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Lord Holme of Cheltenham had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 21:

Page 4, line 43, leave out ("Judicial Committee") and insert ("Constitutional Court").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee to know that this group of amendments deals with the constitutional court. My noble friends and I have notified the Government that we shall not move them today, although we shall return to them on Report, by which time the Report stage of the Scotland Bill will have gone through your Lordships' House.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 5, line 7, leave out subsection (3) and insert--
("(3) If he notifies the Presiding Officer that he does not intend to make a reference in relation to a provision of a Bill, he shall not make such a reference unless, after the notification, the Bill is approved as mentioned in subsection (2)(b).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 11 [Stages of Bills]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 5, line 19, at end insert ("but not amended").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 5, line 45, at end insert ("but not amended").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh moved manuscript Amendment No. 26A:

After Clause 11, insert the following new clause:

Regulatory appraisals

(".--(1) Standing orders shall include provision for securing that a regulatory appraisal as to the likely costs and benefits of complying with a Bill is carried out.
(2) If the regulatory appraisal indicates that the costs of complying with the Bill are likely to be significant, then standing orders shall provide that--
(a) appropriate consultation (including consultation with representatives of business) is carried out, and
(b) the regulatory appraisal is published,
before the Bill is introduced in the Assembly.").

The noble Lord said: I apologise for the late introduction of this amendment, which proposes a new clause after Clause 11. It suggests that a cost-benefit analysis of a proposed Bill to come before the Assembly shall be made in order that the costs of implementing it can be assessed against its likely benefits.

I hope that the amendment will find favour with the Committee because it will help the Assembly to judge the cost of a Bill. It might propose a Bill which would incur substantial costs on businesses without there being any benefit. I believe that the amendment will help the Assembly to judge the value of the Bills it is studying. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I sympathise with my noble friend, who I know worked diligently in consultation with the various interest groups concerned, up to and during the weekend. Despite the reputed advance in technology, I am afraid that the screens did not work as they ought to have done. Consequently, he is sincere in his apologies for springing the amendment on the Committee. I warmly support it.

The Members of the Assembly, unlike their counterparts in Wales and Scotland, are already elected and are showing commendable enthusiasm in various ways in tackling outstanding problems, particularly as regards industry, commerce, finance and allied subjects. It would be of enormous assistance to them to be able to provide convincing arguments, if only in the face of exorbitant demands, and to give an analysis of the cost of any measure to the taxpayers, the funds attributed to

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the Assembly, the block grant and so forth. More important is the cost to industry, in particular the new industries which one hopes will come on stream as a result of the widespread representations made by the all-party team which spent the past week in the United States of America. Its utterances have so far been optimistic. Given the sparse details available to me, I believe that there is a fair and even chance that the team will be rewarded for its endeavours. The amendment is another way of assisting it.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: The noble Lord has suggested a good new clause which is designed to encourage employment. Regulations make it difficult for small businesses to create employment. In a previous government I was Minister responsible for small firms, but I have long taken an interest in the problems of small firms and continue to do so.

The difficulty with regulations as regards small firms is that there are so many. Each may be acceptable individually, but the combination makes it difficult for small firms to continue satisfactorily in business. A large business may have specialists ensuring that it complies with fire and planning regulations and so forth. It may also have people looking after its tax affairs and the complications of PAYE. Other people will look after the employment situation, ensuring that it does not fall foul of regulations relating to dismissing and hiring people, minimum wages, hours of work and so forth. The poor small businessman must deal with all those regulations in addition to trying to run his business. That is why the amendment is so important.

In one sense, we are taking it a week or two early because a week today the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, is to be introduced into the House. He heads the Deregulation Task Force which so far as I can tell is doing an extremely good job. But I know how difficult the job is; his predecessors found it difficult, too.

It is all very well to make regulations which are essential in modern life, for which people press and which experts can examine in detail, but it is the poor old businessman who must try to put them into practice. Therefore, it is extremely important that the new Assembly should not rush off with all its new powers and start regulating all over the place in order to solve the small problems which arise, particularly those of the individuals it represents. If the Assembly does that it will be bad for unemployment in Northern Ireland: there is no doubt in my mind about that. That, in itself, would be extremely damaging to the prospects of peace because it is economic success, employment and so on which is important. It is going to be difficult enough in the future in all conscience without having additional regulations.

It seems to me, therefore, that this proposal that a regulatory appraisal should be carried out on the costs and the benefits of complying with this legislation is an extremely good one and I support the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Cooke.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: Members of the Committee know that the noble Lord, Lord Cooke,

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keeps an eye on the interests of business and commerce in Northern Ireland in a very painstaking way. Therefore I, for one, take the intention of this amendment very seriously. However, it is very widely drafted because it applies to all Bills, and the compliance of the citizen with a Bill which might have nothing at all to do with business will be difficult. His concern is, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, that businesses, and particularly small businesses, are not faced with costs of compliance out of all proportion to the benefits achieved. I think it is admirable, but my concern with this amendment is that it is widely drafted so as to apply to all legislation and not simply that which may have an effect directly on business.

I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says, but when he replies I hope he will make it clear that, in the new Assembly, it ought to be imperative that there are feet on the ground in terms of regular consultations with business in a way that is particularly important at this stage when we are in such need of investment so as to be able to generate a less dependent economy in Northern Ireland. I am not confident as to whether this is the right way to do it, but I applaud the sentiment and I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Lord Dubs: I appreciate the intent of this amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cooke. The CBI have written to us about this and I replied only this morning. I would warmly endorse the desirability of the Assembly paying close regard to the implications for business and employment of any proposed legislation, but that is very different from binding the hands of the Assembly as to how it should, in assuming its responsibilities, take account of these matters. I do not believe we ought to bind the Assembly.

Indeed, if we were to do so, we could all imagine other groups which would also argue for their interests to be protected in a similar way on the face of the Bill. I do not think that is the right way forward. If we have confidence in the Assembly we ought to allow it to legislate on behalf of Northern Ireland, whether it is on behalf of business or employment or, indeed, on behalf of any other matter within its responsibilities. I would add that even if we were to go down the path suggested by the noble Lord--which I have clearly indicated that we do not want to do--we would still have to look at his amendment because, for example, it would not allow for urgent cases which might come along. It might slow the pace of things.

Clearly, we have said all along that we are giving effect to the agreement in legislation and there is no reference in the agreement to such a mechanism as has been suggested. Noble Lords have heard from us on numerous occasions that we are seeking to give effect to the agreement, supplementing it only as necessary to permit it to work efficiently. Where we have done so, it has been by general agreement of all the parties in Northern Ireland. In the absence of any reference in the agreement to a matter such as this, I believe that it is much better left to the Assembly. It can well adopt the arrangements suggested by the noble Lord if it wishes.

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I think that that is the best way forward. In the circumstances, I would ask the noble Lord whether he is willing to withdraw his amendment.

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