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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Minister is willing to be probed on this matter. I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Norton, wants to introduce a level of flexibility into the timetable against which the committees produce their report. The committees will undoubtedly face an additional burden in scrutinising reform orders under the Bill. That has always been acknowledged. It is a matter for the House authorities rather than the Government how that is achieved. The committee of this House and, so far as I am aware, the committee of the Commons, have not taken that as
There are problems associated with the amendment. The problem lies more with the people who want to make representations to the committees than with the committees. We need to give them priority. One can imagine an interested party who thought he had 60 days in which to contribute to a debate suddenly discovering that the committee had decided to resolve the issue in 40 days, and that the committee had reported perhaps 20 days earlier. That matter arose in consultation on the earlier drafts of the Bill. When we consulted on the provisions of the Bill in March 1999 a number of people raised that issue.
We need to ensure that the scrutiny period is as transparent as possible and that everyone knows exactly where they stand. The Deregulation Committee of the House of Commons objected to any reduction of the period for this very reason. Sixty days was seen as sufficient time to scrutinise reform proposals. I believe that the Bill already gives the committees sufficient scope for scrutiny. Primary legislation receives detailed scrutiny over such a period. As the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee said in its report, and as my noble friend Lord Borrie said in Committee on Tuesday (at col. 184 of the Official Report), the procedure under the Bill could arguably be seen as providing a greater level of scrutiny than that afforded to most Bills.
Lord Skelmersdale: Since there has been much discussion about a proposed regulatory reform order on the reform of the fire protection legislation mentioned in the Explanatory Notes and several times during our debate on the Bill, can the Minister say whether it is possible for the Committee, first, to take representations, and, secondly, to complete its consideration within the 60 days provided for under the Bill?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The 60 days provided for under the Bill are 60 days for the committee to do its work. If an issue is sufficiently complicated I am sure that it would have been aired publicly in a more informal way a long time in advance of that. There is nothing to stop that happening.
Lord Skelmersdale: No, but the whole point is that the proposed legislation is very much nitty-gritty stuff. An enormous amount of work will need to be done by the committee and its advisers in order to understand the reformation which is going on.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: Can the provision be amended to allow for flexibility if it were required in the view of the committee? There may be cases where it will be required. It may be that there will be few cases
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I will think about that matter. But my instincts are very much against that. My instinct is that it is much better to have a transparent, known period for the committees' consideration of matters. It will start and finish on certain dates. Everyone will know those dates and anyone who wants to make representations will know the period in which they have to make them.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, raised the fire safety case. That kind of case may need an advance period of public debate so that everyone knows what is being talked about. But it would be undesirable for that provision to be on the face of the Bill.
Lord Norton of Louth: I am grateful to the Minister and to other noble Lords who have contributed to the discussion on the amendment. I hear what the Minister says. I understand his argument. I am not totally persuaded of his point in relation to the minimum period. One can have an adequate minimum period and some degree of flexibility. But it was a probing amendment.
I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said. I am very grateful for his contribution, both in terms of principle, which persuades me that I should go away and think about the matter, and his correct point about the drafting. Therefore, on that basis I shall not pursue the amendment. I shall go away and reflect upon the matter in the light of what noble Lords have said and what the Minister has put forward. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Buscombe: It is my intention to allow us to focus for a moment on the most important safeguard in this Bill, to which reference has already been made today; namely, the role of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation.
I preface what I have to say to the Committee with the assurance that it is not my intention to patronise either the members of the committee or the role that it fulfils. On the contrary, I hold the committee in great esteem and recognise that its work and its contribution are invaluable. In that respect, I believe that I speak for all noble Lords. It is because of those points that I am concerned.
We have heard much about the opportunities that this Bill, if it becomes law, will create--opportunities that we are told do not currently exist because the scope of the 1994 Act is too narrow and inflexible. We are already in receipt of an ever-growing list of potential regulatory reform orders that could be implemented under this Bill. It is fair to say that the excitement shown by officials at the prospect of this Bill is tangible. That slightly worries me, as they are
The Minister has made a number of references during this stage of the Bill to fire safety legislation and the opportunities that this Bill would afford with regard to simplifying and consolidating the current law. Fire safety requirements are currently spread over 120 statutes. We are now asking the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation to scrutinise each and every one of those 120 statues to ensure that, although the proposed order is intended to simplify enforcement for fire authorities and the duty of compliance for business and landlords, as well as to eliminate legislative anomalies and duplication, it will not, in fact, reduce existing standards.
It has been revealed this evening that there is a questionable opportunity to amend draft orders. A great deal of time is given on the Floor of the House and in Committee to the consideration of primary legislation. With those two points in mind, I wonder whether the prospect of this very eminent committee becoming awash with an increased consideration of Acts and orders, many of which will relate to an infinite number and variety of subject matters, is realistic. Should more resources now be found to support the committee? Would it not be sensible to set up a sub-committee of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation to deal specifically with such draft orders and to support the work of the main committee? Do the Government have a view on this? In response to the previous amendment, the Minister said that the question of resourcing should be considered. I am grateful for that. However, I should also be grateful to the Minister for his views on this matter.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am taken aback by that speech. If it is suggested that the problem concerns the workload of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, I had understood that my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and I had made it clear that it is a matter for the House authorities. If there had been a profound objection from the existing committee to the potential for an increased workload, I have no doubt that it would have said so. The committee will certainly consider the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, about setting up a sub-committee. However, these are not matters for the Government to consider. Surely the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is not telling this Committee that it should hold back on further deregulation because of the possibility of a lack of resources within this House.
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