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Regulatory Reform Orders: DBERR

Volume 696: debated on Monday 19 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many regulatory reform orders have been put forward by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in the past year.

My Lords, none. From 8 January 2007, regulatory reform orders were replaced by legislative reform orders as a result of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, which was debated at length in your Lordships’ House. BERR and its agencies are working on proposals for three legislative reform orders.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Can he confirm that consultation has taken place on only three legislative reform orders and that not a single one has emerged from that consultation process, despite the new procedure, which was designed to respond to the failings of this Government’s Regulatory Reform Act 2001, being in force for nearly a year? If that can be confirmed, why should anyone take seriously this Government’s claims to be deregulatory?

My Lords, there have been no more than three because, as I said, although the Act came into force in January 2007 the House of Commons Standing Orders for the Regulatory Reform Committee were not finalised until July. That was a shame. It was not possible for the Government to lay such orders before these were agreed. I know that the noble Lord will be happy to hear that not only are there the ones that have already been consulted on, but that many more are in the pipeline.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the substance of the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, goes to what the Government are doing to deal with the excessive regulation of industry and business? While I am sure that the Minister will not accept that the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill only touches the surface of these problems, does he accept that in practical terms it would be far better if the Government stopped gold-plating European directives and introduced sunset clauses on all regulations, thus bringing them to an end on a specified date unless their continuation was justified?

My Lords, I heard the noble Lord’s speech in our debate on this issue last Wednesday, and he will be delighted to know that impact assessments are made on every regulation that comes in. Apparently, it is one of the requirements that his party supports. On sunset clauses, I think that the Liberal Democrats should perhaps think again. The trouble with such clauses is that they remove certainty, and while business wants deregulation, what it wants more than practically anything else is certainty. If there is to be a sunset clause after two, three or four years, the regulations will not have the certainty they deserve.

My Lords, it depends on how long you consider the pipe to be. The noble Earl can be satisfied that there are plenty of them.

My Lords, did the Minister understand the Liberal Democrat Benches to be proposing sunset clauses to European regulations? If so, what is his reaction to that?

My Lords, that is the most difficult question I have had for a long time because I never quite understand what the Liberal Democrats are suggesting on most things. On this, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, was just talking about regulatory reform.

My Lords, is not the Government’s work on better regulation being hampered by new directives from the European Union? The latest one I have seen is a soil condition directive. What on earth is that about? Are the Government going to oppose it?

My Lords, on EU regulation, in March this year we, together with the Danes and the Dutch, were very much in the forefront in getting the EU to agree a target to reduce EU administrative burdens by 25 per cent by 2012. We are also working to ensure that best practice is producing robust impact assessments for all European legislation.

My Lords, who makes the impact assessment? Is it done just by civil servants or are representatives of the businesses that the regulations may affect involved?

My Lords, as I understand it, consultation takes place with the businesses involved, but of course civil servants from the Better Regulation Executive play an important part, too. The assessments involve a combination of people, and I do not think that assessments have previously been queried.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that since legislative reform orders were introduced, replacing regulatory reform orders, they have been used to scrap just 34 regulations, while in the same period more than 18,000 new regulations have been introduced? Now that regulatory reform is an express part of the name of the department to which the noble Lord belongs, can we expect some improvement in those figures?

My Lords, I can confirm part of what the noble Lord has said: there were 34 regulation orders under the 2001 Act. I cannot confirm the other part. Having been a very senior Minister in a previous Government, he will know that regulatory reform is not an easy issue. It certainly was not for his Government in the mid-1990s, and I notice one or two distinguished ex-Ministers nodding on the Benches opposite. Of course regulation is not bad per se; it provides market rules, allowing businesses to thrive, and provides essential rights and protections for employees and consumers. I am happy to accept, however, that there is a long way to go. We believe that bringing regulatory reform into the new department is a very good step.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that many regulations are designed to keep markets open, free and liberal? Is that not the kind of economy my noble friend would like to achieve?

My Lords, that is what I would like to achieve, as would Her Majesty’s Government. The report on regulators published last week by the Lords Select Committee, which was chaired by my noble friend Lord McIntosh, made precisely that point: regulators in that field should be there to help competition.

My Lords, it is our turn. Does the Minister agree with his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, who has been a doughty campaigner against over-regulation by this and previous Governments, that Parliament is not doing an effective job in scrutinising European regulations and that we could do much better? What ideas can the Government put to us in Parliament about how we could be more effective in scrutinising the endless regulations from Brussels?

My Lords, although the Government can give advice on that, in the end it is for Parliament to decide how it looks at European regulatory orders, which will become increasingly important if Europe follows the route that we have gone down.

My Lords, does my noble friend not recall many on the Benches opposite calling for better regulation of Northern Rock?