Clause 63

Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 19 June 2008.

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Guidance as to use of civil sanctions

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

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

The clause is about guidance, and again the provisions are important. We are significantly changing the range of options available to regulators and the use of civil sanctions, and it is important that there is proper guidance on that.

The clause says that where the power to impose a civil sanction is conferred on a regulator

“the provision conferring the power must secure the results in subsection (2).”

That means that the regulator must publish guidance about its use of the sanction, that the guidance must contain the relevant information and that the regulator must revise it where appropriate, consult such persons as the provision may specify and have regard to the guidance or revised guidance in exercising its function.

On what we might call the penalty guidance, subsections (3) to (5) set out the specific requirements that the guidance must meet in relation to fixed penalties, discretionary requirements and stop notices. For example, regulators will be required to include details of how the penalties will be imposed and of those matters likely to be taken into consideration in determining the level of a variable monetary penalty.

We have talked about the powers and the need for consultation in putting together an order to confer them, but guidance on how those powers are to operate in practice is an equally important part of the regime, and that is covered in clause 63.

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

As the Minister said, clauses 63 and 64—I am looking principally at clause 63—refer to what should be in the guidance. I have two brief questions for the Minister. First, when would the guidance be published? It is always important for businesses to understand that. Secondly, how is it to be made accessible to affected persons? The provisions will affect a wide section of the business community, so it is important to understand how the Government intend to ensure that business is properly informed in a timely way.

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

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about when the guidance will be published is that we have codes on such things. Our intention would be to publish guidance 12 weeks before the proposals came into effect. That should give people adequate warning of what is involved.

More generally, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that guidance is important. Sometimes businesses pay outside consultants to help them to comply with regulation or a change introduced by the Government. Obviously, we recognise that that happens, but we do not want businesses to do it unless they have to, so we put significant effort into improving guidance.

Let me give an example. The Government have put significant effort into improving the “Employing people” pages of the Business Link website. They are a very good guide for businesses so that they do not have to spend what are sometimes significant sums asking people how they should comply with the law when that information could be made available for free and, we hope, in an accessible and user-friendly way by the Government. The hon. Gentleman is therefore right to stress the importance of guidance, and we do put effort into improving it. We envisage such guidance being available on a regulator’s website, so that a business in that field  could check what was expected of it. That is right and fair, and that is what we hope that regulators would do under this provision.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 63 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 64 ordered to stand part of the Bill.