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Deregulation Bill: Carry-over Extension

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2015

I beg to move,

That the period on the expiry of which proceedings on the Deregulation Bill shall lapse in pursuance of paragraph (13) of Standing Order No. 80A shall be extended by 67 days until 30 March 2015.

The Deregulation Bill, the Report stage of which in the other place is expected to begin shortly, was introduced in the House on 23 January 2014. As set out in Standing Order No. 80A, as a carry-over Bill it will fall if it does not receive Royal Assent within 12 months of its First Reading. That date is now approaching. Given the strong interest in and support for the Bill in both Houses, it is only right for us to guard against that, particularly in light of the emergency legislation that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has introduced following the Christmas break.

The motion is intended to ensure that the life of the Bill—an important Bill that has spent some time in both Houses already—will continue until the end of this Parliament. The Bill covers many policy areas and departmental remits, all with the shared goal of reducing or improving the regulatory burden on individuals, businesses and organisations, and as such has properly received a great deal of scrutiny in this House and in the other place.

I can confirm to the House that the motion in no way undermines the Government’s intention to secure Royal Assent prior to the Dissolution of Parliament. Indeed, the Bill constitutes one of the many measures that this Government have pursued relentlessly in order to restore Britain’s economic growth to one of the highest in the developed world, and it makes common-sense reductions to irrelevant and often outdated regulations. I commend the motion to the House.

I have some brief comments, but I will not detain the House for long. We will support the motion to extend the life of this rag-bag of a Bill, despite significant reservations about some of the measures in it.

On Second Reading I described the Bill as

“the Christmas tree Bill to end all Christmas tree Bills”—[Official Report, 14 May 2014; Vol. 580, c. 781.].

Since then the festive season has come and gone, but the Bill remains, with some significant baubles added to it. In fact, the Bill is a microcosm of the coalition and its programme of government—some dogmatic and ideological clauses, obligatory attacks on working people and their rights, but mainly a lot of bluster and window-dressing, with some last-minute ill thought-through proposals thrown in as well. It is no wonder that the Bill is coming apart at the seams in the other place.

Given the extended time it is taking the Bill to progress, why did the House not have more time on Report to consider some of the controversial clauses and late additions to it? It is not as though the House has been pressed for time. We are at the dog-end of a Parliament with very little Government business—a zombie Parliament —and it is nevertheless likely that this Bill will end up in the wash-up, thanks to the mismanagement of Ministers. I would not take odds on it receiving Royal Assent before Dissolution.

I wonder why, if the measures in the Bill are so very important, it has taken so long to get it through Parliament. My noble Friends in the other place tell me that the Bill is having a tough time there, as I am sure the Minister is aware. The Government have been u-turning on all sorts of things, from pulling dangerous clauses on taxi licensing to dog regulation. I know that Ministers have serious work to do in the Lords, as they are facing pressure from peers on a range of issues including short-term lets, health and safety, parking and their ill thought-out plans to impose an economic growth duty on regulators. I look forward to the improvements made in the other place and to debating them with Ministers in the coming months.

It was telling that in his introduction, the Minister rightly and properly drew our attention to the fact that the Bill first saw the light of day here on 23 January 2014. In the previous Parliament, when I was in the Government Whips Office, like one or two colleagues present in the Chamber, I would have been appalled and ashamed if we had taken so long to get legislation through. It is a sign of indolence or a dilatory attitude, or of gross incompetence.

I found it extraordinary that on the day that we saw a collapse of the national rail system, the Prime Minister should pose the choice for the next election as competence or chaos, and here we have three Bills for which we have to vote through extensions to time precisely because they have failed the test that the Government set themselves of competence or chaos. They are an absolute shower.

In the previous Parliament I had the privilege of chairing the Regulatory Reform Committee, so I have been following the proceedings on this Bill with some interest, albeit from afar as, in this Parliament, the Chair of a different Select Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) has made an important point. During the previous Parliament, the Labour Government drove through more deregulatory measures than have been achieved by this Government, who have failed abysmally in using the Regulatory Reform Committee and the legislative reform orders that are available to them. They should be ashamed of the progress that they have made given the flying start that we gave them with the procedures that they inherited.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the time that is being spent on the early stages of Bills. We are not being given sufficient time to deal with Bills properly during their passage through this House and the other place. I can see the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) leaving his place, which is a great pity. I am currently serving on the Infrastructure Bill Committee—my valedictory Bill and the last Bill Committee I will ever serve on, I guess. That is important in the context of what is happening in the generality of this process, because we are seeing, even today, things being added to Bills at the very last minute.

As usual, my hon. Friend is making some powerful and interesting comments. It is odd that the Government have struggled for such a long time in the past few years to find legislation to put through the House, and we have had a number of days that we have had to fill with other business. Given that record, is it not even more strange that they are having to move these motions tonight?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have faced day after day when the House has risen early because of the appalling management of business by the Government Whips. That has meant that we have not spent the time that was available to us to deal properly and thoughtfully with Bills during their proceedings.

One of the messages that this Government tried to give out at the start of this Parliament was that they would try to bring forward less legislation and deal with it comprehensively and carefully. They have clearly failed in that process because we have these motions before us tonight. When I was in the Whips Office under the previous Government, we moved a large number of Bills through this House very efficiently, and managed to get most of them through before the wash-up period. The Government are in real danger of losing this legislation if they are not careful.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. His experience in the Whips Office was incredibly valuable, and he illustrates the point I am making.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley observed that this Bill started its proceedings on 23 January—almost a year ago—and it seems quite extraordinary that we are where we are today. The Government ought to wake up. If they are going to serve democracy properly, Bills ought to have the proper amount of time made available to them.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) about the problems with the Bills in the Lords. Is not that because the Government are trying to rush legislation through here and not giving it proper time for debate? That is why it gets into trouble in the Lords?

It not only gets into trouble in the Lords but ends up as a shambolic piece of legislation, as we have seen with the Infrastructure Bill, which started its passage in the Lords and is now being amended in Committee two or three days before it reaches its Report stage on the Floor of the House. I have no doubt that next week the Government will be asking for a carry-over of that legislation, but I will not stray too much down the road of the Infrastructure Bill, Mr Deputy Speaker, because you will call me to order.

I re-emphasise that the simple reality is that the process of deregulation—the removal of superfluous and unnecessary regulations and the tidying up of regulations through legislative reform orders, which the Opposition brought in when we were in government—was working, but it has failed to work for the whole of this Parliament. If someone needs deregulating, it is the Minister. I look forward to that outcome at the general election.

Question put and agreed to.