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The Government also believe that all Departments should keep their legislation under review. That is why the Government set up the panel for regulatory accountability, and why there are regulatory reform Ministers in each of the main regulatory Departmentsand a Better Regulation Commission keeping an eye on them all.
Departments are currently reviewing their regulations and drafting simplification plans, which include measures to reduce administrative burdens on business. Those will be published in the pre-Budget report later this year. The Better Regulation Commission will review the simplification plans that Departments and some independent regulators are preparing. The review will occur while the plans are in final draft form and before they go for clearance by the panel for regulatory accountability. The important thing is that Departments are already obliged to report on their better regulation work as part of their annual reports. They have been required to do that for the past two years. We would expect departmental Select Committees to report on those annual reports as appropriate.
Mr. McFadden: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the reason behind the Bill is that we must make greater progress than has been made under the 2001 Act. My point is that the Bill will not be the only measure, and that efforts are being made to achieve simplification. Although I agree that we should be open to reviewing orders, I believe that it would be unnecessarily prescriptive, and indeed unnecessary, to include that provision in the Bill.
As hon. Members will be aware, one of the main aims of the Bill is to provide a power to remove unnecessary burdens. To include yet another requirement in addition to those that I have already discussed could be argued to be contrary to the spirit and the purpose of the Billas I am sure at least some hon. Members will agree.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): As a former member of the Regulatory Reform Committee, I agree with my hon. Friend about the prescriptive nature of new clause 2. However, with the increasing prominence of the idea of deregulation, if we are to show the political will to achieve deregulation and if we are to avoid the culture of Whitehall overcoming what we are trying to achieve, regular transparent reports to Parliament are a necessary reality.
Mr. McFadden: My hon. Friend makes a sound point. There must be a culture in Departments whereby that is a prioritya point made with great force yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston.
New clause 7 is a sunset clause. It would be inappropriate at this moment to set an arbitrary date for the expiry of part 1 of the Bill. Such a sunset clause would set a date on which the Act would certainly come to an end. The safeguards in the Bill and the rigorous parliamentary scrutiny that any proposal will undergo are robust. It would not be wise for us to introduce the uncertainty that a sunset provision would bringalthough I am sure that we all relish the thought of going through this process again in five years.
Mr. Heath: Of course we would love to have another go, because this has been such fun. May I bring the hon. Gentleman back to the reporting procedure? He is the Minister responsible not only for this aspect of deregulation but for better government practice. I made a suggestion yesterdaywhen speaking to amendment No. 75, I thinkthat was not really responded to: irrespective of statutory requirements, it would be good practice for Ministers who wish to introduce orders under the procedure to explain why they cannot use primary legislation to achieve the same effect. That would be a way of preventing Ministers from adopting a lazy attitude and thinking that the procedures in the Bill would provide an easy way of legislating, although they could draft a perfectly proper Bill, and ought to be using primary legislation.
Mr. McFadden: Some people who have examined the procedure that will emerge when the Bill is enacted do not think that it will be an easier process than primary legislation. It might be a more appropriate procedure on occasions. There may well be more consultation and debate on, and scrutiny of, some regulatory reform orders than would be the case for individual clauses in primary legislation, so we should not be prescriptive.
In Committee, the former Minister spoke of the need for a culture change across government. The approach that we need to take is one of partnership, with regulators and the regulated working together. What message would we be sending the business community, charities, the voluntary sector and public sector organisations affected by the Bill if we said that the deregulation scheme that it created would be killed off automatically after five years? I return again to the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston about the pressures on Departments. Departments will be less likely to invest a
lot of resources in pursuing reforms if they might not prove possible in the end. The culture change that we want should offer certainty about, and confidence in, methods of delivery.
People should be able to rely on primary legislation. They should know that if the Bill is passed, it is there to last. We want to avoid a situation in which those who are regulated by an order do not have confidence in its provisions. I hope that the orders will deliver wide-ranging reforms, as has already happened under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
Mr. Heath: The Minister is straying into exactly the fallacy against which I warned earlier. The Conservative new clauses would bring no uncertainty to orders that have already been made, but would simply mean that the order-making process would have to be reviewed. The Ministers remarks are thus completely irrelevant to the proposition before him.
Mr. McFadden: We have said that there should be a review in no more than five years. However, we are not prepared to sign up to a sunset clause that would automatically bring the Bill to an end. We want Parliament to pass a power in which it has confidence, and that being the case, it should have confidence in that power for the future.
As I said, the Government have given an undertaking that a Minister of the Crown will report to the House on the operation of the Bill within five years of enactment. There is nothing in new clause 7 to ensure that orders made under part 1 would remain in force, if that is the intention. If they did not, everything done by means of them, including amendments to primary legislation, could be repealed. I can only assume that the intention is for existing orders to remain in force. However, unless there is an express provision to that effect, we cannot be free from doubt. That is why we had a saving provision to make it completely clear that when we repeal the 2001 Act, orders made under it will continue in force. Similar amendments were tabled when the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and the 2001 Act went through Parliament, and, specifically, the Conservative Administration resisted them during the passage of the 1994 Act.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): Can we just clarify one thing? The Minister contradicted himself in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), but I hope that he eventually corrected his slip of the tongue. On the undertaking to report to the House, the Minister confirmed that the report would appear in not less than five years. He seemed to be reassuring us that nothing would be embarked upon with undue hastebut my hon. Friend was trying to press him to say that he was undertaking that a report would be given in not more than five years time. The Minister appeared to return to that idea later, but will he clarify what he meant?
Mr. Love: I was a little disappointed by the Ministers comments on new clause 2. As I said, although I do not propose to support it, because its terms are too prescriptive, there is considerable merit in the recommendation by the Select Committee on Regulatory Reform for regular parliamentary scrutiny of what the Bill achieves.
I have two major reasons, based on experiences for thinking that. First, I served on the Select Committee for about two to two and half years, although it felt a great deal longer. One of the things that would have made our work much more effective was greater transparency with regard to the lack of political will in Departments to achieve the objectives set out in legislation.
There is no doubt that one way to gain the attention of politicians and civil servants is to have transparency and a regular report to Parliament that allows us, the media and the public to know what is going on. That is important because deregulation has become a much higher political priority for everyone. We are constantly chided by the Opposition for our failures in deregulation, and we continually make commitments to do better. Looking back at the historical record, it is clear that previous Governments have not done that well, either; we all remember the bonfire of the regulations in the early 1990s. It behoves all of us in Parliament to create the conditions whereby we can succeed. The Bill does many things, but it does not achieve proper parliamentary scrutinyI am talking about scrutiny in this Chamberof what is being achieved.
The second consideration, as I said in an intervention, is the culture of Whitehall. It is undoubtedly the case that the priority both for politicians and for civil servants is creating new regulations and new laws. One becomes a Cabinet Minister by passing laws; one becomes a permanent secretary by assisting Ministers in passing laws. We need to try to create incentives to do away with laws as well as to create them. This measure is a small mechanism, but it is probably the only way in which we can change the culture of Whitehall and create a better opportunity to do away with regulation.
Mr. Harper: The hon. Gentleman spoke about how Ministers performance is assessed. To achieve a culture change, we must shift our focus from the introduction of new Bills and legislation to deregulation and the removal of burdens from business. We must focus, too, on sound administration, and on paying attention to
the need to get the operation of Acts of Parliament correct before rushing to introduce yet another Bill.
Mr. Love: I sympathise with the hon. Gentlemans suggestion. I could add that much of the legislation passed by the House has not been properly thought through, as it has not been subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny and other mechanisms. Perhaps Parliament and the Government should consider passing not quite as much legislation, but making sure that the legislation that does proceed through the House is better thought through.
We should consider what straightforward measures we can take in the Bill to try to change the culture and make politicians and civil servants sit up and think before they carry on with their duties. I believe that an annual report to Parliament detailing progress under the Bill would assist that process a great deal.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The Bill facilitates the sensible use of the order-making process, and we need to turn orders from the ugly ducklings of legislation into the swans. At the moment, the culture favours the introduction of Bills by Ministers and civil servants, but with the good use of orders we can change that culture.
The Minister has repeated an argument made in Committee that the requirement for an annual report to Parliament would impose an additional burden on Departments. I accept that that is generally true, but benefits would accrue from the work done by Departments to meet the priority imposed by Parliament, and thus help to change the culture. There is a great deal of merit in the proposal for an annual report. The report would be relatively straightforward to produce, but would give Parliament an opportunity to comment on the success of the Bill, or otherwise. We should remember that the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 both failed to achieve our objectives. If the Bill is to succeed, an amendment requiring an annual report would be helpful.
Mr. Harper: I am pleased that the new clause has been welcomed by Members on both sides of the House. In Committee, the Government said that they had the most ambitious deregulatory agenda in the world, so I would expect them to welcome the opportunity both to submit an annual report to the House setting out their achievements in reducing burdens on business and to discuss that with Members. Because Ministers would be forced to come to the House to report on progress every year, the proposal gives them a tool for insisting that civil servants take action. The Minister appeared to welcome new clause 2 in principle, when he said that the Government needed to report to the House more frequently than once every
five years, but he did not give any concrete commitments. I must therefore insist on pressing new clause 2 to a Division.
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