Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
MONDAY 14 DECEMBER 2009
Q120 Lord Dykes:
Finally, there was an earlier witness in the evidence we took
who said that impact assessments were not really the currency
of the debate in the working groups. Do you find frequently that
HMG does use the UK impact assessment, the particular detail of
a particular piece of negotiation, as a strong negotiating tool
in the working groups and in the Council and in COREPER?
Ian Lucas: I will be expecting them to do so,
but what I will do is look into to what extent they do rely on
the impact assessments in the working groups, because I would
be concerned if they did not.
Q121 Lord Dykes:
Could you give an example for the Committee in due course?
Ian Lucas: Yes, of course.
Q122 Lord Powell of Bayswater:
Minister, first of all, I do apologise for being late; I was caught
up. This is really the last aspect of the questions, and that
is the question of ex-post evaluation and legislation. As you
know, I am sure, it is a regular business practice to have a post-investment
review; it is actually rather useful. The general conclusions
on better regulations last May provided for this. Is it happening?
Ian Lucas: I do not think it is happening as
much as it needs to. I may be quite a sad individual, but this
is a little hobby horse that I had before I came into this House.
It is something that we in the UK Parliament do not do very well,
and that is assess the legislation that we have already passed
and really ensure that the effect that it was intended to have
it has had and, if it has not, why not. I think our culture is
such that we do not really think as politicians in those terms;
we look at new legislation as being the only answer to the question.
I think we need to do much more work on this and also promote
the benefits of it, both in terms of effective use of parliamentary
time, whether in this Parliament or any other parliament, and
try to develop a culture of looking at every piece of legislation
that is passed to see whether it is having an impact. I do not
think we are doing that at the moment.
Q123 Lord Powell of Bayswater:
How do you think we can do it more? Is it just a question of the
UK lobbying, or do you think you can find like-minded Member States
who would join in this? Should the First Secretary of State descend
like an avenging angel on the Council and demand that it happen?
Ian Lucas: I am not sure that that would be
the most effective way of proceeding. We are always trying to
build alliances. It may not be the most high profile of issues,
but as politicians we are beginning to get more and more criticisms
of producing too much ineffective legislation, and I think its
time has come and I think we need to do something about it. I
am sure that it is not just in the UK that this happens as far
as legislation is concernedthere will be examples from
the European Union of ineffective Directives coming down. It is
an area that I do not think will be massively contentious; it
is a question of securing the attention to the issue that will
enable it to be taken forward. So I think we do need to persuade
people to take it on board, then to make the arguments and to
try to ensure that much less ineffective and annoying, therefore,
legislation is introduced.
Q124 Lord Powell of Bayswater:
You would agree with me that a cultural change is needed. Just
as powers given to Europe never come back, so legislation passed
by Europe is never withdrawn, only more is added on top of it.
Ian Lucas: I think we need always to be analytical
and sceptical about the legislation that we pass and think whether
this was the best way of doing it. Legislation is not always the
best way of approaching thingsI try and encourage that
view as the Better Regulation Ministerand I think we need
to be more critical of ourselves and accept that it is not always
the best thing to do, to pass a new law to solve a problem.
Lord Powell of Bayswater: I am very encouraged
by your approach. I wish you every success with it.
One request and one question. The request is that it would help
the Committee if you could tell us now what your understanding
is of the capacity of the European Parliament to produce impact
assessments on significant amendments that are passed. My recollection
is that external consultants are used and, if that is not universal,
perhaps some organisational change is needed to create a capacity
within the Parliament to do the work. So any observations on that
point would be helpful.
Ian Lucas: I will certainly do that.
Unless my colleagues have got any supplementary questions, perhaps
I could ask for your personal experience dealing with fellow ministers.
Impact assessments in departments are not exactly the world's
most exciting subject for ministers to devote time on a Saturday
night tosometimes their boxes can be quite full and very
detailed (impact assessments and proposed Directives and Regulations)but
could you tell the Committee about how you go about proselytising
amongst your fellow ministers the importance of impact assessments?
Ian Lucas: I am relatively new in postI
have only been here since Junebut it is quite interesting
that I write to other ministers sometimes and point out various
things, but I am beginning to get a bit of feedback, and I think
that is very positive, because it makes them stop and think about
the general principles of the regulations that they are bringing
forward. I think the UK's Forward Regulatory Programme has been
very useful in this respect, but, specifically on impact assessments,
I always emphasise that they are a very important part of the
process and that they should be taken very seriously. I think
that is a message that I have to pass across government and be
persuasive about because, as you say, it is not what most people
want the EU looking at before Match of the Day, but it
is important because it is about effective legislation at the
end of the day and, therefore, if we are going to do things that
are worth our while doing, we have got to show what the benefit
is going to be, and that is what an impact assessment is all about:
that its benefits are going to outweigh the damage it will cause.
I think getting that simple message across in a more strategic
principled approach to any proposals that are being carried forward
is very important.
I am sure the Committee supports and agrees with what you have
just said, and I hope our report will be helpful within government.
Ian Lucas: I am sure it will.
Q128 Lord Bradshaw:
Coming out from what you have said in answer to the last four
questions about the difficulty of getting small and medium-sized
enterprises to engage in the whole process, my experience of them
is that they have not got time to get involved in it, and the
trade associations in many professions do not themselves consist
or actually take account of the people underneath them because
they are usually dominated by the big players. What does the Government
do, or what do you or the departments do, to try to get underneath
the trade associations to actually find out what a real small,
medium sized enterprise thinks? Even a few phone calls would help.
Ian Lucas: Actually there is one group, who
we have not mentioned, who I think are very important in terms
of engaging small business, and that is members of Parliament.
If a small business comes to me and says, "There is this
dreadful new proposal coming out", as a member of Parliamentand
I think members of Parliament play a really positive role in engaging
with the departmentI think one of the things that we should
be encouraging through my department is contact with members of
Parliament and getting them to engage (because very often they
do not) with chambers of commerce and present themselves as an
avenue through which to convey their concerns to the Government.
I think that would be very useful.
Lord Bradshaw: I think that would be
useful. May I say, I am taking three small businessmen to see
a minister just after Christmas. The businesses concerned are
small but very vital businesses and they cannot get their voice
heard through the trade associations. So even the feeble House
of Lords sometimes can actually act as a conduit through which
to move. So I fully endorse what you have said about members of
Q129 Lord Dykes:
But, of course, in your earlier answer specifically to me as well
as to others you did say that government could not possibly just
take the views of a lobby or an interest group like that; it would
have to exercise an intellectual and quantitative/qualitative
right to make a judgment. MPs are much more likely to represent
them just because they have been approached by them.
Ian Lucas: It is more the fact that they highlight
the issue. We do not necessarily agree with it and take it on
board, but the fact is there will be occasions where an issue
does not come to our attention unless someone does raise it, and
obviously we need to exercise a judgment about the validity of
the complaint, but we will at least know of it. Thank you.
Q130 Lord Plumb:
A third body, I think, that the Minister might like to comment
on or think about are those that are actually distributing the
legislation to the people themselves, who often, in this country,
I hear, are not very popular because they are going to add to
the burden that the small and medium sized enterprise has already
got. If I could use an example, I had a friend who set up a business
in France three years ago now and, after he had been there for
a few months, I telephoned him one Sunday evening and I said,
"Tell me, what is the difference between an inspector calling
at your business and telling you what to do and what you are doing
wrong compared with an inspector calling at a business in Britain?",
and he knew because he had been an inspector himself in this country.
I said, "Answer me in one sentence." He said, "I
will answer you in one word: attitude." He said, "The
attitude of the French calling to the business is so totally different.
The first time, I had two men call to the business and when they
came in I had the feeling they wanted to pull off their jackets
and helptotally different from the way that a lot of people
approach businessmen here." I thought it was a very good
example. It is a matter of changing attitudes of the many people
Ian Lucas: You should raise that, because last
week I had a dinner with the Trading Standards Institute where
we were talking about cultural change in the relationship between
regulators and regulated people and how it was important for there
to be a more constructive relationship and that we should not
simply view regulators as people who came in like the Flying Squad,
do a hit and then duck out again: there needs to be a continuous
relationship. Interestingly, this was raised in the context of
the engagement discussion that we were having. I think you are
right: I think that they are a very useful body through which
we could communicate with small business, and that is another
one that should be added to the list, because we want to use as
many avenues as we possibly can.
Thank you very much indeed, Minister, it was very helpful and
all power to your elbow.
Ian Lucas: Thank you very much