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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: First, I take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. A number of amendments which were grouped together address the issue of what the detailed scope of the Bill should be. Quite fairly, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has degrouped them. Inevitably that means that we shall start to consider the amendments piecemeal. A point will come in the debate where we discuss the overall scope. I shall wait for a Member of the Committee to introduce that part of the debate and, at that point, I suspect that we shall sweep in all the amendments. At present, I shall simply address the issues raised by Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe.
The noble Baroness said that the word "affecting" should be changed to the word "upon". Perhaps I may give the three reasons why we do not consider that to be a good idea. First, the effect would be substantially to limit the range of reforms--in particular, deregulatory reforms--which we could introduce under the Bill if it became law.
Secondly, many pieces of legislation impose regulations, for example, on a local authority in relation to implementing environmental matters. In practice, the burden of those regulations will not fall heavily on the local authority; it will fall heavily on a group of people such as farmers. We believe that, rather than focus simply upon on whom the burden is placed by the legislation, one should be able to look wider to see whether or not the burden is such that it should appropriately be removed, reduced or replaced. We could lose that benefit if we were to move from the word "affecting" to the word "upon". I believe that that degree of flexibility is sensible. We have taken the word "affecting" from the 1994 Act. The draftsmen considered the word to be appropriate at that stage and we consider it to be appropriate, too.
My third point is that, if we were to go along with the proposal put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, we could lose all the major proposed reforms of regulatory regimes, such as fire safety, weights and measures, reform of public health legislation and reform of the civil registration service. Those matters concern not only the person upon whom the old statute or regulation places the burden but also the people who are affected by it.
I wish to make an additional, fourth point. The limitation that the burdens must be "upon" a person would knock out the use of many of our data-sharing examples. I hope that Members of the Committee have had an opportunity to look at the 51 examples where we believe the Bill would be of value. The limitation would knock out examples such as the one which would enable disabled drivers to renew their vehicle excise duty licence by telephone. In that example, the burden rests on the DVLA and the Benefits Agency in
We could also lose examples such as the invalid care allowance or the vaccine damage payments. In those cases, again the legal burden is on Ministers. One cannot rely on removing the burden from Ministers because Clause 2(1) prevents that. Therefore, one must rely on the burden on the wider person. Ministers are prevented from making payments to those who do not fall within the current rules. If one wants to change the current rules to help vaccine-damaged children--again, that example appears in the list of 51--one must go wider than simply the person on whom the burden is placed. That is why we chose the word "affecting".
I turn to the second amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, which seeks to leave out the words "with a view to" and insert the words "for the sole purpose of achieving". As she said fairly and clearly, the purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the order cannot stray beyond the four objects laid out in Clause 1. We believe that the clause as it stands already ensures that any reform must deal with the four areas listed. If the purpose of a reform were only peripheral or incidental, plainly it would not comply with the terms of the Bill as presently drafted.
Equally within the corollary of this issue is the consequence of what the noble Baroness's amendment provides. If a reform had a peripheral or incidental purpose other than one of the four listed and, equally, if her amendment were allowed, the reform would not comply. Therefore, that does not seem to me to be either sensible or, in practice, workable.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, I understand his argument in relation to Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. I do not say that I totally agree with it, but I understand it. It is a totally different argument to that which will arise in relation to Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. I shall support all those amendments, but I have also tabled my own amendment--Amendment No. 10. After speaking in support of those amendments, I shall probably then deal with my amendment. When I speak in support of, for example, Amendment No. 3, will it be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak in support of Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 6, or shall I be limited to Amendment No. 3?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I shall try to be of assistance. We proposed a group of amendments which would allow the noble Lord to speak to all of them after the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, had moved his Amendment No. 3. On behalf of the
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: It would work because the statute imposes upon a Minister a duty to carry out, for example, (a), (b), (c) and (d) before something can occur, say, in relation to delivering compensation for vaccine-damaged children. The people whom that burden affects include the vaccine-damaged children. Although one is concerned about the burden on the Minister, one could not rely on that as the basis for regulatory reform under Clause 2(1). However, one could rely on it under Clause 1(1) because the statutory obligation has the effect of imposing burdens "affecting" persons--namely, the people who apply for vaccine-damage compensation.
Lord Kingsland: The Minister has used the word "burden" in two quite different senses. First, the burden on a Minister is partly a burden of expenditure and partly a burden of having to exercise a power. The other kind of burden to which he refers is, in my submission, rather different and is the consequence of the exercise of that power over a certain range of people. It may or may not be a beneficial exercise, but the use of the word "burden", in that case, has quite a different sense from the burden on a Minister. Does the Minister consider that the legislation should, in its definition section, distinguish those two meanings clearly?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: With respect to the noble Lord, I believe that the matter is perfectly well distinguished. One has to consider the effect of the statutory restriction or the statutory matter that one is considering reforming in terms of burden. If that burden affects only a Minister--Clause 2(1)--it cannot be changed. If the effect goes wider, for example because it affects the applicants for compensation, it can be changed. It is as simple as that.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Where there is a duty to do particular things in respect of which other people do not have to respond. The example that I have given of rules in respect of which one has to be satisfied before vaccine damaged children can apply for compensation seems to be an obvious example of a burden that affects both the Minister--it is explicitly imposed upon the Minister--and people who make an application. It seems to me that it is obvious in those circumstances that one needs a wider definition than simply "upon".
Lord Kingsland: With great respect to the Minister, he has answered my question as I suspected he would have to. There are two quite separate issues here. I repeat my submission that they should be better distinguished in the Bill.
Baroness Buscombe: In response, I turn first to what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said. He was concerned that the amendments were designed to reduce the effectiveness of the Bill. That is not the case. We are seeking to impose appropriate constraints upon the exercise of executive power. Much has been made by us of our wish to support regulatory reform, but the ultimate aim is to deregulate. Yes, there is a two-way street, but in this case it is very different from the Act of 1994, in that that provided for a one-way street that allowed for the reduction of burdens only. This Bill asks us to accept a much greater power, a power of the executive to impose burdens and to increase costs where necessary. We must view this matter with care to ensure that adequate safeguards, which need not interfere with its effectiveness, are put in place.
I hear what the Minister says with regard to the word "affecting"--that in his view this would limit the range of reforms and we do not want to lose the flexibility that was there in 1994. However, as we are all deeply concerned about this point, we are seeking to improve the Bill. While we are supportive of regulatory reform and deregulation that can be effective and speedy, we are concerned that we shall be accepting a wide power. We hear what the Minister says, but we believe that the parameters, as currently drafted, make the power too wide. So these two amendments were a way of seeking to narrow that power without reducing the effectiveness.
I shall refer to one example. We hear what is said about using the Regulatory Reform Bill in relation to a number of proposals that the Cabinet Office has already issued--for example, putting cautions, reprimands and final warnings on the same footing as other criminal records and giving offenders a clean sheet after a certain period. We want to be sure that that is done in that way and not by primary legislation.
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