Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Skelmersdale: Before the Minister responds, I am sure that he will have noted that about 85 per cent of the current committee's work relates to Bills, not orders. In my view, and perhaps in the committee's, it is already considerably overworked.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I fully understand that giving notice of opposition to the Question that Clause 8 stand part of the Bill is a device for debate. I do not criticise that; I have done it on many occasions. However, if that opposition were to be carried, the effect would be to remove parliamentary consideration of proposals. That may be the opposite of what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has said, but it is not the opposite of what a successful removal of Clause 8 would achieve.

Baroness Buscombe: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He may recall that I began by saying that we are focusing on the most important safeguard, which is that the function of the Select Committee provides us with our best hope of such orders being properly policed. That is the point that we stress.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: But not by removing Clause 8 of the Bill. We perfectly well understand the politics of this debate. We understand that it is the fixed view of the Opposition that in future this Bill could somehow be used to increase rather than reduce burdens. That is not the intention of the Bill. That is not what the Bill provides. I realise that this idea is fixed in the mind of the Opposition. That is why the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and others refer to the enthusiasm of officials for these orders. The enthusiasm is not of officials for these orders. The enthusiasm is that of the Government, welcoming the pressure for deregulation by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, and his Better Regulation Task Force. This Bill is about regulatory reform, not about increasing burdens.

If it is seriously suggested that the effect of this Bill will increase burdens, perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, or anybody else will tell me which of the 51 examples of measures that are high on our priority list for regulatory reform orders will actually increase burdens. Of course they will not. Whether or not officials are enthusiastic for these measures has nothing to do with the case. The Government are

25 Jan 2001 : Column 404

enthusiastic for decreasing the burdens on businesses and individuals. That is why we want to see the measure go through. Although there may be difficulties for the parliamentary committees, I do not accept that those difficulties should be allowed to stand in the way of the immense benefits that can be achieved by relieving burdens on individuals.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: With respect, the noble Lord has hit the nail on the head. The problem is that this Bill can enable these extensions to be made. If we look at Clause 1(1)(c), we see that that is precisely the trouble which arises. Not only does it arise with us in this Chamber; it is precisely what was envisaged by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee which, in the conclusions of its second report, said that very wide powers are given and that there have to be adequate safeguards. That is precisely the issue.

Let us forget about wicked Ministers. There are none in this Government and there were none in the previous government. But one cannot draft legislation on the basis that one will not have wicked Ministers. That is a real concern. It is not a political point. It is not something brought out to generate discussion. It is an essential point. It goes to the root of Clause 1 and safeguards.

Lord Skelmersdale: My noble friend has taken the words right out of my mouth. I was about to put the Minister on notice that when we come to Report stage I shall quote his amazing words back at him. He said, "This Bill is not about increasing burdens". That is exactly what one sees that it is all about.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: We are debating Clause 8. We are debating the clause which refers to the parliamentary scrutiny of proposals. The peg on which we are debating it is the argument that the committee of this House will be inadequately resourced to do the job that will arise as a result of the Bill. I accept that there will be an increase. I accept that there will be orders. I challenge those who claim that what is proposed will be damaging and should be constrained by the ability of Parliament to carry out scrutiny to tell me which of the 51 orders increases burdens rather reduces burdens. That is, in practice, what is before the Committee. Those who believe that the Bill will increase burdens rather than reduce them should oppose Clause 1 of the Bill and the Bill as a whole. But that is not the issue before the Committee at the moment.

Lord Norton of Louth: I agree with the Minister's final point. We are discussing Clause 8. But he is the one who raised the wider point. The objection is to Clause 1(1)(c), which some of us sought to remove. The Government resisted that. The Minister kept saying, "Here are our examples. Show us which ones will impose regulations". But of course they do not. The Government come up with examples that will do the opposite. That is what they keep arguing. The point is that the powers in the Bill could be used for other purposes. If the Government intended to use it

25 Jan 2001 : Column 405

for other purposes, the last thing they would do is include in the list of examples things which impose regulations.

Lord Butler of Brockwell: Before the Minister replies, perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that I have often sat in the Officials' Box and been very irritated by the kind of remark which she made about officials, to which the officials could have no opportunity of replying. If I heard her right, she said that officials were famous for enjoying regulation and indeed for gold-plating them. It is the case that many allegations of that kind are made and that they attract a good deal of consideration. In my experience, it was rare that on actual examination those allegations turned out to be justified. I would suggest that it is not worthy of the noble Baroness to attribute that to officials.

Baroness Buscombe: Before the noble Lord sits down, is he saying that the accepted range of gold-plated regulations have always been imposed on officials by politicians?

Lord Butler of Brockwell: No. What I am saying is that the British Government, including the Civil Service, have a reputation for being meticulous--perhaps more meticulous than some countries--in fulfilling their international obligations. But when particular allegations were examined of whether officials had taken the opportunity to elaborate regulations beyond what was required by our international obligations, those allegations were found to be unjustified.

Lord Goodhart: Though short, the debate seems to have ranged over a surprisingly wide field. It has covered the increased burdens that might be placed on the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, it has covered the question of whether the powers under the Bill could be used to increase burdens on other people and it has covered the issue of gold-plating.

Perhaps I may deal briefly with the first of those issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, was right to raise it because there will be an increased burden on the committee. At this stage it is difficult to say how great that increase will be. There are remedies that could be introduced. One possibility, which will no doubt have to be looked at, is splitting the committee into two and having a delegated powers committee and a separate deregulation committee. That possibility might have to be considered if a substantial number of deregulation orders were brought forward. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was right to say that the great majority of the work that the committee now does is concerned with looking at the delegated powers contained in Bills rather than in deregulation orders.

It is also clear that the Minister is right to say that it is a matter for the authorities of the House and not one that it is appropriate to include on the face of the Bill.

Lord Dahrendorf: Perhaps I may add one or two sentences to what my noble friend Lord Goodhart has

25 Jan 2001 : Column 406

said. I entirely agree with my noble friend. We are both members of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. It should be said that at this moment it would be wrong to say that the committee is overworked. We do suffer from the fact that too many amendments are introduced to Bills at a late stage and after we have looked at the original text of the Bills. That leads to a somewhat unjustifiable pressure. But part of the reason we are not overworked is that we are outstandingly served by our Clerk and our legal adviser.

At the same time, it is perfectly possible that the Bill will lead to a considerable additional burden. It will be a different kind of burden. In an earlier debate the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, pointed to the different kinds of burdens. What I mean is that it will lead to additional work, especially if the committee has to see witnesses in considerable numbers. I therefore sympathise with the earlier call of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for sufficient flexibility. Perhaps we can collectively give some thought to the question of whether the Bill leaves enough room tothe House for manoeuvre to introduce a certain amount of flexibility into the organisation and working patterns of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. On the whole, I feel that we are perhaps exaggerating the number of orders that will come down in the immediate future. But that is neither here nor there in this connection. Flexibility is what is needed.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page