Clause 1 - Purpose

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at on 2 March 2006.

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Question proposed [28 February], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question again proposed.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following:

Amendment No. 55, in clause 18, page 9, line 30, at end insert—

“‘reforming” means repealing, simplifying or clarifying or making better provision for achieving its purposes;’.

Amendment No. 61, in clause 18, page 9, line 35, at end add—

‘(2)In section 1, “changes” means only those changes that are reasonably related to developments in the common law since the date of the Law Commission’s Recommendation.’.

New clause 2—Reserved areas of competence—

‘(1)Schedule [Reserved areas of competence] shall have effect.

(2)A Minister may not make an order under section 1 containing provisions relating to the reserved areas of competence as set out in Schedule [Reserved areas of competence].

(3)A Minister of the Crown may, subject to a resolution of both Houses of Parliament, amend by order the reserved areas of competence in Schedule [Reserved areas of competence].’.

New schedule 1—‘RESERVED AREAS OF COMPETENCE—

For the purposes of this Act, the reserved areas of competence are those relating to—

(a)provisions incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights;

(b)the Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42);

(c)Parliament;

(d)the Civil Service;

(e)the courts;

(f)the registration and funding of political parties;

(g)international relations;

(h)defence;

(i)treason;

(j)terrorism; and

(k)national security.’.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I am delighted to welcome you, Mr. Caton, to our proceedings this afternoon. This morning’s debate was productive in terms of content rather than progress. When we adjourned, I was bringing my remarks on clause 1 stand part to a conclusion. Of course, we understand why Sir Nicholas, your co-Chairman, cannot be with us this afternoon. I think that we heard earlier that he is on his way to Manchester to take part in the BBC’s “Newsnight”.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

Indeed. I hope that our proceedings will finish in time for us to witness him on television.

As I was saying earlier, there have been difficulties with the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. It provided a power to reform legislation that imposed burdens.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I hear the Minister moving away from amendment No. 61, which he was discussing when the debate was interrupted. May I bring him back to that? He was saying that the amendment was defective because it applied only to the common law. I refer him to what he said on Tuesday at column 34 of Hansard when discussing the Law Commission powers and their relationship to this measure:

“The combination of clauses 1 and 2 means that the intended impact of the amendment”— that was the “with or” amendment—

“appears mainly to apply to Law Commission recommendations reforming the common law. Any changes to a Law Commission recommendation that relate to reforming legislation and satisfy the various safeguards to which orders are subject could, with one exception, be delivered in an order under clause 1(1)(a).”—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 28 February 2006; c. 34.]

According to the Minister’s own words, the argument that he was making before the interruption simply is not correct.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. That was a long intervention. I hope that in future interventions will be rather briefer.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

Thank you, Mr. Caton. I shall try to obey your strictures for both interventions and speeches.

The hon. Gentleman and I simply disagree about this issue. The Bill allows the introduction of non-controversial Law Commission recommendations, be they on common law or on legislation. An example of a change in legislation in a wider sense in accordance with the better regulation agenda might involve merging regulators, to which I referred in our conversation earlier. A regulator is set up by one piece of legislation, and a second regulator is facilitated by separate legislation. As we bring about the mergers power in the Bill, we will make amendments of legislation. It is important that we have that power to reform both common law and legislation.

Let me bring my comments to a close. We have learned the lessons of the 2001 Act. Business and others are calling for action to speed up the pace of regulatory reform. The Bill provides a flexible power to reform the law so that worthwhile reforms are not delayed or implemented piecemeal because of arbitrary limits on order-making powers and so that important orders are not competing with other, higher-profile, more contentious aspects of legislation, perhaps emanating from manifestos, in a crowded parliamentary timetable. The power in clause 1 should allow the delivery of a greater volume of minor reforms by order, and more orders creating substantial benefits—

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

No, I will not.

The power should mean benefits for the public, private and voluntary sectors as well as for individuals. I urge my hon. Friends to oppose the amendments.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

What a disappointment that was. New clause 2, which I tabled, is one of the recommendations of the Regulatory Reform Committee of this House—a Select Committee that the Minister described as having produced an excellent report, so why will he not agree to this small protection? He says that he does not want constitutional measures to be dealt with by order, so why will he not agree to this sensible protection?

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) kindly said that his party would support new clause 2 and new schedule 1 if they went to a Division. I am afraid that they will have to. There comes a point where enough is enough. The Minister must start giving us some of the protections and safeguards that he told us he would.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Labour, Plymouth, Devonport

You mentioned the Select Committee’s concerns. We were concerned that there should be some no-go areas, but some of the issues that you have raised with the new schedule and new clause are complicated by the proposals that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will be introducing later. I am not sure what clause it is—it might be new schedule 2—in which you two will be proposing an optional list. I should like the Minister to make a decision on that now.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. I ask the hon. Lady to stop referring to other Members as “you”.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

We are trying to be reasonable. We are introducing a range of options, but new clause 2 is the option suggested by the Regulatory Reform Committee in a report that the Minister himself says is excellent. Why will he not agree to it? Amendment No. 61 uses the very words that he used yesterday to describe his intentions on that matter. Why will he not put what he says he wants on the statute book? Has not the time come for him to put up and agree to what he says he wants?

What is holding him back? If it is just that he does not like the wording, let him say so and tell us that he will table his own amendments on Report; we would not mind that. But it seems ridiculous to just say, “No, no, no,” and to be as adamant as he is being. We are not satisfied, and we shall certainly press new clause 2 to a Division. If the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) wants to push amendment No. 61 to a Division, we shall support him. We cannot allow clause 1 to stand part in its current parlous state.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I welcome you to the Committee unexpectedly this afternoon, Mr. Caton. There is a dynamic to Standing Committees that is important if the Committee is to   make progress. That dynamic is very much in the Minister’s hands; it depends on whether the Minister listens to the arguments put forward and responds appropriately. This Minister has failed the Committee on the most important part of the Bill.

Over lunch, I discussed whether there ought to be some sort of procedural amendment available to the House to replace the Minister. Perhaps the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck), who has been speaking a lot more sensibly than her Front-Bench colleague, would make an adequate replacement. There she is, sitting on the substitutes’ bench.

In all seriousness, the Minister cannot give us arguments that are not just self-contradictory but often self-contradictory in the course of a single paragraph. He has made assertions that he reversed before finishing his speech. The difference between what he is saying today and what he said on Tuesday is palpable. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge made a point about what the Minister said in column 34 on Tuesday. It was not a matter of disagreement between my hon. Friend and the Minister; it was a matter of disagreement between the Minister and himself. He said clearly that there was no problem with the use of the words “with or without changes” in respect of legislative changes, as it referred to common law changes. Now he says that the problem with our amendment relating to common law changes is that it does not apply to legislative changes. We cannot proceed with an argument or a sensible debate if he contradicts himself so patently in the space of two days.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that what the Minister said implies that he wishes to have substantial powers to amend Law Commission recommendations on forcible entry? That is the only area of Law Commission recommendations in the legislative sphere that is not already covered by clause 1(1)(a).

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I fear that the hon. Gentleman is applying logic to the matter. It is quite clear from the way in which the Minister has produced his arguments that logic is not a quality with which he is familiar. It is not a funny matter; the Bill proposes the most fundamental change possible to our constitution, and it has been put forward under the guise of a deregulatory Bill.

We have said many times that we have no problem with a Bill that genuinely deals with deregulatory issues, or even with the intentions that the Minister has explained as his purpose behind part 1 of the Bill. We have a problem, however, with the fact that the words in the Bill do not correspond with what the Minister says are his intentions when he is being coherent. That is why clause 1 cannot stand part of the Bill in its present form.

Alison Seabeckrose—

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Labour, Plymouth, Devonport

I will try to get the form of address right. Forgive me, Mr. Caton, I am new to this.

The hon. Gentleman is being grossly unfair to my hon. Friend the Minister. I hope that I am thinking in the same way as the Minister when I say that the Select Committee understood that there was more than one way to skin a cat. When we get past clause 1 we might see some scope for further debate on some of the details of how we put protections in place.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I sincerely hope that we will, but I cannot buy clause 1 on the basis of some promise of amelioration in future. We have had no indication from the Minister of what the safeguards will be, of which he talks a great deal. He does not accept amendments in his own words, tabled by myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, that would provide such protections. Our conclusion must be that he is not listening or, if he is, then his thoughts on the matter are so muddled as to be incapable of expression. I therefore firmly intend to vote against stand part, and I believe that that will also be the intention of others. If the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) wishes to press his new schedule, we will support it.

When we put forward what the Minister himself has said is a necessary safeguard, he rejects it. We therefore have such a difficulty with the Government’s argument that we intend also to press amendment no. 61. I hope that we will have the opportunity to do so, and perhaps expose the Government’s position as the risible one that it is.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Division number 5 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 1 - Purpose

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

NOES

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.