The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill in Parliament, and a letter reply.

Parliament has been debating the vital bill with the comatosing name, Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Yesterday, Bliar made a speech to the CBI which included this bill, presenting it as a purely deregulatory bill

Smarter regulation means doing away with regulations that are outdated or inefficient; fewer regulatory bodies; and it means risk-based enforcement by all regulators, not enforcement by rote.

Our intention is then to measure existing burdens and to set stretching, public targets for de-regulation, to be announced later in the year.

Tonight, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is in its final stages in the House of Commons. This Bill will give us powers to amend legislation to reduce burdens. We need your support.

Deregulation, laudable. It's a shame that this isn't, despite proposed amendments, the only possible affect of the bill. Several of the promised amendments did not make it through the debate due to 'guillotine' reasons. How 'unfortunate'. I would have thought that the sensible thing would be to table the most important amendments first.

Over on 24 dash, a website focussing on public sector news, we see the following:

The legislation - dubbed the Abolition of Parliament Bill for allowing ministers to side-step parliamentary scrutiny - is designed to speed up the process by which redundant laws are changed and cut the burden of regulations.

....

Shadow Corporate Governance minister Jonathon Djanogly accused ministers of failing to fulfil a promise to include a parliamentary veto in the Bill and called for the Houses of Parliament to be given the power to intervene without relying on a select committee.

"Why will the Government simply not accept that this is a matter of great concern to opposition parties ... and deal with the matter now, here, and within the Bill?

"There is an accepted fact in most quarters that the Bill requires adequate safeguards so it is not used in future years as a tool for the executive's abuse of power and the discarding of Parliament.

"The amendments fall far short of the robust and firm veto we would have expected to see in such an important and constitutionally significant piece of legislation."

I've also come across this wider article upon Blair's Legacy:

Since Tony Blair took office in 1997 he has presided over the complete implosion of every fundamental human right in Britain that one would expect to hold in a free society.

The article then enumerates the changes that Blair and co have made. Even if some of the powers are rarely used, the cumulative effect leaves a situation where the powers are open to future abuse - not a good place to be.

Back on the current issue of the LRRB, Bloomberg has an article which starts by discussing how the Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill could affect the murder laws (an odd place to begin, to my mind)

Without safeguards on the bill now before Parliament, Heald said government ministers would be able to push through changes to legal definitions without Parliament's approval. While the government maintains the rules will be used to strip away regulations that stifle business, Heald said another administration would be able to abuse the powers to change the definitions of criminal acts including murder and theft, something the bill doesn't intend.

A few days ago I received a reply to my letter upon this bill:

Thank you for your letter of 5 April 2006, to Jim Murphy, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, regarding the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. I have been asked to reply on his behalf.

I'm forced to wonder if 'Good old Jim' ever saw the letter... he was, at the time, saying that hardly anyone had written to him on the topic.

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill aims to make a real impact on reducing burdensome regulation.

It's a shame that the aim was lousy, missing by a mile.

This Bill is the third attempt by governments since 1994 to have an Act that can improve the way we regulate the public sector, businesses, charities and the voluntary sector.

You'd think they'd have got good at it by now.

Although the World Bank in September 2005 ranked the UK second in the EU (behind Denmark) and ninth in the world for the best business conditions, we must get this Bill right if we are to further strengthen the UK's position.

Unfortunately, the bill is drafted in loose and wideranging terms, and amendments to tighten up the terms are opposed by the government. This isn't 'getting it right'.

Debate about the Bill during its passage through Parliament so far has served to confirm the general consensus that the 2001 Act is not up to the job of delivering the reductions in red tape that businesses, public servants and voluntary workers tell us they need. That's because the 2001 Act is too narrowly defined and too complicated to use. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill aims to deal with these shortcomings.

By having a simplistic and broad bill?

However in its current form, the order-making power in the Bill has caused some concern.

You might say that....

Wilder claims have ranged from government being able to use the power to abolish trial by jury to repealing the Magna Carta.

Wilder claims? 'Anyone who disagrees is making a 'wilder claim'? Besides unless protected on the face of the bill, such changes are possible. Why is this then a wild claim? The claim isn't that these changes are desired, only that they're possible. The implication of refusing to recognise this leads to the conclusion that perhaps this is the purpose of the bill.

These and other far-fetched statements about amending. by order our constitutional arrangements could never happen as a result of the safeguards already in the Bill. Similar wild accusations were made about the 2001 Act and have proved to be groundless.

A false argument. Just because a power in a bill has yet to be used to it's full extent, it does not mean that the power does not exist.

However, the Government want to make it clear beyond doubt that the Bill could not be used to make such constitutional changes.

Yes. Good... on the face of the bill, please, that's where it counts.

The Government have listened to more measured concerns...

Hang on, pointing out that the bill in the form as it then existed could be abused is not 'measured'? ... and the current executive wonder why people are going off them...

... as Jim Murphy, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, said it would do at Second Reading and in Committee, about using the power for changes to legislation that would deliver no better regulation benefit. Government amendments have been tabled that will ensure that this Bill can deliver the Government's better regulation agenda and nothing else. These amendments clearly focus the power in Part 1 of the Bill on better regulation objectives.

Now, did these amendments actually make it onto the bill, and are they sufficient? The fact that this was received a day or two before the parliamentary debate is interesting.

The changes to the order making power in Part 1 focus the power so that Ministers can only use orders for the purpose of furthering the better regulation agenda. This will be achieved through a power to remove or reduce burdens, and a power to bring regulatory activity in line with the Better Regulation Commission's five principles of good regulation: that regulation should be proportionate, accountable, consistent, transparent and targeted.

The definition of burdens proposed differs from that in the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. The 2001 Act described how legislation could be reformed - by removing legislative restrictions. The power in the proposed amendments focuses on why legislation should be reformed - for the purpose of removing administrative burdens or barriers to productivity etc. This will remove the need for onerous legal analysis when preparing orders which has proved such a constraint on the effective use of the 2001 Act.

Yes, who would want parliament to pass laws that have actually undergone legal analysis? Heaven forfend.

Concentrating the order-making power in this way will allow us to make real changes to the way we regulate. This includes the simplification measures that every department is currently putting together as well as our comprehensive programme to reduce overall administrative burdens for businesses, voluntary organisations and our public services.

Aims of a legislation mean little unless written into the face of the bill

Other better regulation initiatives which this order-making power will allow us to deliver include:

  • the consolidation of legislation to make it easier to understand and work with;
  • ensuring that inspection is risk-based to reduce the burden on those who comply with regulation and concentrate inspection on those who do not;
  • simplifying and making more transparent the ways in which people and businesses need to apply for consent from authorities; and
  • the exemption in certain key instances of Small and Medium Enterprises, charities and others from burdensome regulation to allow them to concentrate their effort where it is most needed.

Laudable aims, but this is one very blunt tool.... it's interesting to consider how inspection might be focussed on those who do not follow regulation. It seems rather chicken and egg. (I know this is semantics, but...)

This Bill is all about driving forward the Government's ambitious programme of better regulation and addressing the recognised weaknesses of the 2001 Regulatory Reform Act. Safeguards already in the Bill ensure that the order-making cannot be used to remove necessary protections, rights or freedoms.

Erm, where are these safeguards, exactly?

The amendments to focus the power on better regulation reinforce these safeguards and ensure that the order making power can only be used to achieve our better regulation objectives.

The safeguards in the Bill will be policed by the Regulatory Reform Committee and its equivalent in the House of Lords, but the Government is strengthening the role of Parliament further with other amendments. There will be a statutory veto to be exercised by the relevant Committee in either House. This means that the Committees will have a statutory power to block an order.

... and the committees are formed by what means?

A further related change is that the period which Parliament has to determine which scrutiny procedure should apply to any order is extended from 21 to 30 days. These two amendments follow commitments made to this effect at Committee stage by Jim Murphy, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office.

30 days? <slightly facetious> Crikey. Almost impossible to imagine how the government could put out a clutch of laws at one time to swamp that time period!</slightly facetious>

The combination of an order-making power concentrated on better regulation objectives, the Bill's existing safeguards as well as the statutory Parliamentary veto on the face of the Bill, will allow us all to focus on the substantial challenge that we face: how Government and Parliament can best tackle the burden of regulation placed on our businesses, public services and voluntary organisations.

Finally, the Government is proposing that orders implementing Law Commission recommendations will now be subject to the same restrictions on imposing criminal penalties and authorising forcible entry, search, seizure or compelling the giving of evidence as are applied to other orders.

This is the third attempt at legislation intended to lighten the regulatory load. The Government believe that it is vital to the continued competitiveness of the United Kingdom and the effectiveness of public services and voluntary sector that it delivers on the better regulation agenda - of which this Bill is an important part.

Why does he come back to 'third attempt' as if getting it wrong twice is a good thing. Presumably we're being set up for the fourth attempt...?

Yours,

Sydney G. C. Nash

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill Team

Better Regulation Executive
Cabinet Office
22 Whitehall
Kirkland House
London
SW1 A 2WH

Now, should the man get a response... and if so, where should the response focus?

Any thoughts?