Clause 29

Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 17 June 2008.

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Enforcement action: exclusions

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

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

I should like to raise some short questions, principally with regard to subsections (1) and (2). I am sure that the Minister will want to provide clarity to us. First, subsection (1) states:

“The Secretary of State shall by order with the consent of the Welsh Ministers prescribe circumstances in which section 28(1) to (4) shall not apply.”

It would be helpful if he described the circumstances in which consultation would not take place as it is not clear what that would extend to.

Secondly, subsection (2) states:

“Where a local authority other than the primary authority takes enforcement action against the regulated person in circumstances prescribed under subsection (1), the authority must inform the primary authority of the enforcement action it has taken as soon as it reasonably can.”

When informing a primary authority of enforcement action, given that people are waiting to know the sanction that may or may not be imposed on them, what would the Minister regard as unreasonable?

Thirdly, can the Minister tell us when it would be impractical to contact the primary authority? That is clearly a concern and it would be useful to know what exactly the Government have in mind.

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

I hope I can shed some light on the hon. Gentleman’s questions. As he rightly said, clause 29 allows the Secretary of State to prescribe the circumstances in which the procedure requiring an enforcing authority to notify a primary authority of proposed enforcement action shall not apply. I shall provide some examples later, but I think that we can all probably think of examples where action needs to be taken then and there, where it may not be practical to do what is proposed, but I shall come on to that in a moment.

The primary authorities scheme is intended to provide consistency and certainty for businesses operating in a number of local authority areas, but it is also important that that should not be allowed to delay essential and routine action by local authorities where it is appropriate. Our extensive discussions with local authority enforcement officers and their representatives have demonstrated that although it is important that exemptions are made, the complexity and diversity of the underlying regulations dealt with in the Bill mean that secondary legislation is probably the most appropriate way of doing so.

The order-making power of clause 29 will allow for exemptions to be drawn up. That would include exemptions where the enforcement action was required urgently, for  example to avoid a significant risk of serious harm to human health or the environment. I am sure that if we found somewhere serving unsafe food we would not want to wait five days, 28 days or whatever may be determined. Other cases might involve the financial interests of consumers—if there is a serious fraud going on, or financial interests are under threat—or where referring the case to the relevant primary authority might be wholly disproportionate.

The order may include, therefore, exemptions where delay would inhibit effective evidence-gathering or investigation of a breach, or where it would be impractical to seek the view of a primary authority when exercising powers—for example, under the Noise Act 1996. If speakers were blaring at 4 am, I do not think that we would want to wait five days. The underlying regulations are deliberately local in nature, and that could be another reason, as for example with many aspects of the Licensing Act 2003, or where the enforcing authority already has to seek approval for its proposed enforcement action from another force—that would meet the purpose of the notification requirement.

We have committed to laying an order under clause 29 as soon as possible after the Bill has come into force. I am happy to repeat that commitment to the hon. Gentleman today. I would also like to take the opportunity to clarify that the primary authorities scheme will not become operational until the exemptions have been drawn up and come into force. That is the context and content of clause 29.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.