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Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right to say that, on the face of it, the Bill does not contain the right of veto, but of course, nor did the 2001 Act, as he knows. Such a veto is one of the Regulatory Reform Committee's 17 recommendations and we are looking at it very closely indeed. As I have said to him in conversation, and to the Procedure Committee and the Regulatory Reform Committee, we are open to a process of consultation and discussion, and to seeing where we can offer further reassurances.
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Mr. Heald: Does the Minister remember that, when he gave evidence before the Procedure CommitteeI was therehe said that there was a veto, and that he would examine the Bill to see exactly where it was located. Of course, this is a complex issue, in that there is an interaction between the Bill, current legislation and the Standing Orders of the House. But as he knows, under Standing Order No. 18(2) it is possible to go ahead with such an order, even though the Committee in question takes the view that doing so is inappropriate. Will he examine this issue? Many of us feel that there should be a right of veto, and he obviously originally thought that there was one.
Mr. Murphy: In effect, there is an operational right of veto under the terms of the 2001 Act, and ministerial assurances have been given in respect of not overriding the Commons Regulatory Reform Committee or the Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The Government have not sought at any point in the past five years to overrule any specific suggestions made by either Committee, so there is an operational veto, built on ministerial assurances given when the 2001 Act was implemented, and those assurances have been retained and adhered to. As I pointed out to various Members, we are seeking ways of offering further assurances as part of this process.
Rob Marris: Perhaps I have misunderstood the protections offered by the Bill, but I ask my hon. Friend to clarify the following point. Clause 3(2) lists the five protections to which he referred and clause 6 deals with criminal penalties. If we put the two together, it appears that a Minister could decide to increase the penalty for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving, for example, to 18 months' imprisonment. Such an increase would appear to be consistent with all five protections, and it meets the test under clause 6 because the period in question is less than two years. Many Members would regard increasing the current penalty for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving from three points on one's driving licence to 18 months' imprisonment as rather more than a regulatory reform, but, unless I have misunderstood the Bill, it gives a Minister the power to do that, albeit subject to the negative resolution procedure. Could that be done?
Mr. Murphy: I should at this point remind the House that, within the past five years, the Government acknowledged and accepted the recommendation of the Commons Regulatory Reform Committee and the Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee concerning a veto on the registration of births and deaths RRO. Given that I have given way so many times, I shall ditch the rest of my formal speech. Doing so may prove helpful, and it constitutes simplification of a different type.
I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West that, in addition to the six conditions included in the Bill, it is envisaged that a Minister would have to undertake statutory public consultation during a 12-week period. That will help to identify stakeholder and public opinion on any of the
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relevant issues raised. The Minister would have to table an explanatory memorandum, and the Government would have to respond to the consultation. A recommendation would then be made to the Committees that are charged by this House with analysing the specifics of such an order, and they would make their own recommendations. Those Committees have great experience of taking such decisions and of making recommendations on a case-by-case basis.
There are a number of procedural safeguards: statutory public consultation and ministerial assessment of it, the laying of the draft order and the assessment of the Select Committees themselves. Moreover, the Government have given a commitment not to override the protections guaranteed by those Committees. Such a veto exists, therefore, and the Government have also said that they will not introduce anything highly controversial, so there are various safeguards at each and every stage.
On my hon. Friend's specific example, the Commons Regulatory Reform Committee and the Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee would make an assessment based on public consultation, and on their own instincts and attitudes toward whether such a change would be highly controversial and ought not to be made. The relevant Select Committee would then operate a power of veto and the Government would be told to think again and seek an alternative legislative vehicle, if they were still minded to proceed with the suggestion.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I have to agree with the remark made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) from a sedentary position. The fact remains that the Bill will empower a Minister to increase the penalty for a criminal offence without the benefit of primary legislation. Are there any circumstances in which the Minister believes that that falls within the broad definition of regulatory reform, rather than within the proper duty of this House to scrutinise primary legislation?
Mr. Murphy: On criminal penalties, the Bill gives a commitment not to go beyond a fine exceeding level 5. In addition, the Regulatory Reform Committee will assess such issues. Frankly, the Government have a genuinely more ambitious better regulation agenda than we have ever seen beforean agenda that includes simplification proposals, administrative burden proposals and, of course, the introduction of this Bill. We are absolutely determined to ensure that we maintain our economic competitiveness and that we support our businesses and public services through better regulation, so, yes, we are seeking to go in a much more ambitious direction, but important safeguards will be put in place that are much stronger than the 2001 Act.
I shall now return to an element of my text before I sit down. I apologise to the House for that. I may wander off it again if the House wishes. I am giving a clear undertaking today that orders will not be used to
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implement highly controversial reforms, that they will not be forced through in the face of opposition from the Committees of this House and that the Committees' views on what is appropriate for delivery by order will be final. Under the super-affirmative procedure, which, as I have said, Parliament has a right to require, these Committees will be able to recommend amendments to orders, and the Minister will be able to lay a revised draft order reflecting those recommendations. The safeguards contained in the 2001 Act have been maintained or enhanced. Key procedural safeguards have been retained and I have given clear undertakings on the appropriate use of these powers.
The Regulatory Reform Committee and its equivalent in another place will be central to the policing of the preconditions and safeguards on the face of the Bill and to the scrutiny of proposals in general. Committees in both Houses will have the right to recommend amendments to draft orders or to veto them completely. Parliament's role remains paramount, but the tool will be flexible enough to deliver the will of all sides of the House to ease the burdens on businesses and our public services, where appropriate.
I turn now to some other specific aspects of the Bill. The 2001 Act was also intended to provide a means for the implementation of Law Commission recommendations. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that the Law Commission has a long history of valuable work in updating, modernising and codifying many areas of our law. Its work is well respected and its recommendations are often non-contentious and attract widespread support. However, as with regulatory reform proposals, the lack of parliamentary time on the Floor of both Houses means that its recommendations are rarely implemented. It makes no sense to leave them languishing when we could be effecting real and helpful change to our laws.
The 2001 Act did not help enough with the problem, as the technical restrictions of the RRO power made it difficult to implement Law Commission recommendations. The new order-making power in the Bill will address the problem and make it much easier to implement such recommendations, such as the 2001 recommendation on the rights of third parties against insurers. This desirable reform will make it easier for people who are physically injured or economically damaged to recover money from insurers where the perpetrator is insolvent. This sensible reform would not be possible under the current RRO power.
I turn to the issue of Europe, albeit with some apprehension. [Interruption.] Opposition Members are not as excited as they usually are by the use of the word, so I hope that I can make some progress.
The Bill also contains provisions to reduce the burden imposed by, and increase the transparency of, EU regulations incorporated into domestic law. These technical provisions are intended to improve the transposition of Community law into domestic legislation.
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