Our policy of fewer, better, simpler regulations contributes greatly to the competitiveness of small businesses. For example, 500,000 of the smallest companies no longer need to have their accounts audited, and the Government are consulting on raising the audit threshold to £350,000.
Such information is very welcome because small businesses will be the great oaks of the future, but the Government are still issuing infinitely more statutory instruments than deregulation orders. I hope that my right hon. Friend, other Ministers and the Deputy Prime Minister will continue assiduously to pursue opportunities for greater deregulation in future.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We shall be spurred on in our efforts. I calculate that, in 1996, only 228 statutory instruments placed any burden on business and, during the course of that year, we repealed or amended more than 500 examples of primary and secondary legislation. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to underline that point once again. We are currently achieving what a number of my hon. Friends suggest—that every time we make a regulation affecting business, we repeal one.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman appears to feel that way, although I hope that, given his great work on the Scrutiny Committee, a more objective analysis would lead him to support the notion that we are making real progress on, for example, the amendment of the Trustee Investments Act 1961. We have just laid an order before the Scrutiny Committee on that. That should save about £40 million per annum. I am grateful to the Committee for the progress that it has made on the Deregulation (Bills of Exchange) Order 1996, which should save up to £40 million to £50 million per annum. The Committee's work is very much appreciated.
Does the Minister agree that the Labour party, far from backing deregulation of small businesses, supports more rules, more regulations and more Acts of Parliament, which in turn involves more civil servants, greater public cost and greater intrusion into people's lives? Is not the truth about the Labour party with regard to deregulation that it does not like it and will not support it?
The natural reaction of any socialist party is to introduce not only more regulation—[Interruption.] The use of the word "socialist" appears to have caused some embarrassment among those on the Labour Benches. I repeat: the natural reaction of a socialist party is to regulate.
Is the Minister aware that it is glib and very easy to talk about deregulation? Not so many years ago, I heard the same from Tory Ministers talking about deregulation when we were discussing animal feed. Is not the truth that, although we can have fancy gimmicks such as deregulation, most regulations are there to protect the people? If the Tory Government had done the decent thing and dealt with animal feed regulations, we would not have had BSE and a cost of billions of pounds to the Exchequer.
The hon. Gentleman cannot have been paying attention when I dealt with that point in my winding-up speech on Monday 17 February. It is a calumny to argue that the—[Interruption.] Perhaps the shadow Deputy Prime Minister is not familiar with that word. The regulations proposed by the last Labour Government would have had absolutely no effect in dealing with BSE, and the hon. Gentleman should know that.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many businesses in the Dover and Deal area are employing more people than they did last year, that unemployment in Dover is half that 22 miles away in Calais, and that those businesses that are employing more people—including, in some cases, French people—say that they are successful because this country is less heavily regulated than France or Germany?