I thank the Minister for that response, which will make my brief speech even shorter.
At somewhat short notice we were asked if we would take this consolidation Bill and it fell to me as the sort of second tier on our team—because we have only two now—to look at it. I thought, “What is a consolidation Bill?”, so I looked it up and it seemed that the first role of the Opposition was to have a reasonable confidence that it was a consolidation Bill. The test is in the Companion at 8.205 and there are five reasons, (a) through (e), and it is fair to say that the Bill seems to fall among (a), (b) and (c).
The first thing I did was to get a copy of the Bill. I was just about to start reading it when I got another document, the table of origins, which convinced me that I should not read it. Almost fortuitously, the Printed Paper Office offered me a copy of the Law Commission report, and I have read that. I take the point that these Bills have to be looked at very carefully to ensure they pass the test for a consolidation Bill but, reading the Law Commission’s report a little bit carefully, its recommendations seem to fall within the overall requirement.
Certainly, when one goes on to read how this Bill will now proceed, to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills, where there will be detailed scrutiny of the origins of the parts of the Bill and the Government, through their witnesses, will have to assure the committee that it meets the test, we can be comfortable that this is a proper consolidation Bill and serves a useful purpose.
The thing about consolidation Bills is that no parliamentarian—except when you are in government, I suppose—can be other than joyful about their arrival. I cannot think of parliamentary language to describe much of our legislation but, having sat through so many variations of financial services Bills—FiSMA and so on—in the sure and certain knowledge that no reasonable human being using the source document could possibly understand it, consolidation Bills are a joy to the eye.
However, one has to ask: why this one? The Government’s response to the consultation offers the rather nice words that it will,
“consolidate existing IPS legislation in one place, and is an important step in reducing legal complexity for new and existing societies”.
I agree that it is an important step but I ask the Minister: why this Bill and not many others? Do the Government have a plan for a programme of consolidation Bills? I particularly hark back to the travail that he and I and others have been through with the various financial services Bills. I have to say that the Treasury did a splendid job of producing Keeling schedules and such things to help us but even with all that help it was an uphill battle. Will the Government bring forward further consolidation Bills?
The next area I was going to venture into concerns the merits of the other actions that stand alongside the consolidation Bill and are set out in the consultation document. Because of the Minister’s assurance that they will come in front of Parliament as either negative or affirmative instruments, I will not waste the time of the House on those issues now and not ask the Minister questions he would have to promise to write to me about.
Accordingly, we broadly support the concept of a consolidation Bill. We wish it well and I wish the members of the Joint Committee who have to go through all this paperwork all the luck in the world.