Moved by Lord Collins of Highbury
36B: The Schedule, page 5, line 26, at end insert—“(1A) At least one month before making regulations under section 234B, the Secretary of State must publish indicative minimum service levels for any service that the regulations will provide for.”Member’s explanatory statementRequires indicative minimum service levels for any service to be set out before regulations can be made for that service.
This is going to be relatively easy to deal with, because the Minister has already given us an answer on the previous group. Actually, the answer he gave us is the reason I have separated out this amendment—I think it reflects something else that committees of this House have been extremely concerned about, certainly in the two reports that my noble friend Lord Hendy referred to earlier. When our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee reports, it reports in a timely way that ensures that when Parliament and this House consider legislative proposals, we are informed. That information is also governed by the Government’s response.
The Bill has gone through the Commons stages with very little scrutiny and lands up here. We have three detailed reports on this piece of legislation, all of them fairly critical, as in paragraph 23 of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report. There is only one example of what a minimum service level might contain, which is the service in the transport sector, so everything else has been completely ignored. There are no examples; there is nothing we can assess to see how these powers we are being asked to give to Ministers may be used. The Delegated Powers Committee’s response is that if they do not tell us, we should not give them the power. When are the Government going to properly respond? I insist that they respond as quickly as possible, well before any sort of timetabling for Report. It is fundamental to our democracy that the Government respond to the requirements of Parliament. It is outrageous that they have not done so already. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is neither a wrecking amendment nor a probing amendment; it is a most reasonable amendment. Why? Because some of us who have constitutional concerns about skeleton Bills and Henry VIII powers do so because, even with affirmative procedure, Members of Parliament and Members of your Lordships’ House are not able to amend secondary legislation, unlike Bills. The ability to improve the legislation just is not there. If that is going to be the case here, because we cannot persuade Ministers that these matters, if necessary in extremis, should be dealt with in primary legislation, what are we going to do instead?
If there is to be any possibility of improving minimum service level agreements and the regulations that impose them, there needs to be a statutory amount of time on the face of the primary legislation so that parliamentarians, while they will not get the process they get when a Bill goes through Parliament, will know that they will have at least a month to look at what is proposed and then try to speak to Ministers, write to Ministers and raise questions in each House. That, in some small way, would be an attempt to compensate for the fact that this is not primary legislative procedure with the ability to table amendments, divide the House and so on. This seems totally reasonable to me and a constructive amendment in the face of these Henry VIII powers that have caused such concern to the various august committees and the noble and learned Lords who normally sit with the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe—he is a bit lonely at the moment. It is totally reasonable.
I cannot understand what the objection could be to just being clear, even if informally, that there will at least be this amount of time to be able to improve the regulations. I think Hansard will record that the Minister, in answer to me on a previous group—it may have been a slip—said that Parliament can improve the regulations. Actually, it cannot, but by this kind of stipulation it could, at least informally, make its attempt.
My Lords, this is something of an hors d’oeuvre for the next group, so I will save my comments on this issue—although I thoroughly agree with the noble Baroness—for Amendment 37, which I consider to be a meatier version of the same issue. This is clearly starting the move to the territory where we give Parliament the opportunity at least to scrutinise, if not amend, what comes before it. We will come to more of that in a few minutes.
My Lords, at the risk of saying what I said earlier, if this amendment is not accepted by the Government, that presents a problem to the whole House as to what is to be done about Bills that do not conform to the elementary requirements of various committees, where detail is not published in the Bills but reserved to regulations. That problem will have to be confronted if the Government are not prepared to accept this very modest amendment, as my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti put it.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. To start with the question from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the Government’s response to the reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, the Constitution Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I am happy to confirm that I expect to be able to respond to those reports before Report.
This amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, requires indicative minimum service levels to be set out before regulations can be made for that service. The Government recognise the importance of relevant parties having sight of a minimum service level before it is applied. That is why Secretaries of State must consult on minimum service level regulations and why Parliament will have an opportunity to contribute to the consultation and scrutinise those regulations, which are subject to the affirmative procedure, as I have said before.
The effect of this amendment is superfluous, given that all parties will be able to know the proposed minimum service levels once regulations are laid in the usual way. This approach ensures that the implementation of MSL is not significantly delayed, thereby not extending the disproportionate impact that strikes can have on the public. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, will understand, if not agree, why the Government cannot accept the amendment.
In light of those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment so that we can move on to the next group, where we will have a much more comprehensive debate.
Amendment 36B withdrawn.
Amendment 36C not moved.