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19 Nov 2007 : Column 658

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, since we appear to be short of surface vessels, have we yet got back the vessel illegally seized by the Iranians ?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I am afraid that that piece of paper has not crossed my desk yet, but I will find out. The noble Lord referred to an overall shortage of surface vessels. I would not wish to concede that point. It is true that we wish to keep that situation under review, but we do not accept that there is a basic shortage.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, will the noble Baroness give an update on the progress of the joint French-British undertaking with regard to aircraft carrier manufacture?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the new joint venture for the aircraft carrier is well under way and discussions on the details are going on. Nothing is finalised about the French involvement, but it would have to be to the advantage of everyone to go down that path.

Regulatory Reform Orders: DBERR

2.58 pm

Lord De Mauley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bach: My Lords, none. From 8 January 2007, regulatory reform orders were replaced by legislative reform orders as a result of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, which was debated at length in your Lordships’ House. BERR and its agencies are working on proposals for three legislative reform orders.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Can he confirm that consultation has taken place on only three legislative reform orders and that not a single one has emerged from that consultation process, despite the new procedure, which was designed to respond to the failings of this Government’s Regulatory Reform Act 2001, being in force for nearly a year? If that can be confirmed, why should anyone take seriously this Government’s claims to be deregulatory?

Lord Bach: My Lords, there have been no more than three because, as I said, although the Act came into force in January 2007 the House of Commons Standing Orders for the Regulatory Reform Committee were not finalised until July. That was a shame. It was not possible for the Government to lay such orders before these were agreed. I know that the noble Lord will be happy to hear that not only are there the ones that have already been consulted on, but that many more are in the pipeline.

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Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the substance of the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, goes to what the Government are doing to deal with the excessive regulation of industry and business? While I am sure that the Minister will not accept that the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill only touches the surface of these problems, does he accept that in practical terms it would be far better if the Government stopped gold-plating European directives and introduced sunset clauses on all regulations, thus bringing them to an end on a specified date unless their continuation was justified?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I heard the noble Lord’s speech in our debate on this issue last Wednesday, and he will be delighted to know that impact assessments are made on every regulation that comes in. Apparently, it is one of the requirements that his party supports. On sunset clauses, I think that the Liberal Democrats should perhaps think again. The trouble with such clauses is that they remove certainty, and while business wants deregulation, what it wants more than practically anything else is certainty. If there is to be a sunset clause after two, three or four years, the regulations will not have the certainty they deserve.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, how many orders are in the pipeline?

Lord Bach: My Lords, it depends on how long you consider the pipe to be. The noble Earl can be satisfied that there are plenty of them.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, did the Minister understand the Liberal Democrat Benches to be proposing sunset clauses to European regulations? If so, what is his reaction to that?

Lord Bach: My Lords, that is the most difficult question I have had for a long time because I never quite understand what the Liberal Democrats are suggesting on most things. On this, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, was just talking about regulatory reform.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is not the Government’s work on better regulation being hampered by new directives from the European Union? The latest one I have seen is a soil condition directive. What on earth is that about? Are the Government going to oppose it?

Lord Bach: My Lords, on EU regulation, in March this year we, together with the Danes and the Dutch, were very much in the forefront in getting the EU to agree a target to reduce EU administrative burdens by 25 per cent by 2012. We are also working to ensure that best practice is producing robust impact assessments for all European legislation.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, who makes the impact assessment? Is it done just by civil servants or are representatives of the businesses that the regulations may affect involved?

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Lord Bach: My Lords, as I understand it, consultation takes place with the businesses involved, but of course civil servants from the Better Regulation Executive play an important part, too. The assessments involve a combination of people, and I do not think that assessments have previously been queried.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that since legislative reform orders were introduced, replacing regulatory reform orders, they have been used to scrap just 34 regulations, while in the same period more than 18,000 new regulations have been introduced? Now that regulatory reform is an express part of the name of the department to which the noble Lord belongs, can we expect some improvement in those figures?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I can confirm part of what the noble Lord has said: there were 34 regulation orders under the 2001 Act. I cannot confirm the other part. Having been a very senior Minister in a previous Government, he will know that regulatory reform is not an easy issue. It certainly was not for his Government in the mid-1990s, and I notice one or two distinguished ex-Ministers nodding on the Benches opposite. Of course regulation is not bad per se; it provides market rules, allowing businesses to thrive, and provides essential rights and protections for employees and consumers. I am happy to accept, however, that there is a long way to go. We believe that bringing regulatory reform into the new department is a very good step.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that many regulations are designed to keep markets open, free and liberal? Is that not the kind of economy my noble friend would like to achieve?

Lord Bach: My Lords, that is what I would like to achieve, as would Her Majesty’s Government. The report on regulators published last week by the Lords Select Committee, which was chaired by my noble friend Lord McIntosh, made precisely that point: regulators in that field should be there to help competition.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords—

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, it is our turn. Does the Minister agree with his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, who has been a doughty campaigner against over-regulation by this and previous Governments, that Parliament is not doing an effective job in scrutinising European regulations and that we could do much better? What ideas can the Government put to us in Parliament about how we could be more effective in scrutinising the endless regulations from Brussels?

Lord Bach: My Lords, although the Government can give advice on that, in the end it is for Parliament to decide how it looks at European regulatory orders, which will become increasingly important if Europe follows the route that we have gone down.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, does my noble friend not recall many on the Benches opposite calling for better regulation of Northern Rock?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am afraid I do not recall that.

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3.07 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, we shall have a Statement on Northern Rock repeated later this afternoon by my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham after the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Given the Statement, we shall meet the target rising time of 10 o’clock provided that Back-Bench contributions are no more than 10 minutes.

Hybrid Instruments Committee

Liaison Committee

Procedure of the House Committee

Works of Art Committee

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the four Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Hybrid Instruments Committee

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider hybrid instruments and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Members together with the Chairman of Committees be appointed to the committee:

L Campbell of AllowayB FookesL GrantchesterL HarrisonL LukeL QuirkL Sandberg.

Liaison Committee

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to advise the House on the resources required for Select Committee work and to allocate resources between Select Committees; to review the Select Committee work of the House; to consider requests for ad hoccommittees and report to the House with recommendations; to ensure effective co-ordination between the two Houses; and to consider the availability of Members to serve on committees;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Members together with the Chairman of Committees be appointed to the committee:

B Ashton of Upholland (Lord President)B D’SouzaB McIntosh of HudnallL McNallyL MoserB Perry of SouthwarkL RichardL StrathclydeB Thomas of WinchesterL Wakeham;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time.

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Procedure of the House Committee

Moved, That the Select Committee on Procedure of the House be appointed and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Members together with the Chairman of Committees be appointed to the committee:

L AddingtonB Anelay of St JohnsB Ashton of Upholland (Lord President)B DavidB D’SouzaL EltonL GrocottL Harries of PentregarthB Hayman (Lord Speaker)L JoplingL Low of DalstonL McNallyB NorthoverL RosserB Shephard of NorthwoldL Shutt of GreetlandL StrathclydeL Williams of Elvel;

That the following Members be appointed as alternate members:

L DubsL Hunt of WirralL Palmer (alternate for the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers)V SlimB Thomas of Winchester.

Works of Art Committee

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to administer the House of Lords Works of Art Collection Fund; and to consider matters relating to works of art and the artistic heritage in the House of Lords, within financial limits approved by the House Committee;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Members be appointed to the committee:

L Bruce-LockhartV Falkland (Chairman)L GavronE GlasgowL Harris of PeckhamB Hilton of EggardonB Massey of DarwenE OnslowL PalmerLy Saltoun of AbernethyL Thomas of SwynnertonB Trumpington;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

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Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL]

3.08 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The United Kingdom is at the forefront of developments in human reproductive technology. This country has a proud record of pioneering new techniques for the alleviation of infertility and for exploring new avenues of scientific research. The final breakthrough in innovation now known universally by the letters “IVF” took place here. Key developments in new research techniques, such as the creation of Dolly the sheep, happened in British laboratories. These and other developments have brought hope to countless thousands of people who might otherwise have been unable to have children, and offer enormous potential for the future treatment of serious disease.

Alongside this enviable record of innovation stands an equally pioneering history of effective regulatory oversight. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority was the first body of its kind in the world. The creation of the HFEA made for the first time an area of medical practice subject to the control of an independent regulator, replacing professional self-regulation. The UK and this Government implemented the first statutory ban on human reproductive cloning anywhere in the world. We also introduced legislation paving the way for scientists to reap the benefits of embryonic stem cell research. Specialist regulation of reproductive technologies, together with clear legal boundaries, has united scientific breakthroughs with public confidence in their development and use.

Among other things, this represents a considerable triumph for parliamentary debate. The existing law, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, was the product of consultation, a committee of inquiry, and then extensive scrutiny here and in another place. Many Members of your Lordships’ House have played, and continue to play, a direct role as legislators and experienced practitioners in the fields of philosophy, science and medicine. The Bill provides a further opportunity for that expertise to be brought to bear.

In 1990, Parliament set out the legal boundaries and parameters of a scheme of regulation. It was based on the principle of active monitoring of technologies that raised a range of profound social, legal and ethical questions. Finding answers to those questions arguably goes straight to the heart of our existence as individuals, families and society. Sincerely held views and opinions differ widely, and sometimes fundamentally, in this area. However, there was also in 1990 an evident desire for some principles and somedefined limits. The 1990 Act represented a will to find common ground in a framework broadly acceptable to society.

In January 2004, the Government announced a review of the law. We recognised that the 1990 Act had worked well, but, like any cutting-edge legislation, needed to be reviewed from time to time. Our aim in undertaking the review was to ensure that the law

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remained effective and fit for purpose in the 21st century. In particular, we thought that a review was timely given the pace of scientific developments and public attitudes associated with them. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, remarked that,

That remark was written in 1985. Our sea charts have been partly filled in since then, but there are also new rocks and reefs. We are navigating strong currents of reproductive freedom and responsibility, patient safety, public accountability and professional autonomy, and questions of how best to safeguard the welfare of children.

The Department of Health undertook a public consultation in the summer of 2005, taking account of the extensive inquiry into reproductive technologies by the Science and Technology Committee in the other place. It produced more than 500 responses from a wide range of stakeholders, including from the medical profession, patients’ representatives, faith groups, scientists, academics and other members of the public. An independently produced summary of the responses was published in March 2006.

This was followed in December 2006 by the Government’s White Paper, setting out our legislative proposals to update the existing law and including the proposal to establish a single regulatory body for tissue and embryos. The resulting draft Bill, then entitled the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, was published for pre-legislative scrutiny in May this year. A Joint Committee of both Houses was appointed to scrutinise the Bill, and considered a wide range of evidence from stakeholders as part of its deliberations. Nine members of your Lordships’ House served on the committee, bringing to bear varied experience in law and ethics, research and regulation. The Joint Committee published its report and recommendations on 1 August.

The Government responded to the Joint Committee’s report on 8 October. We accepted the spirit of the report, and many of the recommendations. We recognised the strength of the committee’s reasoning in relation to replacement of the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority by RATE, the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos. This proposal had originated in the Department of Health’s 2004 review of its arm’s-length bodies, which has, overall, been a successful programme, releasing savings for front-line care.

On balance, and in the light of the Joint Committee’s report, the Government decided to drop the proposal to establish RATE. A number of noble Lords drew attention to this matter during debate on the gracious Speech, and I am pleased to note that it has been warmly received. The Government will, however, be working with both the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority to ensure that regulation is streamlined. Separately from the Bill, we will be reviewing, together with the Treasury, the fees charged by the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority.

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The Bill has benefited from pre-legislative scrutiny, and clearly demonstrates the value of that process. Development of the Government’s proposals have also benefited from the reports of other parliamentary Select Committees published during the intervening years, including, for example, the 2002 report from your Lordships’ Committee on Stem Cell Research, produced under the chairmanship of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. The Bill is therefore the product of a considered and deliberative approach. It will update the regulation of assisted reproduction, ensuring that it is effective and reflective of modern society. The Bill is needed to ensure that legitimate medical and scientific uses of human reproductive technology can continue to flourish.

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