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Mr. Bercow: I cannot help but think that the choice of example is not well advised. In apparently celebrating the fire regulations, is the hon. Gentleman aware that they are the subject of growing controversy? I received only a few days ago a detailed and persuasive complaint about them. I suggest that he is a little more cautious in his praise.

Mr. Stringer: In publishing the list of possible regulatory reform orders, which we did when the Bill was introduced, we quoted fire regulations as an example of what an order could simplify. Many people involved in commerce and business are not satisfied that fire regulations are clear. In many cases, that is also true of the fire service. They exist in more than 120 pieces of primary legislation and 120 pieces of secondary legislation. What makes them ideally suitable for a regulatory reform order is the fact that people are dissatisfied with them, not that they are very politically controversial.

The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) outlined the details of the Committee's procedures and explained some of the difficulties that might be encountered. He asked two direct questions: first, whether the Committee would have the resources to enable it to carry out its business, and the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire made a similar point; and secondly, whether the Committee would have the right and power to force Ministers to attend. Both issues are a matter for the House. I understand that extra legal resources have been made available to the Committee. I also understand that, in the past, the House has exempted hon. Members from an obligation to attend when they are asked to do so. However, it would be an unwise Minister with responsibility for a regulatory reform order who refused to attend to say why he or she wanted it.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; he has been most generous.

I am well aware that it is part of the Minister's style--not dissimilar to that of his celebrated colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office--to act as an impartial umpire, if such a person exists. I wonder whether I can tempt him to express an opinion on the vexed question that was highlighted by speech of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Cotter) and in the interventions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). Should members of the newly formed Committee enjoy security of tenure from the start of a Parliament to its end, or should that be attendance dependent?

Mr. Stringer: That is a matter of resource and, like the ability and right of the Committee to force hon. Members to attend, is a matter for the House. When the House has appointed Members to this and other Select Committees, it has done so for a full parliamentary Session. I cannot remember the exact words used, but they are to the effect of "until the House otherwise decides". So the House

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reserves the right to remove Committee members--[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman repeats from a sedentary position that he asked for my opinion. I believe that it is for the House to determine such issues. I am sure that it would be annoyed if I told it what to do. I see the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) nodding.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley for his work on the Committee. I also thank the Committee for its work on the Standing Orders. I am not at all embarrassed to agree with it on most things and to take its opinion into account when the Government reach their conclusions.

In proposing the amendments, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst demonstrated an almost perverse and paranoid attitude towards the consensus building that the Committee uses when it accepts deregulation orders. Members from all parties have worked on a consensual basis, which has made for some good deregulation orders. He criticised my comments by saying that it is conservative to rely on what has happened in the past. If that was all we were doing, I would agree with him, but it is not.

We have considered whether the superaffirmative process that creates deregulation orders, which was established by the previous Conservative Government, has produced good law. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that that is the case. If he really wants to make an argument based on the evidence, he has to show that the procedures on which we are building have failed because of the quorum of five that has been applied to the Committee since its inception. Clever though the right hon. Gentleman's speeches are, he failed to show that the previous process had failed. The fact that we are building on that process bodes well for the future of the Committee under the 2001 Act.

The right hon. Gentleman gave away what he really wants. He is paranoid not only about consensus but about legislation--

Mr. Forth indicated assent.

Mr. Stringer: The right hon. Gentleman agrees. The third amendment in his name, which the Speaker did not select for discussion by the House, would have given a minority of members of the Committee, from the Conservative party or any Opposition party, a right of veto. He proposed that if Opposition Members did not turn up, the Committee could not work. That would not be a sensible or democratic way to proceed.

The right hon. Gentleman said that there was a problem with the sub-Committee having a quorum of only two because that is not a satisfactory number of people to make law. However, the sub-Committee has to report to the Committee, which has to lay the orders before the House.

I ask the House to support the proposals before it.

Amendment negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.


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