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Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of the order is to remove unnecessary burdens from business and to remove statutory obstacles to contracting out. It follows and builds on the thrust of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and seeks to advance two important government priorities: the deregulation initiative and the competing for quality policy.
The provisions in the order make good sense. This is demonstrated by the small response to the consultation exercise. Comment was invited from over 300 individuals and bodies with a particular interest in the order and only 18 responses were received. No amendments were considered necessary.
The clear aim of the Government's deregulation initiative is to produce "fewer, better, simpler" regulations. This initiative is at the heart of the Government's policy to create an environment in which businesses can grow and increase their competitiveness. Over-prescriptive regulations threaten our competitiveness by imposing costs and inflexibilities. Small firms in particular stand to benefit from such moves.
The Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 introduced 13 specific deregulatory changes which benefit business in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This order adds a further six specific deregulation provisions of benefit to Northern Ireland businesses.
Three articles will introduce further deregulatory change to Northern Ireland. These will remove statutory constraints on measuring a pint of beer; remove restrictions on Sunday sporting activities; and remove constraints on totalisator operators in relation to deductions from stakes. This provision follows a Great Britain order made under the enabling powers of the 1994 Act.
The remaining three provisions are unique to Northern Ireland. Article 3 removes the requirement to license premises used for horticultural processing; Article 5 removes redundant controls on local auctions; and Article 8 removes the requirement for taxi drivers to sit a separate driving test in order to obtain a taxi driver's licence.
The other side of what is to be enforced is how those measures are to be enforced. Businesses complain that they often incur unnecessary costs in order to meet the demands of over-zealous enforcement officers. They also suggest that they should be able to challenge enforcement officers' decisions at an early stage and, when a formal decision has been made, that their rights of appeal should be clarified and the appeal procedure should be speedy and inexpensive.
The Government recognise those concerns. They believe in ensuring that the manner of enforcement is as fair, transparent and consistent as possible. This is stated in Article 9. Article 10 sets out powers to introduce "model" appeal provisions which will provide a clear procedure to help businesses to appeal enforcement decisions.
Let me now turn to the other provisions in this order. These relate to contracting out and are based on the Competing for Quality White Paper, published in 1991, the aim of which was to improve the quality and responsiveness of our public services, while ensuring that the cost of their provision is one which the nation can afford.
The competing for quality programme exposes public services to the influences of competition. There are some areas of public service where the potential to test whether a function can be undertaken more effectively and efficiently may not be realised because of small but significant legal obstacles.
The order seeks to remove obstacles to market testing and contracting out where they may have been identified, thereby widening the opportunity for central departments, district councils and non-departmental public bodies to consider whether services should be opened to
Measures removing statutory obstacles to contracting out are contained in Parts III and IV of the order. They include a number of specific provisions, enabling functions which are presently the responsibility of statutory office holders, departments and non-departmental public bodies to be exercised by duly authorised contractors.
Articles 13 to 15 are technical provisions relating to the important areas of accountability and contract conditions. They make it clear that the accountability of Ministers is not diminished if a service is contracted out; nor will contracting out affect the responsibilities of office holders or departments in relation to services affected by the order. Although work may be delegated, responsibility may not.
The order also contains two measures specific to Northern Ireland which remove obstacles to contracting out in the areas of the agricultural census and dog control services provided by district councils.
A further category of obstacle is where restrictions are imposed by statute or other obligation on the disclosure to others of information held by government. Article 16 and Schedule 4 enable such restricted information to be disclosed to contractors where this is necessary to discharge their contractual responsibilities. In making such information available, it is important to note that contractors will be bound by the same obligations, and be subject to the same penalties for unauthorised release, as would public servants in the same circumstances.
Secondly, a general order-making power similar to that in the 1994 Act has not been included in this order. Such a power would have enabled Northern Ireland Orders in Council to be amended by subordinate legislation, where the aim is to effect deregulatory change or to remove an obstacle to contracting out. This would have meant that such orders would not be subject to any form of parliamentary scrutiny. That would have created a situation substantially at odds with that in Great Britain where an effective system of parliamentary checks has been put in place.
I commend this order as a sensible and reasonable provision. It adds to progress already made across the UK. Its approach is entirely consistent with the Government's initiative to help business to become more competitive by reducing unnecessary burdens. The removal of obstacles to contracting out offers possibilities for flexibility in the delivery of public services. I beg to move.