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Mr. Jackson: I thank my hon. Friend; that is precisely one of the points that I want to make. At this stage of my speech, however, I am suggesting that, as there is much common ground, that may be a reason for the Government to move towards the Opposition on new clause 1.
Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend helpfully traces the background to our discussion. I have a characteristically non-partisan observation. Of course, my hon. Friend is right to refer to our right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who is very important, very senior, very distinguished, very influential, very respected and very busy, but does he agree that one of the difficulties during the tenure of our right hon. Friend was that, although he presided over the elimination of a good many regulations, a substantial number of new regulations simultaneously appeared--not least from Europe? Does that not underline the importance of a structured and strategic approach and of a proper review mechanism? Apparently, that did not occur to our right hon. Friend.
Mr. Jackson: My hon. Friend is right. The issue is important. There is a continuing tide of regulatory activity--much of which is justified, but some of which may not be. It is appropriate that there should be proper mechanisms in the House and in the other place to address that matter. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire makes proposals, which I support, to improve those mechanisms, but I want to continue to outline why the Government should acknowledge that there is common ground between the parties on which we can build.
A final and important area of common ground is the way in which the operation of the legislative procedures in both Houses of Parliament has been developed under the 1994 Act. The Select Committee on Deregulation, whose Chairman was in the Chamber earlier, and the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation in the other place are examples--I hope, pioneering examples--of Select Committees performing what are, in essence, legislative functions.
The Bill reflects a welcome convergence of views between the parties on both the substance of the matters with which it deals and the procedures by which we address them. Of course, the Opposition would like the Government to go further and faster. Although the Cabinet Office is probably right in claiming, on its internet site, that the number of new regulatory measures significantly affecting business has remained
The Opposition have opposed that trend as it has manifested itself in successive pieces of legislation. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire explained, in the specific area of regulatory reform--the subject of the Bill--we have made proposals to strengthen the arrangements set up in the mid-1990s and maintained by the Labour Government.
The issues raised by new clause 1 are the subject of continuing debate--we have yet to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office has to say about it; there seems to be a divergence of view between the Opposition and some Government Back Benchers, especially on sunset clauses, which are addressed in the new clause. I urge the Government to build on the wide common ground that I have described and to give a fair wind to my hon. Friend's proposal, even at this late stage of the Bill's proceedings.
The Government ought to offer a package deal, in relation to which I refer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire in his intervention. In many ways, the most important feature of the Bill is its provision for the use of new procedures set up under the 1994 Act not only to simplify and reduce the burden of regulation, but, in certain strictly defined circumstances, to apply new regulatory burdens. I realise that the Government are sensitive to the natural concern to which the proposal gives rise--that innovative procedures, which have been working well on the implicit basis that regulatory burdens should be reduced, might be diverted into the expansion of such burdens. That is why we have associated with the proposals all the provisions in clause 3 for necessary protection, reasonable expectations, fair balance and desirability and, in clause 1, for proportionality. That is why the Government made concessions on desirability to Lord Goodhart in the other place.
I hope and believe that it will be possible to maintain all-party consensus on the matter; that is why we want to introduce amendments dealing with the creation of new regulatory burdens--although as that issue is dealt with by amendment No. 2, I shall not address it now. It is clear that the approach taken by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire is to build that consensus. The two Select Committees were unanimously of the view that the new powers could be constructively exercised in the spirit of the work that has been going on since 1994.
I draw attention to the reservations, expressed in the Deregulation Committee's third special report, about the Government's refusal to accept a requirement for the provision of regulatory impact assessments. I referred to that matter during an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire. The Committee suggested that there should be a link between the new powers desired by the Executive to extend regulatory burdens and the introduction of a new procedure to contain and limit regulatory burdens. That is what I had in mind when I referred to a package deal.
If the type of regulatory impact assessment that is sought by the Deregulation Committee in this place is impractical for some reason, or is too burdensome, surely the Government could look constructively at whether the Opposition's proposal in new clause 1 might offer a more satisfactory alternative. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire explained, the Opposition do not have in mind the simple, sunset provision that was examined and rejected last year by the Delegated Powers
My hon. Friends propose a system of automatic post facto regulatory impact assessments, by which the Government have to report on the operation of all orders approved under the new procedures after five years, so that their effectiveness in practice may be considered and their continuing operation approved by Parliament in the light of those reports.
That proposal seems eminently reasonable. It could offer the sort of balance required for the Executive's new regulatory powers under the legislation and also required in the spirit of the joint work on deregulation. In the other place, the Cabinet Office Minister, Lord Falconer, gave a commitment to report to Parliament on the operation of the Act three years after its enactment. We may have to wait for that review before the Government take on board the thinking that is embodied in new clause 1.
I hope that, even at this late stage in our proceedings, the Government will demonstrate that they have an open mind and that they are open to constructive suggestions. On that basis, I commend the new clause to the House and hope that the Government will say that they are willing to accept it.
Mr. Ian Stewart: Hon. Members have said that there is some cross-party agreement about regulation and deregulation. I think that all sensible commentators acknowledge the urgency of removing unnecessary burdens. What disappoints me about Opposition Members is their unbalanced approach to the issue. They focus, properly, on industry, but they do so in an unbalanced way. The regulations and this system of deregulation will affect individuals across the spectrum. They will affect not merely industry but social policy.
The intention behind the Opposition's new clause is to ensure that the Government review regulations after five years. The Opposition keep referring to sunset clauses, with which new clause 1 does not deal. That policy is not acceptable to Labour Members and, in particular, to Labour members of the Deregulation Committee. We are firmly in favour of the constant review of regulations in the bid to get rid of those that are unnecessary or burdensome. The three-year period that the Government have suggested is a much better option, when one bears in mind the continuous regulatory review philosophy.