Clause 13 - Determination of Parliamentary procedure

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 7 March 2006.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 5:15, 7 March 2006

Before I ask the hon. Member for Forest of Dean to move amendment No. 14, I am not sure whether the usual channels have yet decided at what time they wish to break this evening. From the Chair, I am happy to stay very late to ensure proper debate on this important Bill, but I make those remarks so that the Committee is aware that progress must be made.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in clause 13, page 7, line 24, leave out paragraph (a).

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 17, in clause 13, page 7, line 26, at end insert—

‘(1A)Unless the Minister is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for applying the negative resolution procedure or the affirmative resolution procedure, he must recommend that the super-affirmative procedure shall apply to any draft order laid under section 12.’.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

There are many amendments to clause 13. Fortunately, it was possible to group them for the purposes of this discussion. There is a series of amendments standing in my name and that of my hon.   Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and, in the case of amendment No. 6, in the name of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. The hon. Gentleman is jumping the gun. We are on amendment No. 14, with which it is convenient to take amendment No. 17. The group of amendments that includes amendment No. 6 comes next. I ask him to discuss amendment No. 14.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

Thank you for that guidance, Sir Nicholas. The clause deals with the determination of parliamentary procedure, and includes three alternatives: the negative resolution procedure, the affirmative resolution procedure and the innovative super-affirmative resolution procedure. Amendment No. 14 would leave out subsection (1)(a), which is the negative resolution procedure.

The logic for doing that is that it seems sensible to ensure that any proposals tabled under the Bill would at least be debated rather than put through on the nod, thereby making it much more difficult for Members to control them. If the amendment were accepted, we would have either the affirmative or super-affirmative resolution procedure. Given the scope of the Bill and the fact that the protections in procedure and in the scope of the Bill that my party wanted have not been accepted so far—although that may change later—removing the option of using the negative resolution procedure and thereby beefing up the procedure may well go some way towards reassuring us that the uses to which the Bill could be put would be much more modest.

The effect of amendment No. 17 would be that, unless the Minister had specific reasons which he would have to give and which would therefore be justiciable, the super-affirmative procedure would be the default setting for any changes under the Bill. That would be the normal course of events, unless the Minister had good reasons why a lesser form of procedure should apply.

Again, given the scope of the Bill, we believe that that is the right default. It is fairly modest though, because if the Minister is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds he can use one of the other procedures. The amendment would set the default high, and force the Minister to consider the appropriate procedure and to set out reasons why he wishes to use the more straightforward rather than the more onerous procedure. That is not an unreasonable request, and I urge the Committee to accept both amendments.

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

I have a brief contribution to make about the amendments. Time may be a little against us, so I will try to be relatively brief.

As you rightly say, Sir Nicholas, it is appropriate to address amendments Nos. 14 and 17 simultaneously. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Forest of Dean for highlighting through amendment No. 17 that the Minister should have reasonable grounds for recommending negative or affirmative procedures. Ministers are under a public law duty to act reasonably, as we have discussed, and that is a duty that can be subject to challenge by judicial review.   That would certainly extend to the process by which a Minister determines what level of parliamentary scrutiny is appropriate for orders.

Moreover, the Bill already requires a Minister to set out his reasons for recommending a procedure when laying an explanatory document alongside a draft order. If the Minister had no good reason for recommending a procedure, that would be exposed in the explanatory document available to Parliament. The amendment is therefore unnecessary, since it does not change the legal effect of the Bill. In any event, if Parliament does not agree with the reasons given for the Minister’s recommendation, it can require a more onerous procedure to be applied to the order.

Amendment No. 14 would remove the option of a Minister recommending that the negative resolution procedure should be followed for a particular order. It seems unnecessary. The procedure requirements ensure that the scrutiny of orders is appropriate and proportionate, a matter to which the Regulatory Reform Committee has rightly drawn attention in the past. The procedures act as an incentive to Departments to bring forward beneficial proposals and, additionally, help to change the culture across Whitehall. If a Minister considers the negative resolution procedure to be appropriate, it seems somewhat arbitrary to introduce a restriction that would prevent him from putting forward those views to the Committee. In any case, Parliament remains the final arbiter of the appropriate level of scrutiny for orders.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

I ought to have mentioned that these amendments would effectively put on the face of the Bill some of the recommendations made by the Regulatory Reform Committee in its report. Specifically, it was keen that there should be more parliamentary scrutiny of orders. In each of its three recommendations, it said that no order should undergo negative procedures. It recommended that orders should undergo super-affirmative procedures by default. When we come to the later amendments, we will return to the recommendations that the Committee made on the length of time involved. Since the recommendations in the amendments came from the Committee as well as us, even if the Minister does not like amendment No. 17 perhaps it would be worth his reflecting on amendment No. 14, to take into account what we and the Committee have said and to see whether he wants to tighten anything up.

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

When we get to the debate on the other substantial number of amendments, I will be happy to show that the Government are minded to move on some aspects of the Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendations about the timings and operation of some procedures. However, my point is not intended to criticise the Select Committee, but to make a reasoned case as to why in this instance—unlike many others, which we will discuss later—such an amendment would not be necessary.

I will highlight a couple of examples of where it might be appropriate for the negative procedure to apply. The Regulatory Reform (Trading Stamps)   Order 2005, which eased burdens on the retail sector by updating and harmonising the legal framework regulating the use of trading stamps, might be one such example. The proposals to reduce administrative burdens such as form-filling requirements might be another. It is the Government’s assessment that such non-contentious, straightforward orders could be initially be taken by negative procedure, but the Regulatory Reform Committee, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport serves so well, could in any instance say, “We do not agree. It is not appropriate. The Minister has not kept to the spirit of the consultation or recommended the appropriate procedure.”

The Government feel that, as part of cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy, much of the legislation involved will be non-contentious and cross-party and will be simplification or the removal of form-filling.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 5:30, 7 March 2006

If that is so, why does paragraph 56 of the explanatory notes, on this clause, refer specifically to the Minister’s view of

“the complexity of the order” rather than its level of controversy, which is the issue that the Minister has just addressed?

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

Without going over the discussions that we have already had, the level of controversy will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

On the complexity of an order, if it is a straightforward simplification—the phasing of two forms into one or the lightening of the burden on business or public services—the Government’s instinct is to reserve the opportunity to have the negative resolution procedure. However—it is an important “however”—the Select Committees will have the absolute right to reject the Minister’s proposal and recommend the affirmative or super-affirmative procedure. That is a reasonable way to progress, and will still allow the Bill to enable the delivery of minor administrative simplifications by the lightest available procedure, but with the safeguard that the Select Committee can recommend an alternative.

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean has made entirely reasonable points, but given that we will reflect on some of the amendments that we will consider next and based on the undertakings that I have given, I invite him to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

Since the Minister has given those assurances, and we are going to talk about time limits and some of the other things in the next group of amendments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in clause 13, page 7, line 30, leave out ‘21’ and insert ‘30’.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 77, in clause 13, page 7, line 30, leave out ‘21-day’ and insert ‘preliminary’.

No. 8, in clause 13, page 7, line 30, leave out ‘21’ and insert ‘60’.

No. 3, in clause 13, page 7, line 39, leave out ‘21’ and insert ‘30’.

No. 9, in clause 13, page 7, line 39, leave out ‘21’ and insert ‘60’.

No. 24, in clause 13, page 7, line 39, leave out ‘21-day’ and insert ‘preliminary’.

No. 4, in clause 13, page 7, line 46, leave out ‘21’ and insert ‘30’.

No. 10, in clause 13, page 7, line 46, leave out ‘21’ and insert ‘60’.

No. 25, in clause 13, page 7, line 46, leave out ‘21-day’ and insert ‘preliminary’.

No. 5, in clause 13, page 8, line 7, leave out first ‘21’ and insert ‘30’.

No. 11, in clause 13, page 8, line 7, leave out first ‘21’ and insert ‘60’.

No. 26, in clause 13, page 8, line 7, leave out ‘21-day’ and insert ‘preliminary’.

No. 6, in clause 13, page 8, line 7, leave out second ‘21’ and insert ‘30’.

No. 12, in clause 13, page 8, line 7, leave out second ‘21’ and insert ‘60’.

No. 7, in clause 13, page 8, line 8, at end insert—

‘(8)The “30 day period” in this section may be increased by not more than 30 days subject to—

(a)a resolution of either House of Parliament, or

(b)a recommendation from the relevant committee of either House of Parliament that is not rejected by a resolution of that House.’.

No. 78, in clause 13, page 8, line 8, at end add

‘(“period A”) unless, before the expiry of period A, either House of Parliament requires (by the same method as is available for requiring a procedure under this section) that period A shall be extended by a further period of days (not exceeding 30) specified in the requirement (“period B”), in which case it means period A extended by period B’.

No. 16, in clause 13, page 8, line 8, at end insert—

‘(8)The “60 day period” in this section may be increased by not more than 60 days subject to—

(a)a resolution of either House of Parliament, or

(b)a recommendation from the relevant committee of either House of Parliament that is not rejected by a resolution of that House.’.

No. 79, in clause 14, page 8, line 20, at end add

‘(“period C”) unless an extension of a further period of days has been required under section 13(7) (“period B”), in which case it means period C extended by period B’.

No. 15, in clause 15, page 8, line 25, leave out ‘40’ and insert ‘60’.

No. 80, in clause 15, page 8, line 25, leave out ‘40-day’ and insert ‘examination’.

No. 19, in clause 15, page 8, line 30, leave out subsection 4 and insert—

‘(4)In this section, “the 60 day period” means the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft order was laid before Parliament under section 12.’.

No. 81, in clause 15, page 8, line 30, leave out ‘40-day’ and insert ‘examination’.

No. 83, in clause 16, page 9, line 6, leave out ‘60-day’ and insert ‘examination’.

No. 84, in clause 16, page 9, line 19, leave out ‘60-day’ and insert ‘examination’.

No. 85, in clause 16, page 9, line 20, at end add

‘(“period D”) unless an extension of a further period of days has been required under section 13(7) (“period B”), in which case it means period D extended by period B’.

No. 82, in clause 16, page 8, line 40, leave out ‘60-day’ and insert ‘examination’.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

Without stepping through all of the amendments in order—I am sure that the Committee will be grateful about that—I shall point out their effect would be to put in the Bill one of the three recommendations that the Regulatory Reform Committee included in its report to the House. The options are mutually exclusive and in ascending order of the Committee’s preference.

The first option is to maintain a full range of procedures and time limits, increase the 21-day time limit to 30 days and provide that parliamentary time limits should be adjustable upwards if a resolution of either House recommended it—a small tightening. The second option is to remove the negative procedure completely and merge time limits. It is clear from the Committee’s report that they were keen for the negative procedure to be removed. We feel that that would be advantageous as it would at least ensure debate on the orders. The Committee also noted that under the 2001 Act there was at least a 60-day period for scrutiny, which in their view was the minimum period necessary. The current Bill provides a smaller period of time, and this group of amendments would change that.

The third option is to remove the negative procedure, and effectively to make the super-affirmative procedure the default setting. That is a more radical possibility and one that the Regulatory Reform Committee invited the House to consider. That would also merge all time limits into a standard 60-day time limit and, again, allow Parliament, on a part 1 order, to adjust upwards the time limit, if a Committee of the whole House, or the House, recommended so.

The Select Committee set out some choices for this Committee to consider. We would prefer to go towards the upper end and tighten things up, unless we were given further reassurances on the scope of the Bill. The Minister indicated that he is prepared to think about some of the issues, and I hope that he will say what he has in mind. I shall leave the matter there and see what other members of the Committee and the Minister have to say before we decide on how we will proceed.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Labour, Plymouth, Devonport

I rise to speak to the amendments, which I will not list by number. They relate to clauses 13 to 16, which I understand, following a discussion earlier today, will be formally considered when we reach the appropriate clauses.

Through my amendments, I seek to probe the Minister on some of the issues flagged up by the Select Committee’s special report produced prior to Second Reading, and to progress them a little. The report raised a number of concerns about the way in which   parliamentary procedure will be determined, including the reduction in the time that the Committee has to scrutinise the RROs, which could, if the Bill is passed unaltered, be less than is currently the case—60 days.

I suspect that the reason for the change to the timetable, as set out in the Bill, that reduces the period for consideration by either House of Parliament to only 21 days, if the Minister’s proposal for the negative, affirmative or super-affirmative procedure is to be followed, is that it is believed incorrectly that the existing parliamentary procedures, rather than the failure of the Government to identify and introduce proposals, have been the cause of the relatively small number of RROs made so far.

Overall, parliamentary scrutiny accounts for only 20 per cent. of that period, when measured from consultation to the making of the order. That means that to cut the time spent on making an order by even 10 per cent., the scrutiny period would have to be cut in half. Clearly, that would undermine effective scrutiny, and in my view, would squeeze the wrong end of the process. It is also worth noting that the Cabinet Office’s website states that it requires 90 days in which to assess practical proposals for regulatory simplification that are submitted by the business, voluntary or community sectors, or public sector front-line staff and any of their representatives. I am therefore not clear on why 21 days is deemed long enough for parliamentary scrutiny.

In addition to seeking an automatic increase from 21 to 30 days for deciding on procedure, as proposed in amendment No. 6, I have sought to use the term “preliminary”, rather than define a specific number of days in order to introduce some flexibility into the process. The first preliminary period would be the period in which the responsible Committee of either House can vary the Minister’s recommendation as to the procedure that can be used. That starts out at 30 days and can be increased by no more that another 30.

The eighth recommendation in the Regulatory Reform Committee’s special report suggested that it would be more appropriate to consider a period up to 30 days. Amendment No. 78 would achieve that, allowing fewer days to be taken if the measure was non-controversial, and be in keeping with the general thrust of the legislation, which is to speed up the whole process.

One of the reasons for trying to put some flexibility into the process, and why I feel that the amendments are potentially more appropriate—that dreaded word “appropriate”—than those tabled by Opposition Members is simply that it is not always clear at first sight whether an RRO will be controversial, and therefore whether there will be a need for a significantly and rigidly extended time limit.

Often it is the public’s response to the consultation that draws attention to the fact that an order might need more detailed consideration and should not be rushed. With the changes proposed in the Bill, there would be no flexibility and inadequate time. For example, the media are only just beginning to understand the constitutional significance of some parts of this Bill. It is evident from my mailbag that the   wider public and other bodies are only now seriously beginning to consider what the Bill could mean some 26 days after the Bill’s Second Reading, which is well outside the 21-day period proposed by the Minister. Therefore, 30 days is a much better starting point, and I hope that he will consider that figure seriously.

If the responsible Committee is to be able to report to the House, it should do so on the basis of informed, not rushed, decisions. It will need to scrutinise the text and consultation responses and may need to return to the relevant Department with further questions for answer. The Department, too, will need time to respond and the notion that one can speed a response from a Government Department in what could only be a few days is fanciful. They rightly need time to consider and to take advice. Compressing the period into 21 days will therefore cause real problems, even when assessing whether the Minister has recommended the appropriate procedure.

It would be far better to consider extending the time allowed for not following the Minister’s recommendation into a 30-day preliminary time limit and then allow for the parliamentary time limits of a part 1 order to be adjusted upwards with a maximum adjustment of 30 days on a resolution of either House or on the recommendation of the responsible Committee of either House.

On the amendments relating to clauses 14, 15 and 16, I propose consideration of the inclusion of the term “examination period” in the Bill. On a negative instrument, that is the period within which the responsible Committee of either House can stop the order being made, and it starts out as 40 days. On an affirmative instrument, it is the period after the end of which the Minister can make the order if both Houses approve of it, and starts out as 40 days. On a super-affirmative order, it is the period within which the responsible Committee of either House can reach conclusions that the Minister must have regard to, and after the end of which the Minister can make the order if both Houses approve it, and it starts out as 60 days.

The eight recommendation in the Select Committee’s special report proposed that if the preliminary period set out in amendment No. 78 to clause 13(7) jumped from 30 by another number of days, the examination period would jump by exactly the same period of days as an automatic consequence. That is achieved primarily by amendment No. 79 to clause 14(4), and amendment No. 81 to clause 15(4) which refers back to clause 14(4) and amendment No. 85 to clause 16(8).

I do not profess to being a parliamentary draftsperson nor do I have the academic background in this field of the hon. member for Cambridge, so I accept that there may be flaws in the drafting of the amendments. However, I hope that the Minister will accept that these changes are a consequence of the flexibility that I want to build in to clause 13. I ask the Minister to consider the value of the amendments together because one does not work without the other. I hope that he will agree that there is a case both for   extending the period available to Parliament for consideration and for viewing positively the flexibility that the amendments allow to speed up the process.

As I said, these are probing amendments. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments.

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

In rising to respond to this brief debate, I do not intend to address each of the amendments in turn. Despite your desire that we stay here all evening, Sir Nicholas, it would incur the wrath of members on both side of the Committee if I did so.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport that we will reflect on some of the amendments in the group and the proposal in the excellent report of the Select Committee on Regulatory Reform. Interestingly, four of the amendments on which we wish to reflect were tabled by my hon. Friend, four stand in the names of the hon. Members for North-East Hertfordshire and for Forest of Dean and others, and one amendment appears under all their names. I do not wish to detain the Committee in a discussion of how such things come about.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence) 5:45, 7 March 2006

I should say for the benefit of the career of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport that we had no discussions in advance. I simply went through and signed lots of amendments, of which hers happened to be one. I did not want to get into trouble with the usual channels.

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

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport is pleased that that clarification has been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester can relax once more.

I welcome the rationale for the amendments, which support the principle of proportionate parliamentary procedures for orders and which are designed in different ways to ensure that orders are subject to effective and appropriate levels of parliamentary scrutiny. I shall seek to deal with the specific issues raised by the amendments.

A number of the amendments would increase the period available for Parliament to determine the appropriate level of procedure for an order from 21 to 30 days. The recent report by the Regulatory Reform Committee commented that 30 days would be a more appropriate period for completing that initial stage of scrutiny. I reiterate that the procedures in the Bill are intended to provide an effective and, above all, workable mechanism for scrutinising orders. However, in the light of the views expressed in the RRC report and through the amendments, the Government will consider carefully the idea of extending the determination period.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport, whose comments focused primarily on the 30-day period, will feel able not to press her amendments, on the basis that we will reflect on the specific suggestions that she made. However, the Government want to avoid extending the initial   scrutiny period beyond 30 days or, as some amendments suggest, up until the end of the overall scrutiny period. I hope that hon. Members appreciate that requiring the period for determining the parliamentary procedure to last as long as the overall scrutiny period would not be a workable outcome because, in relation to the negative resolution procedure, it would allow no time for hon. Members to pray against an order.

Several amendments would extend the overall scrutiny period for orders. Amendments Nos. 15 and 19 would extend the affirmative resolution procedure scrutiny period from 40 to 60 days. Amendments Nos. 16, 79 and 85 are designed to extend the overall period of scrutiny available for orders by providing that Parliament may require additional scrutiny for certain orders.

Extending to 60 days the scrutiny period for orders undergoing the affirmative resolution procedure is unnecessary. Let us say that Parliament requires a particular order to be subject to a more onerous procedure. It may in all cases require that an order proceed by affirmative or super-affirmative resolution procedure. That is on a case-by-case basis. The super-affirmative procedure available under the 2001 Act has proved to be appropriate for larger or more complex reforms. Committees have used that procedure to assess effectively larger and more controversial reforms. Providing in the Bill for an extension of the overall scrutiny period would compromise the principle of proportionality, which hon. Members on both sides of the House support and which underpins these procedures. The scrutiny procedure should be proportionate to the nature of the reform proposed.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Does the Minister think that a good rule of thumb is to ensure that the scrutiny period is proportionate to the gestation period?

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

Many of the orders originate from consultations and recommendations from business, the public sector, charities and voluntary organisations. It would not be appropriate to link the scrutiny period to the gestation period as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

If orders are simple and straightforward, it might be appropriate to deliver them by a more proportionate procedure than is currently possible, and the Bill is designed to provide for that. A straightforward reform like the Regulatory Reform (Local Commissioner for Wales) Order 2004 or the Regulatory Reform (National Health Service Charitable and Non-Charitable Trust Accounts and Audit) Order 2005, for example, should be deliverable by negative or affirmative resolution procedure. The latter order removed an anomaly that had required NHS bodies to prepare two sets of accounts. If Parliament believes that an issue is so clear-cut that there are no points to debate, and the order can be properly considered within 40 days, the negative resolution procedure could be used. If an order can be fully considered within 40 days but a short debate on the Floor of the House and a Division are none the less warranted, the affirmative process could be used.

The review of the 2001 Act found that disproportionate procedures were a disincentive to delivery of smaller or simpler orders. The range of procedures provided for in the Bill is intended to encourage delivery of such orders. Not all draft orders have the impact or complexity of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and therefore not all orders require 60 days’ scrutiny.

I reiterate that the procedures in the Bill are designed to provide Committees with the flexibility to require a more onerous procedure for a certain order, and so to extend the time available to scrutinise it. Varying the Committee’s flexibility to scrutinise orders undergoing super-affirmative resolution procedure for more than 60 days could also be reviewed when any necessary changes to Standing Orders are discussed.

Committees have previously extended their scrutiny of larger and more complex proposals beyond 60 days, partly through Standing Orders, as with the proposed civil registrations and fire safety RROs. Moreover, the effect of the Committee veto on appropriateness is such that if Committees go beyond the 60-day limit—as they did for the fire safety and civil registration proposals—in practice, Departments will always wait until the Committees have reported before laying the second-stage order. We see no reason for a formal extension of the super-affirmative procedure.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Does the Minister recognise that there may be a very large cumulative burden upon the Select Committee? The Executive decide when such orders are first laid, and if a whole lot of orders are laid at the same time, the Committee will still have to deal with them in the confined time limit. Does the Minister not think that the overall burden on the Committee should be taken into account?

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

We have an excellent working arrangement with the Committee; of course we will discuss the issue with it. One of the recommendations in the excellent Select Committee report was an extension of the Committee’s terms of reference. That would not be appropriate for this Committee, but extending the Select Committee’s remit would be an appropriate matter for conversation between the Select Committee and the Leader of the House.

We should develop a situation wherein, when the Government starts statutory public consultation on a proposed order, the relevant Select Committees in the Commons and the other place should receive an indication from the relevant Department. That would be an important way to give Select Committees a sense in advance of the nature of a possible order, the areas that it might cover and the powers it seeks. It may be possible as part of widening the remit of the Regulatory Reform Committee. One of the Committee’s concerns is that it would like to widen its ability to call for evidence and to investigate the better regulation agenda in general.

Giving the Select Committee information from Departments as a norm when those Departments start consultation on a proposed order would be an early indication to those Committees of what orders might come, when and how they might come and their   possible content. That would be an important way to work. Some of that already happens, but we might tighten it up more effectively through Standing Orders or in some other appropriate manner, so that it becomes the norm.

I have mentioned our intention to reflect on nine specific amendments. That is not to suggest that there is no merit in amendments that require a lengthier period. If the relevant Select Committee thinks that an order is wider or more controversial than it is comfortable with, or if it has any other reason for seeking a more onerous procedure, it has the absolute right in every instance to do so.

Mindful of that, the Government wish to reflect on the proposals made in amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 24, 25, 26 and 77. Of those nine amendments, four were tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport, four were tabled by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire and one was a joint effort. Given the assertion and commitment that we will include in the Bill a provision that Select Committees will be able to use an alternative procedure, I encourage the Committee not to withdraw those amendments. Based on the undertakings and understandings that I have given today, we will of course reflect on those nine amendments.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

The Minister’s response was heartening. On a procedural point, Sir Nicholas, as the Minister has agreed to accept the first amendment in the group, amendment No. 2, I presume that I have nothing more to do than to congratulate him on such a consensus.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

The Minister must clarify exactly what he has in mind. If he agrees with amendment No. 2, I shall put the question, and I would expect the Committee to vote for it. I am not entirely sure that the Minister said that, so I ask him to clarify the Government’s position.

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

I invited my hon. Friends and others to withdraw the specific wording of their amendments. I seek to reflect on the proposals made in the amendments and bring back suggestions that would enable them to be enacted in a technically sound and legal manner. That is my intention. We accept the spirit of those nine amendments..

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The Minister says that he accepts the spirit of amendment No. 2, but it is a simple amendment. It would insert “30” in place of “21”. Does he have it in mind to propose an alternative Government amendment? Why does he not accept that amendment now?

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

There are nine amendments that we wish to reflect upon. The hon. Gentleman knows, and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport alluded to the fact, that the interactions between the various procedures have to be taken into account—for instance, the negative, affirmative or super-affirmative procedures and the different classifications that my hon. Friend mentioned in respect of preliminary periods and so on. We wish to take a further look at   how clause 13 deals with the specific proposals, including whether to have a 21-day period or a 30-day period. Rather than the piecemeal acceptance of one amendment, we seek to look at the nine amendments in the round to see whether we can deliver a package that is sensible, proportionate and workable. I invite hon. Members to withdraw the amendments so that we can ensure that all nine are workable. We shall make proposals on Report to give effect to them.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Before I call the hon. Member for Forest of Dean, I advise him that he can do one of two things. He can withdraw amendment No. 2, and rely on the firm assurance given by the Minister; or he can press the amendment to a Division. I invite the hon. Gentleman to clarify the position of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence) 6:00, 7 March 2006

I thank you, Sir Nicholas, and the Minister. That was a helpful clarification, even though it prolonged matters. Given the Minister’s clear assurances, and the fact that he has specified nine amendments that he wishes to take back to parliamentary draftsmen so that they can express them more elegantly and check the complex interactions, I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment No. 2.

Alison Seabeckrose—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

May I help the hon. Lady? Before I ask the Committee to accept the withdrawal of the amendment, she should be reassured that the Minister has clearly indicated that he will consider four of her amendments, which will be taken with the four from Her Majesty’s Opposition and the one that is a joint effort. That makes the nine amendments that the Minister has indicated that he is prepared to consider and to bring back on Report, meeting the spirit of the originals.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I shall take a point of order from the distinguished lawyer— sorry, solicitor.

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

Barrister, actually. New clause 3 is about the procedural veto. Given the Minister’s assurance, I am not keen to move it, because I should like to see what his proposals are. In those circumstances, do I have to do anything, or can it just not be moved?

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I can say to the hon. Gentleman that it need not be moved.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

That took rather less time than I anticipated. I call Mr. Heald, barrister.