Clause 15

Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 17 June 2008.

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Guidance or directions by the Secretary of State

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

I beg to move amendment No. 27, in clause 15, page 7, line 38, leave out subsection (6).

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 28, in clause 15, page 8, line 1, leave out subsection (7).

No. 29, in clause 16, page 8, line 25, leave out subsection (6).

No. 30, in clause 16, page 8, line 28, leave out subsection (7).

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

These are merely probing amendments, and I do not intend to press them further, but I do want to ensure that there is a degree of clarity.

On clause 7, with regard to guidance, we debated the precedent of a non-departmental body being able to use directional powers. Clause 15 prohibits the Secretary of State from directing the LBRO with regard to its clause 7 powers. I wanted briefly to explore with the Minister the thinking behind that exclusion.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Part 1 specifies two distinct direction-giving powers. The first, which we have discussed, is LBRO’s right to give local authorities directions to comply with guidance under clause 7. The amendments deal with the second power, which relates to a Minister’s right to give directions to LBRO. It is intended as a reserve power. LBRO needs to be independent, but as the hon. Gentleman rightly said on an earlier point, Ministers remain accountable to Parliament for its work. If we found ourselves in a situation where LBRO was acting against the public interest, we would need to exercise such a power. It is unlikely that the power will be used, but it is perhaps prudent to have it in case it is needed.

The issue was included in response to a recommendation by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The Committee drew attention to the potential uses to which the two directional powers could be put in combination. It was concerned that Ministers could direct LBRO to direct multiple local authorities and that that would give the power a quasi-legislative character.  It felt that the issue needed to be dealt with and recommended that parliamentary scrutiny be applied where LBRO used its directions for more than one local authority and where Ministers had instructed it to do so. Following amendments to implement those recommendations, both can be done only with parliamentary approval. Ministers are unlikely to use their direction-giving power in the sense that I have set out, but a safeguard should be in place.

I hope that clarifies that, in phrasing the clause in the way that we have, we are responding to concerns raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

That was a very helpful explanation, not least because it is now on the record and will help people to understand the distinction that the Minister has just made. It is interesting that the Government felt it right to have accountability directly to Parliament for directions in this instance but not in another instance. However, the Minister’s comments were helpful, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.