement or condition, (including one requiring the payment of fees or preventing the incurring of expenditure) or any sanction (where criminal or otherwise) for failure to observe a restriction or to comply with a requirement or condition,

(b) any limit on the statutory powers of any person (including a limit preventing the charging of fees or the incurring of expenditure), and

(c) any matter which in the opinion of a Minister of the Crown causes inconvenience or imposes cost.'.

New clause 17— Disapplication of European Communities Act 1972 (No. 2)—

‘(1) An order made under Part 1 containing provision relating to Community treaties, Community instruments or Community obligations shall, notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972, be binding in any legal proceedings in the United Kingdom.

(2) In section 1 and this section—

“Community instruments” and “Community obligations” have the same meaning as in Part 2 of Schedule 1 to the European Communities Act 1972 (c. 68);“Community treaties” has the same meaning as in section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972.'.

Government amendment No. 10

Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 11 [Clause 1], leave out from ‘“legislation”' to end of line 3 on page 2 and insert—

‘(a) means a provision of—

(i) any public general Act or local Act, or

(ii) any Order in Council, order, rules, regulations, scheme, warrant, byelaw or other subordinate instrument made under a public general Act or local Act,

(b) in relation to and notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972 (c. 68), includes provision made before the passing of this Act under Community treaties, Community instruments and Community obligations,'.

Amendment No. 4, in page 2, line 5 [Clause 1], at end insert—

‘(3A) In this Part, “reforming” shall mean repealing, simplifying or clarifying or making different administrative arrangements for achieving its purposes.'.

Government amendments Nos. 11 and 12

Amendment No. 74, in page 2, line 36 [Clause 3], after ‘he', insert ‘reasonably'.

Government amendments Nos. 13 to 22, Nos. 24 to 26, Nos. 28 to 32 and Nos. 35 to 37.

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Amendment No. 75, in page 6, line 24 [Clause 12], at end insert—

‘(ba) explain why the Minister considers that the provision cannot be made by primary legislation;'.

Government amendments Nos. 38 and 39, Nos. 56 to 58 and Nos. 60 to 63

Amendment No. 78, in page 19, line 3 [Clause 34], leave out

‘extending outside England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland'.

Government amendments Nos. 64 and 65

Mr. McFadden: I thank the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) for his good wishes.

Let me begin by thanking my friend and predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Murphy), for his hard work in taking this Bill through its Second Reading and Committee stages. I know that it has been a great wrench for him to have to leave this Bill to take up his new post in the Department for Work and Pensions. [Laughter.]

Today, we are debating a series of important amendments to the Bill, which are in large part the Government’s response to some of the criticisms raised and fears expressed about the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire made clear at earlier stages, the Government did not approach those issues with a closed mind. We said that we would listen, but we were also anxious to have a better regulation system, which could root out and change unnecessary or outdated burdens on business, the public sector, charities and the voluntary sector. We should not forget that this is the third time in 12 years that Parliament has legislated on these issues.

The amendments will rightly take us into some detail, but the wider need for the Bill could not be clearer. We operate in a more global and competitive world economic environment than has ever been the case in our history.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I welcome the Minister to his interesting job. What measures will he want to bring forward for repeal or amendment under these clauses: His predecessor seemed to find it difficult to give us a list of examples? He can rest assured that Conservative Members are waiting for those and will support them.

Mr. McFadden: That, of course, will be a matter for the Departments once the powers are in place.

Huge changes have brought hundreds of millions, potentially billions, of people into world markets and the world trading system for the first time—for instance, the tearing down of the Berlin wall and the communications and technology revolution over the past 10 to 15 years.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I, too, welcome my near neighbour to his post and wish him well. He gave a perfectly reasonable answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), but could he not circulate a questionnaire to the Departments and return tomorrow with a shopping list from each one?

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Mr. McFadden: I am not sure whether the Departments will have provided such lists by tomorrow, but I shall be giving examples of what we might do under the orders.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): I join others in welcoming the Minister to his new position. He will know that each year the Department of Trade and Industry puts on its website a list of all the new amendments that it will make on two dates during that year. The latest item on the website shows that over the next year we shall see 40 pages of new regulations. Why will the Minister not commit himself to producing a list of the 40 pages that are to be scrapped?

Mr. McFadden: That is exactly what the Bill is about. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a tendency for regulation to grow under Governments of both colours, which is precisely why we need a robust mechanism that can root out and remove unnecessary regulation.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McFadden: I should like to make a little progress, but I will give way once more.

Mr. Turner: Along with the rest of the House, I congratulate the Minister. Can he tell us, though, whether an item of regulation on which the DTI is consulting at this moment—the deregulation, as the Department calls it, of Sunday trading at the behest of the big companies—would be eligible to proceed under the Bill?

Mr. McFadden: I do not think that it would, because of safeguards and other procedures in the Bill which we shall discuss in due course.

Opposition Members and I could, and perhaps will, exchange results of surveys showing how Britain is placed in various international economic leagues, but Labour Members, certainly, believe that it is well placed to succeed in the globalised economy. Employment is at record levels, reflecting the success of policies intended to secure employment opportunities for all. We have one of the highest rates of employment in the G7. We are a hard-working, enterprising and creative country. Our openness and flexibility are great strengths. The way forward is not to hide from the changes that are taking place in the world, or to wish them away; it is to ensure that we are best placed to succeed in this world by making certain that Britain remains a great country in which creativity, enterprise and hard work are allowed to flourish and to be rewarded.

It is sometimes said that this is a race to the bottom—a competition to level down standards and conditions of work. We reject that notion. We believe that people should be treated decently, that there should be a clean environment, and that there should be a labour market that ensures fairness. As I said earlier, however, we also know that under Governments of both parties regulations have tended to grow. We must have a process in Government to root out unnecessary regulation, and a remedy to hand that allows Government and Parliament to act when
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unnecessary burdens on businesses, charities and the voluntary sector have been identified.

It is precisely because the need for competitiveness is so important in the new and more open world in which we live that the Bill is necessary, and those outside the House look to us to keep our eye firmly on that bigger picture as we debate the legislation over the next two days.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend. As one who expressed concern about the measure because of its potential effects, may I say how pleased I am that his predecessor, and the Government generally, listened to and recognised the concerns expressed not just by Labour and Opposition Members, but by the Trades Union Congress and other bodies? While the Government did not intend to do any of the things that it was suggested they might do, other Governments could have, and I am very pleased that, as far as I can see, the Bill now contains the necessary safeguards.

Mr. McFadden: I thank my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour for those comments. I very much agree that the amendments that we are outlining today will show that the Bill is firmly focused on the better regulation purposes for which it is intended.

3.45 pm

Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): Following the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), will the Minister direct us to where in the amended Bill it is made clear that those powers apply only to regulation and not in any way to general legislation? If that is not the case, there is a danger that the burden that will be removed is the burden on Government to put legislation to the scrutiny of the House.

Mr. McFadden: New clause 19 will outline the focus of the Bill on better regulation purposes.

Our subject matter is sensitive, because it is not just about what the Government of the day might want; it also takes us into the realm of the relationship between Government and Parliament, and Parliament’s proper role in the scrutiny and approval of Government proposals in this sphere. In that respect, I thank the Chairs of the relevant Select Committees that produced reports on the Bill; they have contributed positively and constructively to the amendments.

The heart of what we are discussing is new clause 19 and the amendments related to it. Fears were raised that whatever my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire said, the Bill might be used not for the purposes of better regulation but to change fundamental rights and freedoms through secondary legislation.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I am glad that the Minister has reached the subject of new clause 19 at last. Does he agree that subsection (3) would still allow the Government to remove by secondary legislation the right to jury trial? Jury trial might be considered to impose “a financial cost” on employers or to be “an administrative inconvenience” to a number of different bodies.

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