Select Committee on Regulatory Reform Thirteenth Report


Consultation Procedures

Letter from the Clerk of the Committee to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Proposed Regulatory Reform Order: Section 68 of the Food Act 1984

Thank you for your letter of 21st March concerning the above. The Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee considered the matter at its meeting earlier today, and has asked me to make the following reply.

Based on the information which you have provided, the Committee has concluded that it would appear appropriate to proceed with the laying of a proposal for a Regulatory Reform Order repealing section 68 of the Food Act 1984.

The particular matter on which you have asked for advice is that of the conduct of the consultation process required by section 5 of the Regulatory Reform Act. Whilst it is desirable that current Cabinet Office guidelines in respect of consultation processes be followed (and whilst the Committee may be justified in criticising any regulatory reform consultation process conducted otherwise than in accordance with those guidelines), the Committee's Standing Order requires it to consider only "whether the proposal has been the subject of, and taken appropriate account of, adequate consultation". Given that the current Cabinet Office guidelines were not available at the time that the consultation in question was carried out, the Committee will therefore consider, as and when a proposal comes before it, whether the consultation was adequate and appropriate in the circumstances, bearing in mind particularly the requirements of the Regulatory Reform Act. From the information which you have provided, it appears that all relevant parties have been kept informed of the Government's proposals, and have been given the opportunity to comment on those proposals as they have developed. The Committee therefore agrees that little purpose would be served by the carrying out, at this stage, of a further formal consultation process.

However, there are two caveats to this response. Firstly, it is based on the assumption that the Minister is satisfied that he has all the information necessary to complete the statement required by section 6 of the Regulatory Reform Act. The Committee will not hesitate to reconsider the matter - and recommend a suitable remedy - if it concludes, on examination of that statement, that there is insufficient justification for any of the Minister's conclusions.

Secondly, the Committee notes that no reference has been made in any communication with consultees to the regulatory reform process. As you will know, the practice is now (as it was in respect of deregulation proposals) to include in all consultation documents an annex referring to Parliamentary consideration of proposals and draft orders. The Committee considers the presentation of this information to consultees to be very important, as it ensures that all parties are aware of their opportunity to make their views known to the Parliamentary Committees. The Committee therefore suggests that, when this proposal is laid before Parliament, the Department write to all consultees informing them that they have done so, and enclosing a suitably amended version of the annex which is routinely included in all consultation documents. The communication should make clear that no response to the Committees is required, but that the opportunity to make such a response is available should they have any further comment to make on the Government's proposal. The Committee also suggests that the communication should either include a copy of the section 6 statement as laid before Parliament, or inform consultees of how copies of that statement may be obtained.


30 April 2002

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