Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill
Lord Bassam of Brighton (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, I shall deal with both amendments in the group together. The noble Lord has described them well. They would move the order-making power in Part 1 of the Bill back in the direction of the 2001 Act by providing for a similar provision to the two-year rule. While the 2001 Act has enabled some 30 worthwhile reforms, it has proved ineffective for a number of reasons. This is why we are discussing this new Bill, which moves away from the prescriptive nature of the 2001 Act, and it is why the Government cannot support this amendment. We want to avoid imposing unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on the order-making process, which is what the amendment would do.
One example of the negative effect of the two-year rule in the 2001 Act was in relation to the Regulatory Reform (Gaming Machines) Order 2003. This order was originally expected to save that industry £9.5 million annually. Unfortunately, part of the proposals had to be dropped because it was prevented by the two-year rule, as the relevant provisions had been amended by a prize uprating order, which is occasionally necessary to increase the maximum amount that certain gaming machines can pay out. Dropping this part of the proposals reduced the estimated savings to the gaming machines industry by £1.85 million annually.
I recognise that the amendment would be less restrictive than the two-year rule in the 2001 Act, but we do not wish the Bill to prevent businesses, the public and voluntary sectors from benefiting fully from the Government's regulatory reform proposals. As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, every order under Part 1 is subject to statutory consultation, and the results of that consultation will influence both the Minister and Parliament in coming to a decision on the content of the draft order that is laid and on the appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny for that order. The results will also influence whether Parliament wishes to approve the order or whether it exercises its right to veto it. Surely that is a satisfactory degree of scrutiny for any potential proposal that might seek substantively to amend legislation that is less than a year old.
I recognise that the noble Lord is seeking to ensure that the amendments encourage the Government to produce well thought-out legislation that should not need to be amended within a year of it being enacted. However, although he is as eager as we are to improve the way that we make policy, I do not believe that this amendment is the appropriate mechanism for doing so. I remind the House that the Government continue to review the way that policy is made and that the Better Regulation Executive is currently developing proposals to improve the effectiveness of the regulatory impact assessment process. We continue to review legislation, and we have given an undertaking to review this Bill no more than five years after it is enacted.
I am sympathetic to the noble Lord and understand that he does not wish to encourage sloppiness in the drafting of measures or in the way in which they are brought forward or introduced. However, we all have to accept that from time to time a law of unintended consequences is at work in legislation. Although the noble Lord does not seek to impose as rigorous an approach as was contained within the 2001 Act, nevertheless, I continue to hold that the amendment would be an unnecessary restraint on improving the process and ensuring that we have a genuinely deregulatory approach. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.