Impact Assessments in the EU: room for improvement? - European Union Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 131)

MONDAY 14 DECEMBER 2009

Ian Lucas

  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 concerned—there 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 things—I try and encourage that view as the Better Regulation Minister—and 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.

  Q125  Chairman: 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.

  Q126  Chairman: 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 to—sometimes 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 post—I have only been here since June—but 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.

  Q127  Chairman: 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 Parliament—and I think members of Parliament play a really positive role in engaging with the department—I 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 Parliament.

  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 help—totally 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 here.

  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.

  Q131  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Minister, it was very helpful and all power to your elbow.

  Ian Lucas: Thank you very much



 
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