Clause 6 - Document to be laid before parliament

Part of Regulatory Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 29th March 2001.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal 10:30 am, 29th March 2001

I am grateful for the Minister's constructive response, and although I will not dwell on amendments Nos. 24 and 25, I will press amendment No. 26. He argued that there was no need to specify such details in the document under clause 6 because that was the purpose of the Deregulation Committee's scrutiny. However, that argument could equally be applied to cost savings, or to other matters that are specified.

The document will be the basis on which the Deregulation Committee will undertake its scrutiny. It should represent, as comprehensively and helpfully as possible, all the information that the Committee needs to conduct its business. It needs information on the impact on persons, categories of business, sectors of industry and so on. That will help it to ensure that it has examined the evidence in detail.

The Minister rightly said that it is current practice to present regulatory impact assessments in the initial proposals—although that is often done in an eccentric way. Amendment No. 26 is not, therefore, a requirement that such an assessment be attached to each document. As the Minister fairly said, the nature of such assessments changes over time.

I make no bones about the fact that the replacement of compliance-cost assessments with regulatory impact assessments has been an improvement. That is precisely the reasoning behind the amendment. Compliance-cost assessments led Departments and consultees to focus on the direct costs of adapting to a proposal rather than on understanding its consequential impacts. The difference can be enormous, as I will illustrate in a different context in a later debate. Suffice it to say—I am sure that the Minister will not dispute it—that the consequential impacts of proposals can be several orders of magnitude greater than the initial impacts as measured directly by compliance costs.

That is why the document in its current form carries the risk that one will tend to look at specifics. Departments will be tempted—quite reasonably—to try to quantify, as far as possible, the costs associated with what is to occur and the direct burdens. That degree of quantification and calculation gives a spurious definition to the impacts, whereas the subsequent knock-on consequential changes that flow from such proposals are often much more difficult to quantify. They may be expressed within quite large ranges, but they are none the less much greater in the long run than in their initial impact. That is why it is important to set out impacts in detail.

There are two key points, neither of which the Minister has successfully countered. First, it is important to see the consequential impacts. Secondly, it is important to see the impacts by reference to specific industry sectors, groups of individuals or categories of public bodies. Neither of those will necessarily be covered by the document as currently drafted in clause 6. I suspect that their absence, far from making the work of the deregulation Committees easier, will make it more difficult. That is not our objective: our objective is to make the document, at this stage in the consultation, a positive framework that will directly inform the preliminary consultation.

When the proposal is put to the Deregulation Committee, Departments should be able to set out the framework that they have to meet and the gaps in information that consultees can provide to show that they have done their work successfully. The Committee should generally find that there is little flaw in the Government's proposals, not, as the Minister implied, be challenged by the process to prove where the Government had got it wrong. I therefore propose to press amendment No. 26 to a vote.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 26, in page 6, line 2, at end insert—

`(ia) a statement analysing the financial and other impact on persons likely to be affected by any of the provisions of the proposed order,'.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.