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New Clause 19 — Power to remove or reduce burdens

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 15th May 2006.

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Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee 4:45 pm, 15th May 2006

I thank my hon. Friend.

My worry about the Bill is that there have been two steps forward and one step back. The new clause represents real progress, but this debate would have been unnecessary had the Government listened to my Committee's advice in the first place. The Committee said that the matter should have been dealt with by means of pre-legislative scrutiny, and a number of Ministers have told me privately that they agree with that. The House produced a device for the purpose of looking to the future, and we could have used it sensibly. After all, the underlying principles of the Bill do not divide the House; what we are arguing about are the detailed mechanisms involved.

I consider new clause 19 to be a substantial step in the right direction, and I urge the House to accept the principles that it embodies, but a number of points should be considered carefully. The Minister will deal with most of my concerns when he explains where the line will be drawn in the limitation of orders, but we shall not be able to get to grips with some other aspects until we examine the Standing Orders and determine how the RROs should properly be dealt with. We need to establish whether they will be dealt with through the existing Legislative and Regulatory Reform Committee, through a hybrid of some kind, or through a vehicle yet to be devised. We need to keep an eye on the ball. We also need to think ahead about how we will expect the House to empower the Committee or Committees involved to do the necessary work.

I agree with the thrust of the Minister's remarks, but what he should glean from the debate and his extensive and interesting weekend reading is the fact that, while the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 has not proved as effective as it might have, the blame lies not with the House but with Government Departments. I do not blame Ministers. There is an inertia in the system, with which any Member who has been in the House any length of time will have had to deal. Certainly two or three Conservative Members who have been Ministers in important Departments will take the point. It is extremely difficult to achieve momentum, however determined a Government may be.

On page 13 of my Committee's report, the First Special Report of Session 2005-06, we have published a chart. It is in microdot form, but there is a good deal of data that are worth examining. The worst example given is that of the Sugar Beet Research and Education Order 2003, which was dealt with by the predecessor Committee. I do not suppose that any Member present recalls what the order did—that does not constitute a challenge—but it spent 1,800 days floating around the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. That is extraordinary. I do not know the reason for that because no one ever explained it to the House, but therein lies the core problem that makes the Minister's job that much more difficult.

We worked hard—I say "we", because the Government generously consulted all four relevant Select Committees closely, and there has been dialogue with the Liaison Committee through the Father of the House, as well—to find a way through the difficult area of definition, and I hope that the methodology adopted proves to be right way. It is better than the alternatives that some of us floated, which included having omnibus lists of exclusions—I look at David Howarth, who had the biggest omnibus of the lot. I think that the mechanism adopted is the better one, but we need to be extremely precise and to make sure that it is clearly understood that we are discussing not burdens on Ministers, but burdens on people outside this place—burdens that the Minister has the power to do something about, for it is he, the Minister, who will bring an order before our Committee.

Under existing legislation, we spent a tortuous afternoon dealing with the most recent Forestry Commission order. We had to debate what the Forestry Commission was, in constitutional terms. Before that debate, I was not aware that the commission is a non-ministerial Government Department. That raised the interesting technical question: if it is a non-ministerial Department, which Minister introduced the order? However, just as the House accepts the Paymaster General introducing orders on behalf of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, we accept the structure that relates DEFRA Ministers to the Forestry Commission.