Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Kidney: I apologise for missing the fact that the relevant authority is the Minister; my hon. Friend is quite right. In the kind of case that he described, it is perfectly understandable that a Minister might want to direct that such information should not be published—certainly information such as people’s names, addresses and so on. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would happen in exceptional situations rather than simply inappropriate ones? Will he reflect that “inappropriate” is quite a wide test for the power, and that something such as “exceptional circumstances” would be more narrowly focused?
Mr. McFadden: We could have a discussion about “exceptional” and “inappropriate”. We agree that regulators should not be exempted from the duty for frivolous reasons. “Exceptional circumstances” might take it too far. It could cause a regulator difficulties in cases where strong data protection reasons exist for not disclosing enforcement action but the case is not seen as exceptional. We could argue about the specific term, but on data protection grounds and grounds of safety for those involved in the enterprise, we think that the provision in subsection (4) is a prudent part of the Bill’s information release function.
Mr. Prisk: This has been a useful debate. The hon. Member for Stafford rightly raised questions, which the Minister has delicately answered, about inappropriateness. I do not wish to stretch it too far, but does the Minister agree that although it might be helpful if the word “inappropriate” remained in the Bill, it would also be helpful if it were understood that it is the Government’s expectation that the matter would not be regarded as routine?
Mr. McFadden: That is a perfectly fair point.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 65 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 66

Compliance with regulatory principles
Mr. Prisk: I beg to move amendment No. 45, in clause 66, page 32, line 6, at end add—
‘(2) Where the regulator is a local authority or authorities, prior to the provision being made the relevant authority shall consult the LBRO as to whether the authority or authorities are fully compliant with the said principles and will continue to act in accordance with those principles.
(3) Notwithstanding subsection (2), the relevant authority may proceed to make the provision in subsection (1) with the condition that the LBRO is satisfied that any authority that is not fully compliant will become fully compliant within one year of the provision being made.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 3—Duty to secure observance of Code of Practice—
‘Where any local authority has been granted powers under Part 3 of this Act, the LBRO shall have the duty or reviewing and, if appropriate, certifying every three years whether local authorities are compliant with the provisions of any Code issued under Section 22 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006.’.
Mr. Prisk: I want the new clause to be regarded as a distinct element. If the Minister embraces both proposals warmly, the matter will be resolved, but if not, we may wish to press them to a Division. It would be appropriate to hear his response, but we might wish to deal with new clause 3 separately.
Amendment No. 45 would insert two subsections into the clause. It relates to local authorities, and it would reinforce the need for all regulators to be fully compliant with the Hampton principles. We have debated them, so I shall not rehearse them now. The amendment stems, as does new clause 3, from worries that have been expressed by business. I am particularly grateful to the British Retail Consortium for bringing the issue to my attention. It is worried that this part of the Bill does not explicitly state roots in the Hampton principles, and it wants consistency in the compliance of regulations with those principles. It says that not only when regulators begin their process should they be seen to be compliant, but that there should be a process by which that is made consistent throughout their operation.
The amendment would provide the Government with a compromise. It would allow the powers to proceed as the clause envisages, even if some authorities are not currently compliant. It would give the Local Better Regulation Office a role to ensure that such authorities become compliant in a year. It would make sure of the opportunity to achieve Hampton compliance. We can all think of local authorities that may achieve that at a particular point, but we believe in the principles and want the whole system to be skewed towards ensuring that the maximum number of authorities are compliant, and thus able to participate.
The Chairman: We shall come to new clause 3 formally later, but we can debate the two provisions together now.
Lorely Burt: I agree with the sentiment behind the new clause. So many companies will feel frustration if they are encumbered with a local authority that is not working within the spirit and the law of the Hampton principles. The new clause would give the LBRO auditing powers to see that local authorities comply with the Hampton principles and the ability to certify them as compliant every three years. I should be grateful if the Minister would elucidate on whether such matters are catered for elsewhere in the Bill or whether the proposal would introduce something new that would be helpful.
It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at One o’clock.
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