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The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Graham Stringer): I almost expected not to speak on the new clause. May I remind Members who did not have the benefit of serving on the Standing Committee that new clause 1, which we have been debating this afternoon, was discussed in Committee as new clause 4? The only difference between the wording of new clause 4 and new clause 1 is that "will" has been changed to "shall". The Committee discussion was satisfactory, we explored all the issues and Opposition Members decided not to press their new clause to a vote. I am surprised that we have had such a long debate this afternoon when few, if any, new points have been made.
I should like to repeat the commitment that my noble Friend Lord Falconer gave on Second Reading in the other place on behalf of the Government. Because the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) asked for it, I shall repeat the Government's commitment to review the workings and constitutional implications of the Bill in three years' time. New clause 1 asks for a review in five years' time, which would be based on clause 6 and would allow either the House or the other place to annul unsatisfactory regulatory reform orders.
As we discussed in Committee, the Government contend that the structures that we have in place for reviewing regulations are a more effective procedure than waiting five years to review a regulatory reform order. It is possible for the Government, or any other Government, to get a regulatory reform order or any other piece of legislation wrong. If a regulatory reform order does not have the effects and impacts envisaged in debate, it should be reviewed as soon as possible. To do that, every Department has appointed a regulatory reform Minister whose responsibility is to keep current legislation and regulations under review and look at forward regulations to make sure that they are created in the best possible way and that their burdensome effects are minimised.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office chairs the ministerial panel for regulatory accountability, which has the facility to invite Ministers from any Department to account for their current regulatory performance and ask them what they will do in future. If any regulatory reform order is operating as envisaged, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the members of the panel can summon Ministers from other Departments to discuss it. As well as those processes, there is the independent--
Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I am afraid that he is very insouciant about the matter. In relation to the performance of individual Departments, he says that his right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office can go and see the
Mr. Stringer: The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. The panel has the right to call people before it. It is the new clause that is cool and calm about regulation that goes wrong. If regulation goes wrong, why should the Government and Parliament wait for five years? Something should be done about it sooner. That is one of the reasons why I ask the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) to withdraw the motion or the House to reject it.
The better regulation taskforce, which is independent, also reviews regulation. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire said, with regard to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, that huge costs had been postulated by business, whereas the Government argued that the costs would be considerably less. If the Government were wrong, their response to the report of the better regulation taskforce--that they would keep the workings and the impact of that Act under review--was a better response than waiting for five years. If the Government had got it wrong, it would be better to have a continual review, which was the Government's stated policy in response to the better regulation taskforce's report on e-commerce.
Mr. Cash: If the Minister cannot immediately answer my question, which I ask in all seriousness, will he write to me? Can he explain, with reference to new clause 1 and more specifically to clause 1, how it is possible to change laws if they are derived from European Union regulations or directives? There is nothing in the Bill which states that it shall not apply to provisions that derive from those sources. Is it to be assumed, therefore, that such provisions cannot and will not be changed, because of section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972?
Mr. Stringer: My understanding is that if European legislation is transposed into British legislation by primary legislation, and that legislation is a regulatory framework, the regulatory reform order process can amend the primary legislation. That is the purpose of the Bill.
Mr. Paterson: Not surprisingly, the Minister is defending his Government's mechanism for reviewing legislation and regulation. Can he tell us how many measures have been reviewed, and how many have been repealed or reduced as a result of those reviews?
Mr. Stringer: If the hon. Gentleman looks through the DTI programme, the recommendations of the better regulation taskforce and the number of deregulation orders, he will understand that a great deal of work has been done. I cannot quantify it, without notice of the question. So much work has been done in this regard that it would be a costly exercise to quantify it.
Mr. Lansley: For the avoidance of doubt, I should tell the Parliamentary Secretary that in terms of fire regulation, the purpose of the new clause is to ensure that a review occurs if it has not happened under any other mechanism within five years. Of course, it is open to the Government to introduce a new regulatory reform order instead of simply disapplying orders, but the power to disapply the order might be the best way of achieving a deregulatory effect.
Mr. Stringer: The hon. Gentleman makes his point. I admit that fire regulations are an extreme example, but the essential point remains: a hole could be left in regulations. It would be within the power of this House and of the other place to leave such a hole. That is the second fundamental reason why I hope that he will ask leave to withdraw the motion. The new clause would give the other place power to remove chunks of primary legislation without the agreement of this House. That must be a brand-new position for Opposition Members, who seem to be saying that the other place should be able to do things that this House might not want. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman understood what he was doing when he included the phrase "either House of Parliament" in the new clause, as it would allow either House to make an order. If he did understand it, that is an extraordinary position for Opposition Members, as the provision would give some legislative primacy to the other place.
I shall not follow Opposition Members all the way around Europe, the world and several dictionaries, which is where they went in their speeches. I do not think that the case has been made for the new clause. I am not sure whether many of the hon. Members who spoke understood the provision that they supported or were aware that it would pass power down the Corridor. I request that the hon. Gentleman seeks leave to withdraw the motion. If he will not do so, I ask the House to reject it.
Mr. Lansley: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the time, and although I do not accept the Parliamentary Secretary's arguments, I want to move to the next group of amendments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
'is also of the opinion--
'(a) that the burdens created or imposed as a result of the provisions of the order are less onerous than those reduced or removed; or
(b) that other beneficial effects for persons affected by the provisions of the order, not including those effects which only relate to Ministers of the Crown, government departments or statutory bodies, make it desirable for the order to be made.'.
I think that I can state the amendment's purpose pretty straightforwardly. On Second Reading, we tabled a reasoned amendment to the Bill as a whole on the grounds that it sought to use an exceptional power not for the original purpose for which it was created, which was a deregulatory one. We lost the Division on that amendment.
In Committee, we tried to ensure that, in imposing limitations on the order-making power, the Bill would not only have the deregulatory purpose for which amendments in another place provided, but that the burdens that were removed exceeded those that were created or imposed. That was resisted.
There may be a technical, drafting problem with the amendment, but I hope not. I emphasise that we are searching for a compromise. We understand that the Government intend to establish a power not only to reimpose burdens in existing legislation when reforming a regulatory system, but to create new burdens. The Government should be required under the Bill to consider additional or recreated burdens and determine whether they are more or less onerous than the provisions that are to be reduced or removed.
Such a requirement is similar to the provisions of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, which was tighter than the Bill, but provided that Ministers could create burdens that related to the subject matter of, but were less onerous than that imposed by, the existing provision. Existing legislation therefore already provides for weighing up burdens.
If Ministers want to proceed down the path of imposing burdens that are more onerous than those that are reduced or removed, they should be required to express that in the Bill. If the burdens are more onerous, they should balance that against the benefits that will accrue. However, they should not be public sector benefits.
We want to reach a compromise. If Ministers intend to have the power to impose new burdens, let them do that, but not through reference to benefits that would accrue to the public sector, Ministers, Departments and statutory bodies. If Ministers can demonstrate that benefits to the private sector will outweigh the additional burdens that they want to impose, they should quantify them.
I will stop speaking simply to give the Minister an opportunity to reply. However, the amendment constitutes a genuine effort to move from our earlier position to one that might be acceptable to the Government.