Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 21st March 2006.

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Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

Since the introduction of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill to Parliament on 11 January, I have received about 50 representations from the private and public sectors as well as from individuals.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

Does the Minister accept that this is not just about the Procedure Committee, nor people such as my former law lecturer John Spencer and his colleagues at Cambridge, nor even my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (David Howarth) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), but people such as my 83-year-old constituent who says that we fought world war two to oppose dictatorship, so it is vital that provisions such as those in the Bill do not pass? Can the Minister tell us whether he is listening to the growing number of people, including the whole of my party, who believe that the measure is terrible, bad and wrong, and that it is anti-democratic legislation?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new appointment. I cannot congratulate him on the entire contents of his question. I know that the job that he has is not the one that he envisaged, but good luck to him nevertheless.

There is cross-party acknowledgement of the fact that the attempts at better regulation in 1994 and 2001 have not been effective in delivering the type of better regulation and simplification that we hoped for. As we said, a wider power is contained in the Bill, so it is important that we get the protections right as well. Strong protections are needed, so we are continuing to listen about how that can be achieved. As I say, there are meetings with the Chairmen of Select Committees and others to try to get those protections right. We do not want to repeat the problems of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, with a narrow definition of the nature of the burdens that prevented us from delivering the type of simplification to which businesses and public services are entitled.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird PPS (Rt Hon Charles Clarke, Secretary of State), Home Office

Is there not potential in the Bill to cut red tape and administrative burdens not only on business, but on charities and voluntary organisations, which, when run on a small scale, are often administratively stressed? Is that not a very important step forward? Exactly how will that advantage be measured to ensure that we have done all that we need to do and that there are real benefits on the ground?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

My hon. and learned Friend is characteristically correct in saying that the enabling powers in the Bill can provide the simplification that charities, voluntary organisations and public servants can expect. I understand that the Charity Commission is working on its simplification plan to find out how we can lift the burden of bureaucracy, administrative burdens and unnecessary regulations from the shoulders of charities and public servants. As that goes on, perhaps we can have conversations with my hon. and learned Friend and others about the most effective way of doing that, but the Bill is about simplifying rules and regulations that relate not only to business, but to the type of organisations that she mentions.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Would that it were, but the fact is that any good that the Bill may do in deregulating will be far outweighed by the extraordinary powers that the Minister is taking to himself and his colleagues in part 1. Part 1 simply will not do, and we will ensure that it proceeds no further. Given that the Bill reorders the relationship between the Executive and the legislature, will he consider the Power commission report as a representation on the Bill? Will he consider the very sensible suggestion that we now need a concordat that limits the powers of the Executive and enshrines the powers of Parliament?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The principle of an additional legislative route through the House was established in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and the 2001 Act. Some of the phrases that the hon. Gentleman has used in the past about the power being unprecedented in a time of peace were made about the 1994 Act as well, and that has turned out not to be the case at all. We are happy to continue to listen, and he is aware that we are actively considering how best to include an absolute veto in the Bill, so that the Commons, the Lords and their relevant Committees will ultimately decide whether the Government can progress with any simplification order that they propose. Ultimately, as we extend the power, it is important that we have additional, effective safeguards and protections in place.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

I am pleased that my hon. Friend is listening. I do not for a moment doubt that he is well meaning in proposing the measure, but does he accept that many Labour Members have concerns about the possible dangers to Parliament and that it would be wrong for the measure to pass as it stands at the moment? Let us just imagine what another Government could do if the Bill came on to the statute book.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend is right and I am happy to continue the dialogue not only with those who serve on the Select Committees, but with him as well of course. I accept that we need to get the protections and safeguards exactly right, but I hope that he acknowledges that the 2001 Act, which is currently in place, just does not suit the purposes of delivering the better regulation agenda that emerges from the Hampton report and the simplifications plans that are coming from the Departments. I am happy to have that dialogue, but we do not wish to repeat the mistakes and the tight controls in the 2001 Act, which everyone acknowledges was too tightly framed in its legal sense.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

It is not just Mr. Winnick and the TUC who say that the powers are too wide. Is it not right that the business community has got on to the Minister to say that it wants an effective tool for deregulation, not the abolition of parliamentary scrutiny? Is it not right, as reported on Sunday, that Lord Grocott—the Government's Chief Whip in the other place—has expressed concern that if further changes are not made to the Bill,

"we are missing our last opportunity to avoid likely defeat"?

The Minister keeps saying that he will make major changes to the Bill, but when will the amendments be tabled? I have tabled my amendments for debate on Report—10 of them, all of which offer the sort of safeguards that the Select Committees have asked for. When will he table his?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Gentleman knows that we are actively considering the specifics of vetoes and other matters. He knows that because we had a meeting this very morning to discuss those matters, and I had a similar meeting also this morning with those on the Liberal party's Front Bench. As we develop a consensus on how we enable the veto to be placed on the face of the Bill, we will table our amendments at that point.

Business rightly wants simplification and to maintain an additional route for the delivery of the simplification plans so that we maintain UK competitiveness in a global economy. The current legislative process is not fit for purpose and we need an additional way of bringing about the simplification that UK business, public servants and voluntary organisations so badly need.