Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill
There has been much misunderstanding and misinterpretation of this Bill and its purpose in the media.
The aim of the Bill is to make it quicker and easier to tackle unnecessary or over complicated regulation while maintaining standards and protections. The Bill was introduced to improve the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 as there was widespread agreement that the way in which the 2001 Act was framed was inadequate for its purpose.
The purpose of the Bill is therefore to grant power to government to deliver reform of outdated or over-complicated legislation more quickly and enable the mergers of those regulators not currently covered by separate legislation. The introduction of the Bill is a reflection of the Government’s continuing commitment to maintain one of the best regulatory performances of any major economy.
Currently it can often take longer to pass a Regulatory Reform Order (RRO) than a whole Bill. Clearly, that is disproportionate for proposals that are often minor and uncontroversial. For example, the RRO reforming business tenancies, a relatively straightforward reform, took more than two and a half years to complete.
The purpose of the Bill is therefore to make it easier for uncontroversial measures to be brought in and to reform regulation, not to reduce Parliamentary scrutiny of legislation.
The Bill will in fact introduce far more stringent safeguards than those contained in the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. The safeguards also have a wider application, applying to all types of provision made by order, not just to those affecting burdens. A Minister wishing to make an order under the new power must ensure that those stringent safeguards are observed. The safeguards contained in the Bill are that there must be no non-legislative alternatives to the order, the effect of the proposal must be proportionate to its policy objectives, the order must not prevent any person from continuing to exercise any right or freedom which that person might reasonable expect to continue to exercise, that an order cannot create or increase criminal penalties beyond a specified limit, it cannot create new powers for forcible entry, search or seizure, it cannot compel the giving of evidence and it cannot impose or increase taxation.
The Bill will not undermine the legislative rights of Parliament or its role in scrutinising Government proposals. On the contrary, the Government would like to see the House playing a much fuller role in pursuing the better regulation agenda and scrutinising more Government proposals to improve regulation.
The powers that this Bill enacts are restricted in several ways. Firstly, there will be a requirement that the order must be made public in advance of Parliamentary scrutiny. In the Bill there is a legal requirement for consultation of the public and interested parties. There is also a requirement to lay an explanatory document before Parliament setting out why the Minister wishes to use the power and the representations that he or she has received as part of the public consultation. The Minister must also express a view of specific better regulations aims where appropriate and explain the reasons for recommending whether the order should be subject to the negative, positive or super-affirmative resolution procedure of Parliament.
Secondly, Parliamentary scrutiny will be maintained and Parliament will always have the opportunity to vote to stop the order coming into effect. Where a Minister decides that the negative resolution procedure should apply, there will be a 21-day period whereby either House of Parliament can require that the alternative super-affirmative resolution procedure apply. The super-affirmative resolution procedure has a further statutory consultation period after which the Minister must make a statement regarding representations received and then the order can only be passed by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. In addition, if no opposition to the negative resolution procedure emerges, there still remains a 40-day period whereby either House of Parliament can prevent the order coming into effect by passing a resolution. The positive resolution procedure requires a resolution by Parliament before the order can come into effect. Both Houses of Parliament will therefore retain a veto under all circumstances when a Minister exercises power under this Bill.
The Government has also given a commitment to retain oversight by the relevant Select Committees. The Government had at the time of the 2001 Act given a commitment that they will not introduce anything controversial through orders and statutory instruments that the Committees were opposed to and as a result the Committees also had an operational veto. The Minister responsible, Jim Murphy MP, is currently engaged in talks with MPs from all parties about how this additional power of veto could be formalised in the legislation, and I look forward to its inclusion when the Bill comes forward at Third Reading.
I support this Bill which will make it easier to reform regulation, maintain the strength of our economy and in no way undermines the ability of Parliament to hold Ministers to account.