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Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble Lord, with his experience, is aware of the importance of making sure that we do everything to ensure that the employers and the reservists themselves are given every notice. I

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will write to him and give him details on this. I do not have the full information with me today.

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

6.36 pm

House again in Committee.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): I call Amendment No. 31.

Lord Goodhart: Before we get to AmendmentNo. 31, I would like to make a brief correction to a statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, in the debate on Amendment No. 30 when he suggested that I was taking a different line from that taken by my honourable friends in the House of Commons. I have since then checked on the debates and votes on Report in the House of Commons and I refer the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, to the House of Commons Hansard reports for 15 and 16 May. On 15 May, at col. 737, my honourable friend David Heath made what could be regarded as an ambiguous statement indicating possible support. However, I would refer the noble Lord to the speeches of Mr David Howarth at col. 751 andMr Heath again at col. 755, which confirm our opposition to an identical amendment. When we voted on it the following day, as is shown in cols. 945-48, we voted with the Government against the amendment in exactly the same way as we have done in your Lordships’ House today.

Lord Waddington: The last thing that I would wish is—

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: I wonder whether it would be helpful if we had a Motion before the Committee before any further debate takes place. It is clearly a matter for the Committee and not for me, but this exchange could continue in the course of a later amendment when we have a Motion being debated before the Committee. Therefore I would like to call the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, to move Amendment No. 31.

Lord Goodhart: I thought it would be convenient to dispose of this matter now. It may present slight technical difficulties. I am not for a moment suggesting that the noble Lord has done anything to his discredit at all, but it seems it would be helpful to get this out of the way, particularly as there are no other amendments which are at all similar to Amendment No. 30.

Lord Waddington: I wonder if I can take it that the noble Lord is speaking to this amendment. I am most grateful to him for having made his statement. The last thing that I would wish is to mislead the Committee in any way. Of course I accept that the line he has taken today corresponds with the line taken by his colleagues in the other place. I want to make it absolutely plain that I accept entirely what he has said. I would add only that I am most grateful for the support of two Liberal Democrat Peers in the Division Lobby a short time ago.

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The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Shall we then proceed to Amendment No. 31?

Lord Howard of Rising moved Amendment No. 31:

The noble Lord said: I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if, by way of preface to this amendment, I refer to the remarks made by the Minister when this Bill was discussed in Committee a week ago. I return to this matter only as it is of such fundamental importance and because it bears on this amendment.

The Minister said:

That has made me think, as it has the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. Unfortunately, hard as I ponder, I am now even less able to understand this Bill. As departments already have the power to amend or revoke secondary legislation, why, if the Government are so keen on deregulation, are Ministers not falling over themselves to revoke great swathes of expensive and useless legislation?

The main argument against the Bill is the reluctance to give Ministers the power to bypass Parliament. But, how much deregulation is dependent on amending or repealing primary legislation? I should be grateful if the Minister could give some examples of the primary legislation that would be removed under these powers. There must surely be a long list of Acts or the Government would not have given so much time to this Bill. Can the Minister say what proportion of envisaged deregulation will be achieved through the repeal of primary legislation and what proportion of deregulation will be achieved through the repeal of secondary legislation, for which, as the Minister has told us, the Government already have powers?

If one of the purposes of the Bill is to enable primary legislation to be amended or removed without going through the normal legislative process, then, clearly, there must be adequate protections to avoid the abuse of power. I am still unable to see how adequate safeguards can be introduced without losing that flexibility to repeal and amend legislation, which

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this Bill seeks to provide. I apologise to your Lordships for returning to that point, but it bears repetition.

The Minister has confirmed that power already exists to deregulate secondary legislation. Since that power is not being used, it is important that pressure is applied to Ministers to make effective use of both existing powers and the powers to deregulate that the Bill proposes to give them. There will always be other projects and initiatives that will be more attractive than the tedious job of getting rid of regulations. I refer your Lordships to the comment in the 20th report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which stated that,

Given the record of Ministers on deregulation, the Bill will be pointless if there is not a statutory duty on the Minister to deregulate. Although it is not included in the amendment, it is important for there to be a time limit within which action must be taken. We can return to that when the Minister’s reaction to the amendment is known.

The idea of creating a target for deregulation was strongly endorsed by the Better Regulation Task Force, which stated that target setting was,

My view is that the amendment’s suggestion of a reduction of 10 per cent over two years is an extremely modest ambition, and if the Minister were to say that such a reduction was inadequate, I would accept that as a valid criticism. I wished to suggest a minimum target that was easily obtainable.

I refer again to the Better Regulation Task Force. It recommended the Dutch model of deregulation, which involved introducing a target for reducing administrative costs. The Netherlands chose a target of 25 per cent over four years, with some limited flexibility across different government targets. If the Dutch approach were used, as well as the benefit of increasing productivity and growth of business and a mechanism for increasing the efficiency of government, the task force estimated that an investment of £35 million would potentially increase gross domestic product by £16 billion. The report recommended that the Government set a target by May 2006 for reducing the administrative burden. The Government’s response was that targets would be set by the time of the Pre-Budget Report 2006. Can the Minister confirm that such targets will be forthcoming and that progress on the implementation of the recommendation is on course?

I understand that the Government accepted in full all the recommendations of the Less is More report so I am sure that the Minister will welcome the amendment. I beg to move.

6.45 pm

Viscount Bledisloe: I was somewhat confused when I read the amendment. Having heard the noble Lord move it, I am a great deal more confused. The amendment states:

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that lay burdens on businesses and people. That is to be inserted after Clause 1, which does not refer to regulations but to burdens imposed by all legislation. Does the noble Lord intend to restrict his amendment to burdens that happen to be imposed by secondary legislation, or is he using the word “regulations” in a more general sense in relation to burdens imposed by any legislation? If he is using it in the second sense, the task that he seeks to impose on the Secretary of State in subsection (1) of the amendment is absolutely enormous, because Clause 1 refers to burdens imposed by any legislation.

During last week’s debates, which, unfortunately, I could not attend, the Minister very much limited that to burdens imposed by regulators and so on. But that is not what the clause states and that is why it is so dangerous. A burden imposed by any legislation could be a burden imposed, for example, by a landlord and tenant Act which states that a landlord or tenant must repair this, that or the other, or by the Sale of Goods Act, which states that the seller must be responsible for the quality of the goods. Such burdens can be altered under Clause 1(2). You could make a regulation under Clause 1 that stated that, henceforward, landlords need not do any repairs and tenants must do them all; or that, henceforward, vendors need take no responsibility for goods and it would just be bad luck if you buy something that does not work.

Such burdens are imposed by virtually all legislation; so, if the Secretary of State were annually to have to publish a list of all the burdens imposed on individuals by any legislation in the country, he would merely be made to recite the entire statute book. On the other hand, if the noble Lord does mean regulations in the normal sense, I do not see why he is concerned only with burdens imposed by statutory instruments and the like, and not by burdens imposed by primary legislation. Some of those may need to be reduced, while some certainly do not need to be reduced at all. If the noble Lord is really including in the totality of the 10 per cent that is to be reduced all the obligations imposed on individuals under, say, landlord and tenant, sale of goods, employer, and safety at work legislation, trying to cut the statute book by 10 per cent every two years seems a somewhat ambitious target, even for those who are keenest on deregulation.

Lord Borrie: The quality and value of the speech that we have just heard makes me regret that the noble Viscount was not here on the first day of Committee. I suppose that the amendment is meant to be taken seriously but it is rather frivolous in its consequences. I suppose that it could be a probing amendment but I am not sure what it is probing. I do not think that having in a Bill a target of a 10 per cent reduction in the number of regulations established under legislation and so on is what Hampton or the Better Regulation Task Force, or whatever it is now called, had in mind at all. As the noble Viscount indicated, the duty would have astonishing consequences in a short period of time if a department had to comply with subsection (2).

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As for publishing a list of all regulations, the noble Viscount has already pointed out the ambiguity surrounding those regulations. Is the amendment referring to legislation in general, as is dealt with in Clause 1, including subordinate legislation? As for “burdens”, almost every conceivable piece of legislation can be described as a burden.

To be serious for a moment, surely we must accept that, whatever its faults, the Bill is concerned with continuing what was begun in 1994 when Her Majesty's Opposition were in government to reduce the burden of regulation on business and so on. One wants the Bill to be more effective than the previous one, from which arose a considerable spate of deregulatory orders, in order to reduce the burden that I have just described. Asking departments to publish lists of regulations seems to me to serve no useful purpose, and it is rather surprising that Her Majesty's Opposition should think that this is an amendment of value.

Viscount Eccles: I, too, am puzzled and confused, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, was the other day. I was very interested in the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. I think that the confusion arises from the Government because, on the one hand, they say that they want to pursue better regulation. At one time that might have been “deregulation”, but that is a dangerous description and so they have shifted towards “better regulation”. On the other hand, they say that they have not been able to do that with the 2001 Act and nor could other governments do it with the 1994 Act. Then the Government say that they have opened a portal. We have heard about that several times. I think that it is run by the Better Regulation Executive, although I am not sure. It has made 330 proposals for deregulation, simplification, amendment and removal. These have included administrative recommendations as well as recommendations which I believe will almost exclusively concern secondary and not primary legislation.

This is where the confusion comes in. We find ourselves talking as though it will be impossible to follow the Government's programme if either the 2001 Act is not amended or this Bill is not enacted. I sincerely believe, and I am sure the Minister will put me right if I am wrong, that it will be possible to put in place by existing legislation a large percentage of any deregulatory, simplification or amendment programme—the departmental plans to which the noble Lord referred. The 1994 and 2001 Acts did not do much to achieve a reduction in the regulatory burden and nor will this Bill.

It is probably a pity that we have chosen the word “burden” because, as has been pointed out, a burden works both ways. To give one example, there used to be a simplified employer’s deduction card and a year-end return, which involved putting in one form. You now have to submit three forms, which contain a great deal of information, including whether your employee worked for a foreign company for 30 days in the year. That is completely irrelevant to complying with the Revenue’s intentions. There are many other examples which come from administration and secondary legislation. Unless and until the Minister can clarify how much primary

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legislation the Government need to amend to achieve the deregulatory regime to which he referred and how much they can achieve with existing legislation, the confusion will remain.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am drawn very much to the analysis to which the amendment has been subjected by my noble friend Lord Borrie and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. Of the three parts of the amendment, subsection (1) gives me most concern. We have been discussing burdens and the quantity of regulation that can impact on a business, a voluntary organisation and the public or private sectors and so on. When I read this part of the amendment, my heart sank because I had thought that noble Lords opposite were beginning to get to grips with what the Government are trying to achieve. Subsection (1) asks us to consider producing a list of all regulations—I am not sure whether it is secondary or primary legislation or both, or whether it is all legislation in the past or all future legislation—and,

to fill in forms, prepare and publish prescribed codes or policies or otherwise to comply with each regulation. That is a massive undertaking. What sort of bureaucracy would a Government need to deploy to fulfil the requirements of the amendment? I cannot begin to quantify it and I doubt whether the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, can begin to do so either.

Is that the sort of thing that we want to ask of civil servants who are tasked with the business of improving the quality of regulation—or deregulating, depending on which term you prefer? I say not. I cannot see the value in that exercise. I cannot see what it would do to hone and perfect the improvement of regulation or to reduce the burden of regulation within our legislative and statutory framework. I cannot see it working.

The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, then goes on in the amendment to talk about target setting and about having robust methodology. We argue that we already have in place a robust examination of regulations. That is why we have a regulatory impact assessment and why departments are asked annually to go through their stock of regulations. I do not think that we need the prescriptive and bureaucratic approach which the noble Lord, Lord Howard, wishes on us in order to achieve that objective.

Regulations exist for good reason. They ensure that we protect citizens and provide a sensible framework within which our businesses, public services and voluntary organisations can operate. We want our public servants to use their finite resource to root out the unnecessary bureaucracy and to deal with it rather than investing more of their time in producing lists and writing more reports for Parliament, whether on an annual or a biennial basis, whichever approach is adopted.

7 pm

I understand that the Opposition might have thought that this amendment would achieve an improvement to regulation, but I cannot see how they can demonstrate that it will. We are the first Government in the UK to face up to the challenge of identifying and measuring

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costs on business, charities and voluntary organisations. Each year, as I think I have said before, departments will publish detailed information on the administrative costs of complying with government regulation and their analysis and plans for reducing both those costs and other regulatory burdens. The Government will put in place a stretching but, I think I can argue in the end, an achievable target for reducing each department’s administrative costs over time.

At present, departments are reviewing their regulations and preparing simplification plans, taking into account suggestions for change that have been made by those who have made representations to us from the business, voluntary and charity sectors. Those plans will be published annually because they focus on burdens that are experienced and real to organisations rather than burdens that are imagined as the fruit of the whole stock of legislation and governance. These measures will include a commitment to reduce regulatory burdens on business and the voluntary sector as well as the public sector. The plans will be published at about the same time as the Pre-Budget Report. Departments are also obliged to report on their better regulation work as part of their annual reports. I made that point during an earlier debate.

We do not need prescriptive and inflexible targets on the statute book for a reduction in bureaucracy. Progress to date and our commitment to this agenda should be visible to all. For example, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is already undertaking a measurement exercise. It has already announced a commitment to reduce by at least 10 per cent the administrative burden on business of dealing with HMRC forms and returns, over a five-year period. It also aims to reduce the administrative cost on business of dealing with audits and inspections by10 per cent over three years and by at least 15 per cent over five years.

This amendment is not necessary; it is over-prescriptive; we are already on the right track; we are already working in the direction of reducing the burdens about which the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, is concerned. It would provide us with a straitjacket from which we could not escape and which would, as far as I can make out, provide us with a work stream that could last more than several lifetimes.

The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, asked: what proportion of deregulatory work needed amendment to primary legislation? I should respond to that, although it is an almost impossible question to answer. We intend to try to use all the tools we can to deregulate; that is what this legislation is about. We can also use guidance. We may want to use primary legislation for different measures; and we may want to use the secondary legislation for different measures, including orders under the Bill. The Bill enables us to have a more streamlined procedure, a more exact procedure and one that does not become too bogged down in the process, but which gets to the heart of what is required to take action that is effective against things that perhaps have been on the statute book for some time, that are no longer necessary, and that are imposing burdens on business and other organisations. That

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practical, hard-nosed way of dealing with things is what we require. This legislation will enable us better to perfect that.

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