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functions conferred on any person by any enactment.
The broad-ranging power would enable Ministers to reconstruct completely many statutory bodies, executive agencies and non-departmental parties simply through subordinate legislation. Furthermore, subsection 7(d) gives Ministers the power to abolish any
body or office established by or under an enactment.
It is noteworthy that subsection (7) uses the word enactment, although the rest of new clause 19 uses the word legislation. However, unlike the word legislation, the word enactment does not seem to be defined.
Several further matters need to be addressed, so it is unfortunate that we have lost parliamentary time for debating a measure that is, in fact, a new Bill. I hope that the Bill will be improved in the other place. I do not want the Minister to choke on his humble pie because he has moved some way to improve the Bill, but I hope that we will have the opportunity to improve it further. I hope that we will have the opportunity to vote on the Liberal Democrat amendments to new clause 19 because they would improve the measure significantly.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I apologise to the Minister that I was not in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate to hear his speech. I welcome him to his new post and hope that I can co-operate with him to make the Bill better than it is at the moment and better even from how it will stand after it has been amended as the Government propose.
I was one of the Labour Members who were deeply concerned about the original Bill. When I read clause 1, I found it difficult to believe that the Government were seriously proposing a Bill that would allow them to legislate by order on almost any sphere of government and to amend any Act, including, apparently, the Bill itself. However, improvements have been made, so I am grateful to the Ministers predecessor, who wrote to me about the Bill and discussed it with me at length. My concerns were shared by several Labour Members, and one had to be worried about such a general measure.
Even in its amended form, the Bill will be too all-inclusive. I would prefer to have a Bill that specified positively what was included, instead of setting out exemptions. Such a Bill would thus specify the areas to which it related, rather than including a general provision to open the way to changing any legislation. Such a change of approach would be a major step towards a Bill that everyone could support.
I am worried about the question of burdens on business. I am one of those who think that business ought to have some burdens on it. Good regulations exist, but there is an implication that burdens of any kind are bad on business and that business should be as free as possible to do whatever it likes. I do not accept that. Let us consider simple measures, such as building regulations. Some 20 years ago, a builder did some work on my house. I thought that it was not right, so I called in the building inspector and the builder had to do the work again. There was a burden on that builder, but it meant that my house was safe to live in after the work had been done, so it was absolutely right.
Alison Seabeck: We have heard a lot of concerns about regulation from Opposition Members, but people in the City and financial institutions say that the regulations that exist in the City attract financial institutions there from other parts of the world because they know that it will be a safe place to do business.
Other aspects of regulation can be dealt with annually through the general Bills that come before the House. An obvious example is taxation, which is addressed in clause 5. Any change to taxation can be achieved through each years Finance Bill. Clause 5 states:
Provision under section 2(1) may not impose or increase taxation.
I know that the wording will be amended, but the Government will still be able to use delegated legislation to change taxation outside a Finance Bill. There is no reason whatsoever for such a provision. Indeed, I would prefer the provision to include the
word change rather than the phrase impose or increase because it implies that imposing or increasing taxation is bad, but that is not necessarily the truth. There are areas of life in which I would like taxes to be increased and, perhaps, less tax in other areas. I would like clause 5 to be taken out of the Bill.
Mr. Shepherd: The hon. Gentleman is being disingenuous. Finance Bills provide every mechanism for increasing taxation and are subject to proper scrutiny. I hope that he is not suggesting for one moment that we should enter a realm of taxation by the means of an instrument?
Kelvin Hopkins: Precisely. Provisions on taxation are misplaced in the Bill. Taxation should be covered by Finance Bills, and as we have a Finance Bill each year, there is no problem with delay. It is not as if we can legislate on taxation only every five or 10 years.
A Bill on business is going through the other place. Such a generalised Bill would be a mechanism to make changes that would no doubt help business to run more smoothly. All sorts of general Bills come through the House regularly, so they could be used to make such changes.
It was suggested that the Government need such an approach on changing legislation because of the frustrations of the legislative process, but I understand that the problems have a lot to do with delays in Departments of State. The difficulties that civil servants have when bringing forward changes is much more of a delaying factor for Government legislation than the House. Short and punchy Bills that make small changes can go through the House quickly with little debate. Such simple Bills would be the appropriate way of dealing with problems that concern the House.
There are other ways to approach the problems. A number of detailed changes could be made. I much appreciated the speech by the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth). It was thoughtful and well made. I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said. I was surprised to hear that he voted for the Single European Act, which I would not have done at the time. Had he not voted for it, and had his party not voted for it, a lot of grief would have been saved. We would have had a much more loose-limbed European Union, causing much less difficulty for us all in all sorts of ways.
Mr. Shepherd: The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) laid bare his soul by suggesting that he had been defective in not appreciating the burden of what the Bill was about. I join him in that state of sin inasmuch as the titles of Bills often deceive us as to their purpose or intent. For example, who could possibly have objected to the Civil Contingencies Bill? It was an important measure. Yet part 2 contained the right of Ministers, down to Whips, by statutory instrument or Order in Council, to change or suspend
all the laws of this land with the exception, and only under pressure, of the European convention on human rights and therefore the Human Rights Act 1998. The title of a Bill does not necessarily indicate what it is about. We owe a debt of thanks to the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), as we do to the Select Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), for drawing our attention to what the Bill is and was.
On new clause 19, I accept that, following the furore in the press and the wider reaches of our nation, the Government agreed that the form they had adopted was inappropriate. I still think that the new clause as it stands, as a measure of unwinding parliamentary procedure and the authority of the House, is not satisfactory. It could be satisfactory to some extent if amendment (a) were agreed to. That is crucial. The point was well made that reasonably constrains and better defines what it is that the Minister must do, so that he can be challenged in court if he acts unreasonably. It is a critical amendment.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) well made the point about whether we can decrease taxation by order. It is unthinkable that one should do that. I will vote againstconfidentlynew clause 19 on the basis that, on such a delicate, essential assertion of what is the proper process by which we discuss and consider law, it does not meet the test.
The only other amendment that I intend to speak to is new clause 17, which I tabled. There is an extraordinarily important principle behind it, and it goes both ways. I made a simple intervention on my right hon. and learned Friend. Is the Bill the way to alter something that has been so important to the life of our nation? I wholly disagree with our membership of the European Community; do not doubt that. I did not stand by and vote for the Single European Act, unlike my more craven hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I voted against a guillotine, and it was guillotined, as is this debate. There are sections of the Bill that we cannot, or are unlikely to, discuss because of the figure of the great guillotine motion. I have spoken against those things all my political life in the House, and it bites us in the end.
On the disapplication of the European Communities Act 1972, new clause 17 addresses the elephant in our house. The Modernisation Committee went to Finland about two years ago. The Finnish committee that judges and scrutinises European legislation accepted that 80 per cent. of its legislation came from Europe. In the case of the German BundestagMrs. Merkel made reference to it70 per cent. of its legislation comes from the European Community. Last weekmy hon. Friend the Member for Stone was in attendanceVaclav Klaus gave a lecture in London to American business men, saying that 75 to 80 per cent. of the legislation of the Czech Republic emanates from Europe.
Our Cabinet Office two years ago suggested that, more modestly in Britain, only 40 per cent. of our legislation emanates from the European Community. How can we have a deregulation Bill without acknowledging that the greater part of our legislation, including the statutory instruments that follow it and the regulation that is attendant on it, now emanates from the European Community? In some instances, it
has direct application in our law without even troubling the House. We have a process, through statutory instruments, by which those laws are nodded through.
What is the purpose of the new clause? First, can we ignore the fact that that quantum of legislation is not regarded for the purposes of the Bill? The new clause says no. My second concern, which is more important, relates to the constitutional affirmation accepted by, I think, the hon. Member for Cambridge and articulated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. I am a more simple Member of the House. The long march to our democracy is summed up by Churchills exclamation as to who is sovereign: the people are sovereign. The new clause is an expression of that sovereignty. The bypassing of that sovereignty by other means is not appropriate.
Mr. Heald: If my hon. Friend wants new clause 19 to be amended, it has to be passed. Then we would have the opportunity of considering amendment (a). Does he agree that not to pass the new clause would mean that we end up with what was in the Bill originally, which was appallingnamely, that a Minister, by order, could pass any law for any purpose in any way? I hope that he is prepared to accept the logic that the new clause is a bit better, because then amendment (a) might be possible.
Mr. Shepherd: No. The effort of the House should go into making a piece of legislation appropriate and correct as we see it. We cannot have a vote on amendment (a) until we have had a vote on new clause 19. My votelet me set out this conditionis wholly dependent on the Government saying that they accept reasonable. That is how I would do it. If they say, No, we will not accept it, then I will not vote for the new clause and will look to the other place to rewrite the Bill. I have no doubt that it will include the reasonable element.
Mr. Chope: Will my hon. Friend extend his comments to amendment (b)? Does he accept that we will not know until we have voted on new clause 19 whether amendments (a) and (b) will be called for a vote?
Mr. Shepherd: I absolutely accept the point. Again, that reinforces why I will not vote for the new clause until the Minister has conceded, or accepted, the burden of the argument and will accept those amendments. That is a matter of principle. The House, having regard to its own dignity, should not just say that because the previous draft of the Bill was so dreadful and has, properly and rightly, been improved to some extentI give credit to the Government for thatit does not seek the things that qualify the powers of a Minister. That is the heart of the matter, and why the argument is about ourselves and the sovereignty of this place, which my hon. Friend is trying to promote. This issue is incredibly important for the House, because it is about ourselves, our country and our authoritythe authority that this Bill and a raft of other legislation confers, each reducing the power of the House for the benefit of the Executive. That is the struggle.
Why are we having to amend or to do away with so much legislation? It is because the volume of legislation and the sheer weight of statutory instruments are such that we cannot accord to them the traditional form of repealing an Act of Parliament by another Act of Parliament. It is a short cut. In the modern age we do not give the proper amount of time to deliberation on and consideration of matters before the House. That is what I am arguing for. I hope that the Government will accept amendments (a) and (b), and I hope that the House will acknowledge the importance of the constitutional principle that underlines my hon. Friends proposal.
Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend agree that a Government who refuse to include the word reasonable are suggesting that in some circumstances they wish to act unreasonably and that the word reasonable is so reasonable that it would look very unreasonable if they did not accept it?
Mr. Shepherd: My right hon. Friend has made a brilliant point. He and I have made that point about Governments of other complexions who have resisted the concept of reasonableness because the Executive, advised by draftsmen or by their own self-importance, have felt that it is an unreasonable constraint to be reasonably constrained.
Rob Marris: I apologise to the Opposition Front Benchers for not being here earlier, although I was present for the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Minister. I declare an interest as a member of the Law Society of England and Wales, which is a regulated body and therefore might be affected by the Bill.
I heard earlier, and have heard since returning to the Chamber following meetings, a lot of wounded outrage from Opposition Members, particularly Conservatives. Having sat through most of the Second Reading debate, my recollection is that at its conclusion there was no Division. [Interruption.] Somebody says that there was a one-line Whip, but I took the trouble to be present and other hon. Members could have done so. There have been howls of outrage from the Opposition because they feel that they missed a trick on Second Reading by not calling a Division.
On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Murphy), the then Minister, who is present tonight, said that he did not wish the Bill to be used for controversial measures. Understandably, he was asked what would be considered a controversial measure, and quite reasonably he said that that was a difficult definition which he had been discussing with parliamentary draftsmen and that he would table amendments at a later stageand he has done so.
Mr. Heath: I make no attempt to justify after the event the position that I took on Second Reading, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recollect that I said clearly that there was a need for a deregulatory Bill but
that part 1 was wholly unsatisfactory and that if it remained in the Bill I would be advising my hon. Friends to vote against Third Reading. Part 1 will not do.
Sir Robert Smith: The hon. Gentleman says that the former Minister came to the House on Second Reading having been unable to work out how to include in the Bill the safeguards, and on Report they are finally appearing. Is that not a classic example of why we have so much bad legislation? It comes to the House too soon, before it is ready. The Minister should have brought the legislation before the House once he had worked out how to include the safeguards that he wanted, so that under our procedures we could have considered them more efficiently, rather than leaving the issue to be discussed in a shorter debate on Report.
Rob Marris: I understand the hon. Gentlemans argument. As often happens in this House, we like to have it both ways. The idea to my mind and for many hon. Members was to have a public debate on this important Bill. We have had that debate in the intervening period. The then Minister put forward proposals and serious reservations were expressed by Opposition Members and by Labour Members, including me, and the Minister said that he would consider them. He has done so, and his successor has come forward with quite wide-ranging amendments, on which I shall remark later.
Rob Marris: I cannot remember whether the hon. Gentleman was present on Second ReadingI do not think that he wasbut the then Minister made it clear that the Bill was not in the final form that he envisaged would go to the other place. He was entirely honest and open with the House. He said that we needed more safeguards and that he was open to suggestions. He has listened to those suggestions, yet his successor is being slagged off for that.
Mr. Greg Knight: Has not the hon. Gentleman just shot his own fox? It is because the Minister made it clear that he was willing to listen to arguments that many of us did not vote against Second Reading.
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