Clause 30

Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 17 June 2008.

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Inspection plans

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

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

I thought that the Minister was about to rise gracefully to his feet and I hesitated, then he hesitated. I have only one brief question.

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 apologise to you and the Committee for being too slow off the blocks, Mr. Chope.

The clause makes provision for a primary authority to draw up an inspection plan containing recommendations as to how other local authorities should inspect a business for which it is the primary authority. That is important. It takes us back to the point made by the hon. Member for Solihull about risk-based inspection. The clause is intended to bring about greater consistency and co-ordination of regulatory enforcement for businesses that adopt the primary authorities scheme. That is one of the prizes in the regulatory regime—there can be an agreed inspection plan, which gives local authorities and businesses some clarity about what is inspected and what is appropriate in those circumstances.

Where another authority departed from the recommendations of the inspection plan, it would be required to notify the primary authority of that before carrying out the inspection, giving its reasons. That would help to support the sharing of strategic information between authorities. It would be important for the  primary authority to learn why an enforcement authority might want to do that. It also might give the primary authority a better picture of how the business is operating throughout the country.

Subsection (3) lists examples of issues that can be addressed in an inspection plan, such as paragraph (a):

“the frequency at which, or circumstances in which, inspections should be carried out” and

“what an inspection should consist of”.

The list is not exhaustive. The Government’s expectation is that inspection plans might address a number of other issues, including those areas where a business is dedicating resource to raise compliance itself, where that is an ongoing problem to which enforcement authorities should pay particular attention.

There are constraints on the content of an inspection plan. A primary authority must consult with the business before making such a plan and it must take into account any relevant recommendations relating to the frequency of inspection when drawing up an inspection plan. Again, that is an important part of the overall regulatory regime to encourage a more co-ordinated and strategic approach. I am sure that all of us in our constituencies regularly meet businesses that are asking for that kind of consistency. Any reasonable business expects, and does not mind, that it will occasionally be inspected. I recall visiting a business in my constituency a couple of weeks ago, when the owner said, “The trouble with inspections is that they are a bit like buses, you get none for a long time and then four turn up at once. We are not sure why, we have not been inspected for years”. An inspection plan, agreed between the primary authority and the enforcing authorities, would give businesses and the enforcing authorities clarity about what was expected.

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

I entirely agree that inspection plans have considerable merit. They provide what most businesses seek, namely, a degree of consistency, clarity and, most important, certainty—knowledge as to what they can expect, when they can expect the inspections and how they work from the business’s point of view. As the Minister describes, the fear is of not having been inspected at all and suddenly having three gentlemen or ladies with clipboards arrive within a week. First, it is immensely intrusive, and, secondly, it puts into the back of the mind the fear that, “Hang on, am I being targeted or do the three not talk to each other so we end up with this kind of nonsense?”

The purpose of the plan is right, but how prescriptive do the Government expect the plans to be? How far should the issues be detailed? Would the plan need to include a get-out clause, or an option to cover circumstances where something changes and there has to be a departure from the plan? Could the Minister clarify how the Government anticipate that it will work?

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

Subsection 3 of the clause refers to frequency and circumstances, and what an inspection should consist of. We have not been more prescriptive than that in the clause. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that an enforcing authority may decide that an inspection is needed even if—to continue his metaphor—the bus is not due; it would be expected to inform the  primary authority, but we are not so rigid as to say that an inspection in those circumstances should be banned. In fact there may be good reasons why it has to take place; we touched on those in our debate on the previous clause. Overall, an inspection plan would help to give clarity, both to local authorities and to businesses. There may be exceptions to the plan but at least having it will give business some idea of what is expected of them and how frequently to expect inspections.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.