Regulatory Reform Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Stringer: There is certainly merit in the arguments of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and I congratulate him on doing his homework thoroughly—last night. However, in reality, he is trying to do the work of the Committees of the House and the other place. The points that he raises might well constitute inadequacies in the consultation documents and the consultation itself. However, the Bill's real strength is that it will enable the Committees to detect any such inadequacies at a later stage, should they feel that all the information and the impact on an organisation—whether financial, commercial or otherwise—have not been taken fully into account. In other words, the basic point is that the process will deal with such matters.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of detailed issues, including the proportionality test, but I shall not attempt to deal with them by working my way through each draft consultation document. During Tuesday's debate, he argued that information should be provided, and I said that one must ask for it before it could be included. However, the real point is that one must have the information.

Sometimes, the information necessary for a proportionate test will be available at an early stage because it became known through the day-to-day workings of the Department, or because—as in the case of the consultation document to which the hon. Gentleman referred—a previous consultation was carried out by the Department prior to producing the document within the framework of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act and, potentially, this Bill. It is simply a question of including as much information as possible when one can, rather than trying to put the cart before the horse. Therefore, the points that were discussed on Tuesday still apply.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment because the process itself will extract any inadequacies. The requirement established in paragraphs (i) and (f) is fairly comprehensive, particularly given that every regulatory reform order must be accompanied by a regulatory impact assessment that, as he said, compares the benefits and costs of each option, and considers not merely the proposals' impact but whether they can be implemented differently. The combination of paragraphs (i) and (f), which refer to clause 3(2), and the process through which the Committees will consider whether the information is adequate, will provide as much information as possible and allow both Houses to judge whether regulatory reform orders are good or bad.

Mr. Lansley: The Minister said that every regulatory reform order would be required by Ministers to have a regulatory impact assessment attached. However, that is not specified in the Bill, which includes only components of such an assessment. Why does the Minister oppose amendment No. 26, which could be interpreted as adding to the Bill the requirement to which he just referred?

Mr. Stringer: Indeed, the amendment could do that. It was suggested in debates in the other place, and in the consultations with the Committees, that the requirement to have a regulatory impact assessment should be specified in the Bill. However, regulatory impact assessments are improving. The Government believe that they have improved the previous Government's process for examining the impact of regulation on business.

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In future, the process of regulatory impact assessment might improve further, so we have resisted including specific references to current procedure in the Bill. We would rather rely on the process itself to get to the heart of the matter, and ensure that the full impact of a proposed regulatory reform order on every relevant person is taken into account. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

The hon. Gentleman pointed to clause 2(1)(b) as an example of where burdens will not apply. However, that does not mean that burdens on Ministers or Departments cannot be taken into account if they are affected. It rather prohibits a regulatory reform order from taking burdens solely from a Minister or Department. I know that the hon. Gentleman struggled to find an example, but I do not think that that was a good one.

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful for the Minister's constructive response, and although I will not dwell on amendments Nos. 24 and 25, I will press amendment No. 26. He argued that there was no need to specify such details in the document under clause 6 because that was the purpose of the Deregulation Committee's scrutiny. However, that argument could equally be applied to cost savings, or to other matters that are specified.

The document will be the basis on which the Deregulation Committee will undertake its scrutiny. It should represent, as comprehensively and helpfully as possible, all the information that the Committee needs to conduct its business. It needs information on the impact on persons, categories of business, sectors of industry and so on. That will help it to ensure that it has examined the evidence in detail.

The Minister rightly said that it is current practice to present regulatory impact assessments in the initial proposals—although that is often done in an eccentric way. Amendment No. 26 is not, therefore, a requirement that such an assessment be attached to each document. As the Minister fairly said, the nature of such assessments changes over time.

I make no bones about the fact that the replacement of compliance-cost assessments with regulatory impact assessments has been an improvement. That is precisely the reasoning behind the amendment. Compliance-cost assessments led Departments and consultees to focus on the direct costs of adapting to a proposal rather than on understanding its consequential impacts. The difference can be enormous, as I will illustrate in a different context in a later debate. Suffice it to say—I am sure that the Minister will not dispute it—that the consequential impacts of proposals can be several orders of magnitude greater than the initial impacts as measured directly by compliance costs.

That is why the document in its current form carries the risk that one will tend to look at specifics. Departments will be tempted—quite reasonably—to try to quantify, as far as possible, the costs associated with what is to occur and the direct burdens. That degree of quantification and calculation gives a spurious definition to the impacts, whereas the subsequent knock-on consequential changes that flow from such proposals are often much more difficult to quantify. They may be expressed within quite large ranges, but they are none the less much greater in the long run than in their initial impact. That is why it is important to set out impacts in detail.

There are two key points, neither of which the Minister has successfully countered. First, it is important to see the consequential impacts. Secondly, it is important to see the impacts by reference to specific industry sectors, groups of individuals or categories of public bodies. Neither of those will necessarily be covered by the document as currently drafted in clause 6. I suspect that their absence, far from making the work of the deregulation Committees easier, will make it more difficult. That is not our objective: our objective is to make the document, at this stage in the consultation, a positive framework that will directly inform the preliminary consultation.

When the proposal is put to the Deregulation Committee, Departments should be able to set out the framework that they have to meet and the gaps in information that consultees can provide to show that they have done their work successfully. The Committee should generally find that there is little flaw in the Government's proposals, not, as the Minister implied, be challenged by the process to prove where the Government had got it wrong. I therefore propose to press amendment No. 26 to a vote.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 26, in page 6, line 2, at end insert—

    `(ia) a statement analysing the financial and other impact on persons likely to be affected by any of the provisions of the proposed order,'.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Division No. 4]

Bruce, Mr. Ian
Cotter, Mr. Brian
Gray, Mr. Jones
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Page, Mr. Richard

Brinton, Mrs. Helen
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
Laxton Mr. Bob
Leslie, Mr. Christopher
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Stewart, Mr. Ian
Stringer, Mr. Graham
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Twigg, Mr. Derek
White, Mr. Brian

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): On a point of order, Mr. Cook. I do not want to delay debate. However, I know that you are a powerful man in the administration of this place and I would like you to examine why the original cards summoning hon. Members to the Committee were late and why those summoning us today were also late. I have with me a card, which arrived in my ordinary post. It appears that the card did go on the letter board. Certainly, it was not on the letter board yesterday. It appears that hon. Members are not receiving proper notice of Committees.

I am lucky that my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) keeps me straight on such matters. He told me about the sittings, which I have attended. I note that the hon. Member for Twickenham has not been present once. Perhaps he has received his cards too late to be able to attend. Will you, Mr. Cook, make inquiries about those delays?

The Chairman: I register my regrets about that situation. I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that I will examine the matter and endeavour to report back later.

Clause 7

Representations made in confidence or containing damaging information

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