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Mr. Steen: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his indulgence and for his giving way.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I always try to be helpful to the House. The regulation or, rather, deregulation that the Committee has dealt with tends to involve gambling, dancing or bingo, as if the whole country were governed by people who gamble, love dancing or play bingo. Does he agree that the new Committee's prime objective should not be merely to take evidence as to whether we should gamble, play bingo or go dancing?

Mr. Pike: The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonably valid point. Indeed, when his party was in government, I asked whether ours was the Committee on gambling and throwing dice. Yes, that is the main issue that the Committee has considered, but he has seen the list that was relevant to the debate that we held a few weeks ago, which contained a lot of other measures.

We have considered important suggestions such as the truncation of cheques, which involved the banks. That major proposal for improvement has saved the banks a lot of money, although I think that two phases are involved and it is not obvious from what one sees at the front of a bank whether that second phase has been implemented. The hon. Gentleman should not deride what the Committee has done.

Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pike: I am trying to speak to the proposed Standing Orders, but I give way for the last time.

Mr. Bercow: I am exceptionally grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whose generosity invariably gets the better of him in the House.

Further to the inquiry of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I put it to the hon. Gentleman, who is a very important, very distinguished, very senior, very respected, very influential and very eminent figure in the House, that it would be useful if the Committee, under not only his chairmanship, but his tutelage, sought to anticipate potentially unfavourable developments rather than merely react to

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them. In that context, does he intend to use the full majesty of his office to take a view and to encourage his Committee to take a view on the proposed national works council directive?

Mr. Pike: I do not think that the Committee under my chairmanship will do more work, because a certain event may take place relatively soon. Although I am the only person who has been a member since its establishment, I do not know whether I will be a member in future. As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) rightly said, that will be a matter for the House, which may not choose to put me back on the Committee. Let us leave the new Committee and the new Chairman to decide such matters. All we are trying to do is point a few issues in the right direction and approve the Standing Orders.

I intended to be brief, but, because of interventions, I have gone on much longer than I intended. The Standing Orders, which were included in the Committee's first special report, are based on the existing Standing Orders for the Committee, taking account of the 2001 Act. Only minor changes have been made, and the Committee and I welcome them.

In respect of proposed new paragraph (6)(B), burdens and benefit are covered by proposed new sub-paragraph (k). My hon. Friend the Minister referred in particular to the addition of sub-paragraph (l), which refers to

We welcome that, because it proves that the Government were taking note, even at a late stage, of what the House was saying in order to meet concerns that were expressed, in particular by the Liberal party, but also by others. Therefore, the Government have included that additional measure. Proposed new sub-paragraph (m) refers to other benefits. Vital matters have been dealt with and the Standing Orders will enable the Committee, when it is appointed, to do its job.

Finally, I want to emphasise a point that I made on Report and Third Reading. We all recognise the difficulties that will exist, but if there is an early election--everybody seems to think that there will be--the Committee must be set up as soon as possible so that it can get on with its work.

I accept some of the points made by Conservative Members: I hope that, at times, the Committee will be more proactive and I believe that the 2001 Act and the Standing Orders will provide it with the opportunity to be so, if its members so wish.

5.30 pm

Mr. Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare): I thank the Minister for his full explanation of the proposed amendments, and the details of the various Standing Orders. The wording of the Standing Orders is perhaps as important as the wording of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 itself, in that it establishes the parliamentary framework within which the Act will operate. I am sure all Members present want to ensure that the Act can be a truly effective vehicle for the cutting of excessive regulatory red tape which bears down on small firms in particular but also on many other businesses. It gives us parliamentarians a chance to prove to such businesses that we are serious about creating an environment that small firms can use to maximise their potential.

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Owing to extensive pre-legislation scrutiny and the careful examination given to the Bill both here and in the other place, the Act that it has become represents a real opportunity for the achievement of that goal. Unless we get the scope of the Standing Orders just right, however--given that they constitute the nuts and bolts of our legislative framework--we shall find ourselves trying to cut the red tape with a pair of blunt scissors. That is why I was so pleased to hear some of the more sensible and constructive arguments that have been advanced today.

As a member of the current Committee, I have been involved with the Act from the outset. That includes the pre-legislation scrutiny. I am glad that we have reached this stage, and hope that the Act will begin to bear fruit in the near future. I welcome most of the changes to the Standing Orders. I especially welcome the name of the new Committee, and the work that it will do in examining the deregulation orders under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994--alongside the new regulatory reform orders that will ensue.

Further amendments to Standing Order No. 141 should be gladly received. I welcome the inclusion in the Committee's remit of consideration of parliamentary procedure for subordinate provisions orders. An amendment tabled by Lord Borrie means that the Committee will be able to choose the procedure to which such orders should be subject, and will have power to report to the House accordingly. Owing to the wide scope of the Act, the powers vested in the Committee are vital to ensuring that it is not open to potential abuse, and will allow the Committee to exercise extra precautions when it deems that to be necessary.

Probably the most important change to Standing Order No. 141, in terms of the Committee's work, is an addition to the criteria on which proposals for orders must be considered: the necessity for them to be written in plain English. That was mentioned earlier, but I ask leave of the House to repeat it. We are, I hope, seeing the start of a move towards the use of more plain English in Parliament generally.

It is essential for us to make regulations that the business community can easily understand. One should not have to be a legal expert to interpret legislation. I trust that by giving the Committee power to consider regulations in this way, we shall ensure that the Government produce better regulation that is easily understood, and therefore easily adhered to with the minimum of fuss and difficulty. I am glad that the Government are allowing the Committee to judge their legislation on the basis of that objective. Originally, Ministers rejected the idea of including the proposal in the legislation, arguing that a requirement for clear and concise drafting would be automatic in view of its reforming nature. The inclusion of the criterion in the Committee's remit will hopefully mean that we can gradually make poorly drafted, complicated legislation a thing of the past.

I welcome the inclusion of additional criteria against which regulatory reform orders will be judged, which will go alongside those that are relevant to the deregulation orders. It is necessary that the criteria--reasonable expectations, proportionality, desirability and cost--that have been included in the Act are placed within the Committee's remit. That will help to ensure that the Minister making the original order will focus on those issues, being well aware that the Committee will test them

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upon consideration of the order, which, again, should deter any rogue Minister who might seek to exploit the Act for questionable ends. Of course, I would not dream of suggesting that the existing Minister was a rogue Minister, but who knows who may come along in future--in the far distant future possibly.

Mr. Bercow: I am doing my best to preserve a certain sense of normality, but the atmosphere of consensus is becoming positively suffocating. It causes me to refer again to proposed paragraph (6)(A)(i) of the new Standing Order, which refers to obligations as a consequence of our membership of the European Union. If the Committee, which has such an august membership and such an outstanding Chairman, is to have a proper sense of its ambition, it should be prepared properly to scrutinise European Union directives and regulations that might adversely impact on this country. To fail to do so would be meek, mousy and myopic.

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