My Lords, returning to the Deregulation Bill, I dare say that not every noble Lord will wish to hear my speech. I do not blame them. I will leave a moment or two for the House to settle down.
This Bill has been described by the Minister as a wide-ranging measure. Other noble Lords have described it as a Christmas tree. I have heard most of the speeches on the Bill so far and they have ranged over a very large number of topics. However, there is one little gem hidden away in the Bill on page 203—out of 204 pages. Paragraph 40 of Schedule 20 states:
“Omit section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996”.
I had the honour to chair the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, which reported a year or so ago. One of our recommendations in paragraph 170 was,
“the repeal of section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996. The anomalies it creates are more damaging than the mischief it was intended to cure. There is no persuasive argument for granting either House a power of waiver or for restricting such a power to defamation cases alone. A wider power of waiver would create uncertainty, and have the potential to undermine the fundamental constitutional principle of freedom of speech in Parliament”.
The Government told us:
“There are clearly problems with Section 13 of the Defamation Act. It is at odds with the principle that freedom of speech is a privilege of the House, not just individual members and it can create an imbalance where one party to proceedings can choose to use the parliamentary record but the other cannot”.
The Government went on to say:
“However, the Government is not aware of any instances in which anyone has used the power of waiver and as such it would not appear to be a pressing priority to repeal Section 13”.
However, I am very pleased that three of my Commons colleagues managed to table an amendment to put this into the Bill. It was accepted—indeed, I think the Government added their name to it—and is therefore now in the Bill.
I do not suppose that a great number of your Lordships have actually got as far as paragraph 40 of Schedule 20—perhaps I should not say that—although I did hear that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, at least got to the preceding paragraph about dog collars, so he must have jolly nearly got there anyway, on which I congratulate him.
Anyway, the amendment was successful and is now part of the Bill. I congratulate the Government on that and I hope the Bill will get a smooth passage through its remaining stages.
My Lords, this is even more of a pot pourri of a Bill than the previous regulatory Bill in which I participated in your Lordships’
House. However, there are some continuing themes concerning equalities, a lack of thought about people who need to be considered because of their vulnerabilities, and the fact that regulation is often the way in which public bodies and businesses ensure that protection and fairness.
I will be speaking about three matters. Clauses 83 to 86 concern regulators having regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth. Clause 2 concerns tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases—I think we have been here before. I will be looking at Clauses 10 to 12, as other noble Lords have, concerning the safety of vulnerable groups in the taxi licensing regime; I will not stray into the detail of licensing. Finally, I wish to speak about clauses that are not yet in the Bill but which I hope the Government might bring forward in their own amendments, which would assist the growth and development of co-operative schools.
I will speak about co-operative schools first. Given that the Bill is supposed to be about removing barriers and creating a level playing field for enterprises, and that this Government are to be commended for their support for co-operatives and mutuals, I suggest that this matter is absolutely at the heart of that support. I am aware that the Government have been holding discussions about amendments on this matter and I hope that we might see a positive outcome.
The matter concerns adding two additional clauses to the Bill. The first would remove a clause from the Education and Inspections Act 2006 which is a barrier to enabling nursery schools to become full members of trusts—or, indeed, academies. This would help to provide a vehicle for parental and family engagement in early years. The second would amend the School Organisation (Requirements as to Foundations) (England) Regulations 2007, to ensure that schools are able to establish themselves as industrial and provident societies, should it be desirable, and bringing co-operative schools in line with other types of co-operative organisations.
Despite an all-party commitment to co-operatives and mutuals in the public sector, co-operative schools have had to work around existing legislation because no provision is made in the relevant Education Acts for schools to be established as industrial and provident societies as currently defined in the 1965 Act. My proposed new clause seeks to amend this and ensure that any future legislation provides a level playing field and a more understandable legal framework. I hope the Minister will agree that these new clauses would be a good addition to his Bill.
Clauses 83 provides that while exercising their regulatory function, regulators must,
“have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth”,
“in particular, consider the importance for the promotion of economic growth”,
“probably the single most important clause in the Bill”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 3/2/14; col. 37.]
We need to pay it particular attention, I suggest. Clause 84 would enable a Minister to specify in a statutory instrument which regulatory functions would be subject to this duty; in some cases it might not apply to all the regulator’s functions. Clause 85 would give power for a Minister to issue guidance on how,
“regulatory functions may be exercised so as to promote economic growth”,
and how regulators subject to the duty could demonstrate that they were complying with it. Regulators subject to the economic growth duty would have a duty to regard any guidance. We saw the draft guidance an hour or so before the debate started, and I will return to that in a moment.
I understand that the background to these provisions is the post-implementation review of the Regulators’ Compliance Code, and the independent report of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, No Stone Unturnedin Pursuit of Growth, which recommended that the Government should impose such an obligation on regulators,
“to take proper account of the economic consequences of their actions”.
The Government ran a consultation on this in 2013, which maintained that a growth duty would,
“enable regulators to respond more comprehensively to the challenge of stripping back burdens to the minimum necessary and proactively supporting growth”.
The Government stated that,
“the duty needs to be imposed via primary legislation to provide the legal foundation needed”.
On these Benches, we share the concerns that have been expressed by the Joint Committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Rooker, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which have consistently expressed concerns about the implications of applying the economic growth duty to the EHRC. The Joint Committee believed that the duty in Clause 85 to have regard to ministerial guidance,
“raises serious questions about the EHRC’s independence”,
because of the implications of the proposed growth duty for the UK’s compliance with the United Nations’ Paris principles if the duty applies to national human rights institutions such as the EHRC. They are supposed to be independent organisations which decide which human rights and equalities issues to address. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said:
“Applying the economic growth duty to the EHRC poses a significant risk to the EHRC’s independence”,
and that this should not be pursued in the way that the Government are doing.
The chair of the EHRC, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve, was asked whether applying the growth duty to the EHRC might undermine the Paris principles on the independence of the commission. She said:
“We have tended to agree with this Committee that, prima facie, it would indeed threaten the A-status”,
of the EHRC as an international equality and human rights body. She continued:
“Therefore, it would be proposed that we come under the duty with respect to very specific functions. The debate between us and government at this stage is over how specific it would have to be and whether it is worth the candle when you get to that degree of specificity”.
I think she is probably correct.
I looked at the draft guidance that we received before the debate to see if I could find some comfort from it. Actually, I think it created more smoke than elucidation. What we have to do in Committee—as I intend to—is consider what might happen were this duty to be applied under particular circumstances. So we need to look at, for example, maternity leave where companies have been found wanting and the cost of putting that right, and whether that could be balanced against the economic growth duty.
I will be seeking, as I think other noble Lords will, to look at the proposal to remove the power of employment tribunals under the Equality Act to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases. This is an important power. It is not one that we should throw away. Most companies, when they lose, apply the tribunal’s recommendations to all their employees, but not all do. Surely those employees deserve the same protection as others, so we will be seeking to remove that from the Bill. We will also be asking the Government what the evidence is that this needs to be done because we do not think that the evidence is there any more than it was the first time the Government tried to do this.
Finally, on taxi licensing, we oppose the Government’s proposal to reform taxi minicab law because it will put passengers at risk. My honourable friends in the Commons opposed this when it was inserted late in the Committee stage. We believe that these targets to cut red tape are rushed and risky, poorly drafted and badly consulted on. Where they have been consulted on, safety organisations, the police and industry bodies are warning that the Government’s proposed reforms could have very severe safety implications. These include the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which campaigns for better personal safety and has raised concerns that enabling anyone to drive a licensed minicab will provide greater opportunities for those who are intent on preying on women.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, I praise the golden words to be found in paragraph 40 of Schedule 20 to the Bill:
“Omit section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996 (which allows an individual litigant in defamation cases to waive the ban in Article IX of the Bill of Rights on proceedings in Parliament being impeached or questioned in court)”.
As the noble Lord said, this was the view of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, which he chaired so ably. We are very much indebted to the members of that committee in another place who pushed this matter forward so skilfully, but it was the view not only of our committee, but of the committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, in 1999. What it does is effectively to resolve the ambiguities created by the Neil Hamilton case of 1996. We are indebted to the Government for finally grasping this nettle and I offer my support to this part of the Bill.
However I register a caveat. In the debate occasioned by the Second Reading of the proposed legislation of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, on this topic on
“the question is whether it is right that a Member of Parliament can be defamed by people in respect of something that he or she has said or done in Parliament and that, if that happens, he or she has no remedy”.—[ Official Report , 27/6/2014; col. 1522.]
There is a problem here. In my view, the balance is right. The principle of parliamentary privilege cannot be, as it were, individualised. That was the problem with the situation we had from 1996 to the present. It must be placed at the level of Parliament as a whole if it is to be understood and respected by the public. None the less, a difficulty is created. I draw the parties’ attention to the duty of care that they will have, particularly to new Members, in the next Parliament. It is related also to another piece of legislation, which is in the Queen’s Speech, for recall. In both these cases, if they get it wrong the consequences for a new MP could be really dramatic. That is the way we are going.
There is a sense that Parliament understands that the public expects higher standards from Members of Parliament than they do from other public servants and Parliament is trying, through these measures, to address public concerns about honesty in our public life. The impulse that is leading Parliament to act in this way is entirely reasonable, but it does mean that Parliament has a duty to ensure that new Members understand the ways in which legislation is changing. There are vulnerabilities now that did not exist in the past and prices to be paid if we get these things wrong.
It is perfectly reasonable to argue that IPSA has effectively resolved the issue of expenses—that the recent issues have been historical ones that go back to before the time of the new IPSA regime. However, anybody who believes that issues around lobbying, or even cash for questions, have disappeared and are issues of the 1990s simply has not been reading the newspapers in the past three or four years. Therefore, it is all the more important that the induction programme for new MPs should help with these questions.
At the beginning of the previous Parliament, the Hansard Society put on an induction programme that was poorly attended. The ethics section was particularly poorly attended. The parties must have a major role here. They should encourage new Members in the new Parliament, explain where public opinion is and explain the ways in which legislation is changing. They should also explain, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, pointed out on
I welcome this new legislation. It is absolutely correct in principle but there is a caveat: there is a responsibility on the political parties that are pushing the legislation through to make sure that newly elected Members know exactly where they stand and where the law now stands. It is not, in this matter, where it has stood since 1996.
My Lords, I speak from the Back Benches because we have two excellent Front-Benchers who are concerned with the Bill. I find that my usual blissful state of either opening on legislation or winding up has now been reduced to a middle position in the debate, where everything I want to say has already been said and, if I make a mistake, there are enough people behind me to call me out. So it is with a degree of nervousness that I make a few short comments on the Bill.
We have serious reservations about the three main transport areas of the Bill. Those concerned with the regulation of taxis and minicabs, particularly the deregulation of minicabs, which my noble friend Lady Thornton identified a moment ago, raise serious risks for the public. We should recognise that people, particularly women, book minicabs for the security of the service being offered. That is being blown apart by the Bill. The cab firm could pass on the telephone call and engage another company. The person who has booked the cab will not have that surety, and it has the potential to let rogue drivers exploit the looseness in the Bill. There have been a few examples in recent years of dreadful things being carried out in cabs.
The Bill needs to be amended in that area. We should recognise that the black cab trade is worried about this situation. It is always worried about minicab competition and so it should be—minicab competition has the right to present a challenge—but we know that new technology, such as the Uber technology that is a source of great concern at present, is creating a situation whereby anybody can call a minicab at any time and minicabs will not suffer from the restrictions forced on them in the past. The black cab trade is central to safe, secure and proper transport in some of our cities, particularly London, and is admired all over the world, in all the world’s great cities. We should take threats to that seriously.
The second area we are concerned about is the banning of CCTV for parking enforcement. I have great sympathy with the Government in seeking to tackle a problem whereby the citizen receives a fine through the post, not having been aware that a charge has been laid, to which they have to make immediate return. We do not seem to have tackled this issue thoroughly or properly. On
There are real risks to road safety. There are risks at schools. There are risks in bus lanes, where drivers will chance it if they think they will not be surveyed. There are risks at bus stops. There are risks at yellow boxes on junctions. They are a good idea and have eased congestion, but a good idea is destroyed if one driver chances it and sits in that box and blocks the traffic. If the Government are open to persuasion that there should be exemptions to ending closed circuit TV prosecutions in these areas, those exemptions should be in the Bill and we will seek to achieve that.
The measure in the Bill on maritime accident investigation seems to us a miserable and mean little gesture on the part of the Government. The House will know that the most significant case in recent years involved the MV “Derbyshire”, which was lost in the South China Sea a few years ago with everybody on board—all 42 crew and two wives travelling—lost. There was always the suggestion, while nothing could be proved, that somebody had blundered and that the accident had occurred because seamanship was deficient. When the wreck was eventually identified, it became clear that the circumstances in which the vessel went down were nothing to do with error on the part of the crew or with their seamanship. The case was reopened thanks to great efforts by my noble friend Lord Prescott, who was Minister at the time and who had a long history with the seamen, and great pressure from the National Union of Seamen, which, together with international forces that came in to help, funded a great deal of the investigation. It is now suggested in the Bill that the Secretary of State should not be bothered to reopen such investigations except in specific circumstances.
Sea accidents are such that we should treat them with the greatest seriousness. We surely cannot have a Bill in which they are taken lightly. My noble friend Lord Rooker, in his excellent speech, identified this issue as one that did not add to the quality of the Bill. At least I have kept to time.
My Lords, I was very pleased that, in introducing the Bill, the Minister reminded us that one of its main purposes was to create jobs and enterprise. That was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, who hoped that the Bill would stimulate the economy. My noble friend Lord Fowler told us quite rightly that it was important that restrictions and regulations that were brought in some time ago to meet the circumstances of the time should be looked at again, as the world has changed. That brings me neatly to the one point that I want to make today, which is about Sunday trading.
It is now 20 years since the Sunday Trading Act became law and, of course, the world has changed considerably since then. Sundays are now a huge family day, with great sporting events—people go to football in a way that never happened on such a scale previously—concerts and cultural activities. It is a fantastic opportunity for families to get together. The Government recognised this two years ago during the Olympics. They recognised that, in the new world, the current restrictions were not appropriate, so they relaxed the Sunday trading laws for eight consecutive weekends. They knew that people and their families wanted to shop at a time of their choosing and not at a time laid down by officialdom and red tape.
Sunday trading was mentioned in passing by the noble Lord, Lord Monks, who is not in his place. I say to him that there has been one other major development in today’s world, which is the number of people who work right through the week on different days and at strange hours. They do so because they want to meet the needs of their customers. In particular, there are those in the public sector, the public servants on whom we all rely, who have to provide 24/7 service to their customers, patients and so on. Should not those public servants be on the receiving end of similar flexibility on a Sunday as well?
There has been another change since the Act came in 20 years ago, which is 24-hour online shopping. I think that younger people find the idea very quaint that people should not be allowed to shop between certain hours on a Sunday.
Under the current law, shops of more than 3,000 square feet can open only for restricted hours on a Sunday. Smaller shops do not have restricted hours. As a result, the big supermarket chains have been opening their own small stores of less than 3,000 square feet and then charging in them significantly more than in their larger supermarkets. Surveys show that, in some of these supermarket “mini” or “local” stores, prices are on average 10% higher. Customers rightly see that as something of a rip-off.
The noble Lord gives an excellent example. About six months ago, I did a shopping survey in the town where I live, Ludlow. I bought identical products in One Stop, which does not label itself as Tesco but is wholly owned by it, and in the Tesco supermarket in the town. All the products went to the food bank afterwards. The noble Lord is absolutely right: there is a 10% difference in price. A small store can open from 6 am to 11 pm because it is not governed by the Sunday trading laws, but there is definitely a premium to be paid in those small stores owned by the supermarkets.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that comment, which is reinforced by surveys that show exactly the same thing: prices are on average 10% higher. That is a rip-off in my view.
An anomaly in the current law is the way in which garden centres have been caught up in these restrictions—I do not think that that was ever the intention—because their products are spread over a larger area than 3,000 square feet. Garden centres are a big part of family outings.
I am not asking the Minister for much. This is a very large Bill, with more than 200 pages, so I am sure that it would not be impossible for him to add perhaps one extra page.
My Lords, I want to address the provisions relating to taxis and private hire vehicles. We choose to use taxi operators that we trust. If I ask my children to use a taxi at an odd time, I tell them which taxi rank to use, because that is the one that I have confidence in and which I trust. The proposal to allow taxis to subcontract to other operators will mean that it will not be possible for anybody to have their choice. We are going to take the choice away from people about which operator they want to use. We change operators from time to time when we are not satisfied with a particular company, but if this Bill is approved, we will have no control over who will come. It may well be a company that you have left because you were not satisfied with it. If you ring company A, company B may turn up, and you may not necessarily want to use it. Therefore, we need to think again about this particular aspect of the Bill allowing subcontracting to other firms.
Regarding the provision allowing a driver without a PHV licence to drive a licensed PHV when it is not being used for private hire, I know many people in the taxi trade. Many of my family are in the trade and I know that by allowing taxis to be used by others, some of them may benefit. In some cases, spouses may want to use the car when it is not being used for taxiing purposes, but they cannot at the moment because the law does not allow them to do so. In that case, it would be helpful to allow other family members to use those vehicles for other purposes—for family purposes—when they are off duty.
However, I have been strongly lobbied by many companies and unions, particularly Unite, GMB and RMT, which have put some valid points forward. There is a higher risk that those cars could be used as taxis by rogue drivers. They could be made available to those who are not necessarily taxi drivers and have not taken their tests. By allowing this to happen, we could compromise public safety. However, it may well help if we allowed named drivers to use those vehicles instead of any driver. In that case, at least we would know that the people who use those vehicles will be known to family members. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give some consideration to this and perhaps have named drivers, instead of any person, driving those vehicles when they are not being used for taxiing purposes.
My Lords, this is an extraordinary Bill, covering almost every aspect of life. I shall concentrate on aspects of particular concern to me. Others have done the same and I am interested to hear what they say. Why do we have regulation? Surely it is because we live in a competitive environment and need to protect the interests of others who would otherwise risk being damaged. If we change the regulations, we have to be very careful that in so doing we do not damage other people who would otherwise be vulnerable.
As we know, the Bill begins with a clause on health and safety at work. It proposes to include a general duty on the self-employed to others involved in the undertaking, but not particularly to employees. There is a reference to the construction industry, in which quite a number of self-employed people are involved, but I am more concerned about the general duty to employees as a whole. In the last Session, the Government introduced a change to the legislation, making it more difficult for employees to sue for compensation in the event of injury—or even death—at work. In this House, we opposed that change, but the Government defeated our amendment in the House of Commons. What is proposed in this Bill does not assist ordinary employees very much, although it may be relevant to self-employment, but in Committee we will have to return once again to the issue of ordinary employees who are still at risk, as far as certain undertakings are concerned.
We then have a reference to employment tribunals: a change to the Equality Act so that a tribunal will not be able to make recommendations wider than the actual case under decision. Like other noble Lords, I do not see why this is necessary. No reason at all has been given for this change and it should be opposed in Committee. I certainly intend to do so.
Clauses 3 and 4 relate to English apprenticeships. It is said that the funding proposals will encourage individuals to do approved English apprenticeships or to work afterwards. I hope that this is so and that there are arrangements for suitable funding. This is extremely important. It is an aspect that, again, we should look at in more detail when it is before us in Committee.
There is then a list of recommendations dealing with taxis and private car hire. As someone who uses car hire frequently because of disability, I am interested in ensuring that the drivers are safe and mostly good in their driving—and they seem to be. Driving in London is crowded and often expensive and the Bill will obviously make no difference to that, but is it really a good idea to allow people who are not licensed to drive private hire cars? I do not think so and neither do a number of noble Lords who have already spoken in the debate. It was noted that women could be at risk, particularly going home late at night. I hope that this is something that shall look at with great scrutiny in Committee.
The Bill refers to housing, in particular what is known as the right to buy. A clause reduces the qualifying period for people who wish to buy their social housing from five to three years. There is no doubt that this provision was popular with many people, who were thus able to acquire property that they would not have been able to afford on the private market. However, many of us were critical at the time, because no replacement was made of the social housing that disappeared as a result of the right to buy. It therefore does not seem right in the present circumstances to make it easier for people to buy local authority housing when there is still such a shortage of social housing. I think that everybody agrees that there is a terrible shortage of social housing and there should be concentration on that.
As far as the final schedule, Schedule 20, is concerned, there is a set of proposals for legislation to be removed. It is proposed that legislation that is no longer of practical use should be removed. That includes legislation on formerly nationalised industries that have been privatised. Obviously, legislation is no longer required for such industries, especially ones such as mining and steel.
There was a TV programme recently, “Benefits Britain”, dealing with areas where, once, steel provided employment for the whole community—no longer. The people were feeling hopeless, left without employment. The Bill has nothing to say about that. There is a reference earlier in the Bill to a sustainable community strategy to be undertaken by local authorities, but the
Bill does not recommend that that should continue. It is clearly necessary that there should be some development to provide alternative work in areas that have been rendered into that situation, providing no employment and no support for the local people.
There are a number of other issues in the Bill to which I shall not refer because many noble Lords have dealt with them this afternoon. It is clear that a number of issues are matters for further scrutiny and could be rendered more acceptable to some of us if they were amended. We will pursue that when the Bill is before us in Committee.
My Lords, by my calculation, I am the 25th cab on the rank today—licensed or unlicensed, I am not sure.
The Bill is indeed a weighty tome, a very heavy volume. In a previous life, I might have been tempted to put it on one side and wait for the film, but even if it is made at Pinewood, I do not think that would be appropriate.
I should like to refer to two or three matters. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to Clause 34, about short-term use of London accommodation. This being a deregulation Bill, that caught my eye because I was trying to understand why London was separate from the rest of the country in respect of legislation of this kind, whether this was regulation or deregulation, and whether there are homogeneous rules across all London boroughs. That is a source of great confusion to me in a deregulation Bill. It would be very interesting to know, at a time when housing is in such short supply, particularly in Greater London, whether there is cause for reregulation of some kind and why we cannot just be consistent with the rest of the home nations.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, with whom I have had many an agreeable conversation over the years on matters of broadcasting, raised the issue of Section 73 of the Copyright Act 1988. That is not in the Bill. The noble Lord eloquently described the anomaly that it has created. Opportunities in the legislative timetable of Parliament to put right things that have gone horribly wrong are very rare, and this is one of those things, at a time when the creative industries in this country are so important to economic growth. The Bill is about growth. The growth of investment in British television product is leaking a lot of value as a result of the 1988 Act, which was designed to create greater competition in the fledgling cable market. The cable market is hardly fledgling now; it is dwarfing the public service broadcasters in this country. It has attracted Liberty, one of the world’s biggest media companies, to own Virgin Media in this country. It appears that the commercial public service broadcasters are now leaking value as a result of Section 73, and this is absolutely the appropriate time in the parliamentary timetable to redress that and ensure that funds are flowing into British production, as they should. I look forward to participating in debates on amendments to that effect.
Clauses 59 and 60 relate to the BBC. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Fowler is not in his place, but it is probably just as well, because an argument about the BBC Trust would detain your Lordships far too long, and we can take that offline. As my headmaster used to say, “See me afterwards”.
It is of course right that the Government should consult and consider whether it is possible to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee. However, Clause 60 seems to anticipate charter review—a point made by many noble Lords—which is worrying. We do not know what the funding future of the BBC will be, we do not know what the governance structure will be, and so on: that is all part of a process to come immediately after the election, if it has not started already.
Also, the power of the Secretary of State in Clause 60 could in unscrupulous hands be used in future as a stick to beat the BBC and, perhaps, challenge its independence or even threaten it. I am not saying that the present Secretary of State would have any such thoughts, but it is a worrying trend. I hope that the BBC clauses will get a good debate. I hope that we can get reassurance from my noble friends on the Front Bench that implementation will await the outcome of charter review. It makes no sense at all to put the cart before the horse.
In summary, as I said, I am hugely supportive of a deregulation Bill of this weight. As your Lordships will know, this House is a repository of some of the greatest expertise in the land on a million different subjects. They are all contained in the Bill, and I wish those on our Front Bench all the very best in steering it through.
My Lords, I think I start from that point. I have a whole range of comments on the Bill, which start with Clause 1, relating to the self-employed being excluded from health and safety duties, and end on page 202. As a vice-president of the LGA, I know that one of its anxieties has been about the provisions on the breeding of dogs on the last but one page of the Bill.
However, as comments have been made on most of those points, I will start by being a bit more general, philosophical and procedural. Although the Government do not exactly look like Bourbons, they have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. The coalition started this Parliament by bringing into this House a Public Bodies Bill which managed, in all parts of the economy and society, to alienate large chunks of civic society. We had representations, and the Government had to drop a major part of the Bill. Thanks to my noble friend Lord Rooker and his committee, one of the worst parts of the original draft of this Bill has been jettisoned this time, because we had pre-legislative scrutiny. Having a portmanteau Bill such as this is exactly the wrong way to go about modernising our regulation.
I am in favour of better regulation; I am not necessarily in favour of deregulation. The best way to deal with our legislative inheritance and what is needed for modern society is to take each area of regulation, look at it every two or three years, and ask what is still relevant, what is cost-effective, what is working, what is absolutely redundant and what is counterproductive.
Each area needs to be looked at as a consistent whole. The way not to do it is for the Cabinet Office to write round to the rest of Whitehall saying, “Can we have 24 clauses that we need to delete so that we can get rid of them all in one Bill in the last Session of this Parliament?”, but that seems to be what it has done.
The one area in which the Government have taken a more coherent, comprehensive approach from full consultation is rights of way. I told the Minister that they were very sensible to do that. I was the Minister who brought in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act; it was a pretty torrid time in this House, I can tell you, with all sorts of different interests, but we have a package which is largely agreed. I agree with other speakers that that may not be the end of the story, and I warn the Minister that there will be attempts to unravel or add to it, but that is the way we should approach each of those areas. Instead, we have piecemeal bits of legislation that we are going to cross out. Some of them are utterly redundant, and I am absolutely in favour of crossing them off the statute book—there are still bits in Norman French that we ought to be deleting from the statute book. These need to go. We have a process for doing that; we have a Law Commission, which is proposing how we get rid of redundant statutory provision. It also, incidentally, has good ideas on how we consolidate legislation. Having got that machine, somehow we never find enough parliamentary time to implement its recommendations; the next Parliament needs to look at how we can do that better.
There are some areas that I will comment on specifically but I think the Government and future Governments have to reflect on the way we deal with this. The better regulation approach—I see the noble Lord, Lord Curry, just coming in—was looking on behalf of the whole of government at different areas. Rather than this piecemeal, portmanteau Bill, perhaps we should have followed procedure a bit more closely. Having got that off my chest, I will comment on one or two aspects of the Bill.
I follow my noble friend Lord Davies in relation to the transport provisions and, in particular, CCTV. This is populism gone mad. If we cannot enforce parking restrictions, we not only endanger the safety of road users and pedestrians but also provide no parking space for motorists. If people can continue to park in restricted areas with impunity, there will be no parking space for the vast majority. By adopting the Jeremy Clarkson interpretation of the motorists’ interests, the Government have gone down exactly the wrong road. Just as the taxi provisions are not in the interests of the users of taxis, these parking provisions are not in the interests of the vast majority of motorists; our towns will get clogged up and there will be more accidents.
On housing, the right to buy is perhaps the most obvious aspect of my general contention. The right to buy has been hugely contentious. I do not oppose the principle of right to buy. However, in the present housing crisis, it is very important that any exercise of the right to buy is put in the context of what is available in social housing, and affordable housing generally. We have one provision in relation to eligibility for right to buy. The right to buy was very good for those people who would never be able to afford their own house or who were too old to get a mortgage.
That does not mean people who have been in social housing for only three years. The right to buy is for people who have been tenants for a large proportion of their life and deserve a chance to get on the housing ladder. At the same time—tomorrow, I think—in the Moses Room we are dealing with the change in the right to buy provisions relating to the discount. Therefore, we have two changes in different parts of the House in relation to one subject that needs to be seen in a wider context. The right to buy ought to be a local decision. The provision, eligibility and discounts for the right to buy are not suitable for national legislation, but should address the housing market in the locality. In any case, it is an example of something that needs to be seen in the round.
Clause 83 relates to putting another requirement on all non-economic regulators. Most legislation on regulation over the past 15 years has inserted the provision on economic and non-economic regulators that they should have regard to sustainable development. Quite often the previous Government, in their initial years, were slightly resistant to that, but they were persuaded by the sensible arguments of the Liberal Democrats by and large, to put those provisions in. That meant one had to look after the economics, the environmental effect and the social effect. Obviously the main focus for any individual regulator was one or other of those three corners, but they all had regard to all three. This seems to have an override, even for areas such as human rights and environmental controls that should not be overridden by short-term economic considerations. There is a real danger in that.
The world and his wife will be agitated about various aspects of the Bill. Some of it—probably most of it—is very sensible and I can support it. However, I wish the Government would not go down this road. When one gets to almost the very final page, there is an interesting provision relating to the deletion of offences by people who fly kites. I am in total agreement with that because it is a grave inhibition on the work of the House.
My Lords, I shall not be tempted to follow the noble Lords, Lord Davies of Oldham and Lord Rooker, into discussing Clause 40 regarding marine accident investigations. We will have plenty of time for that in Committee. I will confine my remarks to Clause 81, which seeks to amend the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 in relation to the implementation of international maritime conventions, which emerged from the International Maritime Organisation just across the river on the Albert Embankment. Currently in this country these are implemented through a mix of primary and secondary legislation. This has led to a very complex regulatory system that is confusing, time consuming—statutory instruments can take just as long as primary legislation to go through both Houses—and resource intensive. It also results in delay that can often be to the detriment of British shipping. For instance, our ships can be challenged during control inspections in foreign ports for not being up to scratch with the latest convention when those changes have not been incorporated into
UK law. Conversely, we are not able to challenge foreign ships when they transgress in our own ports on the latest changes for the very same reason.
The new clause will permit any change in maritime conventions to which the UK is a party to be automatically incorporated into UK law by the use of dynamic ambulatory references. I am not a lawyer—I am sure a lawyer would understand that—but it is very much a speeding-up process. What are the advantages? First, it will simplify the whole process and level out the playing field for both UK and international shipping. Secondly, it will remove the lengthy process of having to issue a new statutory instrument every time a change is made to a maritime convention, and it will do away with the risk of gold-plating legislation, something that we are rather prone to in this country. Thirdly, it will improve the reputation of the UK abroad, where we are deemed to be rather slow and out of date in adopting new international maritime standards in law.
UK shipping was reinvigorated by the introduction of the tonnage tax in 2000. Since then, the UK-owned fleet has increased almost threefold and the UK-registered fleet, albeit from a very low base, by more than six times. Shipping is still important to this country. The shipping, ports and maritime sectors between them contribute £31.7 billion to UK GDP and support more than 500,000 jobs. Shipping is a highly competitive business and anything that can be done to help, as in this instance with the new clause, is very much to be welcomed.
My Lords, I hope to persuade the Government to consider an amendment to the Deregulation Bill. I declare an interest having formerly worked in independent television for 30 years. Like my noble friend Lord Dubs and the noble Lord, Lord Grade, who spoke earlier, my concern is that the content of our public service broadcasters—BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five—is increasingly being retransmitted without payment by cable and online streaming companies. These companies package public service broadcasting content on their platforms and can then place their own unregulated adverts around it. With personal video recorders now encouraging the time-shifting of programmes, and capable of storing hundreds of hours of high-quality drama, popular entertainment and, of course, sporting events, these personal video recorders are major revenue drivers for pay-TV platforms.
The issue of retransmission is rising up the policy agenda worldwide. In the United States, the steady decline of television advertising revenue is being offset by the income that broadcasters get from retransmission revenue: $2.36 billion in 2012. That may explain why US TV is increasingly producing so many successful drama series, while our advertising-funded PSB channels struggle to maintain their output of quality popular programming, with their share of advertising revenue in decline.
We can debate whether we still have the best TV in the world, but what is indisputable is that sales of programmes and formats provide very valuable income for the UK’s creative sector. ITV’s “Downton Abbey”, for instance, sells in 250 territories with an estimated
100 million viewers in China alone. Reformatted, “Strictly Come Dancing” can be seen in 50 countries, and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in more than 100. However, in these times of disruptive technologies and increasing commercial competition across the media, our public service broadcasters should not be subsidising international media conglomerates such as Liberty Global, which now owns Virgin Media.
Our PSBs do not get paid by those who retransmit their output because of the now redundant Section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. As the noble Lord, Lord Grade, said, this legislation was originally intended to encourage the rollout of cable in the United Kingdom—but the world has moved on in the past 26 years. We now have a highly competitive pay-TV market in satellite, cable and, increasingly, online. Section 73, designed to boost cable coverage by allowing retransmission of UK public service channels at no cost, has now become the unintended loophole for commercial online platforms to stream PSB programming without permission or payment. These companies do not reinvest their online profits in the UK creative content that makes their services so attractive. Indeed, they divert money from the UK production sector because of Section 73, which could be repealed by an amendment to this Bill.
The personal video recorders—the so-called PVRs—used by customers on cable or online platforms can store, as I said, hundreds of hours of PSB-produced drama or entertainment. For instance, ITV’s “Downton Abbey” is time-shifted by almost half of cabled homes, using their TiVo PVRs, but most viewers then fast forward through the recorded advertising breaks, which means that ITV gets paid less by its advertisers. Given the importance the Government attach to our creative industries, they should surely be more purposive towards the timely removal of Section 73 in this fast-changing digital world.
They may be inhibited by ongoing litigation between PSBs and one of the many online streaming services, which has been going on for some four years already, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, but that kind of litigation need not be an excuse for inaction. My advice is that the Interpretation Act 1978 speaks to this very issue. It provides that where an Act repeals an enactment, the repeal does not affect any investigation, legal proceedings or remedy. The irony is that the copyright Act of 1988, which includes Section 73, itself came into force despite related ongoing legislation at that time.
The Government promised, more than a year ago, that they would consult on Section 73 in the current review of the Communications Act. That has not happened. However, do they not agree that the Communications Act 2003 superseded Section 73 by making a “must offer” provision that ensured PSBs must offer their content to platforms,
“subject to the agreement of terms”?
That is the crucial difference, since it means that PSBs can enter into commercial negotiations with each platform, as they do with BSkyB; in contrast, Section 73 prevents this from happening by allowing the retransmission of PSB content without any payment in recognition of the value that it represents.
The Bill is designed to remove burdensome regulation. Section 73 clearly meets that criterion. Supporting its removal by subsequent amendment to the Bill will help to ensure that our public service broadcasters can continue to produce and commission quality programming made here in the UK.
My Lords, I start prepared in principle to cheer on its way any Bill labelled a Deregulation Bill. Mind you, it has come out this afternoon, if one did not realise it from reading the Bill, that much in it is not exactly deregulation but reregulation and so on. One of the worst features of modern life is the multiplicity of regulations. I do not mean that regulation itself is bad. Of course not; we all realise that regulation is essential in very large parts of life. The problem, particularly for a small business, for example, is on the one hand the multiplicity of regulations and on the other the fact that they are constantly changing. This changing factor is part of the difficulty, which is a problem when it comes to a Deregulation Bill.
I have been arguing in favour of deregulation for a long time—over 40 years or so of parliamentary life—but so have a lot of other people. The previous Government, as well as the present one, have given a lot of attention to it. Yet throughout that time, and for that matter before, regulations have been and still are breeding like weeds in a garden. While I welcome the Bill in general, I have some reflections on Second Reading about deregulation and the complications of regulation itself.
I do not think that I am the only Member of this House who believes that one problem with our modern legislative drafting habits is that every Bill, even this one, is littered with statutory instruments—even though the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and his colleagues have succeeded very well in getting the Henry VIII one removed from this Bill. Yet statutory instruments flow through the Moses Room like the waters of the sea when Moses first arrived on its banks—except that there seems to be no way of stemming the tide, as he did when he parted those waters. Moreover, they are only the statutory instruments that require debate by your Lordships’ House. They are affirmative instruments, for the most part, but businesses have to take account of many negative instruments as well.
I am contemplating moving a new version of Dunning’s famous Motion of 1780, which would say that “The number of statutory instruments has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished”. How far we will get, I am not sure—and I emphasise “diminished” rather than abolished. For the record, I do not blame the proliferation of statutory instruments on the parliamentary draftsmen; I think that the blame lies within the various departments. Legislation is insufficiently prepared, so the details of a Bill have to be filled in after enactment. For some details, that is entirely in order, but too many are left to be filled in in that way. I pay tribute in passing to the existence and work of the
Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and I look forward to its report on delegated powers memoranda, which it is currently working on.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, my noble friend Lord Naseby and others, I am a supporter of the work of the Law Commission in this field of deregulation, particularly on cancelling parts of the law that are no longer required. I also think that it is better placed than Parliament to look at areas of the law, and to suggest improvements and parts that should be done away with. I am sympathetic to the idea of annual SLR Bills—an idea that should certainly be considered further by government.
I recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, did just now, the difficulty of finding legislative time for Law Commission Bills in general. I am also sympathetic to the idea that my noble friend Lady Eaton drew our attention to: namely, the Local Government Association proposals for rewiring licences in that field. My noble friend knows much more about it than I do, but I have read something about it in the past and I have seen an account of it, about which I can say only that it looked good to me.
I reflect on my experience of deregulation as a Minister. Sometimes, of course, efforts to simplify have exactly the opposite effect. For example, when I was at the Treasury, along with Customs and Excise we went to great efforts to make VAT easier for small businesses instead of having a sharp cut-off between those who were not involved and those who were fully enmeshed. Several alternative schemes were introduced for VAT for small businesses, but the danger then was that you needed knowledgeable advice about which scheme you ought to go to for your particular circumstances in business and how it was going to move over the next few years, in order to know which scheme to choose. The schemes were good and worth while, but deciding which one to use gave you another complicated headache.
I know what a difficult business deregulation inevitably is. I have every sympathy with my noble friends on the Front Bench as we look forward to the Committee stage of the Bill—which, as we have heard today, is going to be of some length and complexity, to put it no stronger. This has been frequently described as a Christmas tree of a Bill, but I think that Christmas is going to be a long time coming as far as my colleagues are concerned. However, the Second Reading of the Bill is the time to congratulate the Government on tackling the subject vigorously and to wish them the best of good fortune in the debates to come.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. He will not need reminding that it was Moses who created the first 10 regulations.
My mother used to say, “Say something positive first, dear”, so this is my positive bit. I welcome the proposal in Clause 70 to clarify the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004. Anything that strengthens the arm of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority’s work is to be welcomed. I believe firmly that its remit should be extended to cover the construction industry, as it is an area that is crying out for some protection for exploited workers. However, today I shall concentrate on two areas: Clause 1 on health and safety for the self-employed, and Clause 34 on short lets in London, which have already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Grade, and a noble Lord who is not in his place.
I will deal with the short lets in London first. If this measure is passed, and I profoundly hope that it is not, the unintended consequences will be detrimental to rich and poor alike. This is a strange gloss on the Prime Minister’s slogan that “We’re all in this together”. Take a settled residential block north of the river. All the residents are comfortably off, with security provided 24 hours a day. If this legislation is enacted, the sub-letters and online letting companies will march in. The premiums are such that you can make three times as much income as you can from ordinary longer-term lettings. Even if we disregard the diminution in housing stock in London, which is already at crisis point, the health tourists would move in and out with their families, treating the place like a hotel and an A&E department combined.
If you are really unlucky, the prostitutes and housing benefit fraudsters will move in, while at best it will become a temporary residence for overseas businessmen and their families, who are often no respecters of other people’s property or peace of mind. The residents will experience an increase in unauthorised rubbish dumping—and flooding, if they live in flats below the temporary residence. By the way, it will be virtually impossible for the fire authorities to keep track of this. The nature of the residential block will change and there will be nothing that the majority of residents can do about it. They in turn will be tempted to move in order to escape the disruption when temporary letting becomes the norm in that block of flats. To my knowledge, this is already happening at the margins.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, the British Hospitality Association, the Bed and Breakfast Association and many others have sent submissions about this clause. Westminster City Council has provided an excellent briefing as well. That council has done a sterling job in fending off the marauders. Yes, I am praising a Conservative council. All those bodies are saying the same thing: the proposed change will pave the way for largely unregulated short-term online rental companies to operate more freely in London and remove the main mechanism by which regulators currently have the chance to ensure the safety of the public. The largest of these online companies, Airbnb, has over 23,000 premises in the UK for paying guests—premises which do not comply with government guidelines on fire safety.
Other cities in the world are striving to adopt the same controls that we are about to throw away. Paris, New York and Singapore have experienced housing inflation and anti-social behaviour in residential neighbourhoods. Westminster City Council has dealt with 7,362 enforcement cases in the past 15 years, equating to nearly seven years’ housing supply. In fact, this proposal is so unpopular, I think it must have been cooked up at the same dinner party as employee share ownership and the abolition of 100 year-old health and safety legislation on strict liability.
I turn to the proposal in Clause 1 to exempt the self-employed from health and safety law if they are not on a prescribed list. The Government claim that they are following a recommendation by Professor Lofstedt, but that is only partially true. The professor must be rather bruised by his encounters with this Government. He makes a recommendation that is circled about with conditions and caution, and it is snatched by this Government like a hungry child wanting a liqueur chocolate—of course, they will be able to have liqueur chocolate fairly soon. Professor Lofstedt indicated that any exemption should be for those,
“whose work activities pose no potential risk of harm to others”.
“about two thirds of the people in the country who are self-employed will no longer be covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 3/2/14; col. 41.]
That really gives the game away, doesn’t it? It is a sad day when we mark the 40th anniversary of that Act in this way.
It is also regrettable that the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health was dismissed by the Solicitor-General as an organisation of “consultants”. I know that IOSH has written to correct this but it should be remembered that it has a royal charter and 44,000 members worldwide and is recognised by the ILO. It is a distinguished and knowledgeable organisation and is severely concerned by this clause. It deserves to be listened to.
The current draft of prescribed activities, produced very late in the day, includes construction, which I know a bit about. I am not reassured. I make it clear that I am not referring to the large construction companies, which are seized of the business case for a healthy and safe building site. It is the refurbishment industry, which is notorious for recruiting underskilled workers and for accidents. What happens if an employer informs his workers, who may be bogus self-employed, that, “This is not a building site so we’re exempt”? They are desperate for work and will take what they are given. Will the Government make it clear what is and what is not a building site? Is scaffolding around a house or a trench dug in the garden to be covered by the word “construction”? Are self- employed plumbers, electricians and carpenters covered in domestic housing? If not, how will the householder be alerted?
It is estimated that 90% of construction workers in London are self-employed or bogus self-employed. There is a worrying proportion of cowboys operating in London: small operators who know that there is a slim chance that they will be inspected by the HSE and who will exempt themselves from the prescribed list with little or no comeback, so there is an increased risk premium in London for workers and the public.
I remind the House that we kill 50 construction workers a year in accidents at work, let alone serious injuries and the scandal of unreported accidents. In addition, 32 construction workers die every week of lung-related diseases, and that figure is going up, not down. If three-quarters of the self-employed are to be exempt, as Oliver Letwin says, this must include some construction and allied workers.
The current Health and Safety at Work etc. Act is simple and easily understood. Everyone knows where they stand. Creating a prescribed list will cause confusion and encourage the cowboys.
My Lords, having seen successive deregulation units created and then relabelled within government over the past 25 years, I can see that it is clear that, more than previous Governments, the coalition has got to grips with the deregulation agenda. I therefore welcome many aspects of the Bill and in particular the further cuts in red tape in the Licensing Act regulation, particularly those relating to community events.
There are, however, differing views as to what is sensible deregulation to ease a regulatory burden and what should be retained to protect the consumer, keep a market open or protect an individual right. I hope, therefore, that the Government will prove as flexible as they were in response to pre-legislative scrutiny.
There are a number of issues about the content of the Bill. As we have heard from many noble Lords, if the BBC is to continue to be financed by the licence fee, it is important that we retain a system that is successful in maintaining the current low levels of evasion and of collection costs. At the very least, the Government should review, under Clauses 59 and 60, the appropriate penalties for non-payment of the licence fee, which should be considered as part of the total review of the BBC charter and licence fee funding.
As we have also heard, Clause 34 involves amendments to Section 25 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Acts 1973 and 1983, which require that London residential property owners and tenants seek planning approval prior to using residential property to sell accommodation on a night-by-night basis. We have heard also that many of us have seen the brief from Westminster City Council. This makes a devastating case against the proposal. We are in the middle of a major shortage of housing accommodation in London at a time of strongly rising population. This would lead to an unsustainable loss of permanent residential accommodation.
Existing provisions ensure that whole blocks of flats are not blighted by hotel-type use year round. I hope that the Government listen to the very council that would be most affected. We must keep London as a place to live, not just to visit. As the British Hospitality Association says, and as we also heard today, cities such as Paris, New York and Singapore have enacted measures recently to control the surge in commercial use of residential properties. Have the Government carried out an impact assessment on these proposals?
Another area where there seems to have been no economic-impact assessment is the provisions of Clause 51 and Schedule 15. These provisions potentially mean not only that the summer holidays could be a great deal shorter but also that each of 25,000 schools in England could have its own holiday arrangements, causing confusion for parents, teachers, pupils and industry. This could, not least, have a major impact on the UK hospitality and tourism industry, which employs 3 million people, many of them in seaside areas. We have heard the reference to BALPPA, which represents British leisure parks and attractions. It says, in its brief:
“Shifting term times would be devastating for those that rely on seasonal trade which cannot be recouped elsewhere”.
It points out that, where similar schemes have been introduced in the US, the evidence clearly shows that moving school holidays reduces tourism spending, and that this is not made up elsewhere.
Coming to the omissions rather than commissions, and with all due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is not in his place, I have some ideas for additions to the Bill. We have the issue of busking. The Mayor of London has rightly been fulsome about the place of busking in London life. In the Bill we should explicitly remove Part 5 of the London Local Authorities Act 2000, which provides for busking licensing schemes at individual London councils’ discretion. We should also remove Section 54(14) of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, which was recently used against buskers in Leicester Square.
As I explained to the House, the King’s Parade, the winners of the mayor’s busking competition, were interrupted by the police mid-song as they performed in Leicester Square and informed that they were in breach of Section 54 of the archaic 1839 Metropolitan Police Act. They were bundled into a van by eight officers and held at Paddington police station for more than six hours. This 174-year-old piece of legislation, which also—I think the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would be pleased by this—prohibits kite flying, sleigh riding and doorbell ringing, was used to justify the arrest.
There are more than adequate powers under separate legislation to deal with noise nuisance and anti-social behaviour. For example, there is the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Control of Pollution Act 1974. There are also powers to make by-laws available to local authorities with respect to street nuisance. Camden, under the London Local Authorities Act, has banned street music at any time, amplified or unamplified, except through a special busking licence. Camden’s approach runs completely counter to the arguments heard and accepted by government and Parliament during the Live Music Act debates.
We have also heard that another potential missed opportunity is the inclusion of provisions to repeal Section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. We have heard eloquent speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Dubs, Lord Grade and Lord Macdonald on this subject. It is quite clear that Section 73 of the CDPA is an outdated copyright exception that allows cable operators to retransmit PSB channels without permission or payment to broadcasters or to the people who created the content. We have heard why it was introduced. Cable is now a highly effective and well resourced competitor to Sky and Freeview. Pay TV platforms are able to make money from PSB content while benefiting from a regulatory regime under which no payment goes back to the public service broadcaster or to any content creator.
As we have head, reform is even more urgent as a result of personal video recorders—PVRs. These enable consumers to record programmes and avoid watching advertisements. PVRs are revenue-earning and customer-retention devices, yet none of the value that the pay TV platforms derive from them reaches those who help to create the content on which they depend. Section 73 now simply represents a subsidy from the PSBs to cable operators. Section 73 is also being relied on by online service providers, such as TVCatchup, to make money from the PSB channels by retransmitting them while selling their own advertising around PSB content.
The Government have said that they must wait for the end of current litigation with TVCatchup, but there are no legal reasons that would prevent them supporting any amendment to the Deregulation Bill. Indeed, ongoing litigation is not affected by a change of law, as set out in the Interpretation Act 1978. The UK is not alone in reviewing this issue. In the US, News Corporation—yes, News Corporation—has led the charge in favour of fees. I urge the Government to consider using the Bill to promote growth in the creative industries by including a clause to repeal Section 73.
Finally, we need an urgent review of noise abatement legislation to cater for the situation where a venue with a very good record and no complaints is subject to a complaint or potential complaint from a new occupier or developer. Venues are closing with great rapidity as a result of this inappropriate use of noise legislation. We need to act fast. I look forward to my noble friend’s reply.
My Lords, I will speak on housing and, like my noble friends, against the folly of Clause 1 and its changes to the Health and Safety at Work Act. Clause 29 reduces the qualifying period for the right to buy from five to three years. We know that this is part of what the Government have labelled “reinvigorating the right to buy”. It has been accompanied by secondary legislation that increased the maximum percentage discount for houses sold to 70%, and increased the cash cap to £75,000—£100,000 in London—which in future is to be uprated by CPI.
We want to see people enabled to purchase a home, and we support the right to buy. However, housing is in crisis in this country, and especially affordable housing. Last year the Government built the lowest number of homes for social rent for more than 20 years and since records began. Section 106 agreements have been watered down, the capital budget for affordable housing has been cut by 60%, and the affordable rent model is anything but affordable. If recent reports are true, the Government are in panic over the prospect of yet a further fall in housebuilding as the general election looms. The Government’s favourite scapegoat to blame is the planning system, but can the Minister confirm that some 9,000 sites with full planning permission have not yet started building?
Therefore we will press the Government on their declared replacement policy. The formulation which they adopt is that they would use the receipts from additional—note, not all—right to buy sales to replace every additional home sold. We will wish to probe in Committee exactly what that means and how it would work in practice. It does not appear to cover sales under the preserved right to buy, which is to the detriment of the finances of housing associations.
We can see the merit of rationalising technical housing standards and their inclusion in the main building regulations, albeit with scope to deal with local circumstances. The Minister will be aware of the briefing from Leonard Cheshire which welcomes proposals to incorporate lifetime homes standards into building regulations, but expresses concern that they will potentially be optional. We will wish to be reassured that this is not the case.
We should be proud of our health and safety system in the UK. Over 40 years it has helped save countless lives and protected many from injury and ill health. Since this Government came to office there have been three reviews of its scope and operations — that of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, of Professor Lofstedt, and the triennial review. Each in its way has concluded that the system and the HSE is fit for purpose and doing an effective job.
We oppose Clause 1 not on ideological grounds, nor because our instinct is to resist any weakening of health and safety requirements, and nor because we believe that there is still a lingering antipathy to its cause in some higher reaches of government. We oppose it because whatever minor benefits the clause might bring are more than outweighed by the confusion and uncertainty it will engender.
The position at present is very clear. Under Section 3(2) of the 1974 Act every self-employed person is required to conduct their undertaking to ensure that,
“so far as is reasonably practicable … he and other persons … are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety”.
What could be fairer or more decent than that? Yet the Bill will restrict the requirement to those engaged in prescribed undertakings expressed by the Minister in another place to be “high-risk” activities. Notwithstanding that there is only a draft list of prescribed undertakings thus far—although an HSE consultation with a list commenced just today—Oliver Letwin proclaimed in another place that I think about two-thirds of people who are self-employed will no longer be covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Why is that something to be proud of?
The Government, as my noble friend Lady Donaghy said, point to Professor Lofstedt as the reason for doing that, but that was not his recommendation. He recommended that an exemption should apply to those self-employed who have no employees and who pose no potential risk of harm to others. Even then, he acknowledged:
“The actual burden that the regulations currently place upon these self-employed may not be particularly significant”.
“To our mind, the proposed exempted group … is not overly burdened by health and safety at the moment”.—[Official Report, Commons, Public Bill Committee, 25/2/14; col. 5.]
As the TUC points out, there is no need to make any change, because anyone who is self- employed but does not pose a risk to themselves or others cannot be prosecuted. They have no need to do a written risk assessment.
The HSE was clear that the best basis for any exemption should be to allow it only to those who would not be expected to put others at risk at any point in the normal course of their work and only if they did not work in certain prescribed industries. Paragraph 18 of the 2013 impact assessment states that,
“we explored the possibility of being wholly prescriptive and making a comprehensive list of the occupations, industries, or combinations thereof that would be covered by the exemption … However, discussion with sector experts within HSE made it clear that within occupations and industries there are many exceptions and atypical cases. Relying exclusively on such an approach would therefore risk unintended consequences”.
What is the huge burden that offending legislation imposes on the self-employed, and which holds back the advance of entrepreneurial zeal? The HSE’s original assessment was that the risk assessment would take—15 minutes a year. Annual savings for the new and existing self-employed would be about £500,000 a year—in aggregate, that is—but there would be upfront familiarisation costs of nearly £2 million. All of that, therefore, for the self-employed to save a quarter of an hour a year and on average less than 50p. The figures for today’s updated assessment tell the same story.
However, the proposition for exemption now in the Bill has greater health and safety risks. The HSE made clear that some of the occupations proposed to be exempt have injury rates statistically higher than the average for all occupations. These, it said, include motor mechanics, furniture manufacturers, animal care occupations, metalworking, and maintenance fitters. That is a deeply flawed and dangerous position for the Government to take.
First, in framing the exemption using a prescribed list approach, we know that some who operate in risky businesses in a risky way will fall within the exemption. Secondly, even if the exemption could be phrased in a narrower way, the estimated savings are tiny. The prospect of exemption for some will provide another spur to the encouragement for individuals to declare a self-employed status—bogus or otherwise.
There is scope for huge confusion about whether someone will be exempt or not, particularly among the self-employed, who might typically get their information through informal channels and in circumstances when Ministers are talking up the scale and scope of exemptions. There could be confusion for those who take on an employee for part of a year, or whose activities are partly within a prescribed undertaking and partly outside. I hope that the Government will reflect and draw back from Clause 1.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will flag up a couple of points in the gap which will need further attention as we go through the Bill.
There is a dearth of accessible housing in the UK. As a result, one in six disabled people and more than half of disabled children live in accommodation that is not suitable for their needs. The need for disabled-friendly housing will only grow as the population ages, and providing good housing can reduce the need for care. The Government’s proposal to incorporate lifetime homes and wheelchair-accessible standards into building regulations is therefore most welcome. However, I am concerned that those standards will be only optional and concerned at the suggestion that planning authorities will be able to adopt them only where they can satisfy a rigorous needs test and show that they are strictly necessary and justifiable, not just desirable.
The GLA has committed to all new buildings matching lifetime homes standards and to 10% of all new homes being built to wheelchair-accessible standards. I would like to see the approach taken by successive mayors in London rolled out across the UK and I believe that the Bill should be encouraging that. Instead, I am concerned that it could actively discourage authorities from taking that positive approach if they are required to jump through too many bureaucratic hoops. I therefore seek the Minister’s assurance that the Government accept that the level of evidence gathered by the GLA is sufficiently rigorous to support the introduction of lifetime homes and wheelchair-accessible standards. I would also like to see an exemption from the community infrastructure levy for fully wheelchair-accessible housing and a reduction for that which meets the lifetime homes standard.
I turn to my second point. The Bill includes provisions on parking. Clause 38 amends the Road Traffic Act to prevent local authorities from issuing penalty charge notices through the post and using CCTV for parking enforcement in particular circumstances. I was glad to see that the Opposition have some reservations about this. The clause was inserted following a government consultation on local authority parking strategies. The Government acknowledged that a common theme in responses to the consultation was the need for a uniform approach to pavement parking, but this has not been followed up in the Bill. That is a major omission. Pavement parking is dangerous for pedestrians, especially parents with pushchairs, wheelchair users and other disabled people, including blind and partially sighted people, who may be forced out into the road where they cannot see oncoming traffic. Pavements are not designed to take the weight of vehicles and they cause pavements to crack and the tarmac surface to subside. This is also a hazard to pedestrians, who may trip on broken pavements, and particularly to blind and partially sighted people, who cannot observe the damage. It is also expensive. Local authorities paid more than £1 billion on repairing kerbs, pavements and walkways between 2006 and 2010; £106 million was also paid in compensation claims to people tripping and falling on broken pavements during the same five-year period.
Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, with the support of at least a dozen other organisations, is calling for laws across the UK prohibiting pavement parking unless specifically permitted, such as have been in place in Greater London since 1974. Local authorities report that existing measures are insufficient. In a recent YouGov survey, 78% of councillors supported a national law with flexibility for local authorities to make exemptions. The Transport Select Committee described the current system as unduly complex and difficult for motorists to understand. A Private Member’s Bill with cross-party support has been presented in the other place by Martin Horwood MP. There is considerable support for a law of this type, and I very much hope that the Government will give it serious consideration.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate, which—a bit like this Christmas tree of a Bill—has been like a Christmas party, with people calling in to raise concerns, including about inadequate consultation, last-minute clauses and lack of evidence, which leads us to query whether this Bill is more about dogma than good governance. Why do the Government speak with a forked tongue—more red tape for charities and unions under the lobby Bill, as my noble friend Lord Monks reminded us; more red tape for trading standards officers under the consumer Bill; and an attack on localism in this Bill, despite the Localism Act passed in the Session before last? None of us likes red tape—unless it is around those presents under the Christmas tree—but it is worth remembering that regulation is brought in for pretty good reasons, such as to safeguard children or the public, or, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, to ensure that the interests of the consumer is pre-eminent. Whether we are introducing or abolishing regulation, it is always worth asking who it helps and whether it is worth the candle.
Like the Consumer Rights Bill, which we debated last week, I like the title of this Bill, as indeed I think does the noble Lord, Lord Cope. It is the content that leaves me a bit queasy, for the reasons that we have heard today. As the 35th speaker, there is nothing new for me to say, but I think that one or two themes have emerged. The first is the absence of evidence for some of these changes. The second is the inadequate consultation that took place, particularly with local authorities over both alcohol and minicab licensing, or with the taxi industry over the clauses that put the safety of passengers at risk. Indeed, there seems to be a lack of consideration for consumers, just six days after the Second Reading of the Consumer Rights Bill.
I start with Clause 1. Apart from the points elaborated by my noble friends Lady Andrews, Lady Donaghy, Lord Monks, Lord Collins, Lord Whitty, Lord McKenzie and Lord Rooker, as well as the noble Lords, Lord Stoneham and Lord Fowler, I wonder how the Bill provides for the interests of those, mostly the elderly, whose hairdresser visits them at home; those who are passengers of self-employed drivers; and myriad others who are protected by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. That legislation places duties on the self-employed to ensure that they do not expose themselves or others, including non-employees, to health and safety risks. That includes customers, clients, visitors and the public. Who asked those people whether they wanted to lose such protection?
Similarly with taxis and minicabs, serious concerns have been raised by my noble friends Lord Monks, Lord Whitty, Lord Collins, Lord Davies of Oldham, Lady Turner and Lady Thornton, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Hussain. Like everyone on the government and opposition Benches—not, I have to say, the Bishops’ or the Cross Benches—I have visited
Brighton many times for the wonderful delights of party conferences. We arrive at the station and jump into those very familiar Brighton and Hove cabs, and we know that we are going to be safe. We know that they have been tested for safety and that their drivers have been tested for competence, insurance and trustworthiness. Brighton and Hove, by way of example, now worries that ending annual relicensing will diminish its effectiveness as a regulator, while having out-of-area cabs on its streets—over which the authority has no control—will pose a risk to customers. As my noble friends have already said, it will be women who will be the most vulnerable to illegal pick-ups by unlicensed drivers in minicabs or even from licensed drivers, who will no longer be checked annually. So just who asked for this measure, introduced with minimal consultation? It was certainly not women or passengers, nor, as we have heard, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust or crime commissioners.
As for banning CCTV for parking, this comes from the same Government who brought in the Localism Act but now decide to dictate to local authorities how they can enforce, or not enforce, parking as they think best, and despite six of the eight consultation responses opposing a CCTV ban. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, it is, after all, local government that knows its area best. In my own borough of Camden, more than 85% of CCTV enforcements cover major junctions, bus stops, pedestrian crossings and no-waiting areas. In a busy urban area these are key to keeping traffic moving and for safety, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and my noble friends Lord Davies of Oldham and Lord Whitty said.
On alcohol licensing, my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, outlined the worry that the new ancillary licences might allow virtually any business, when serving drink is not its primary purpose, to sell alcohol. Health groups fear that this could lead to virtually unlimited alcohol premises. Who demanded this? Why were local authorities, health bodies and others not properly consulted? What research was undertaken on any downside, including any impact on the emergency and ancillary services? Why is there no requirement to make public health a licensing condition? Why is there no minimum price legislation? And why piecemeal changes rather than making this part of a proper strategy, which the Government had laid out in 2012 but seem to have abandoned, to tackle the million crimes linked to alcohol, let alone the cost to our health service?
Turning to insolvency practitioners, here the Government, I think, have got it wrong with their suggested regime of partial authorisation for insolvency practitioners, as my noble friend Lord Rooker, the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said. Splitting the regulation of this tiny profession into two—for company and for individual insolvencies—would particularly harm small firms, two-thirds of which do both corporate and personal insolvency work, just at the same time as the Government’s small business Bill is meant to be helping small businesses.
Furthermore, it would require the development, delivery and oversight of new, additional systems of exams and qualifications. It would also allow some insolvency practitioners to undertake corporate bankruptcies, which almost always also affect the status of the individuals involved, with no qualification over the needs of the latter. In Committee, we will seek to ensure that this does not become the case. Regulation is usually for the consumers, the community or the vulnerable, as my noble friend Lady Turner said. It used to be the Tories who argued that the City was overregulated, and look where that led us.
More locally, as a cyclist—albeit not today in lycra cycling from Cambridge and across Westminster Bridge—I take great comfort from knowing that lorries on our roads are not overloaded, that their tyre pressures are checked, that their drivers are qualified, that their insurance is in place, that their fumes are not excessive and that their brakes work. All of that, of course, is as a result of regulation. However, that does not seem to be enough for this Government. They now want all regulators to include the growth duty, including, I presume, the Health and Safety Executive, the Information Commissioner, the Gambling Commission, the Charity Commission, the Electoral Commission, the Health and Care Professions Council, Monitor, the Legal Services Board and Ofsted—soon to be headed, we gather, by a Tory donor if the papers are to be believed. All those will now have the growth duty. It will be essential that the economic growth strategy does not trump the principal objective of those regulators, because that surely is the protection of the public interest.
Will the Government heed the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, my noble friends Lady Andrews and Lady Thornton, the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, the ICC, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve, and indeed the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which said:
“Applying the economic growth duty to the EHRC poses a significant risk to the EHRC’s independence”,
because it would be compelled take directions from the Secretary of State? Has dogma trumped common sense and good governance? Anyway, is this really deregulatory, as my noble friend Lady Andrews asked?
There are other issues on which we will await with interest the response of the Government, including the proposal from my noble friend Lord Macdonald to amend the copyright Act 1988 in relation to broadcasting. That attracted the support of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and my noble friend Lord Dubs, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Grade.
In the light of comments by the noble Lords, Lord Fowler, Lord Grade, Lord Stoneham, Lord Sharkey and Lord Clement-Jones, we also seek reassurance from the Minister that no decision on decriminalising BBC licence non-payment will be taken prior to the review of the royal charter.
We also look forward to the Minister’s response to other issues raised by my noble friends Lady Donaghy, Lady Turner, Lady Andrews, Lord Whitty, Lord Davies, Lord McKenzie and Lord Rooker and the noble Lords, Lord Stoneham, Lord Grade and Lord Clement-Jones, on a range of issues, such as right to buy, London short lets, gangmasters, maritime investigations and even school holidays.
Despite the words of the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, there is no demand from consumers for a relaxation of the settled position on Sunday trading. Let us leave well alone something that balances family shopping preferences with workers’ rights, the interests of corner shops and the legitimate expectations of churchgoers.
Like the noble Lords, Lord Bew and Lord Brabazon, I welcome paragraph 40 in Part 8 of Schedule 20—and yes, I did read it. It repeals sections of the Defamation Act 1996, as would have been the case with the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to which we gave a Second Reading on
I turn finally to knitting yarns. Perhaps I see myself as une tricoteuse at la Place de la Révolution, or Place de la Concorde as it is now, watching the guillotine fall on the supposed red tape. But this is no revolution. It is a slightly tacky hotchpotch of a Bill, conceived for effect and designed by committee. We will bless the bits that do no harm and welcome the few that help, but we will seek to amend those that pose risks to workers, consumers and to the public at large.
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest of which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in his opening speech reminded me. My wife was a member of the previous Government’s Better Regulation Commission from 2006 to 2008. She reminds me that after the change of Prime Minister the previous Labour Government abolished it.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, reminded us that what the House of Lords does best, and what is indeed becoming our core role, is to examine the details of legislation placed before us. We can all agree that this Bill has a wealth of detail. Those who got all the way through to Schedule 20 understand that fully and thus we shall have lots to explore at the Committee stage. It is evident from today’s debate that there is particular concern over Clause 1 and Clauses 10 to 12. Many other clauses and parts of schedules have been warmly welcomed. Some have been queried, with much more information requested, and there will indeed be much to explore in Committee which will start when we return in October. I note what is being said about generous time being needed for that stage.
Between now and then the Government, as always, are open to consult off the Floor, with all those who wish to do so, including the Local Government Association, although not within this Bill taking on the whole universe of local licensing, which the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, perhaps suggested. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, requested hyperlinks to previous legislation. In informal consultations the other day, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, asked for a Keeling schedule for the entire Bill. We have noted both of those requests and will see what we can do. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, talked about the distinction between better regulation, smart regulation and fit regulation. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and others said, there is a difference between deregulation and re-regulation.
One of the things we have learnt over the past few years is that there is a constant need for adjustment and adaptation in regulation. We need to look constantly at what is no longer necessary, even as we look at what is now needed. We need a great deal more regulation of the internet, for example. If the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, were here, he would have linked the transformation of broadcasting with that of the transformation of the taxi market by things like Uber and the transformation of short-term lets by the arrival of Airbnb. These are all new phenomena that technology has pushed on us in what one of the contributors remarked as being this fast-changing digital world.
I note, however, that excessive regulation does sink economies. It was not until the crash of the Greek economy and finances that we discovered just how amazingly overregulated the Greek economy was and how much that held it back. I remember as a student the beginnings of the deregulation of the British economy by that nowadays underestimated politician, Edward Heath, in his deregulation of the retail market. The growth agenda is important and we always have to look at it in making sure that old regulations go even as new regulations are sometimes needed.
Underlying some of our discussions there have been suspicions of a hidden agenda: whether or not the health and safety culture is threatened—I wish to assure noble Lords that it is not; whether the BBC is about to be undermined; whether the proposals on marine accidents are really an attempt to get away from marine accident investigations. Again, I can assure noble Lords that they are not. We will come back to those issues in detail in Committee.
A number of other issues have been raised that are not currently within the Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Dubs, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Grade and Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, referred to the issue of retransmission revenues. I listened with interest to some of this. I think I have received nearly a dozen communications from Virgin Media in Saltaire over the past 12 months. Since it put cable through Saltaire it is extremely keen for us all to subscribe and is sending me some extremely generously printed brochures almost every month.
I take the point that public service broadcasters should not be subsidising commercial enterprises. We are of course willing to talk to others about how and within what framework we address Section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, although the Government may be reluctant to concede that that fits appropriately within this Bill.
I noted in Schedule 20 that anyone who keeps a pigsty is part of what we are now repealing. I am just old enough as a small boy to have visited farms where they still had pigsties and indeed once visited a farm where they were in the action of killing a pig. That is part of the thing that no longer takes place and therefore we no longer need it.
We also touched on busking and Sunday trading. I share the feeling of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that it is probably quite a good thing that we are not tackling Sunday trading as well as everything else on this occasion. Perhaps the next Government will wish to reopen that immediately.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked where the figures for savings from the Bill came from. Officials have prepared a summary table of the Bill and I am very happy to share this with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, following the debate and to put it in the
Library for all noble Lords. It is part of the Red Tape Challenge. Many of these are estimates but we are fairly confident that they are not too imprecise.
Clause 1, the health and safety clause, has clearly set a number of concerns running. The prescribed list of high-hazard activities is now being consulted on. The consultation went out today and is available online. It will run for 12 weeks which means that it will be completed by the Committee stage and the regulators will thus be able to issue at least some guidance towards that by the time we are in Committee. The new regulations will use definitions of health and safety already present in law, which means that we are not changing the context of health and safety. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, I am informed that Professor Löfstedt wrote to the Commons committee in support of the clause as drafted. We will both investigate further to see who is quoting Professor Löfstedt more directly.
On the question on whether the number of self-employed workers is growing because of the expansion of bogus self-employed contracts, the Government are taking parallel action in other forums to stop the use of such bogus contracts. For example, in this year’s Finance Bill, the Government introduced changes to the agency tax rules to put a stop to the growing use of those requirements. This is not intended to allow any expansion in that area. We are looking at professional people who work at home and do not employ others. That is the category from which we hope to lift unnecessary regulations.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and other noble Lords raised the question of tribunals. There is no evidence to suggest that the wider recommendations prevent reoffence. That is why the Government decided to remove this burden. In one very clear recent case involving the Metropolitan Police and a diplomatic protection officer, the tribunal made no wider recommendations but the Metropolitan Police has made it clear that it recognises that there are wider concerns. I do not think this is such a difficult issue. There is some evidence, which was presented to the Government in the consultation, that this involved additional cost for smaller employers and did not produce great benefit for others.
A lot was said about taxis and private hire vehicles and I am sure that we will have an impassioned debate on this issue in Committee. We are conscious that there is a range of concerns including, as a number of noble Lords have said, questions of safety. The question of the use of private hire vehicles by others when they are off-duty clearly needs to be examined. However, we have looked at the Law Commission recommendations and are satisfied that taking these measures forward neither undermines the Law Commission review nor necessarily means that we will not take the Law Commission proposals into account at a later stage when it produces its Bill.
Parking has also raised a lot of issues for many noble Lords, with the question of CCTV and parking fines. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, that we have not considered the risks of removing the use of CCTV as we are not talking about doing that. There were a number of questions about how CCTV is used at a local level, on which all of us have slightly different and ambivalent views. Again, we will come back to that in detail in Committee.
On short-term lets, as someone who had never really thought about this problem previously, I listened with interest. I live close to Wimbledon where, every year, a number of well-off local people seem to let out their houses for two weeks at a time for remarkably large sums. I have to admit that the Wallaces had considered whether we should go away for two weeks. My wife, however, said no, because she actually likes going to Wimbledon herself rather than sitting and watching it on TV. There are some important issues about, first, what is now happening; secondly, why the regulations in London are different from those in the rest of the country; thirdly, how far the evolution of short-term letting through the internet is beginning to change the situation anyway; and fourthly, therefore, how we respond to that.
On the right to buy, we recognise worries about whether there is an underlying agenda and how this will affect the future provision of social housing. A problem we all face with social housing is that the previous Government did not build enough social housing and this Government have so far, disappointingly, not been able to build as much social housing as we would like. Part of what is required under the Bill is that councils which sell houses use the money to build new social housing as part of the deal.
On optional building regulations, Clause 32 will not amend standards related to safety. It will allow for certain requirements to be adapted locally, but will provide for the range of what standards are permissible to be set nationally. I am happy to discuss this further with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and others as part of the consultation between now and Committee stage.
The Minister referred to 12 weeks earlier. We are going to have at least 12 weeks between Second Reading and the start of Committee stage. That is very unusual. I can see at least 800 or 900 amendments. If events take their course, they will not be tabled until
That is a very constructive suggestion. I will take it away and we will discuss it.
On short-term lets in London, I am told that the question was included in the consultation issued in February last year on a review of the property conditions of the private rented sector. Nearly 100 responses were received and the Government will publish their response shortly.
One of the happy surprises I have in facing this Bill is that my initial feeling that the rights of way clauses of the Bill would be the most difficult turns out not to be the case. The Ramblers, the Country Land and Business Association and others have written to me to say that they are united in asking for no further amendments to this part. I hope that we can all hold to that. It is remarkably unusual to find a situation in which all those involved in a deeply contentious area, which has been contentious for a very long time, have come to an agreement and are asking us to put it into law. Let us see how far we can get on that following their consensus.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, and others asked about the TV licensing review. As a matter of course, I can tell him that the terms of reference will be laid in the Libraries of both Houses and the review itself must begin within three months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent.
That was not the main purpose of most of the comments, which was to allow for a discussion of the terms of reference of that review on the Floor of the Chamber. Simply to place them in the Libraries is not sufficient. Will the noble Lord reconsider that?
I am told that the Government are currently committed to putting the terms of reference to both Houses at a later stage. I think that the noble Lord is asking for an early consultation. Again, let us talk off the Floor and see how far we get on that. My noble friend Lord Gardiner speaks for the DCMS and it may therefore be particularly appropriate that he would speak on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, was particularly concerned about the potential growth of alcohol consumption. I hope that in Committee we will be able to reassure him about what is proposed in these measures, which I recall have been discussed in terms of local arrangements allowing local communities to have events with fewer hoops to jump through in what I am told are community and ancillary sellers notices. The intention is strongly that this will be limited to a small part of any business that is allowed to do so. We do not see hairdressers offering gin and tonics to those who come to have their hair cut, which I think was almost what the noble Lord was suggesting, and other matters of that sort. Again, we will explore that further in Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, had concerns about the repeal of the duty of the Senior President of Tribunals to report. I am told that, since the duty to report was introduced in 2007, other and more effective feedback mechanisms have been introduced—the production of a report by the Senior President of Tribunals no longer represents the most effective way of providing feedback. What the tribunals now do is to introduce summary reasons in employment support allowance appeals, starting initially on four sites. These summary reports have been found to be more useful than what was done before. Again, I am happy to talk further if that helps.
I have taken a lot of time and I have not talked about the closure of small prisons or the whole relationship between the Law Commission and this Bill. It is perhaps time for a short debate on the future role of the Law Commission as there is quite a lot of interest in that.
Before I close, I will talk about the question of the growth duty and in particular the EHRC, because I know there is a lot of concern about that. We are considering the question of how far the growth duty extends to non-economic regulators. Again, that is something that we will discuss further. We look forward to a lively and lengthy Committee stage. I congratulate all those who have read the entire Bill all the way through to the end of Schedule 20. I beg to move.
Bill read a second time.