My Lords, this Bill contains important, sensible and proportionate measures to improve the regulatory regime in the UK in a wide range of areas. It is not a radical, wholesale overhaul of regulation. The coalition Government are not, of course, opposed to regulation. This Government believe in and will protect the sensible and necessary regulations that ensure that the safeguards are in place to protect people and the environment as well as to promote competition and economic growth.
However, if it is to protect the interests of consumers and the safety of the public effectively, regulation must be sensible and proportionate. In many areas in recent years, we have seen regulatory burdens grow out of all proportion, surpassing what is necessary and costing businesses and public services additional millions of pounds. The Government’s aim when coming into office was to reduce the administrative burden on business created by regulation, and to encourage enterprise, innovation and, most importantly, the creation of new jobs, which give this country long-term economic security.
In April 2011, the Prime Minister announced that this Government should be the first in modern history to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation rather than increased it. The one-in, one-out policy, and later the one-in, two-out policy were introduced as one of the major components of the Government’s strategy to achieve this aim, ensuring that the flow of new regulations is necessary, effective, justified and proportionate, in order to minimise unnecessary burdens on business.
The Red Tape Challenge was introduced in April 2011 to give business and the general public the opportunity to challenge the Government to get rid of unnecessarily burdensome regulations. More than 30,000 comments were crowdsourced online from individuals and businesses, harnessing the knowledge of those people faced with understanding and complying with these regulations. In the light of this public feedback, departmental policy leads presented a package of deregulatory proposals, which were then reviewed and challenged by Red Tape Challenge Ministers.
The intention was to reverse the default setting by asking departments to consider the legislation they are responsible for in a fundamentally different way. The starting point has been that regulation should be delivered in a non-regulatory way, unless there is good justification for the Government being involved. The Red Tape Challenge sought wide-ranging comment on a large number of regulations, from health and safety and environmental regulations, to housing and construction and insolvency law. The final report will be published towards the end of the Parliament, setting out the achievements made by the Red Tape Challenge and the one-in, two-out programmes in reducing the overall burden of regulation on business in this Parliament.
Looking to the future, legislation for new statutory deregulation targets was announced in the Queen’s Speech. This will require a target to be published for the removal of regulatory burdens in each parliamentary term, and for government to report transparently against that target. During the course of this Parliament, the Government have also invested a large amount of time in looking at how the agencies undertake the enforcement of these regulations, to ensure that they are measured and proportionate and not applied arbitrarily without thought to the impact on business.
The Deregulation Bill is thus a small but important part of the Government’s ongoing process of reducing the number of unjustifiable regulations. Much of what the Red Tape Challenge has done has been achieved by alterations to secondary legislation and administrative changes. However, during the course of the Red Tape Challenge process, many reforms were found that required primary legislation to fulfil. This Bill will create around £400 million in savings over 10 years and declutter the statute book of obsolete or confusing legislation. Those who have read all the way through to Schedule 20 will know that a number of 19th century statutes are repealed.
The Government believe that it is good housekeeping to review and tidy the statute book to make it easier for the users of the law. Several pieces of legislation were identified through the Red Tape Challenge as being no longer of practical use. The Government are using the opportunity of the Deregulation Bill to repeal those obsolete laws. This is in addition to the excellent work done by the Law Commission through its statutory law of repeal process, which principally focuses on repealing primary obsolete legislation.
The Bill was first published in draft and underwent pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, which reported in December 2013. I look forward to his contribution to this debate, as well as those of three other members of that committee: the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and the noble Lords, Lord Sharkey and Lord Naseby. The Joint Committee welcomed the concept of the Bill, saying it hoped that there would be more of the same sort in the future. The Joint Committee also suggested that the Bill could benefit from the addition of some more substantial items when it was introduced.
The Government accepted the primary recommendations of the Joint Committee and have added 30 new clauses to the Bill. The Bill was introduced to the other place in January of this year as a carryover Bill. It underwent extensive consideration in Committee and two days of debates on Report before being passed to this House.
Some of the key measures in the Bill are as follows. Clause 1 exempts self-employed people from Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, except those who are on a list of high-hazard industries or activities, which will be set out in regulation. The proposed change emanates from a recommendation made by Professor Löfstedt in his review of health and safety and will exempt around 2 million self-employed people from the health and safety legislation that is unnecessary for the work activities they are undertaking.
Clause 2 removes the power from employment tribunals to make wider recommendations to employers in discrimination cases. These have been identified by businesses as a burden and are often surplus to requirements because businesses, keen to avoid further tribunals, often undertake the necessary actions without any such recommendations needing to be made.
Clauses 3 to 5 implement some of the key recommendations of the Richard review, simplifying what apprenticeships are and the process by which they are developed and awarded, and providing the legislative basis for a new payment system to route funding directly to employers so that they are more responsive to their needs.
Clauses 21 to 26 implement the recommendations of the independent stakeholder working group on unrecorded rights of way that require primary legislation. They are part of a carefully balanced package of reforms that is supported by the full range of interests on rights of way, from the Ramblers to the Country Land and Business Association. Some noble Lords may have seen the useful briefing from the Ramblers that reached my inbox this morning. It is a remarkable consensus around the particularly emotive and contentious but important issue of public rights of way.
The reforms will make the procedures for recording or changing rights of way more streamlined and flexible but will also give local authorities more scope to use their judgment in dealing with insubstantial or irrelevant applications and objections, and enable the development of locally negotiated solutions. They will help towards completion of the definitive map and statement by the cut-off date, in current legislation, of 2026. There are also provisions to enable the right to apply for an extinguishment or diversion to be extended to all landowners, while enabling any public funding expended in that process to be recovered in full where an application is solely in the landowner’s interest. The provisions fit broadly with the Government’s aim of reducing regulation, of smaller government and of giving more power to local authorities and local people to resolve disputes.
Clauses 29 to 34 relate to housing and development matters. These include: reinstating the original qualifying period of three years for right to buy; relaxing restrictions on Londoners to rent out their homes for less than three months at a time; introducing a regime of optional building requirements for local authorities to support the Government’s housing standards review; and a clause addressing an unexpected judgment related to tenancy deposits.
Clauses 35 to 40 remove some of the outdated burdens relating to transport legislation, bringing legislation into line with practice; for example, removing the requirement on local authorities to seek permission from the Secretary of State to establish, alter or remove zebra crossings. This section also includes measures limiting the use of CCTV when issuing parking fines by post and removes the automatic reopening of formal investigations of marine accidents when new evidence, however trivial, comes to light.
Clause 43 removes the criminal sanctions which currently apply when householders make mistakes presenting waste for collection. A civil penalty regime will exist instead when a householder fails to comply with requirements and this causes harm to the local amenity. The Government believe this to be a more proportionate course of action.
Clauses 45 to 48 change the nature of child trust funds to bring them into line with the arrangements of the much more widely used junior ISAs.
Clauses 52 to 59 make reasonable and rational alterations to the regulations around alcohol and entertainment which have been discussed on a number of occasions in this Chamber since I became a Member. These include sensible changes such as removing the requirement on community film clubs to obtain a licence to exhibit films, while maintaining all the regulations related to age-related restrictions; and creating a new light-touch form of authorisation under the Licensing Act 2003 for community groups and certain businesses to sell small amounts of alcohol. This section also commits the Government to undertake a review of the alternatives to criminal sanctions for non-payment of TV licences.
Clauses 79 to 81 make some changes to legislation to make it easier for users of law. These are the power to spell out dates in legislation, enacting part of the Government’s good law initiative by creating a power to combine different forms of subordinate legislation, and a power to use ambulatory references for international shipping instruments.
Clauses 83 to 86 create a statutory duty for non-economic regulators to consider economic growth when carrying out their functions. This duty will be supplementary to, and will not supplant, the regulators’ other statutory obligations. It will make them take economic growth into account as they exercise their regulatory functions. Guidance on this has just been published. I hope that a copy has reached the Opposition Front Bench. There is a copy available in the Library.
The wide-ranging nature of the Bill should emphasise the Government’s comprehensive consideration of all areas of regulation to ensure that regulation is proportionate and necessary. Most of the measures are relatively technical and not politically contentious. No doubt we shall be told in the course of Second Reading that some are considered contentious. As such, this is an important step towards relieving businesses, individuals and public sector organisations of unnecessary administrative burdens, freeing them up to pursue economic growth for Britain without excessive regulation. The Government look forward to the detailed and expert scrutiny that this House can offer. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
I thank the Minister for introducing the Deregulation Bill today and look forward to the many speeches to come. With more than 30 noble Lords listed to speak, I am sure that every clause and schedule will get some attention as we start what I suspect will be a long job, stretching out, perhaps, until the end of the year. We intend to scrutinise very carefully this rather mixed bag that the Government have put before us. I am joined on the Front Bench for the majority of the Bill by my noble friends Lady Hayter and Lord Tunnicliffe, but others will have to come in with their expertise on areas of the Bill.
I join the Minister in thanking noble Lords who served on the Joint Committee on pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, particularly its chair, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and my noble friend Lady Andrews. It has clearly improved considerably since its first publication. Indeed, we will hear reference in the debate to how much change there has been, since, as the Minister said, some 30 new clauses have been added since the Bill left the Commons. That suggests that, in some senses, the pre-legislative scrutiny could only have partial effect, sadly, since a lot of the Bill, almost 30%, has emerged since it finished its work.
Although the name of the Bill is the Deregulation Bill, it contains a number of measures which would properly be regarded as re-regulation. It might be helpful at some point if the Minister could explain precisely, perhaps by means of a chart—he is good at these things—what is deregulatory, what is re-regulatory and what is simply shifting burdens around the various places that have to undertake them. That would be helpful to us as we progress through the Bill.
I am sure that your Lordships’ House enjoyed the Minister’s attempt at making this Bill sound central to future economic growth. However, I hope that it will not come as too much of a surprise to him if I tell him that deregulating the sale of knitting yarns, freeing our children to buy their own chocolate liqueurs, decriminalising household waste and abolishing dog collars are not measures that are going to generate jobs or deliver prosperity. If your Lordships will forgive me for saying it, some of the clauses and schedules are barking mad.
People up and down the country are being hit by the cost of living crisis as their wages do not rise at the same rate as prices, yet instead of measures to stimulate the economy, the Government give us this Christmas tree Bill to end all Christmas tree Bills—forgetting, of course, that one of the few things that are not dealt with in it are Christmas trees.
All Governments have a duty to reduce unnecessary regulation at every opportunity, but unfortunately this Government’s approach to regulation is simplistic. Smart regulation underpins fair markets and can level the playing field for small firms and new entrants—the very people and businesses that create new jobs and prosperity. Smart regulation saves lives. For example, it is a matter of great pride for all of us that the 2012 Olympic infrastructure was built without the loss of one life. Regulation played a part in that. The men and women working on those construction sites knew the value of having clear health and safety regulations in place.
Smart regulation can help to drive innovation and growth. Yes, regulation is a concern for some businesses, but most sensible business people understand that rules are needed to protect people’s safety and rights, promote competition and prevent employers being undercut by those who do not play by the rules. As the Federation of Small Businesses has noted, the concerns of business are often more about how regulations are developed and introduced, how they are enforced, and the existence of duplication and overlapping rules that waste their time.
When in power, Labour sought to reduce regulation by introducing the Better Regulation Commission and an ongoing better regulation programme, and made a number of legislative changes to reduce the cost of regulation. Our programmes for simplifying regulation delivered £3 billion of savings to business per year. In contrast, the impact statement for the draft Bill estimated that it would save businesses and civil society a mere £10 million over 10 years, although the Minister has said that the figure is now £400 million over 10 years. Perhaps he could outline where the additional savings have come from. These figures underline that, while we all agree that unnecessary regulation can be a burden on business, a sensible approach to deregulation is about more than repealing one or two minor statutes.
By my count, the 86 clauses in, and 20 schedules to, the Bill cover at least 12 major Whitehall departments, and some measures apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are some proposals in this rag-tag hotchpotch of a Bill that are welcome and that we do not oppose. However, there are some rather disturbing proposals hidden beneath the knitting yarn and the piles of redundant dog collars which we will vigorously oppose.
There are fresh attacks on employment rights, with the removal of yet more powers from employment tribunals. Those are measures that the Government’s own impact assessment claims will have a negligible effect on businesses or may even cost them money. We will not support any new attacks on hard-working people.
I turn to the first part of the Bill. Exempting self-employed people in certain industries from health and safety regulations will simply create confusion about who is covered and who is not. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health is opposed to that, calling it,
“a very short-sighted and misleading move, it won’t actually help anyone; it won’t support business; but it will cause general confusion”.
Even the Federation of Small Businesses, which supports the change in principle, says that there is a question mark over how effective this clause will be, as it crucially depends on how well drafted and extensive the “prescribed description” list is. We understand that the HSE will consult on this later this year, but I put it to the Minister that it will be impossible to proceed to scrutinise this clause if we do not know precisely what the prescribed list contains. The draft that we have seen raises more questions than it solves. I hope the Minister will ensure that we have a complete list by the time we get to the Committee stage.
As the Minister mentioned, the Bill will also remove employment tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations to employers who have been judged to have discriminated against someone unlawfully. Such recommendations are only advisory, but they promote good working practice. Why are the Government trying to limit the ability of tribunals to make observations which might help to drive up standards? What are they afraid of? The House of Commons Library considered the impact assessment for that measure and found that, despite the Minister labelling it deregulatory and counting it as an “out” under the Government’s arbitrary one-in, two-out system, business will incur a cost as a result of the removal of the power. What sort of Government proudly propose a deregulatory measure that actually costs businesses money?
Building on Labour’s progress in government, the Bill seeks to introduce a growth duty on regulators, as the Minister explained. This duty will compel them to “have regard” to the promotion of economic growth when carrying out their functions and to carry them out in a necessary and proportionate way. We support the aims behind this duty and clearly the additional principle that regulators should go about their business in a proportionate way. I received a letter from the noble Lord this morning together with some draft guidance. I thank him for that. But I have not had time to absorb it or check whether it covers our concern that the duty does not inhibit or contradict the primary function of any regulator, particularly those dealing with social issues and the EHRC.
We have concerns about other parts of the Bill. Housing is a critical part of the cost of living crisis for families up and down the country, so should there not be a coherent, long-term approach, rather than ad hoc tinkering? The number of homes built for social rent has fallen to just over 7,700, the lowest in 20 years—indeed, since records began—and a fall of 75% from 2009-10. At the same time, the Government have pledged to replace housing sold under the right to buy, but there is mounting evidence that they are failing to ensure that this actually happens. In light of this, why do the Government refuse to undertake a review of the effectiveness of the current right-to-buy system and the impact that their right-to-buy policy is having on the supply of affordable housing? What is the rationale for the change in planning requirements for offering short-term lets in London, which may have fire and personal safety implications?
The decriminalisation of waste will apparently reduce the regulatory burden on households, but it may increase the burden on local authorities, and particularly affect their ability to reach their recycling targets. We have been told, in a helpful note by the councils, that operating standard collection arrangements is crucial to helping councils and residents further increase recycling levels to meet EU targets. Why remove that power? The Deregulation Bill also removes the offence, punishable by a £1,000 fine, of not complying with prescribed arrangements for refuse collection and converts this to a £60 civil penalty. The current arrangements are used proportionately and principally as a deterrent by councils. The proposed civil fine will not serve as an effective deterrent and will undermine the work of councils to encourage and support residents to increase recycling rates. The new trigger for a penalty is that the resident’s behaviour is,
“detrimental to any amenities of the locality”.
That is a novel test, with no legal precedents to define it. It almost certainly would not allow a council to enforce, for example, recycling arrangements which may be needed to get best value for money from a waste collection contract.
Speaking of fines, we will want to discuss in some detail the thinking behind the Government’s proposals to decriminalise failure to pay the licence fee collected by the BBC. We agree that it makes sense to consider this issue in the round, but we want to be assured that the terms of reference for the review will be debated in both Houses of Parliament and that the results of the review will feed into the charter and licence fee discussions and not be separated from that process.
We will look closely at the measures in the Bill to deregulate taxis and public hire vehicles outside London. The Government’s proposed reforms to the taxi and minicab trade will enable people without a minicab licence to drive one when it is “off duty”, end annual checks on drivers’ licences, and allow minicab operators to subcontract bookings to other firms in other areas. There has been widespread criticism of the Government’s last-minute decision to insert these reforms into the Deregulation Bill. Campaigners, industry bodies and unions are also warning that these changes will have severe safety implications, as local councils do not have the powers to enforce the changes safely.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which campaigns for better personal safety, has raised concerns that enabling anyone to drive a licensed minicab will provide,
“greater opportunity for those intent on preying on women”.
The Local Government Association has said that,
“it is imperative that the Government withdraws these plans”
to ensure passenger safety. All this when we have now received the major review that the Law Commission has been carrying out since 2011 on taxi and private hire deregulation. The law as it stands—both in London and Plymouth with its bespoke legislation, and in the rest of England and Wales with its different legal framework—is built on the premise of broadly local trade in local areas and allows each local authority to regulate the taxi and private hire trade in its own area. Crucially, it gives local enforcement officers sufficient powers to enforce the existing law over the drivers, vehicles and operators in each respective area.
The report of the Law Commission, which specifically considered deregulatory measures, would set up new trading conditions, freeing private hire operators and drivers to work in a national environment, and for both taxis and the private hire industry to compete on a pricing basis that the public would understand. However, it also proposed making sufficient changes to the enforcement regime such that local authority enforcement officers, in particular, specially trained stopping officers, would have new powers to enforce the proposed legislation over vehicles, drivers or operators, regardless of whether they were registered in their licensing authority area or had come from outside.
We have a strange situation. The Bill’s proposals, which were introduced without proper consultation, will have to be repealed when DfT brings forward, as it intends to do, the Law Commission proposals. That begins to look more like a response to special pleading than a genuine attempt to deregulate. I thought that this was a deregulatory Bill, not a double regulation Bill.
The Bill contains a controversial blanket ban on the use of CCTV for parking offences, something that the LGA, the British Parking Association, cycling groups, head teachers and charities representing blind and disabled people have argued against, while businesses and motoring groups offered mixed responses, with some motoring groups calling the ban a retrograde step and some businesses stressing that CCTV could remain beneficial at particular times and on particular occasions.
We will be supporting the proposals in the Bill for public footpaths. The present system for recording public paths on definitive maps is not operating with the speed and efficiency needed to ensure that all the rights of way are properly recorded, which would give certainty to all.
Finally, as we are out walking, I come back to dogs. Noble Lords will be aware of the old filmmaking saw, which said that you should aim never to work with children or animals. I wonder whether that holds true for legislation too. I have a strong feeling that this part is going to cause an awful lot of trouble. At the moment, dogs must always be sold with a collar and tag. The Government announced in February 2013 that they were going to introduce micro-chipping for all dogs in April 2016. The provision in the Bill, however, will create an 18-month gap between when the Bill is passed and when those rules come in. The LGA opposes the clause on animal welfare grounds. If a dog becomes lost at present, anyone who finds it is able to read the information on its collar. Members of the public will not be able to read a microchip and determine where an animal belongs. That will make it harder for members of the public to contact owners when they come across a stray dog and increase the likelihood that people will deliver stray dogs to councils. That would constitute a new burden and would surely need to be fully funded. Is that another spending commitment in a time of austerity? That is yet another nonsensical policy in this rather disjointed Bill. The Government seem to have been caught out on an unworkable proposal permitting dogs to be sold without collars before their own compulsory micro-chipping requirements have been introduced.
Good regulation protects consumers’ and employees’ rights, ensures that our industries play their part in moving to a green and sustainable future, keeps citizens safe and saves lives. It is important that it is effective and enforceable. Challenges arise when ill-thought through regulation has unforeseen consequences or is interpreted bureaucratically and inflexibly. It is fair to say that the overall reaction to the Bill has been underwhelming—lukewarm at best. Ministers are delighted with it, but that is because it seems to be about removing burdens as much on Ministers as on business. By my count, half the proposals in the Bill will take away burdens from Ministers and the Government, and fewer than half will remove them from business.
Once again, the Government’s rhetoric extends far beyond their reach. When we get into Committee, and on Report, the Opposition will seek to remove or amend the iniquitous clauses in the Bill and to improve the others. We look forward to the journey.
My Lords, it is strange having a Second Reading debate when the principles of the Bill seem fairly straightforward and the argument will all be over the detail of the matters to be deregulated, which are more properly dealt with in Committee
The Liberal Democrats believe that regulation plays a vital legislative function and can be hugely important in protecting people, businesses and other interests, but we are critical of overcentralisation in our national Government and we certainly accept the need, particularly when recovering from a deep and damaging recession, to look critically at regulations to simplify and eliminate those which are over-complex and outdated. We know, too, that many of the jobs coming in the recovery are being created in the SME sector and among the self-employed. That is critical to future competitiveness, flexibility and creativity in our economy. We supported the Red Tape Challenge and the one-in, one-out system for new regulations and the extension to the one-in, two-out policy. We accept that free markets do not simply happen; we need regulation to ensure fair competition and free markets. Much has to be done to simplify and reduce regulation as standardisation is increasingly achieved in the EU.
The Government having focused on deregulation, the Bill is an inevitable consequence. We may argue in this House over some of the detail, but the direction and objectives we strongly share. There are a number of measures that we welcome and have strongly supported. One of the great successes of the coalition, building on the foundations left by the previous Government, has been the growth in apprenticeships, with more than 2 million created in five years at a time of strong economic adversity. The Bill seeks to put in place the new framework for delivering apprenticeships proposed by the Richard review. The review proposed a new, simplified structure of apprenticeships and funding to give employers a greater say in their structure and content. This new approved apprenticeship scheme means that apprenticeships will be delivered to a recognised standard, with the Government funding their part of the training aspects through HMRC. The Secretary of State will have the power to amend the apprenticeship standard agreed with employers. Flexible, more efficient and simpler administration will mean that authorities and employers can concentrate on updating apprenticeships and improving standards. We strongly support this measure.
I also support the efforts to help local communities run functions in their communities without undue regulation. It is obviously long overdue for us to look at the alcohol rules for these events. I give credit to the Minister in the Home Office, Norman Baker, who has helped to push through some of these reforms in the Bill. The sale of limited alcohol at community events is to be deregulated. The exhibition of films in community premises not requiring a licence, as it does currently, may be a small measure but is clearly long overdue. The deregulation will encourage community participation and, indeed, promote our creative industries.
We also support the whole complex deregulation on rights of way. I expect the devil is in the detail. I suspect more differences will be revealed as we go on. However, we clearly needed to ease the process of recognising public rights of way and dealing with registering historic rights of way, which now seems to have the support of the principal stakeholders. Therefore, we support deregulation in this area.
There are, however, some matters that will need attention when we get to the detail. Health and safety has already been mentioned. With the growth of self-employment, we need to make sure that the new provisions excluding the self-employed, except those in dangerous occupations, do not simply create greater complexity rather than give a general commitment to good health and safety practice. We need to look at the detail of this and be convinced by it. On the right to buy, there is no great principle at stake in reducing the qualifying period from five to three years, although I think we probably would have preferred to see how the current measures stand up over time. However, we do not want to see social-needs housing simply become a way of finding an incentive to home ownership. The objective of that housing should be to serve social needs. The key issue is whether we will use the proceeds from the social housing sold to add to the housing stock, rather than diminish the social housing stock as we have done over the past 30 years, except in the past couple of years of this Government.
On the licence fee, clauses provide for an appropriate review of penalties for non-payment. We accept that it is a review but we are not necessarily being committed to how that will be done in the future. Ideally, it should be done at the same time as the charter review. The key should be to look at how any new system can improve on the current low level of evasion and reduce the £111 million cost of collection. The BBC cannot stop people using its services without paying the licence fee, unlike its competitors, such as Sky. We should be aware that if the BBC reverts to the utilities’ record of dealing with bad debt, it will lose £200 million of revenue.
We welcome the Government’s commitment to reducing and simplifying unnecessary regulation. It is needed to improve the country’s competitive advantage and that should be a preoccupation of all elements of government and, indeed, the country as a whole, particularly in relation to small businesses, which often hold the burden of regulation. This is one small step to grasp the need for simpler legislation, which does not hold back the creative and dynamic aspects of small businesses. Small steps will help but we will need many more.
My Lords, I think that I need to begin with an apology. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for drawing our attention to matters relating to dog collars. I was not going to refer to them but I will make sure that one of my colleagues does when we get to Committee.
I have no more interest than any other Member of this House in regulation for its own sake. In fact the New Testament, on the principle that,
“where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”,
specifically warns people against submitting to unnecessary regulations in matters of religion. This is something on which I will comment when we get to York later this week for the meeting of the General Synod.
In the same spirit, I welcome many of the provisions in this very miscellaneous Bill. The exemption of members of the Sikh community from the requirement to wear safety helmets in carefully defined circumstances has been consistently asked for by that community—and since the Health and Safety Executive supports it, so do I. The additional test required from driving instructors with a disability is unnecessary: every applicant should be tested for their suitability to do the job on the same basis. Many other provisions update past legislation on the basis of change in technology or of circumstances. The fact that we can use more sophisticated and reliable equipment to test drivers for drink or drugs at the roadside, for example, is very welcome, and it is reasonable to permit healthcare professionals, for whom this sort of work is normal in other professional contexts, to carry out such tests.
I will comment on the closing of prisons, even though I am the bishop for a county in which there is not a single prison. The removal of the requirement for a statutory order to close a prison, when none is needed to open one, is logical enough. However, we should not let this pass without observing that closing a prison is not a trivial matter, in at least two respects. First, the present wave of prison closures is shutting long-standing smaller prisons with a strong track record of working constructively with offenders and building instead large establishments, whose physical fabric is doubtless much superior to the old buildings but whose effectiveness in actually reducing reoffending is, to say the least, unproven.
Secondly, closing prisons has a real and often negative effect on the communities in which the prisons are set. There are cities where the closure of a prison has not only cost jobs but worsened planning blight in that area. There are also rural communities that have been hard hit by short-notice closures.
Some would regard any relaxation of rules about alcohol as a bad thing. As has been commented already, the small revisions in this Bill to the licensing arrangements for the sale of alcohol at informal and irregular community occasions seem a prudent step, which will not catapult church halls irresistibly into the centre of the excesses of the night-time economy.
I also welcome the measures on rights of way. These will help to retain and protect indefinitely those rights of way that have existed for centuries but do not necessarily appear on the definitive map. I am much less enthusiastic, however, about the removal in Schedule 19 of a requirement to consult statutory bodies such as Natural England when proposing new by-laws, orders or regulations. No longer will there be a requirement to consult,
“bodies whose statutory functions include giving advice to Ministers on matters relating to environmental conservation”.
In total, there are 15 instances of the removal of the statutory duty to consult, but very few of these proposals relate to obsolete bodies or legislation.
There are two aspects of the Bill which may be moving deregulation in the wrong direction. First, as has been said, there is the removal from employment tribunals of the power to make “wider recommendations”. The task of the tribunal would be solely to respond to the situation of the particular person in front of it. If there were any evidence that tribunals had exceeded their natural remit by ranging over issues remote from the one brought to them, there might be cause for concern. There seems to be no such evidence.
If some injustice done to a particular employee is found not to be a one-off event but to be due to an element of unfairness built into a policy or practice of the organisation, the most economical way to deal with that is for the employment tribunal to point it out. For example, if an employee has a just complaint of direct discrimination, the tribunal may well deal with that as an isolated incident. If, however, the case is one of indirect discrimination, it is most likely that there is something wrong embedded in the way in which the organisation works. This clause would prevent the tribunal from making a sensible recommendation in such a case. It is unclear how such a point, made at an early stage by an employment tribunal, could amount to an illegitimate burden on a business when it may well remove the need for a more complex resolution of the problem further downstream.
Clauses 73 to 76 impose a duty on regulators to have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth. I have great respect for the judgment and experience of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, to whose report these proposals owe their origin, and his concern that regulatory functions should not place any unnecessary check on economic growth. Nevertheless, the integrity and independence of regulators is important. They come in many varieties, of course, but at least some of them stand for objective principles of justice, in many cases articulated in international law, and all of them must have regard to law. For many of them, also, their independence is important, so a Bill that gives Ministers the power to issue guidance on how regulatory functions can be exercised so as to promote economic growth looks like a prima facie compromising of independence.
Of course I am not suggesting that anyone in this House regards economic growth as good in all cases. A burgeoning industry in illegal drugs would be agreed by all not to be good—but what about, for example, growth in the alcohol industry or the tobacco industry? Judgments here would be more nuanced. Then there is the gambling industry. Current government policy tends to see the gambling industry primarily as an engine of economic growth. To place the Gambling Commission, for example, under a statutory duty of this kind is questionable. In general, the question of whether or to what extent a particular type of economic activity is a legitimate driver of economic growth is a moral one that should not just be subsumed under a catch-all principle that regulators should promote economic growth. The prevention of damaging or unjust economic activity, surely, is equally germane to their mission.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate, who raised some important issues, not least his final point about gambling. My general position is that one of the most effective actions that any Government can take is to look at the regulations that are in force to see if they are relevant in the modern day. It may be that they were entirely sensible 20, 30 or 40 years previously when they were introduced, but the question is whether today they still have the same force. It is not only that they may have no relevance; it may be that they also hold back business development and, above all, prevent the development of services that are to the benefit of the public.
I will give three very short examples from my own experience. When I was Transport Secretary in 1979, we had an elaborate system for controlling the provision of coach services up and down the country. If I wanted to run a coach service from Birmingham to London, I had to go to the traffic commissioners and ask for permission. Invariably my application would be opposed by British Rail and the National Bus Company on the grounds that they already had services. Frequently the traffic commissioners would find for them. In other words, the decision rested with the commissioners, not with the travelling public. We abolished those restrictions and the result has been a very fast-developing coach service in this country, which has meant a tremendous addition in cheap coach travel, particularly for young people, up and down the land.
The second example is that when I was Health Secretary, we reviewed the regulations governing opticians. Competition was limited. It all seemed very much, frankly, to the benefit of the optician and not of the customer. Again, we deregulated, with the effect that today there is a very competitive market, which is also to the benefit of the public.
The third example is perhaps the best known: the abolition of the regulations and restrictions of the Dock Labour Scheme, about which my noble friend Lord Brabazon also knows a great deal. I do not doubt the original intention and justification, but the days of exploitation of labour had gone, and the trouble was that the regulations were standing in the way of port development and new employment opportunities. I remember going to Liverpool and being told—lectured, perhaps—on the need for me to direct sea traffic to the Mersey. This was self-evidently not something which it was in my power to do, but what we could do was to take away the restrictions. The result was that new business has developed in ports all round this country. We have seen an utter transformation of that industry.
I am, therefore, a great supporter of sensible deregulation—and, indeed, in one or two areas, which perhaps we can come to in Committee, I would go further. It encourages jobs when all too often regulation destroys them. As far as I can judge, the vast majority of the measures in this Christmas tree Bill—and I agree with that description—will be beneficial to the public. It is the interests of the consumer that must always be pre-eminent.
Having set out my belief, I have two questions. The first is on health and safety. I acknowledge that the Government have sought to be careful here, but I am concerned that too much of the public debate starts from the premise that health and safety legislation is almost by definition unnecessary. I dispute this. For many years I worked in the aggregates industry. In the 1930s quarries were notorious for their accident record. Even in the postwar years their record was not particularly good.
The irony was that, all too often, the injuries concerned people who were trying to help; they were trying to get into motion a machine that had stuck and were then drawn into it. What was needed was a culture of safety. To its great credit, the industry has taken giant steps to respond to that. When I was chairman of one company and then on the board of an international company, health and safety was the first issue on the agenda, before profits and the results of that particular month or quarter.
I think that, if we believe in wider share ownership for the benefit of staff, we should be in favour of measures to protect the safety of staff. The Government say that their measures will not harm safety. I say only that, in Committee—and I echo one or two points that have been made—we should be given more information on the self-employed occupations that will be excluded by this legislation.
My noble friend Lord Gardiner will not be in the least surprised that my second question concerns measures to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence fee. The most obvious question about that is, “What on earth is it doing in this Bill in the first place?”. We have a whole period of debate on the future of the licence fee and all the other broadcasting issues that go with the royal charter.
The Government’s reply is that we cannot wait, but when it comes to the future of the BBC Trust, virtually everybody agrees that it is a completely outdated and, dare I say it—well, “useless” may be putting it a bit high, but it is certainly an outdated body.
Yes; I said “useless”. We are told that we cannot consider that, and that we will go ahead with the appointment of a new chairman for a body which, self-evidently, has the executioner’s axe hanging over it.
The process of change here is not beyond criticism. We set up a review of an unspecified nature, and then, depending on the review—the result of which, obviously, we know nothing whatever about—we delegate to the Secretary of State the power to change the law, not by primary legislation but by regulation. However well intentioned this clause may be, I do not believe that giants of the past such as Enoch Powell or Michael Foot would have approved of it as a measure and as a way of developing legislation in this House.
Therefore, self-evidently, there is much to discuss in Committee. Indeed, you might say that the Bill provides the whole justification for this House, because we have the time to do that while quite clearly the other House does not. As I said, I strongly approve of the direction of travel of the Bill, but I also register that the detail deserves careful scrutiny and debate.
My Lords, I was very pleased to chair the Joint Committee on the draft Bill between October and December last year, because I was coming to the end of my four years on the Food Standards Agency, so I had not done much committee work in the House. I volunteered to do the job that nobody else wanted to do, and that was the one that came up. However, I must record that in my view and that of members of the committee, the Joint Committee received the most exceptional support from the clerks in both Houses, and we let their respective bosses know about that at the end of our deliberations.
By and large, I am pleased with the Government’s response to the report. The Joint Committee ceased to exist once it had reported on 16 December last year, so I only speak for myself on the Bill. Ministers removed and amended material, and carried out further consultations as recommended by the Joint Committee. The key removal was of the massive Henry VIII clause, which was described as an outstanding example of its type, and which would have caused your Lordships’ House much waste of time. The lawyers and the constitutionalists would have loved it, but it would have been a complete and utter waste of time. It is not there any more. It was a bit cheeky that it was in the Bill in the first place; Ministers and civil servants need to be on notice not to try to bypass Parliament again in the way they tried in the draft Bill. I do not say that out of any romantic attachment to the House of Commons, as the Minister patronisingly implied the previous time I spoke, but because that is not a good way to do legislation. That is the fact of the matter with Henry VIII clauses.
I will refer to just a handful of matters in this Christmas tree Bill. It is true that, unlike most Bills, the Long Title allows Members to hang any subject they like on this one. If the House of Commons was full of campaigning Members of Parliament at the present time, they could have had a field day on economic, social and constitutional issues that could have lasted for months and months. However, it would be quite wrong for this House to do that, because we are unelected, and I will not give examples of the kinds of issues, because it will only give noble Lords ideas. I would have liked to have done some of that myself, but the opportunity was not taken by the elected House, so the chance has been lost.
The Joint Committee concentrated on areas we had submissions on—several hundred of them, although half were on the rights of way issue, which is a separate issue. Our view was that if that was amended in any way and dealt with again, it should be a separate Defra Bill. We think the package in the Bill should be maintained, because it is an agreed one, which is important.
There should be two procedures to assist our scrutiny as the Bill comes to this House. They are not new; I raised them before the previous general election. First, we should have a list of subjects that have been added to the Bill after pre-legislative scrutiny and which therefore have not been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, and confirmation that they have been consulted on. I do not think anything should be added to the Bill that has not had a consultation. It is quite right to add things after pre-legislative scrutiny, but they have to be consulted on. Secondly, a list of areas should be set out where the Commons, under the timetable of the Bill, has not done its work. It has not discussed much of the Bill. The draft Bill had 65 clauses; it now has 91. The draft Bill had 132 pages; it now has 204. As I said, I have no problem with extra subjects being added—I know at least one which I fully support that will be added by the Government and which has been subject to consultation. That is a key element.
Although this is not dealt with in the Bill, the Joint Committee had views on the use and abuse of the Law Commission, from which we took evidence. It was crystal clear that there was massive tension between the Law Commission and Ministers in the Cabinet Office. The plain fact is that Ministers in general take no interest at all in the Law Commission’s trawl tidying up Bills every three years. As such, the departments do not take any interest. For example, when the Law Commission did its trawl of departments in 2011, the legislation listed as being “no longer of practical use” in Schedule 20—originally Schedule 16—could have been offered up by the departments. Not a single subject in that schedule was offered by the departments because of uninterested Ministers and lazy Permanent Secretaries. However, in this case it is the result of Cabinet Office Ministers saying to their colleagues in other departments, “We want three or four subjects that are no longer of use and we want them in a Bill”. When Ministers do that for colleagues, the department then takes an interest because the Ministers are interested. We then end up with Schedule 20. That is not a good way to deal with legislation.
It appeared as though there was an attempt to bypass the Law Commission. I do not say that in a critical way, but that is what it looked like. I plead guilty, by the way, because I have been there, so I know what happens; there is some guilt there. The Law Commission has been doing this work for 60 years, and there is only one occasion when it recommend abolishing a subject that it later turned out was still in use. It has a good track record on this; both Houses trust the Law Commission. Can the Minister confirm whether the issues in Schedule 20 have been checked again?
I will briefly mention two or three points from the Bill. I strongly support non-economic regulators having to take growth into account. I accept there will be problems regarding the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, but the growth duty must complement and not override the regulator’s existing duties. That is what we were informed would be the case. At all times it is essential that consumer and public confidence is maintained in the relevant regulator.
I used an example in the committee from when I was at the Food Standards Agency—before the Bill saw the light of day. We constantly pointed out that we regulated on the basis of risk, not size. However, we had no problem embracing a growth duty, simply because the meat industry cannot export to Russia and China, for example, where requirements on abattoirs are greater than in the EU, unless the FSA has regulated and can sign off those businesses. We encouraged growth because we ensured those businesses conformed to the rules and requirements of, for example, the Russian Government. That was an important element. At another time we said no to the idea of stopping regulating kitchens in village halls. Kitchens in village halls can kill people if they are dirty, just as kitchens in large hotels can. It is not a question of size, but of risk. It can therefore be adequately embraced by non-economic regulators.
There are two or three other changes. I am coming to the end of my speech and I will be brief. We did not take any evidence on the clause on marine accident investigations. We ought to look at that a bit more closely as it goes through this House. We should look at removing the automatic duty to reorder a hearing in the light of new evidence. The cases of the “Gaul”, which sank in 1975 and was discovered in 1997, and the MV “Derbyshire”, which sank in 1980 and was found in 1994, are both highly relevant.
I shall not say much about health and safety, although we took a lot of evidence on it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, I had an interest in this. My maiden speech in the other place 40 years ago was on industrial safety. All my experience had been in manufacturing industry, with people doing things wrong, guards not working and so on. I realise that that is not necessarily covered here but it is the culture that is important. I remember that I sat as a member of the Standing Committee on the health and safety Bill which resulted from the work of the Robens committee. Industry in this country had a disastrous record on safety in general. It has vastly improved over the years and we do not want to turn the clock back.
I do not think that the Government have got the legislation right on insolvency practitioners. Clearly there was a massive difference in the evidence from Ministers and from the insolvency profession. I do not think that the Bill should be left as it is, with three choices. In most cases, practitioners told us that they cannot work out what kind of case it will be until they start working on it. It might look like a private case but, at the same time, it might also be corporate. Therefore, there is a real problem and it will lead to confusion. This needs to be cleared up. I think that the Government have got it wrong here.
The Government have also been stubborn in Clause 61 in abolishing the powers of the Senior President of Tribunals to report on standards. Frankly, I think that tribunal standards ought to be reported on by the senior president so that Parliament knows whether the tribunals are up to the job. That work is not burdensome. Likewise, as has already been referred to, the Government have persisted in getting rid of the power of employment tribunals to make wider recommendations. I think that that is a mistake and that it ought to be looked at again.
As for the new material, the Government have only themselves to blame here. I am not complaining about the new material, but we have to do our job properly. This legislation will affect millions of people in their daily lives in very diffuse ways that cannot be pinned down because it is not just one piece of legislation that is relevant here. As we have heard, a massive amount will affect at least a dozen departments.
This House has to be given the opportunity and the time to do its job, particularly on the clauses not dealt with by the House of Commons due to the timetabling of legislation. That is not a complaint; it is the reality and it is what we are here for. We are a revising Chamber—we are not here to start this Bill—and this will be a really good test of whether we do our job properly. Whether we are elected or unelected does not make any difference.
My Lords, I very much echo the closing comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I begin by declaring my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. That is quite a substantial interest for this Bill because local authorities are the regulatory authority responsible for implementing many of these and other regulations. They have people with the detailed knowledge and experience on the ground of how well the regulations work or, as it quite often the case, how they do not work. Therefore, it is a significant interest and I suspect that it is going to take up a considerable amount of time in the months ahead.
Until May this year, I also had the huge pleasure of serving as a representative of European Union regional and local government on a European Commission body with the rather grand title of the High Level Group of Independent Stakeholders on Administrative Burdens. It was intended to deal with the never-ending task of trying to reduce the regulatory burdens imposed by the European Union. I learnt quite a lot of things there but I learnt two in particular as we went from, first, the Better Regulation programme to Smart Regulation and, in my closing months, to Regulatory Fitness, known as REFIT. First, I learnt that, as the Minister said in his introduction, better regulation most certainly does not mean no regulation; it means appropriate regulation that is fit for purpose—and a purpose that is both necessary and proportionate. The other thing that I learnt was that somewhere there was always someone who thought that those regulations were necessary. Those people are still there and they still think that the regulations are necessary. There is always a reason for having regulations and there are always some people who think that they are good and necessary.
In the time available, I simply want to highlight just one or two causes of concern in the Bill. Overall, I certainly join my noble friend Lord Stoneham in welcoming the Bill. I know from my work in Brussels that the Red Tape Challenge—one in, one out and, even more particularly, the one-in, two-out process of the UK Government—was very much admired in the European Union. We spoke on it quite often and had presentations from the UK Government on its effectiveness. There were even attempts to try to introduce it to the European Commission, which was sometimes just a little less enthusiastic in its support.
I come from the point of view of welcoming the direction and intention of this Bill—there are many parts that we will certainly welcome—but, inevitably in debate and in Committee, we talk about those things on which we are less happy and rather more concerned. The ones that I particularly want to highlight in the few minutes available today start with Clauses 9, 10 and 11 and concerns over private hire measures. Here, I shall quote from a letter from the police and crime commissioner for Dorset to my honourable friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole, who unfortunately received it just after the Bill left the House of Commons. The commissioner was alerted to the provisions by the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester and feels that,
“an unintended consequence of these measures is to potentially increase the risk of crime and incidents, such as serious assaults and thefts, following a night out”.
We can go into more detail on that in Committee, but he seeks support in lobbying for the removal of these clauses and,
“instead, for the introduction of a dedicated Taxi Bill along the lines proposed by the Law Commission. Their draft bill has been written after extensive research and consultation and would give the opportunity for much better scrutiny of major reforms of an important industry”.
I understand that it is now rather too late in this Parliament to be introducing such a substantive Bill as a draft taxi Bill, but I hope that the Minister will say in his reply why the Government have chosen not to do that and have instead introduced measures that at least two police and crime commissioners—and many others, I am sure—feel are deeply unsatisfactory and worrying.
The next clause about which I am concerned is Clause 34—I speak as one who, until May, had been a London councillor for 40 years—on the short-term use of London accommodation. I ask the Minister: who was consulted by the Government before they introduced that clause? I ask that in particular because the clause is opposed quite strongly by London Councils, the body representing all 32 London boroughs and the City of London. It is opposed quite strongly by Westminster City Council, arguably the one that will be most affected by these provisions. Reflecting on the financial incentives for engaging in short-term letting, it makes the point that in 2005 the rent that could be charged for a short-term let property was 273% higher than comparable rents for private sector rental properties. It is understandably very concerned about that. It is not only the London local authorities that are concerned about the provisions in this clause. I have had representations from the Bed and Breakfast Association and the British Hospitality Association. They are all concerned about the effect that this clause, if implemented as it stands, will have on the letting property market in London. This will need much more careful consideration in Committee.
In my last two minutes, I turn to two clauses that concern me: Clause 38 on parking and Clause 43 and Schedule 11 on waste collection. Anyone who has been a councillor for any length of time knows that the two subjects you never, ever touch within a year of an election are parking and waste collection. Why on earth are the Government interfering in these matters within a year of a general election? Despite that foolishness, I have to ask again about those two core activities—the core business of local authorities. Minister after Minister in all parties will say that it is local people who know best and that one size does not fit all. Why are the Government now trying to interfere and to regulate—never mind within a year of a general election—in these matters that are essential to local government?
My 40 years as a local councillor were spent representing a controlled parking zone in a town centre area vital to the local economy. We all know that one size does not fit all. That was in the London Borough of Sutton. It has a different regime from the Royal Borough of Kingston next door, or the London Borough of Croydon next door or indeed the London Borough of Wandsworth, which I know the Minister knows particularly well. Why are the Government interfering? What is the justification for this? We will go into it in very much more detail in Committee. However, as I think has been mentioned, the consultation from the Department for Transport on parking received a lot of responses, almost all of them hostile. On the issue of the CCTV ban, which this clause covers, six of the eight organisations responding—from the British Parking Association to cycling and disability groups—were strongly opposed to the Government’s proposed ban. Only two had a mixed reaction, one of which was from the motoring organisations, so even they were not unanimously agreed on the ban. We still do not know exactly what the exemptions are. It is difficult in this area to distinguish between what are actually government proposals and what has come from the Friday afternoon press release from the Secretary of State, preparatory presumably to his Friday evening in the pub, where most of these utterings seem rather better fitted than to legislation.
Waste collection again is causing considerable concern to local authorities, not least the likely increased cost and complexity of introducing these additional regulations. As has been said, this is a big deregulation Bill. I thought that the clue might be in the name. In fact we are proposing to introduce more regulation, which will make carrying out the essential task of waste collection more complex and more expensive. I know that my noble friend the Minister is, if anything, an even stronger localist than I am. I look forward in his closing speech to his justification for why these measures meet the test of proportionality and necessity.
My Lords, I, too, will comment on a small number of proposals in this Deregulation Bill and touch on two issues that are not in the Bill but are relevant to it. The first issue is the concern expressed by some other noble Lords who have contributed to the debate—Clause 1, which aims to limit the general duty on the self-employed to comply with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Only those who are definitely picked out would be covered by the Act in future if the Bill goes through.
As the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Rooker, have made clear, this is a pretty big change to the existing provisions and is a genuflection to those who consistently sneer at the health and safety culture, which may have its ludicrous moments from time to time but generally has served this country well. If you look at international league tables on, say, skills, health and safety, industrial relations or productivity, the one that Britain comes top in now is good health and safety. On the others we are languishing in a lower position than is comfortable. Therefore, this is an area of excellence and I pay tribute to all those who have done a good job in making it like that. It seems to me now that to give the self-employed the impression that they are going to be outside the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act is a big error. A process of prescription would no doubt be controversial, rather costly and protracted. Different sectors will argue like mad about whether they should be in the scope of the Act. I think that more red tape rather than less is being introduced.
I am not alone in thinking that this prescribing will be onerous, so the effect of Clause 1 will, I think, be to remove most of the self-employed from the general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. I know other figures have been given but it is going to be quite a process arguing whether you are in or out. It will be confusing to the average self-employed worker who is thinking, “Am I covered, am I not covered?” and will be referred no doubt to a lawyer and to the subsections in a particular piece of legislation. I recognise that this was recommended by the majority of the Löfstedt review of health and safety regulation, but the subsequent consultation by the Health and Safety Executive has shown many to be against it, arguing that confusion and possibly increased risk will result.
The present system covers everybody. At least it is straightforward; it works. The message is, “Don’t take risks with other people’s health and safety—or, indeed, your own”. Under the Bill, will that change? Will the impression be different? It could well be, and many will not bother to take it quite so seriously as they did in the past. Worse, people who control a workplace with many self-employed people—often bogus self-employed; they are doing the same jobs as employees—will tend to think that they have no duty of care and guess that they are exempt from the law. The most dangerous industries, such as agriculture and construction, have a high proportion of the self-employed. The confusion from this clause in those sectors could cause complacency and poor practice. The Government have today published a consultation on health and safety, proposing that construction becomes a prescribed industry, but the exact borders of that are not clear. I understand that already a lot of questions are being raised about it.
On self-employment in general, the fatality rate per 100,000 is already twice that of employees. Self-employment is rising quickly in this country: 9%—330,000—since 2008, while 40% of the new jobs that have been created since 2010 are self-employed. Going freelance has been very much the fashion, or maybe the only option, for many. The increase has been marked in all sorts of occupations that you do not associate with self-employment or freelance working: admin, secretarial work, sales and customer service and, perhaps more traditionally, personal service occupations. It would be naive to think that all these people were budding entrepreneurs. Many of them are the bogus self-employed, relieving an employer of his obligations under PAYE, national insurance, pensions and employment law, with many of the workers concerned thinking that they are going to get a tax advantage out of being self-employed. This measure could be a further incentive to go self-employed, or to be forced to give up employee status. It is wrong and it could be dangerous. It is encouraging to see Members of the House on all sides raising questions about this. I hope that the Government will consider these representations seriously.
There is a complete change with my next concern. Clauses 10 and 12 on private hire cars and taxis were touched on by my noble friend Lord Stevenson. The purpose is to reduce the effects of the current rules that apply to taxis and private hire. I will not go into detail, but there will be more unlicensed and less controlled private hire and taxi drivers flooding the streets than before if this goes through. The risk, particularly to women travelling in cabs and taxis at night, is being highlighted by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the Local Government Association, Unite, the GMB and RMT, the main unions concerned with workers in this area. I ask the Government to take this threat, particularly to women, very seriously indeed.
The role of the local authority licensing body becomes much more difficult under these provisions. In a sense, one risk of deregulation is that you merely move the pinch point somewhere else. Licensing these people, and being responsible to a degree for what goes wrong in this area, will become a new industry if we are not careful. It would be a real problem.
I mentioned that I wanted to talk about a couple of things that are not in the Bill. I can do that very briefly. I was looking for the deregulation of trade unions. After all, as Members of the House will know, we are awash with scrutineers and assurers. The lobbying Bill added £500,000 to the costs of the average large trade union just recently. We are swamped with regulation. The fact that a strike is scheduled for later this week seems to have prompted the Conservative Benches to suggest all kinds of new regulations in relation to strikes, as if a law every two years on trade unions, when the Conservatives were in power, was not enough. I think that it would have been a very good idea to apply the Deregulation Bill to trade unions, but that does not seem to have crowded on to, at least, the Conservative Party’s agenda. I want to encourage them, in a genuine spirit of helpfulness, to go down that road. I do not even have to be consulted too much about it, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, suggested, if a new clause comes in.
On the second area, I am pleased to see that the Bill does not propose to make further changes to the Sunday trading rules. A big lobby has been pressing for provisions in the Bill and I am pleased to say that the Government, so far, have not accepted them. Long may that continue.
My Lords, I had the privilege of serving on the Bill committee under the superb chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I should also like to pay tribute to the clerks who backed us up. They did a superb job on a very tight schedule—we were given the best part of just over 12 weeks. The Government set us the target of reporting by Christmas. We stuck to that target and I think we did as good a job as any committee could hope to do in that time span. We recognised that this is a very important part of the Government’s programme. I pay tribute to the Ministers who gave evidence to us. I commiserate with the Minister who will take the Bill through in all its detail, but it is a very important part of the Government’s legislation and one that I greatly welcome.
However, something changed en route and it appears that, in reality, we looked at only two-thirds of the Bill at best. As someone who has been Chairman of Ways and Means in the other place, the situation jars with me when colleagues from all sides have worked extremely hard to take evidence, to listen to it, to reflect on and question it, and have proposed to the Government of the day that certain changes should be made. In fairness, the Government respond very positively in almost all areas to the committee’s evidence and recommendations. However, we then discover in Committee that a number of new clauses appear on the horizon, which get a fairly peremptory examination. Even more surprising, we discover on Report that new clauses appear in the Bill.
I must say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that, in all conscience, the Government are not being fair to the public, who justifiably want to give their voice on clauses that come forward, and I do not think the Government are being fair to Parliament as a whole. Inevitably, I suspect, that will mean that the Committee stage will take rather longer here than it otherwise would. Looking back on the previous Session, I seem to remember that we had to break early because there was no work to be done. The same applied at the other end. So I question why, when we had a perfectly good, succinct, tight Bill, the decision was taken to add other bits. Was it that certain departments of state were a bit slothful in coming forward or was it that Ministers got a little too enthusiastic? In future, I hope that there will be an annual Bill that is tightly drawn. As the noble Lord said in his introductory comments, it is the deregulatory dimension that we all want in Parliament, rather than the repositioning of existing legislation. I hope that can be really tightly drawn and stuck to. That way, across government as a whole, we would be doing the public a great service.
I will just mention three other areas. First, in the Law Commission, there is a body to review laws that are out of date. We took evidence and, frankly, we were somewhat aghast at how long it took to do its job. Parliament, particularly Ministers, should be putting pressure on the Law Commission to move faster. The Law Commission said to us that it did not have the resources to do it. If it is beneficial to the public, particularly the public purse, Ministers and the Law Commission need to sit down and find a way of making what is called the SLRs work better. We said in our original report that there should be an annual SLR Bill. I do not need an answer today—my colleagues and I would like the answer in writing—but my question is: have there been consultations with the Law Commission and, if so, what were the results of those deliberations?
Secondly, we received evidence from BALPPA, which regulates the leisure park industry in our seaside towns up and down the country. It gears up its programme of events, et cetera, to the school holidays. We questioned the association quite deeply because the Bill proposes that we should deregulate school terms. I am a grandfather, and there must be other grandfathers here, and fathers. Honestly, what we really want is predictability. If you have a boy and a girl, you want to know that they and their friends will be on holiday at the same time. I hope that we can have another look at that. Certainly, if you look at the evidence from the USA, where they deregulated around Labor Day, absolute chaos flowed and it adversely affected the tourism industries. I ask the Minister: has there been any economic assessment of the impact of deregulating school holidays on tourism jobs in the seaside areas? I think that is important.
My third point concerns the economic growth duty, which I spoke about at some length in the committee. I believe it is absolutely fundamental that every department of state thinks about the economic impact of what it does. That applies to the whole lot. We had what I would call some howls of protest from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, saying that we would be interfering with its role in life; in particular, it might be struck off the list in Europe. I totally fail to see how it would interfere with any of the human rights bodies if we—society—asked them to reflect at length on the impact of anything they do, propose or criticise. That is what we recommended in our report and it seems entirely justifiable from society’s point of view.
My Lords, I, too, had the privilege of serving on the Select Committee under the energetic leadership of my noble friend Lord Rooker. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. I agree with much of what he says but there are a few things that I will take issue with.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, who is not in his place, put forward some very impressive examples of effective regulation but I think he would agree with me—and picking up what the Minister said—that what we have in the Bill is one of those exercises that Ministers and officials across Whitehall absolutely dread. The call to arms went out from the Cabinet Office: “Something more must be done about regulation so it is your job to find more examples of regulation and bring them forward”. At a long stretch, many departments did bring things forward, so amid the many useful things in the Bill—the Select Committee commended the Bill in many respects—we have a real mishmash of odd initiatives, ranging from fire, fuel and farriers to the defence of the grey squirrel and much else, as we have already seen. As the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, very eloquently put it, the Bill has proved an irresistible magnet for all manner of things which the committee never had a chance to look at and which the House will want to debate. These measures were shoved in without warning, consultation or thought for the implications for public safety and security, as my noble friend Lord Monks said. I am sure that this will be followed up by many noble Lords.
We make it very clear in our support for the Bill that we are in full support of proportionate regulation to enable enterprise of all sorts to flourish—who could not be? The Bill, however, suffers from being, in large part, opportunistic. Indeed, there are elements of the Bill, as we explored in our debate, about the cavalier treatment of Parliament itself. The Bill will benefit from close scrutiny from your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has already discussed the extraordinary Clause 51 in the draft Bill which would have given Ministers carte blanche to declare, by order, that certain legislation could be removed,
“if the Minister considers that it is no longer of practical use”.
Our evidence found that neither officials nor Ministers could tell us what on earth that clause actually meant, let alone what it would do; so, very sensibly, Ministers decided to throw it out. My only surprise was that the reason they gave was that there was no public appetite for it. I should have thought that that was the least reason, frankly.
A lot of fun went out of the committee when we lost that clause, but we still became very involved with the sorts of issues raised, for example, by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about the Bill’s title and whether the Bill was, indeed, deregulatory in every respect. Decriminalisation as regards household waste, for example, is hardly deregulatory in a conventional sense. Likewise, we have examples in which the burden of regulation is simply shifted from one agency to another, as in some of the education clauses. My prime concern in this respect is in relation to the new duties that are created. I have to part company, sadly, with the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, over the duty to promote growth in Clause 83. This, in a Bill which aims at decluttering, is a massive piece of new clutter.
I am grateful to the Minister for circulating the draft guidance, but can he tell us in the wind-up, in fewer words than Ministers tried to tell us in the Joint Committee, how, by creating a new duty, the Government are minimising the burden on public bodies? We do not need to be told in statute how important growth is, so why on earth is this in the Bill at all? Many regulatory bodies work within a remit that presumes and encourages growth, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has already pointed out. The regulator I know best, English Heritage, conducts its primary work of conservation within the balance of priorities established, after long debate, around sustainable growth as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
The committee has been assured, and the House was assured this afternoon, that the clause will not confuse or override existing requirements. However, where are the safeguards that regulators will not be hauled up to account for their lack of success or lack of sincerity in promoting growth? The draft guidance, which I was grateful to see, in fact leaves it to the regulators to decide for themselves where the balance lies. It states:
“The growth duty does not automatically take precedence over or supplant existing duties held by regulators—Section 2”.
What does “not automatically” mean in this context? In their response to the committee the Government said:
“The final guidance will be published at an early stage to support Parliamentary passage of the Deregulation Bill”.
Can we have an assurance that this will be available before Committee stage in the autumn?
In short, there is a real concern that this clause could cause genuine mischief. It could be used to pressurise bodies and distort their proper functions as well as creating additional burdens to demonstrate compliance. That is not just the non-economic regulators, which have a particular problem, but the economic regulators as well. The clue as to how the Government think it will work is what the Minister said in another place—that in the last resort a business will use judicial review. I am astonished by that. Not only is it a totally inappropriate expectation to build into the legislative process, it completely sidesteps the Government’s plans to emasculate judicial review that we in this House discussed only last week. Frankly, I would much rather all this be in the Bill, where we could see it with some security. I appeal to the Minister not to use this crude definition of growth but to go back to the tried and tested definition of sustainable growth, which has been worked out in practice and is so much more consistent and sensible. Otherwise we will be into short-term improvisations regarding the nature of growth, and that would be really dangerous.
Clause 1 has already been raised as a cause of concern around the House. Our committee had several witnesses who described the changes as unnecessary, unhelpful and unwise. I know that the prescribed list has been published, but it is vague in parts, and it is not clear whether some trades are in or out. There is another aspect which exercises me: the clause requires the prescribed list to be set out by negative resolution. This is for a change which will have a major impact on safety at work. When that was challenged, the Minister gave us the reason for not using an affirmative order—that the increase in parliamentary time that would be required was not considered appropriate. We see many inadequate explanations for inadequate parliamentary scrutiny, but that is one of the worst.
Another set of policy issues flares up around the housing clauses. First, we have the reduction from five years to three years in the qualifying period for the right to buy. In all logic, given the housing crisis in this country, it is bizarre to reduce the permanent housing stock any more. Evidence from the LGA suggests that for every seven local authority homes lost, only one new one has been built. Will the Minister give a commitment to publish the impact statement before Committee? We have wasted an opportunity here to enable councils to fill the housing gap. The Bill could have allowed for the full retention of receipts by local authorities and been the vehicle to remove the housing borrowing cap.
We have in Clause 32 a useful and almost welcome new provision to create new powers for the Secretary of State to include optional requirements in building regulations. That means that, for the first time, new homes can be built which are flexible and adaptable for people growing old and people with disabilities. However, it is optional. It needs to be a requirement, not least because the only place where this is happening is in London—our thanks are due, first, to Mr Livingstone and then to Mr Johnson. If the requirement is optional, it will deter other local authorities from following the very good lead set by London.
There is much that we will return to in the Bill. There is no doubt that it has been cobbled together, and there is the sound of barrels being scraped in many clauses. However, there are useful things in it, too. I look forward to a more forensic examination in Committee.
My Lords, the two clauses in the Bill that I want to touch on briefly, Clauses 18 and 61, have caused the Law Society of Scotland some concern over their possible implication and consequences. It wishes these concerns to be raised at this stage of the Bill, but it may be necessary or appropriate to return to them in Committee.
Clause 18 seeks to alter the regime for insolvency practitioners by introducing a new regime of partial authorisation for an insolvency practitioner. Such a partial authorisation would entitle an individual to act in insolvency related only to companies or another individual to act in insolvency related to individuals. Full authorisation would be reserved for someone who was authorised to act in relation to companies, individuals and insolvent partnerships.
The Law Society of Scotland understands that, in England, the law relating to the insolvency of corporate bodies is separate from that relating to the insolvency of individuals. It is therefore easier to understand why one might want to split up the authority to act into a partial authorisation. On the other hand, in Scotland there is no such separation between the law applicable to corporate work and the law applicable to individuals. The Law Society’s concern is that many of the statutory instruments that are currently required to be followed by insolvency practitioners in Scotland could not be confined within a partial authorisation, as proposed in Clause 18.
It might be asked why the Law Society should be concerned about this, because the obvious solution might be that everyone in Scotland wishing to be an insolvency practitioner should just apply for full authorisation. However, it seems perfectly commendable that the Law Society’s concern should be drawn to the Government’s attention, to see whether this clause requires examination in a little more detail at later stages.
The other clause that has given rise to concern is Clause 61. This provides that Section 15A of the Social Security Act 1998, which deals with the functions of the Senior President of Tribunals, should be amended to omit the provisions that require preparing and publishing an annual report on standards of decision-making in certain decisions made by the Secretary of State, against which an appeal lies to the First-tier Tribunal. In other words, the Senior President of Tribunals has publicly to make an annual report on the view taken about the standards of decision-making, in certain decisions made by the Secretary of State and his or her staff.
The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that arrangements have been put in place to compensate for consequences of removing this statutory duty on the Senior President of Tribunals. They go on to state:
“Alternative and more direct methods for providing feedback from the judiciary to the Secretary of State have in practice been developed”,
and been effective. Speaking as a judge for a number of years, I was unaware of any alternative and more direct method for providing feedback to the Secretary of State, other than issuing a judgment or opinion once a case was decided. Again, I suggest, the Law Society commendably considers that these alternative methods should be specified at this stage, before the Bill goes much further.
I do not expect the Minister to be in a position to comment in detail on these matters. The first is quite complicated and I have advised the Law Society that we should write to the Minister’s department for this to be considered fully. If there then has to be a debate on it at a later stage, all those taking part can be properly informed about the issues and arguments, one way or another.
My Lords, I will focus on Clause 52 and Schedule 16, which the Government introduced late in May, after the draft Bill had been considered by my noble friend Lord Rooker and his committee. I will take a somewhat different line from previous contributors who have spoken favourably about Clause 52. This clause deals with selling alcohol at community events and ancillary licences. Part of this Bill includes the community and ancillary seller’s notice, which means that those whose core business is not selling alcohol or providing regulated entertainment can sidestep regulations to sell alcohol as part of a wider business contract.
What we have here is not really a deregulation but a new form of alcohol licensing—in a sense, a do-it-yourself application form of licensing—which we have not seen before. It will remove barriers currently faced by certain businesses such as hairdressers and tanning salons, and make it simpler and cheaper to obtain a new community and ancillary seller’s notice. It will make it much harder for local licensing officers to object to them. Overall, it will mean even easier access to alcohol. It means alcohol being available in a whole new range of settings with very little oversight of its sale and consumption.
That is all within the context of the worrying rising series of health harms. One person is killed every hour these days by alcohol. Annually, 1.2 million people are admitted to hospital due to alcohol-related causes. Liver disease is the only major disease against which we have not been making progress over the past 10 years. Rates in people under 30 suffering from the condition have increased by 112%. Of course, alcohol is a factor in almost half of all violent crimes committed.
The intention to launch ancillary licences was first promised in the Government’s alcohol strategy, published back in March 2012. However, the strategy also promised a minimum unit price of 45p per unit and a public health licensing objective. Both those measures—I put this very kindly indeed—have yet to materialise. Had we had them, they could have acted as controls and safeguards to make sure that the ancillary licence policy would not lead to increased consumption and increased strain on public services. Regrettably, we have not had them.
A range of organisations has raised opposition to Clause 52 and the accompanying schedule. Among them is the Alcohol Health Alliance, the British Medical Association, Alcohol Concern and the Institute of Alcohol Studies, which recently stated:
“At a time when alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths are on the rise, we need to ask: is it sensible to encourage people to drink more?”.
Perhaps even more important is the impact that the legislation could have in normalising alcohol as a must-have for almost every occasion. That is the important issue that the House needs to address: the changing culture which the Bill presents.
So far, the community aspect has principally been addressed. When the Government have said that the Bill is mainly about community changes, they have prayed in aid the Women’s Institute which, they claim, has been asking for the change to be introduced. I find it somewhat baffling, and I suspect that the Women’s Institute may find it somewhat baffling, that it is being offered licences for community events that start at seven o’clock in the morning, because that is what the licences will offer. I think that the WI is being used as a Trojan horse. It may not fully understand the rest of the legislation which is proposed along with the community aspect. Perhaps even the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham of Droxford, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, who have spoken favourably for the change, have not looked at the ancillary side of the legislation
The legislation will offer the opportunity for alcohol to be sold, for the first time, by small businesses—the so-called ancillary sellers. That could take place on a very wide scale indeed. That is where the growth is likely to take place, not with community events. It is the prize that the drinks industry has been looking for. It will be getting the quid pro quo offered to them in the 2012 alcohol strategy for swallowing minimum unit pricing and public health criteria being introduced into licensing considerations. However, they have managed, through the pressures they put on the Government, to see and avoid those being introduced so far. Instead they are now benefiting from the ancillary licences.
I regret that when my party dealt with this in the Commons, while raising objections and generally being concerned, it did not push the issue to a Division. I am hoping that on reflection, having looked at the evidence a little more carefully, it may be willing to change its mind on that further down the line as we come to deal with the clauses. I just do not believe that this change is going to be limited to what the Government describe as bed-and-breakfast businesses. After all, how many bed-and-breakfast businesses are going to offer alcohol for sale at seven o’clock in the morning? There are some crazy contradictions within this policy.
I think that instead we are going to see instead a wide-scale application for the licences to go into a whole range of areas where hitherto we have never seen alcohol on sale. Most certainly hairdressers will apply to offer and sell alcohol, and health establishments, such as tanning shops, will do the same. There is nothing, so far as we can see, that would prevent sandwich bars starting to offer alcohol with sandwiches; nothing to stop cafes moving in that direction; nothing to stop coffee shops—and even more.
When I addressed this topic during the debate on the Queen’s Speech, I asked the Government whether I had got it right or wrong. I have had no replies so far, nor have any of the other advocates opposed to this been able to establish just where the licences will end and to whom they will be limited. I look to the Minister to see whether he can produce more evidence of where it is likely to go. I think it is wrong to leave this for the consultation period after the Act has gone through, and then put forward regulations, which we cannot change, because by then the culture change will be well and truly under way. That, I believe, is not what this House wants.
My Lords, I am very pleased to take part in this important debate. I declare an interest as a previous chairman, and now a vice-president, of the Local Government Association. I welcome the Government’s objective to bring forward legislation that will reduce any burdens on local government and business in our communities. Removing red tape is an important issue for local government, especially because of the vast statutory duties that local government is responsible for. I believe that there are other aspects recommended by the Local Government Association that will help councils deal with these burdens further, but there are other elements in the Bill that need further consultation with local authorities.
Having looked through the Bill, I would welcome clarity on whether the Government have consulted with the Local Government Association, particularly on Clauses 10 and 12 on private licensing vehicle reforms and Clause 38 on parking, and what response they received from the LGA. I note that the Government wish to deregulate private hire vehicles to help families, but I wonder whether councils have been fully engaged with these proposals. Others this afternoon have also raised their concerns on this clause. The noble Lord, Lord Monks, has already mentioned women travelling in private hire cars. As a female, regular user of private hire vehicles, Clause 10 raises concerns for me on safety and whether the person driving the vehicle has been properly vetted. Will the Minister ensure that the Department for Transport, if it has not done so already, meets with the Local Government Association to discuss these reforms?
Similarly, I understand that many councils have raised concerns about the Government’s proposals to ban the use of CCTV for parking enforcement. At this point, I must declare an interest as I am a member of an advisory board for the Marston Group Ltd. I know that councils are concerned about these proposals as they could prevent them using CCTV for parking enforcement, particularly outside schools, at bus stops, and on clearways. In particular, we must ensure that children are protected from irresponsible parking outside schools. As I understand it, the Bill allows the Secretary of State to exempt certain places from a ban but if the Bill takes effect before the guidance is in force, it may be impossible to enforce parking restrictions which will be referred to within the guidance. It would be helpful if the Minister could agree to meet with the LGA on this very important issue.
Councils have been at the forefront of recycling over the past decade, with recycling rates rising from 13%, 10 years ago, to 43% today. Clause 43 aims to deregulate the criminal penalties for people who consistently refuse to deal with their household waste properly. These proposals may have wider unintended consequences and an impact on those individuals, their neighbours and the wider community. I am sure that the Minister will congratulate councils on their efforts in increasing recycling rates over the years and on some of the incentivising schemes that they now have in place to encourage recycling. Will my noble friend look seriously at the potential implications for local communities of these proposals? I am sure he would agree that we do not want recycling rates to decrease as a result of councils having the inability, as the last resort, to enforce the law when they need to.
I draw two additional aspects to the attention of my noble friend, on local authorities’ licensing arrangements and statutory notices. First, will he look closely at the excellent proposals being put forward to assist councils with cutting red tape from local business through the Local Government Association’s document on rewiring licensing? As he is probably aware, local government must issue more than 150 licences. The LGA’s proposals would reduce unnecessary bureaucracy by allowing small businesses to apply for a single licence, rather than the complex layers of licensing currently in place. I ask my noble friend to look closely at the rewiring licensing document and commit to undertaking a review of all local authority licensing regulations, and how they may be simplified as part of this Bill.
Secondly, statutory notice requirements which date from the early 1970s are burdensome on councils; their publication process has not moved with the times. The Bill deals with elderly legislation and reforms it for modern-day use. Will the Minister look at whether it could be used in a similar fashion to update these requirements? Councils are spending £26 million a year on advertisements when councils in England are facing a huge funding gap between March 2014 and the end of 2015-16. Such adverts could be published in a digital form at much less cost. Publication is very important but the medium used to do so must be modernised.
The Bill provides great opportunities to support local councils and small businesses, which I support, but I hope that my noble friend will note the concerns of local government and consult with where necessary.
My Lords, I want to make just two points in relation to the Bill, as some others that I might have made have already been covered adequately by Members of this House. My first concerns Clauses 21 to 27 and Schedule 7 on public rights of way. I welcome the briefings from the Open Spaces Society and the Ramblers, which I am sure many of us have received. They are basically in support of these clauses, whose purpose is to speed up, streamline and simplify the process for getting the official maps of public paths up to date. At the moment, many of them are not. It is urgent because there is now a cut-off date of 1 January 2026—that seems a long way ahead but we might get there very quickly—which means that if the process has not been completed, any pre-1949 unrecorded routes will be extinguished. That will be damaging for the rights of walkers, riders, cyclists and carriage drivers. I should say that I am a very keen hill walker myself, so I feel close to this issue. These clauses came from Natural England’s stakeholder working group on unrecorded public rights of way, so they represent a consensus by representing the public path users’ body, the landowners, the occupiers and the local authorities. That is a pretty impressive consensus, so I hope that these clauses will go through unamended and unaltered because they represent something very important.
My second point is quite different, and it is really a sin of omission. It concerns Section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It is essentially a provision that adversely affects the commercial television companies—that is, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. I should say that I used to be chair of the All-Party Group on ITV and am now the vice-chairman, and I have had very helpful briefings from some of the broadcasters.
To repeal Section 73 would be a clear deregulatory measure. Many representations have been made to the Government, who seem to say two things in reply. The first is that there is ongoing litigation between the public service broadcasters and TV catch-up. This has been going on for some years. In fact it has been going on for such a long time that it is getting to the stage of being like Jarndyce and Jarndyce. In any case, it is not appropriate to wait for ever for litigation that is so prolonged. That is not right. Secondly, Oliver Letwin, a Minister at the Cabinet Office, has said that this Bill is not the right vehicle for such change. My goodness me, those of us who have been around for a long time know that, time and again, Governments have two excuses for opposing things: either an amendment is technically defective—well, I am not amending anything yet—or the Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for such a change. That has been a standard excuse from Governments over the years. Oliver Letwin, after saying that the issue is rather complicated so the Bill is not appropriate, then does the other usual thing, which is to pass the buck. He says, “Try DCMS”. We have now tried the Cabinet Office, DCMS and BIS. Government departments seem to be passing this issue from one to the other. I shall argue in a moment that it is a clear deregulatory measure and that the buck should not be passed any longer—particularly because if nothing happens now, we will be stuck until after the election and heaven knows how long it will take.
Originally, Section 73 had a purpose, but that has gone. The passage of time has eroded it. Indeed, the Bill says that other measures have become obsolete with the passage of time. British television is at the heart of British creative industry. It is vibrant and dynamic and it has great content and global reach. The way in which Section 73 works undermines investment in our commercial television sector and is quite an outdated measure. There is no longer a level playing field. What happens is that what are called third party aggregators, often large companies, take the content for free without payments to those who have created it. That seems quite wrong. The simple fact is that Section 73 is an historic measure, designed effectively to deliver a subsidy from public service broadcasters to encourage cable rollout in the 1980s. That is a long time ago now.
Section 73 prevents public service broadcasters having any form of negotiation for the supply of PSB channels to the cable platform in the UK. There is not even a commercial opportunity for them to negotiate. It is perverse that, for example, PSBs subsidise Virgin Media, which is owned by Liberty Global, a multimillion-pound global TV distribution platform. We have British television companies, some of which are doing fairly well but which are not that affluent, subsidising an enormous global player. If Section 73 were to be repealed, that at least would enable some form of commercial arrangement to be reached on cable transmission but within the overall Communications Act framework. That framework includes the “must offer” obligation of PSB channels to key platforms such as cable and satellite, subject to the agreement of terms.
British television content is the envy of the world and its continued success depends on its ability to get a return on investment. I am in the Labour Party and I am talking about business and so on. This Bill provides an important opportunity to repeal Section 73. I urge the Government not to miss the opportunity to consider amending the Bill to repeal the section. I do not know what we are waiting for. It is not as complicated as the Cabinet Office says. It is fairly straightforward. There has been so much discussion and negotiation. I think we ought to get on with it. It would be best if the Government brought forward their own amendment. I hope the Minister will agree to that, but, if not, I would like the Government at least to accept a Back-Bench amendment on this issue.
My Lords, I, too, had the privilege of being a member of the Joint Committee that scrutinised the Bill in draft form. As it turns out, it was very much in draft form. As many noble Lords have said, the Bill is significantly different from the draft Bill. It is inevitable that such a Christmas tree of a Bill will grow as it progresses, but that fact raises significant questions about the role of pre-legislative scrutiny.
When the draft Bill came to us, it was 240 pages long. It was described by Ken Clarke as,
“a slight mountain of a Bill”.
It covered 10 ministerial departments and four agencies. It made changes to more than 70 underlying Acts. Some of these Acts made changes to previous Acts. The committee was given 12 weeks to scrutinise all this. We thought this was inadequate, and we said so. We would have pressed the point more strongly had we known that the Bill was to be carried over. We found this out only when Oliver Letwin, in evidence to us, mentioned it in passing. This seems entirely unsatisfactory. Perhaps when the Minister replies he could commit to a more open discussion with pre-legislative scrutiny committees in future on the question of the time necessary for thorough scrutiny. As it was, with this Bill we had no choice but to restrict ourselves to certain areas and to leave others entirely unscrutinised.
I also ask the Minister to think about helping the process of scrutiny in another way. In a complex Bill such as this, it would help greatly for references to underlying legislation to be given a hypertext link. That is a lot easier than having 70 other Bills open before you. It would have helped your Lordships’ House to have those hyperlinks in the text of the Bill. Could I trust the Minister to commit to doing that well before Committee, which I understand will start after Recess?
As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has mentioned, the original draft of the Bill proposed giving Henry VIII powers to disapply legislation. The Joint Committee recommended that these powers be removed. I am very glad that the Government have agreed to do that. In the course of our inquiry into these and similar proposals in the Bill, however, it seemed to us that, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has also said, there was an unhelpful tension between the Government and the Law Commission. The draft Bill contains a schedule containing legislation to be disapplied by order. The Government removed the order power but retained the schedule. It is now Schedule 20 to the Bill. This schedule repeals parts of 28 separate Acts. These range from the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Act 1977 through the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 to the Town Police Clauses Act 1847. Clause 82, which asserts that all this legislation is no longer of any practical use, will repeal about 119 clauses. Some of these clauses are whole Acts themselves.
Does anyone seriously believe that Parliament will subject these 119 clauses to close scrutiny—or, indeed, any scrutiny at all—as the Bill passes through its stages? The Joint Committee’s report found that the Law Commission was better placed to give detailed scrutiny to this kind of allegedly obsolete statute. We stated:
“The skills, research and consultation needed to ensure that Parliament, external organisations and the public can be satisfied that a piece of legislation is genuinely obsolete strongly suggest that the Law Commissions are better placed to conduct that work than Government departments. Added to which, the independence of the Law Commissions from Government and their track record since 1965 reinforce the trust that Parliament places in the Law Commissions”.
This is a key point. Whom should we trust to say that legislation is obsolete and may be safely repealed—government departments or the Law Commission? I am in no doubt that the answer should be the Law Commissions. We recommended that Schedule 20 items be referred to the Law Commission for a safety check. We acknowledged that, to meet the growing demand, the Law Commission would need additional resource. We also agreed with the Law Commission’s own proposals for more frequent and responsive SLR Bills. We recommended that the Government consider making such Bills annual, as my noble friend Lord Naseby said.
The Government did not sound very enthusiastic about any of this in their response. They disagreed with our recommendation to give more resource to the Law Commissions—and did not give a convincing reason why—and so the mass repeal proposed in Clause 81 and Schedule 20 remains part of the Bill. I suspect that we will discuss that further as the Bill progresses. The case for subjecting all those proposed repeals to the Law Commission for a safety check remains very strong, as does the case for an annual SLR Bill.
However, there are other controversial matters in the Bill; I will point to just some of those that were investigated by the Joint Committee. We were concerned about the level of consultation undertaken by the Government in preparation for this very complex and wide-ranging Bill. The original Bill had 61 relevant clauses in it, excluding recitations, titles and so on. Only 10 of those clauses were subject to formal consultation, a further 18 had had some kind of consultation under the Red Tape Challenge scheme, and the rest had no formal consultation at all. That raised two questions: was that an appropriate level of consultation, and was it appropriate to rely on the Red Tape Challenge as a means of consultation?
The Joint Committee concluded that in some cases consultation had been insufficient. We were also alarmed by Oliver Letwin’s assertion that pre-legislative scrutiny was part of the Government’s consultation process. It is not. The Government should not rely—as they apparently were—on Parliament to consult on their behalf, but should undertake proper consultation themselves. I wonder whether inclusion in the Red Tape Challenge amounts to proper consultation. It is not clear that it should, and I would be interested to hear the Minister speak to the robustness of the Red Tape Challenge process. In the event, the Government agreed to remove certain clauses pending further consultation and, in particular, to consult further—which is important—on the authorisation of insolvency practitioners.
The committee welcomed the Government’s reasons, when it came to it, for proposing a duty on regulators to have regard in broad terms to “economic growth”. We discussed at some length with our witnesses and among ourselves the question of measuring or judging the success of that requirement. That was an important consideration; we need to be able to assess the effect of any piece of legislation. However, we acknowledged that with the growth objective, that would be difficult. We understood the difficulties involved in attempts to quantify. Nevertheless, we thought that the Government should consider by what criteria the impact of the duty could be demonstrated, and welcomed the Minister’s commitment to reflect further. I am not sure that the further reflection—if that is what it was—in the Government’s response to our report was terribly helpful. It was all rather vague and woolly. That is an important and unresolved issue, to which I expect to return at a later stage.
Also unresolved is the consequence of the application of the growth duty to the EHRC. The commission spoke to us about the,
“intrinsic incompatibility between the growth duty and the duty to promote and protect human rights”.
That incompatibility would risk the “A” status of the commission and the British candidacy on the UN Human Rights Council. The JCHR agreed with this assessment. In their response to our report the Government recognised the need to avoid jeopardising the international standing of the EHRC. They said that they would consider this issue further with the EHRC before finalising the list of regulators to whom the growth duty will apply. In the helpful draft guidance notes I received from the Minister this morning, there was no list and no mention of the issue in the covering letter. Can the Minister tell the House what progress is being made in discussion of whether that growth duty will apply to the EHRC?
There are also some other committee recommendations where the Government response seems to require further discussion. I refer in particular to Clause 2, which removes the employment tribunal’s power to make wider recommendations, to Clause 43, which deals with household waste decriminalisation, and to Clause 70, which deals with gangmasters. I am sure that the list of clauses your Lordships will want to discuss in detail will be much longer than that, and I look forward to those discussions.
The purpose of the Bill is a very good one. It is a very welcome Bill and contains good things. The provisions for apprenticeships and their funding in Clauses 3, 4 and 5 are especially welcome, as is the whole part on “Alcohol and entertainment”. This grew from one rather lonely clause in the draft Bill on the exhibition of films in community premises to the larger-scale liberalisation for local community events.
That part also contains, in Clauses 59 and 60, provisions for review of the penalties for non-payment of the BBC licence fee and powers to decriminalise such non-payment. I welcome the opportunity that gives us to discuss how to balance protection of the BBC’s revenue with the importance of not sending people to prison for non-payment of the licence fee. However, I would have welcomed it even more had we been discussing this in the context of charter renewal.
Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for his outstanding chairmanship of our Joint Committee. I would like to thank our truly excellent clerks, Christine Salmon Percival and Geraldine Alexander, for their invaluable work.
My Lords, as we have heard in this debate, everyone agrees it is right to remove unnecessary regulatory and legislative burdens from individuals, civil society, businesses and public sector organisations. However, this hotchpotch of measures is not proportionate in some areas and will not promote growth or jobs. There are two specific areas of the Bill that I want to focus on in my contribution today, both of which, if carried, will put at risk workers’ and consumers’ safety. These relate to the clauses on health and safety and the last-minute proposals thrown in at the end of the Committee stage in the other place on taxis and private hire vehicles.
Regulations that protect the health and safety of workers are not red tape: ask the many people injured in the construction industry or the families of those killed. Nor are the regulations that help women decide on the safest way home or to work red tape. The health and safety proposals will have a negligible impact on self-employed people but will create confusion, as we have heard in the debate, where there has been clarity for the past 40 years. At best, the Government believe this clause may save self-employed people 37p each per year. As the Minister said, the Health and Safety Executive has only today published a consultation on the list of self-employed people who will continue to be covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It is 60 pages long, so I have not been through it thoroughly, but it is beyond me how any self-employed joiner is expected to know whether they are involved in,
“construction work (within the meaning given in regulation 2(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulation 2007)”.
The same is true of most others. It is a recipe for confusion and the only people who will benefit will be consultants and possibly undertakers.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health is also worried that this exemption could cause growth in bogus self-employment and poor health and safety standards—a problem highlighted so well by my noble friend Lady Donaghy’s report in 2009. The institution believes the current requirements for the self-employed are not onerous and make good business sense. Exemption would give the wrong message and may encourage the unscrupulous to gamble with people’s safety and health.
Turning to the other area, taxis and minicabs are not just for the well-off. At certain parts of the day they are the only form of public transport available. For elderly and disabled people taxis and minicabs are often their only option throughout the day. Safety organisations, police and crime commissioners, licensing officers, councils and industry bodies warn that the Government’s proposed reforms will have severe safety implications. People without a minicab licence will be allowed to drive one when it is “off duty”, threatening to put vulnerable passengers, such as women, at increased risk of rogue minicab drivers. Mandatory annual licence checks, which help councils ensure drivers are fit and proper, will end. Minicab operators will be allowed to subcontract bookings to firms in other areas, meaning that someone getting into a minicab cannot be sure it is from the firm they booked with. Ask a person with disabilities whether that is right.
The Government cannot rely completely on the Law Commission for this regulation. Its final report, published in May, recommended significant new enforcement powers and safeguards for local authorities in conjunction with these measures. As my noble friend Lord Stevenson said, local licensing officers do not have the powers to ensure these changes can be enforced safety.
Ministers in the other place said these measures work in London but Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police work together for on-street enforcement in the capital, which has significant problems with unlicensed operators. Between 200 and 250 cases of sexual assault concerning unlicensed minicabs are reported across London every year. It is conservatively estimated that five times that number go unreported. The recent protests we have seen outside the House over Uber and the questions it raises on the impact of new technologies on the trade underline why the Government’s piecemeal reforms will not work. We need to consider regulation and enforcement of the licensed taxi and private hire trades comprehensively. These piecemeal measures are wrong. Deregulation will have wider consequences, including for people with disabilities’ access to taxis and minicabs, and the production of black cabs, which is still an important part of the UK automotive sector.
The Government need to stop and listen. Listen to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which campaigns for better personal safety and expressed concerns that enabling anyone to drive a licensed minicab will provide,
“greater opportunity for those intent on preying on women”.
Listen to the Local Government Association, which says that,
“it is imperative that the Government withdraws these plans”,
to ensure passenger safety. Listen to the group of 15 cross-party police and crime commissioners from across the United Kingdom who have written to the Government to oppose these measures. If Ministers continue to refuse to listen, I am confident from listening to the contributions in today’s debate that noble Lords across this House will stand up for the travelling public and refuse to endorse the Government’s rushed and risky proposals.
My Lords, I am afraid I have a fistful of declarations of interest to make, not only as a vice-president of the LGA, but as a landowner, a member of the CLA, a landlord, a practising chartered surveyor, chairman of the Rights of Way Review Committee and, of course, due to my involvement with parish and town councils. I am afraid I do not speak for any of those other interests.
Much of the Bill is welcome. Anything that calls itself deregulation is a start—in particular, I briefly point to the issues of dealing with short-term lets and the health and safety of self-employed trades—always provided it produces net reductions in burdens and does not just shift them around or create other problems in their wake. I am sure other noble Lords will relate to that.
I wish to follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and refer to Clauses 21 to 27 on the matter of rights of way. I agree that they represent the essence of what the stakeholders working group agreed to. I particularly pay tribute to the way the disparate interests involved with that sought to find common ground. I think that should be applauded. However, it had quite a narrow remit, and many issues of current management and usage of the rights of way system remain unaddressed. I hope that the Minister will confirm that these remain in focus and that the Bill, when it has been ticked off, does not just become a means for ignoring the ongoing need to do something.
I think we all agree that the rights of way system in this country is a thing of glory and great value culturally, economically and socially. It more than merits better treatment, with an even-handed and objective approach as befits a national treasure. At present, it is deprived of resources, a primary cause of the delays in recording historic rights and of procuring necessary change along the way. This risks leaving many stakeholders inherently dissatisfied, if not irate, and the current day-to-day management and administration suffers.
Therefore, I hope that we will not settle the issue of unrecorded rights of way after 2026 only to open up, as we approach that date, some other area of contention that we have not thought of. The Bill deals with some aspects but not with others. I hope that the Minister can reassure me about the intentions for the rest, as I have said. I accept that the rights of way network is very large and often incoherent. Its statutory basis is complex and the coalition inherits a legacy of many past Administrations doing too little or nothing, with occasionally some expensive and ill-targeted legislation on the way.
I am a landowner within the Exmoor National Park. I know how useful it is to both users and landowners to have a focused, resourced and authoritative body such as a national park authority to deal with issues of network coherence and management. Such bodies have proved effective in defusing negativity and removing obstructive stances by just process, expertise and reasoned dialogue. We need more of that.
Therefore, the key to all this is resources for rights of way, which outside of national parks, as I have suggested, have been decimated. If that deepened voluntary dialogue between stakeholders, I would welcome that as a slightly back-handed compliment. The administrative machinery that underpins any necessary change is essential, and access to the countryside on urban fringes is no less important than access across rural broads or remote uplands or along the coast.
Despite the limited claims of the Bill, which I support, I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government are apprised of the hugely beneficial opportunities offered by investment in a national rights of way system, not least its eventual rationalisation, making it fit for the 21st century and less of a bone of contention.