Regulatory Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to the Minister for elaborating on the relationship with the Law Commission. I am aware that it is examining the legislation on unfair contract terms. I accept his point that, if we are dealing with a relatively limited and specific instance such as the one that he gave in his example, it would be undesirable to be restricted from removing such inconsistencies and anomalies.

I would like the Minister to respond to the real question, which is rather different. Under clause 1, it is possible to introduce an order, the objective of which is to remove inconsistencies and anomalies, so long as under clause 3(2)(b) it

    ``removes or reduces one or more burdens, or has...beneficial effects''

that make it desirable. A scheme designed around the removal of inconsistencies and anomalies might have the beneficial effect of simplifying the law and give rise to an order that was substantially, if not legally, about the removal of such elements. Can the Minister make it clear that, wherever possible, such a scheme of regulatory reform will be the subject of a prior report from the Law Commission? If it were suitable for the Law Commission to undertake such work, would it be invited to report on the issue before it was brought before the House and an order was introduced? If that does not happen, we may be caught between two parallel processes: an Executive-led regulatory law reform and a judiciary-led law reform. They may not operate sequentially, but unduly extend the process of reform.

Mr. Stringer: I am happy to expand on my previous comment by saying that, where the Law Commission has expertise, the Government will consult it and the Scottish Law Commission. If its expertise is not in that area, it will not be sensible to consult it; it would not have the resources or expertise to produce the work. I hope that I have persuaded the hon. Gentleman that the amendment would prevent sensible reforms that come from sources other than the Law Commission. To accept the amendment would mean that important reforms were stopped or slowed down because the Law Commission could not look at them at a particular time. That is not sensible, so I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful that the Minister has elaborated on that point. In view of the positive and constructive nature of the Minister's response, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Lansley: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 16, at end insert—

    `(1A) In exercising the powers in subsection (1) above Ministers shall act to simplify the law and to produce orders easily comprehensible to those affected by them.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 6, in page 1, line 16, at end insert—

    `(1B) All Ministers of the Crown shall keep under review the legislation for which they are responsible to identify enactments suitable for amendment by regulatory reform orders under subsection (1) above.'.

Mr. Lansley: Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 have different purposes that I will explain.

Amendment No. 5 follows on from our previous discussion. It is clear that the objective of the legislation is not just to remove burdens, but to reform legislation. I am sure that the Minister will say that reforming legislation is a wider objective than the creation, reduction or removal of burdens; it is intended to make legislation more accessible, simpler and more comprehensible. In seeking to anticipate and to deflect the Minister's argument, I point out that the phrase ``reforming legislation'' does not have—unless the Minister can tell me otherwise—a quasi-legal, technical meaning that demands it to mean simplification and comprehensibility.

Mr. Stringer: I refer the hon. Gentleman to paragraph 36 of the explanatory notes, which makes it clear that reform has a legal definition. It states:

    ``The term `reform' is given its natural meaning. Section 3(1) of the Law Commissions Act 1965 describes the systematic development and reform of the law as including `the codification of . . . law, the elimination of anomalies, the repeal of obsolete and unnecessary enactments, the reduction of the number of separate enactments and generally the simplification and modernisation of the law'. In the Bill the term `reform' is intended to have a similar meaning (other than in relation to codification) to that which it has in the Law Commissions Act. The key difference is that the concept in the Law Commissions Act is intended to cover the whole of the law while the Bill is concerned only with burdensome statute law (as detailed below).''

12.15 pm

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to the Minister. As I said at the outset of my argument, I understand his contention that the modernisation, simplification or comprehensibility of the law will be embraced by the term ``reforming legislation''. I am arguing not that it is impossible for that term to embrace such purposes, but that it is desirable that those purposes should be elaborated in the objectives of the legislation.

The removal of inconsistencies and anomalies might be included in the term ``reforming legislation'', but the Government have thought it right to specify the aim of removing inconsistencies and anomalies in clause 1(1)(d). The Minister has explained why that is so. Likewise, notwithstanding what is comprised in the preamble to clause 1, amendment No. 5 seeks to set down that the purpose of the Bill's powers is to simplify the law and to produce orders that are easily comprehensible.

Such simplification and comprehensibility are always Ministers' stated intentions, but, unfortunately, they are not always the experience of those affected by legislation. As I mentioned earlier, if a subsection is added to clause 1 to express those intentions in detail, it might be possible to illustrate them in consultation documents. Under clause 6, those will have to be laid before Parliament.

In the pre-legislative scrutiny, the Deregulation Committee looked for simplification and modernisation. I have become suspicious of the word ``modernisation'' during the past three and a half years, which is why I felt reluctant to repeat it, but simplification and comprehensibility are entirely desirable.

On amendment No. 6, I hope to learn that Ministers intend to keep the opportunity to introduce orders under review. I will not repeat the argument advanced on Second Reading because hon. Members are familiar with it, but, in our experience, the powers available under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 have not been used with the same rigour since the 1997 election as before it. The fact that powers are available to Ministers does not mean that they are always pursued with vigour. Amendment No. 6 would require Ministers to continue to review the enactments for which they are responsible, so as to maintain the flow of orders and to keep the Deregulation Committee, or whatever it may subsequently care to call itself, busy with reforming legislation—always, it is to be hoped, with a substantially deregulatory purpose.

The amendments deal with two key points—first, the need for Ministers to be accountable for simplicity and comprehensibility when they introduce orders; and, secondly, the need for a spur on Ministers to ensure that such orders are used. We do not want to find a few years down the line that a whole new Bill is to be introduced as a cover for Ministers' deregulatory purposes, when the powers had been available but were not used.

Mr. Cotter: I support the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire on both amendments.

You referred earlier to Jesuitical education, Mr. Cook.

The Chairman: Order. I used the word ``Jesuit'', not ``Jesuitical''. There is a difference.

Mr. Cotter: I am sorry, Mr. Cook. I realised as the word came out of my mouth that it was not quite right.

In my case, Benedictine monks endeavoured to educate me. I leave others to judge how successful, or otherwise, they were. On the one hand, we were encouraged to learn English clearly; on the other, we had to learn a great deal of Latin. I am glad to say that the Church has done away with much of the Latin. I am sure that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire will agree that the need to use plain English is integral to amendment No. 5.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) has already raised the issue of plain English and clarity. Idly flicking through the Bill, I noticed that clause 3 states at line 23:

    ``by virtue of—

    (a) Part V of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (c. 33), or

    (b) Section 292(6) and (7) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (c. 46)''

Perhaps it is impossible for matters to be otherwise phrased in Bills—or perhaps I should have had the Criminal Justice Act or the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act in my back pocket. I wonder whether it would be possible in such cases to give some information about what the parts of Acts refer to.

I do not know how Governments should deal with the matter. I have always been told that Yorkshire people speak clearly and to the point, so perhaps they should attend Committees to help us to judge whether Bills are understandable. In common parlance, we talk about bullet points, which might help to make Bills clearer.

Amendment No. 6 is important, too. We need to ensure that there is proactive assessment of legislation in every way possible. That is all the more necessary because of the lack of sunset clauses in Bills. If there are sunset clauses, certain issues will drop away, but the lack of them means that there has to be proactive examination of legislation. I support the amendment and look forward to the Minister's response.

Mr. White: Had I got my act together, I would have tabled a similar amendment, and it is sheer incompetence on my part that I did not do so. I have sympathy with the amendment, having spoken on this issue many times. The key words in the amendment are ``easily comprehensible''. One of the problems with our legislative process is that much of the proposed legislation is not comprehensible. Sometimes, Members of Parliament even have difficulty understanding amendments or the original text of Bills. That is not the way in which to conduct parliamentary affairs.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare referred to Yorkshire people, but I am not sure that it was a particularly helpful reference. Bills must use plain English and non-sexist language. This Bill is one of the better ones for its use of non-sexist language, but there are still 20 examples of the use of the word ``he'' when it could have been avoided. Having said that, however, I commend the parliamentary draftsmen and the way in which the Bill has been presented.

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