Clause 21 - Code of practice: procedure

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 9 March 2006.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

Clause 21 sets out the procedure for introducing the draft code and making it law. It provides for consultation and the laying of the draft. It was not clear to me, however, whether what is proposed in subsection (5) is the negative procedure. I think that it is. If so, perhaps the Minister might explain why.

The Minister knows that many in the House are keen that all the principles of inspection and enforcement in the Hampton report should become part either of the code or of the statute. Given that they may need to be in the code, those of us in the House who are interested in regulatory reform will want to check that everything that should be in there is in there. If it is not, we might want to complain about it, debate it and ensure that the code goes as far as it should.

My experience of the negative procedure is that we do not get a debate every time we pray against an order. The last time that I looked at the statistics, it was something like 35 times out of 2,000. I may be wrong—it may be slightly different—but it is something like that. What can the Minister say to us about the procedure in subsection (5)? Is it negative, and if so, why? Surely it should be affirmative. Will he think about that or at least guarantee that if we did pray against it, there would be a debate?

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

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that prayers are seldom answered in this place, although I must say as a matter of information that next week I have a prayer against an order on the civil courts and full recovery of costs, which will be debated. Unfortunately, since then I have been reshuffled in my responsibilities, so it will fall to someone else to do it. However, that is a different matter.

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

I am sure that the Committee would like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Liberal Democrat shadow Leader of the House. I understand that he is running for the deputy leadership, and I am sure that we all give him our best wishes for good luck.

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

I am grateful, although I am not sure that that will actually assist my candidacy.

The negative procedure is less appropriate than the affirmative when bringing the code of practice into effect; that is absolutely right. I shall go back a stage, however, because there is also the issue of the consultation process. The only specific consultees allowed for under the Bill are the regulators, who may be considered to have a rather partial view of how they carry out their functions. Of course we need to talk to the regulators about how the code of practice affects them, but there is a much wider range of bodies among the deregulated, and they have a much more material interest in the code of practice being right. In preparing for the Bill, the Minister gained quite a broad database of consultees; I hope that they will be

“such other persons as he considers appropriate” for the purposes of subsection (3), and that they will have the opportunity to respond to the draft code of practice when it is published.

I also hope that, whatever procedure we eventually arrive at for the consideration of the code of practice, we will follow the process suggested for part 1 of the Bill, by which consultation responses are made available to the relevant Members of the House that will consider it. That way, we can be clear about whether the code of practice meets the concerns of those who are regulated. That seems a critical part of the process.

Mr. Murphyindicated assent.

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

The Minister is nodding, so I am hopeful of a positive response; all is sweetness and light this morning.

It is desperately important that we hear what the effect will be, particularly on small businesses. For many of us they are the prime concern, because it is they who carry the greatest burden of regulation. We need an effective way of knowing how the provisions will affect them, and whether it meets their requirements in reducing the burden on them.

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

I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on becoming shadow Leader of the House. I was not aware that he was standing for deputy leadership of his party, but that explains why he did not publicly support any of the leadership candidates;   that way he could say, “I was on your side all the time; congratulations”, or, “It’s a shame you didn’t win, but I was with you.” Perhaps I am being too cynical. All Committee members have seen how the hon. Gentleman applies his politics and how he approaches things, and we wish him luck in his deputy leadership ambitions.

Clause 21 sets out the procedural requirements that a Minister must follow when proposing to issue or revise a code of practice under clause 20. I assure the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that consultation on the code of conduct will, of course, be guided by best practice on the code of conduct, which we discussed earlier. It is my understanding that responses to the consultation on the code of conduct will be made public, in the way that I have already mentioned. There is a responsibility to publish them, so, yes, the process will be conducted openly and transparently.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire is absolutely correct: first, the Minister must consult on the draft code of conduct, and then, following consultation, if the Minister decides to proceed with the draft, in its original form or in a modified one, the draft must be laid before Parliament and is subject to the negative procedure. That is consistent with the procedure set out in clause 10(4) of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. However, I hear what both Front Benchers say about prayers never being answered—although I thought that our attendance here was in answer to our prayers, and that we had all sought divine intervention to be allowed membership of this Committee. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire reasonably asked whether it would not be more appropriate for such a code of practice to be laid under the affirmative procedure, and I will reflect on whether that would be appropriate as a means of strengthening what was in the 2001 Act and placing a more onerous procedural responsibility in the Bill. I hope that that reassures and heartens him in some way.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.