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A number of issues were addressed in the Second Reading debate and, more importantly, as the Minister will have observed, Conservative Members moved a reasoned amendment objecting to the principle of the Bill, which is objectionable in that it is capable of being a regulatory Bill--one which imposes burdens rather than using an exceptional, important power for a specific deregulatory purpose.
The Minister was right to say that there is now a degree of acceptance, which extends to his party as well as to ours, about the use of what the Minister described as a super-affirmative procedure for secondary legislation to amend regulatory effects of primary legislation, but Conservative Members have not reconciled themselves to that in circumstances where it could be used to impose new burdens and to free the public sector to impose additional costs or to reduce its own burdens at the expense of the private sector. We are not reconciled to the idea that that exceptional procedure should be used other than for the specific purpose of removing the burden that the state imposes on the private citizen, yet the Government plan to pursue that point.
Having lost the vote on our reasoned amendment, we find that the Minister has no regard to the additional safeguards that we might want to propose in Committee. It is incumbent on me to give the Minister an indication of some of the measures that we would like to suggest in amendments.
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend makes the point that the Bill may be used to impose further regulations. He might add that the order-making procedure that the House is being asked to approve will not give us the opportunity to amend any further obligations that we may be asked to agree to. The order-making procedure is all or nothing.
Mr. Lansley: My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. On Second Reading of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) opposed the measure from the Labour Benches principally on the ground that it contained a power to amend or even repeal Acts of Parliament. Substantial but unamendable changes could be made to primary legislation even though, in certain circumstances, formal scrutiny by the House would be limited to a 90-minute debate under the affirmative resolution procedure.
Such changes were subject to prior scrutiny by the deregulation Committees, but scrutiny by the Members of the House was limited. I was not a Member at that time, but my right hon. and learned Friend will recall that the
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) referred to the tests that have to be applied--those of proportionality, fair balance and the desirability of such measures--and the language used leads one to the question whether a Minister is of the opinion that a particular regulatory reform order is desirable. There is no constraint in the Bill that provides that a Minister can proceed only on the basis that there is a net deregulatory--
I emphasise that the amendments that we want to table in Committee and the question of safeguards both warrant a significant allocation of time and neither should be prejudiced by the Government's decision that consideration must be completed by 29 March. Let me give an example of what we want to scrutinise.
On the test of proportionality, when burdens are to be imposed through the making or re-enactment of provisions, there should be a proportional benefit. However, as Baroness Buscombe said in the other place, the Bill does not deal with whether such additional burdens are necessary, and the necessity of such measures must be considered. We must also be sure that their effect will be genuinely deregulatory.
One of the Bill's serious and principal deficiencies relates to Ministers in the other place. At the end of the debate on Second Reading, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office was prepared to use the weasel words that every regulatory reform order would be deregulatory in effect. However, he would not answer the question whether they would have a net deregulatory effect in practice.
Mr. Lansley: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I shall indeed address myself to the time. There are a number of amendments relating directly to the point that I was making; I shall certainly want to test it during the Standing Committee's discussions.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Will my hon. Friend respond to the same question that I put to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office? If in the light of amendments tabled in Standing Committee, it is clear that the number of sittings agreed to in the sittings motion is inadequate, does my hon. Friend believe that the Government will permit
Mr. Lansley: I entirely take my hon. Friend's point--I hope. That should be the case--that is what the Government should do. However, the experience of the Opposition is that, on some occasions, the Government--far from making available additional sittings within the time constraints of the programme motion--have actually curtailed the number of sittings previously promised. Having listened to a debate on that subject last week, I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends realise that the Government are not to be trusted on such matters.
Although the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office says that the Bill is small, the significance of the provisions that we have to discuss is not small. The need for simplification of legislation in general was raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House on Second Reading. Such simplification is not present in the Bill, although language on modernisation might intrude if members of the Deregulation Committee had their way. The consideration of simplification is one of the safeguards that must be built into the legislation. That will need further time for discussion.
We also need to ensure that there are safeguards on powers introduced both as regards the extension of criminal sanctions and as regards the extent to which Ministers are able to incur expenditure under the legislation. Both are curious matters for contemplation under a deregulatory measure. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to table amendments to ensure that there are safeguards on changes to primary legislation that would have the effect of changing criminal sanctions; such measures should be appropriately circumscribed.
The Committee may want to consider not only amendments to existing clauses--the length of the Bill in terms of the number of clauses is not an absolute constraint--but one or more new clauses. For example, the review of regulatory reform orders and of the legislation itself has been the subject of some undertakings from Ministers, but it has not been built into the Bill. The Committee should certainly examine those matters in the form of new clauses. My colleagues--and, I suspect, business organisations--attach considerable importance to setting up some form of review of regulatory reform orders after a period, so as to determine whether they give rise to the cost and savings benefits and disbenefits that will be anticipated in the documents to be laid before the House under clause 6.
The whole scope of consultation, as well as internal parliamentary scrutiny, continues to give us serious cause for concern. The active involvement of external organisations in securing scrutiny of the legislation and of regulatory reform orders before they are even considered by the Select Committees is integral to the success of the whole deregulation process. In that respect, it is significant that clause 6 gives quite detailed provisions as to what should be presented in the document laid before Parliament, although there is more to say on regulatory impact assessments. Clause 5 provides for consultation
Mr. Pike: Does the hon. Gentleman think that he might not have had a problem with time if Conservative members of the Deregulation Committee had taken part in the consideration of the draft Bill, rather than boycotting the proceedings?
Mr. Lansley: The hon. Gentleman simply repeats remarks that he made on Second Reading. The simple fact of the matter is that Minister did not take on board some of the Deregulation Committee's proposals. For example, the hon. Gentleman could have told us about the reasons why the Government did not choose to include a provision on modernisation and simplification, which the Deregulation Committee wanted to come within the scope of regulatory reform orders. So there are many issues to be discussed.
Although the Bill is short, it is highly significant. It not only has wide constitutional implications but could seriously affect a lot of legislation, so it is important that we get it right. The House has given it a Second Reading and, in due course, it should become an Act that is as near as possible to the objective, contained in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, of providing an exceptional power to deliver a specific deregulatory purpose. We intend to use all the time available in Committee to table amendments to improve the Bill, in so far as the Government will give us the opportunity to do so.