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Regulatory Reform Act 2001

“…make provision for the purpose of reforming legislation which has the effect of imposing burdens affecting persons in the carrying on of any activity, with a view to one or more of the following objects

50.From the starting point of burdensome legislation, an order must involve the first object in paragraph (a) in subsection (1(1), and may also involve any combination of the three objects in paragraphs (b) to (d). These act as a limitation on use of the order-making power, since it can only be exercised with a view to securing one or more of the objects. Given section 1(3), it is a requirement that every order will take in object (a), and will involve the removal or reduction of burdens.

51.Paragraphs (b) and (c) are concerned with the imposition of burdens. The 1994 Act only allowed burdens to be imposed where they are less onerous than the burden being removed, and only on those affected by the burden being removed. Paragraph (b) allows burdens to be carried over from the legislation under reform but only where they meet the objective of proportionality. Paragraph (c) goes a step further, in allowing an order to increase burdens on those already affected and to impose new burdens on people not previously subject to burdens at all, but again only where they too are proportionate. As with the tests in section 3, the Minister will have to justify his decision about how the order meets the objective of proportionality in the document he lays before Parliament under section 6. While the proportionality test differs from the other three tests because it is not expressed to be dependent on the Minister’s opinion, it is covered by the requirement for the power to be exercised “with a view to” securing one or more of the objects in section 1(1). It also has an objective legal meaning (although, in making a particular order, the application of the concept may be a matter for discussion). It will be of increasing relevance in other contexts given the application of the Human Rights Act 1998, and is now a concept with which the UK legal system is familiar. The decision about what is proportionate will always depend on the individual circumstances of the case. For example, in rationalising a licensing system it might not be considered proportionate to require people who did not previously have to have a licence to obtain one. It might be considered more proportionate (and therefore more appropriate) to set up a new system of negative licensing, class (rather than individual) licensing, or perhaps a registration system instead. Whatever the Minister decides to promote in the proposed order, he will have to explain why in the explanatory document required under section 6.

52.Paragraph (d) provides for orders to remove inconsistencies and anomalies in legislation. This object will be particularly relevant when a Minister is using an order to reform a whole regulatory regime, because problems with burdensome regulatory regimes are often due to overlap between different pieces of legislation. This object is also likely to be relevant in the context of proposals from the Law Commission on reform of the law. The Law Commission’s programme of work results in the production of Bills ready for introduction to Parliament. However, due to the pressure on the legislative programme, these proposals might not reach enactment for several years. The provision at paragraph (d) will assist in enabling Law Commission proposals which fit the other criteria for orders under the Act to be implemented by order. Given section 1(3), it would not be possible for an order solely to remove an anomaly or inconsistency. In any event, most ‘inconsistencies and anomalies’ would already be covered under paragraphs (a) to (c) as removing them would normally entail the levelling up or down of some burden or other. Some instances of anomaly or inconsistency may not readily fit in with the concept of burden. For example, if one statute requires a notice to be given on a Tuesday and another, for no good reason, on a Wednesday, even though both refer to the same category of information, then it is not increasing or decreasing the burden to bring them into line, but it is removing an inconsistency or anomaly. The concepts of anomaly and inconsistency are closely linked. An inconsistency may occur where one provision requires a certain thing to be done and another requires something different without providing any way of reconciling the provisions. An anomaly occurs not so much where two pieces of legislation clash, but where the legislation fails to make the proper provision intended. For example, if a licensing regime treated all business registered before 19 February in one way, and all businesses registered after 19 February in another, the anomalous situation arises as to the status of those businesses registered on 19 February itself.

53.Subsection (2)paragraph (a) provides that an order may have as its subject any Act of Parliament which is more than two years old. This is a change from section 1(5)(c) of the 1994 Act, which limits application of the power to legislation passed before the end of the 1993-4 Parliamentary Session. The term “Act” is defined in Schedule 1 to the Interpretation Act 1978 (as amended by Schedule 8 to the Scotland Act 1998) as meaning an Act of Parliament. Northern Ireland legislation, therefore, is excluded (although consequential amendments to Northern Ireland legislation may be made using the power in section 1(5)(c)). Northern Ireland has in the past made its own provision to mirror deregulation orders.

54.The text in parentheses in paragraph (a) of subsection (2) makes clear that the legislation addressed by the order need not have been commenced. Instances where an order would be used to address uncommenced legislation are not expected to be frequent. However, it would allow the power to address cases such as the Sexual Offences (Protected Material) Act 1997, which creates a statutory scheme for supervising the defendant’s access to victim material in sexual offences cases (with the intention that this material cannot be circulated as a form of pornography). The Act, if commenced, would make it an offence for the defendant to have unsupervised access to the material or for any other person to whom the material is given to breach the requirements of the scheme. It appears, however, that (because of an oversight when preparing the legislation) there are significant problems with even the defence legal team viewing the material. This makes the Act unworkable, and so it has never been commenced. It would be a burden on the defence legal team and others not to be able to handle the material in the normal way. It is also currently a burden on the alleged victim of the sexual offence that she is unable to benefit from the protections intended by Parliament when the legislation was passed. Although cases of uncommenced legislation imposing burdens arise infrequently, the burdens can be significant and the provision in this paragraph will allow them to be addressed by regulatory reform order.

55.Subsection (2)paragraph (b) makes clear that deregulation orders made under section 1 of the 1994 Act and regulatory reform orders, if they fall within the purpose of section 1(1), may themselves be the subject of orders. The 1994 Act and this Act will be excluded because neither imposes burdens affecting persons in the carrying on of an activity. In any case, as the 1994 Act will only be preserved for devolved matters in Scotland (cf. section 12(1)(b)), it would not be a candidate for regulatory reform orders (which will be made at Westminster) as to do so would be at odds with that devolution settlement.

56.The remainder of subsection (2) sets out the arrangements with regard to legislation that has been devolved to Scotland. In order to reflect the Scottish devolution settlement, the power does not extend to legislation which is within the devolved competence of the Scottish Parliament. But, as explained below, section 12(1)(b) preserves the 1994 Act for use by Scottish Ministers, and it would be open to the Scottish Parliament to amend or replace it.

57.Subsection (3) states that any order made under the power contained in the Act must include provision aimed at removing or reducing burdens. This means that the power cannot be used to re-enact burdens, impose new or increased burdens, or remove inconsistencies and anomalies, without also removing or reducing burdens. However, the subsection does not make any numerical linkage between the burdens removed and those imposed, so the former need not necessarily outweigh the latter. But any order must still meet the strict safeguards contained in section 3.

58.The effect of subsection (4) is that the power cannot be used to address any provision in an Act which has been amended in the last two years, other than consequentially or incidentally. However, such legislation can be re-enacted without substantive change as part of a wider reform.

59.Subsection (5) reflects the Welsh devolution settlement. It provides that the consent of the National Assembly for Wales will be required for any order that sought to remove or modify any function of the Assembly. The regulatory reform order-making power itself is not available to the Welsh Assembly (though the Assembly may be given power to make subordinate provisions orders under section 4(6)).

60.Subsection (6)(a) makes clear that an order may amend or repeal any enactment in pursuance of reforming the burdensome legislation referred to in subsection (1). Paragraph (b) makes clear that burdens may be imposed on Ministers (cf. section 2(1), as described in paragraph 69 below, which excludes from the definition of “burden” any burden which affects only Ministers or government departments.) The effect of the two subsections is that, while a burden which falls solely on Ministers or departments may not be removed by regulatory reform order, such a burden may be imposed. Under section 43(1) of the Government of Wales Act 1998, the same applies to the National Assembly for Wales. Paragraph (c) provides a general power to make incidental, consequential, transitional or supplementary provision in standard terms to primary or secondary legislation. This could include amendment or revocation of secondary legislation, although this will normally be done by amending or remaking the instrument concerned under the existing power.

61.Subsection (7) makes clear that a regulatory reform order could vary its provisions from area to area. This means that an order could target a specific geographical location in a way similar to Local Acts.

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