Orders of the Day — Regulatory Reform Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 19 March 2001.

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[Relevant documents: Second Special Report from the Deregulation Committee, Session 1999—2000 (Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the draft Regulatory Reform Bill), HC 488; Third Special Report from the Deregulation Committee, Session 1999—2000 (Further Report on the draft Regulatory Reform Bill), HC 705; and First Special Report from the Deregulation Committee, Session 2000—01 (The Handling of Regulatory Reform Orders), HC 328.]

Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office 3:33, 19 March 2001

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

All Governments regulate to protect consumers, the environment, employers, employees, and society as a whole. The Government were elected on principles of fairness, justice and equality of opportunity, and those are the principles that we have put into practice in introducing fair and effective regulation. That is not about red tape or petty bureaucracy. The Government have no need to apologise for legislating for decent holiday entitlement, safety in the workplace, or policies to make work pay, such as the working families tax credit and the minimum wage. Those are commitments that we made in our manifesto, and they are commitments that we have honoured.

Despite arguments made by Opposition Members when we introduced a fair minimum wage, jobs have not been lost. Introducing the working families tax credit has not lost jobs. Introducing proper maternity leave has not lost jobs, nor has taking action to tackle discrimination against the disabled. On the contrary, as we saw last week, for the first time in 25 years, United Kingdom unemployment has fallen below 1 million. We have a healthy and stable economy, with low inflation, low interest rates and low unemployment. I am proud of the action that we have taken and of what has been achieved.

As so often in politics, however, it is essential that we strike the right balance. Unnecessary or over-complicated regulation that is difficult to enforce is a burden on everyone. It stifles enterprise and limits opportunity. which is why we have taken active steps to ensure that the regulations that are introduced are necessary, simple, and easy to understand and implement.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

The right hon. Lady said that the Conservatives had predicted a loss of jobs as a result of the introduction of the minimum wage. Does she recall that at that time the Labour party was promising a minimum wage of £5? Will she now say what the current level of the minimum wage is?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

We are not here to discuss the details of the minimum wage; we are here to discuss regulation and its reduction. The Tories always claim that they would reduce regulation, but the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), a Minister in the previous Government who tried to reduce regulation, said: We would be the first to say that we did not do very well".— [Official Report, 19 November 1999; Vol. 339, c.250.] Moreover, in December 1987 the Institute of Directors said: The excessive burden of regulation on business is halting growth and preventing companies from entering new markets…every year the Government has added to red tape". Before the hon. Gentleman gets into the detail of what we have introduced, it would do no harm if he looked back at what the Conservatives did.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

The national minimum wage is a great point of principle. I would have thought that the Conservative party, rather than arguing about whether it supported a particular rate of pay, would accept that this is the first time in the industrial history of this country that a large number of low-paid women have been taken out of poverty wages. The House should be proud of that.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution; the minimum wage helped poor women, but Conservative Members keep trying to use the figures to inflate the cost of regulation. They and their supporters have quoted figures amounting to anything from £5 billion to £13 billion, but those figures include the administrative costs and the actual costs of the policies. Including the cost of paying the national minimum wage and the working families tax credit, and of administering other policy changes, boosts the costs of bureaucracy in a gross, unfair and misleading way. The real cost of administering Government policies is a fraction of what the Conservatives have suggested.

As so often in politics, it is essential to strike the right balance. No one wants unnecessary, over-complicated and burdensome regulation. We have taken active steps to ensure that what regulations are introduced are necessary, simple, and easy to understand and implement. I chair a panel on regulatory accountability whose key task is to scrutinise Departments' regulatory proposals and ensure that they meet that high standard. I call Ministers to come to the panel and justify their proposals if the panel thinks that they do not meet its criteria.

In the Cabinet Office, the regulatory impact unit operates across government to ensure that Departments make a thorough appraisal of the costs and benefits of any new proposals or regulations, and to suggest changes and improvements wherever it can. Departments now have to produce regulatory impact assessments across the board. The Government are aided in that by two powerful advocates at the heart of government. The Small Business Service, set up in April last year, is headed by David Irwin and includes an independent council of outside experts to advise on the specific needs of small firms. The better regulation taskforce, headed by Lord Haskins, was set up in September 1997. Its members are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, including business, consumer organisations and trade unions. Each organisation can voice concerns about regulation and seek improvement. It would be fair to say that Lord Haskins, in particular, has not shied away from making public some constructive criticisms when he thought it necessary.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Since the Government came to power, there have been more than 300,000 net job losses in manufacturing. The textile industry is one of the sectors that has been savaged by the Government's policies. Is the right hon. Lady seriously asking us to believe that all the Government's efforts to raise its costs have had nothing to do with the job losses? Does she not see that some people have gone from low pay to no pay, partly as a result of massive over-regulation?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

I was focusing on the 1 million extra jobs that have been created. That is the important point for people who have no employment, and now many more people have jobs. When people have been out of work, getting a job snakes all the difference.

The Bill is another tool to help the Government simplify and improve the quality of regulation. I welcome the support given to the Bill from all parties in the other place. We are grateful for the contributions made in debates there by many noble Lords and for their constructive approach to amending the Bill. I think that their contributions have improved it.

I hope that a similar constructive engagement will be possible during the Bill's passage through this House. It is, after all, designed to build on and improve the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, passed by the previous Government.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

If the Government's intention is to build on the 1994 Act, will the right hon. Lady tell us what efforts the Government have made to use it? How many deregulation and contracting out orders were made in the year prior to the May 1997 general election, and how many have the Government made in the past year?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

My recollection is that we have used the legislation about 10 times. That is not an excessive number, but it shows that there is a need to reform the 1994 Act, to extend its powers and to make it clear, so that it can be used more often.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in giving evidence to the Select Committee on Public Administration, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said that the hype regarding the 1994 Act was overblown?

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A moment ago, an Opposition Front Bencher asked a question of the Minister, and we did not have the answer. I can give it: there were 37 orders up until 1997.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

I have already taken interventions on that point, and I should prefer to move on.

The important point is that the Bill is based on the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, which was passed by the previous Government I am waiting to see whether Opposition Members will point out that we voted against that Act.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

Good. I will be waiting for that point, because my answer is that we needed to change the 1994 Act to make it workable. We are using it as a basis for the Bill. We need to update the Act because, among other things, its powers are limited to pre-1994 legislation; it cannot remove burdens from the public sector; it does not allow subsequent amendment of deregulation orders, which limits its scope; and it defines regulatory burdens too narrowly.

I shall give the House an example. The Government want school governing bodies to be able to offer after-school child care, which they can do at present only if they provide education at the same time. The Act does not allow positive change to address such problems. It is simply common sense that it should be possible to change the law to allow people to do things just as it is possible to change the law to stop them doing things. In updating and improving the 1994 Act, we recognise the importance of maintaining tough, clear safeguards. The Bill itself is an example of how we want to proceed

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

Perhaps now I will make the intervention that the right hon. Lady anticipated, because the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) did indeed oppose the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill on Second Reading, on the basis that the powers that were to be taken were exceptional and excessive. If the Government believe that those powers are no longer exceptional and excessive, will she accept that they were introduced for a specific purpose—that of deregulation? Will she admit to the House that the purpose of this Bill is not deregulatory but re-regulatory?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

No, the hon. Gentleman has got it completely wrong. For the reasons that I gave earlier, the Bill is necessary to build on and improve the Act passed by the previous Government.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

I shall help the right hon. Lady by telling her why the Bill is needed. Up to 1997, 37 orders were repealed; in 1998, the figure was only five; in 1999, it was four; in 2000, it was one, and in 2001 only one order has been repealed. Something needs to be done to change the law. The view of Conservatives Members is that these changes are not the ones that are needed.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

I should like to hear from Conservative Members what changes they think necessary. I have outlined our changes, which stem from the work that we have done. We have provided the Library with a list of 50 measures—

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

We changed the number to 50. All those measures could be taken under the new Bill. In addition, we have today issued five consultation documents on orders that will be made possible by the Bill and, between them, bring benefits of almost £40 million. The estimated compliance cost for those orders is nil.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

Yes, but this is the last time because I am making very little progress.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

If this is to be the last time that the right hon. Lady gives way, she ought now to provide us with the killer fact. If the benefit that she seeks to achieve through the Bill is a reduction of £40 million in the regulatory burden, will she remind the House what has been the cumulative impact of additional regulation introduced by the Government since May 1997? The latest calculation by the British Chambers of Commerce is that the amount is more than £10 billion. Will she put the two figures side by side and tell us whether or not this is a regulatory Government?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

Earlier in my speech, I gave the answer to that question. The costs that the hon. Gentleman quotes include the entitlements and benefits that individuals received through the changes that we introduced and the bureaucracy involved in implementing them. The real costs are a fraction of that figure. We shall not apologise for the costs of introducing the minimum wage, improving maternity leave, giving people holidays and working to ensure that discrimination against people with disabilities does not happen. I shall not apologise for any of it and if the costs of the policies themselves are set aside, our regulatory costs are much, much less.

In addition, we introduced the legislation after listening to the views of business, business groups and consumer groups, and changes were made. As a result, it was introduced in a way that did not cost jobs. Exemptions were made for smaller businesses and most businesses were happy to acknowledge that the legislation was valuable to their work force.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

Will my hon. Friend give me a minute—perhaps two or three minutes?

Orders made under the Bill will be subject to thorough consultation and examination by scrutiny Committees in both Houses. The process will not avoid scrutiny.

The deregulation Committees in both Houses are serious, efficient and competent bodies and the scrutiny will be up to a high standard. Legal safeguards, including the European convention on human rights, will need to be satisfied for each order.

In addition, before introducing a proposal, Ministers must be confident that the benefits of removing a regulatory burden are sufficient to justify the order being made and that the order maintains any necessary protection and does not remove any rights or freedoms that people could reasonably expect to continue to enjoy.

When proposing to introduce burdens, a Minister must also be confident that the order strikes a fair balance between the public interest and the interests of the individuals affected by it and that any burden imposed by that order must be proportionate to the benefit to be had, to the satisfaction of the scrutiny Committees.

In addition to those safeguards and consultation requirements, the order will be subject to careful scrutiny in Committee in both Houses and will proceed only if both Committees report favourably. That procedure has worked successfully to date in relation to the 1994 Act and I trust and believe that it will continue to do so.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

I chair the Deregulation Committee. Is my right hon. Friend surprised to hear that no Conservative Member chose to attend its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill? Is she also surprised to hear that Conservative Members no longer consider themselves to be members of the Committee? I wrote to the Conservative Chief Whip asking him to replace them, but even though the Conservative party considers deregulation important, that position has not changed.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

Those important points show the commitment of Conservative Members, and I look forward to a comment from the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) on that intervention.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

I would like to make a comment. As a member of the Deregulation Committee, I can tell the House that only one deregulatory order has been made this year. Last year, only one was made. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) knows that he does nothing, and the Committee does nothing. The Bill is being debated to give them something more to do.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

With those safeguards in place, and for the Committees concerned, let me outline some of what we might wish to do under the Bill that is not possible under the 1994 Act. Situations often arise in which, with the passage of time, legislation has become outdated and no longer fits people's day-to-day needs. Anomalies develop and it simply no longer makes sense.

For example, invalid care allowance can be claimed only by people between the ages of 16 and 65. Why stop at 65? People often carry on caring beyond that age, so we want to change the law so that over-65s have a right to claim too. We also want to make changes so that in circumstances where the person being cared for dies, the allowance will continue to be paid for up to eight weeks to allow the carer time to come to terms with the loss.

We propose to make changes to the vaccine damage payment scheme to reduce the disability threshold and to allow minors the opportunity to claim right up until the age of 21.

As a final example, we would like to take important steps to relieve the burden on NHS charities, which currently have to submit their accounts twice to two separate Government bodies. That is not common sense; by making a simple change, we will help those charities to keep down significantly their administrative overheads and to make the most of donations given to them by the public.

Those are just a few examples of what can be done; there are many, man others. Today, we published a list of 50 measures that could be delivered, and I have placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

Certainly. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to read them, I shall do so with pleasure. [Interruption.] I have left the list in my office; what bad luck. [Interruption.] I have been passed a copy; I do not want to disappoint the hon. Gentleman if he wants to hear them.

For the hon. Gentleman's benefit the measures include: the abolition of 20 partner limit; after-hours child care at schools; approval of local education authority curriculum complaints procedures; attachment of earnings; births and deaths—Wales; births and deaths—errors on certificates; bootleggers—disclosure of names, for Customs and Excise; building regulations; business tenancies; civil registration service reform. I think that I have made my point.

In addition, we issued five consultation documents today that will make possible, under the Bill, benefits of almost £40 million. We are consulting on orders—I shall give specific examples for the hon. Gentleman—to simplify, speed up and make fairer the procedures for new business leases; to put lease renewals for local authority tenants on the same looting as those for business tenants; to make it easier to a low pubs to open for longer on new year's eve and on the Queen's golden jubilee; to improve the grant and loan an arrangements for the renewal of private sector housing; and to allow people to use bank notes and smart cards in gaming machines.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

Some of the measures may not be crucial, as the hon. Gentleman implies, but what is important is that the legislation makes sense—that is one of the reasons that we are introducing the Bill. Regulation should not be burdensome; it should be easy to implement and should protect rights while not making heavy demands on business. That is what good government means. The Bill is no incredibly large, but it will improve the services we offer the public. That is important—it does not matter how small the changes are, as long as they benefit people.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

The right hon. Lady looked at me when I reacted to her remarks on gaming, so it is only right that I should respond. I served on the Committee for a long time and it often struck me that a great number of the rules and regulations that we were repealing had to do with dancing and gambling, as if this country spent all its time dancing and gambling. We can dance on Sunday nights; we can gamble with a Switch card or a smart card. We must take care that the Bill does not merely encourage more and more gambling and dancing.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

It would take more than the Bill to increase dancing and gambling. Even though I have doubts about some forms of gambling, I think that dancing and fun are good for our society.

The estimated compliance costs for the measures that I outlined are nil.

As well as looking at where we can simplify or streamline regulations, we are also considering how to improve enforcement. Sensible enforcement—not going over the top—is a key part of good regulation. That is why the Government are working with local authorities and those responsible for enforcing central Government regulation to agree to a concordat— [interruption.] This is an important point. The concordat will offer a blueprint for fair and common-sense enforcement.

We hope to have 100 per cent. of the bodies that we are working with signed up by the summer. It is a voluntary process, which we hope succeed, but if there are cases where an improvement in enforcement practice is needed, the Bill contains a reserve power for Ministers to make codes of practice on enforcement for the benefit of business and the citizen.

As was done in another place, I trust that hon. Members will agree that the Bill will provide a valuable tool for this and future Governments to use in the fight against unnecessary, overlapping and over-complex legislation. It has already been welcomed by many people outside the House. For example, the Institute of Directors said that it is a good Bill…if it is used to its full poteritial, [it] should make a noticeable difference to the red tape burden '.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

If the hon. Gentleman wants me to cite the Conservative party's record, he will find that he is not in a strong position to criticise.

Digby Jones of the Confederation of British Industry said: The Bill has the potential of providing he tools to deliver real benefits to business".

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

No.

The Federation of Small Businesses believes that the Bill will be useful in helping to reduce the overall burden on business". Sir Jeremy Beecham of the Local Government Association has given strong support for the powers in the Bill and its potential for reducing the burden of central regulation on local authorities". We value those expressions of support, but the real test for the Bill will be the reforms achieved under it in the months and years ahead.

Contrary to some press reports, the United Kingdom is not a heavily regulated society. Independent reports, such as that from the Economist Intelligence Unit in spring last year, show that we have the least regulated labour market in Europe. Similarly, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's economic outlook, published in December 1999, said that the United Kingdom had he lowest level of product-market regulation of any OECD country.

We can be proud of that record, while being proud of the fact that the Government have introduced important measures to safeguard the interests of consumers and employees and to protect the environment. It can no longer be said that social justice— the minimum wage, decent holiday entitlements, decent maternity pay and working benefits—is incompatible with economic efficiency, low unemployment, low inflation and low interest rates. It has taken this Government to show that, and it is a record of which I am proud.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal 4:03, 19 March 2001

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Regulatory Reform Bill [Lords] because it seeks to extend the use of powers intended solely for a deregulatory purpose to the creation of new burdens and to the rewriting of legislation without a specific deregulatory effect; and fails to apply sufficient consultative, scrutiny and review provisions to the exceptional powers proposed. I listened with growing amazement to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, because this is a regulatory Government, as is shown by their record, on which she sought to base her accusations about the previous Conservative Government. Indeed, they are one of the most regulatory Governments that we have had for a very long time. That stands in absolute contrast to everything that the public and the business community were told before the election.

In April 1997, in a document entitled "Labour's business manifesto"—which seems to be a contradiction in terms—the Labour party pledged not to impose burdensome regulations on business, because we understand that successful business must keep costs down." What have we discovered since then? In December 2000, the CBI published its own analysis, which stated that the Labour Government had introduced 3,000 new regulations, that regulations were being introduced at the rate of 10 a day in 2000 and that those regulations had cost the business community £23 billion since the election.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

Is it not true that 3,000 regulations were implemented in the final year of the previous Conservative Government?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce said that about 3,000 to 3,500 regulations and statutory instruments are passed each year and, in an article in The Times in November 2000, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office said that only about 5 per cent. of them have a direct impact on business. Let us leave aside the fact that many of them have an indirect impact but, even if the figure of 5 per cent. is correct, that means that 175 of the statutory instruments passed each year have a direct impact on business. Furthermore, they come on top of the 175 that were passed in each of the preceding years.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to understand what is happening under this Government, let us consider the rate at which red tape is impacting on business and on small businesses in particular. Small businesses are acutely vulnerable to the impact of burdensome regulations, and members of the Government never seem to be aware of that fact—I guess that they never run a small business. Perhaps some of them do so. In recent days, we have discovered that one or two of them have been engaged in business on their own account, but I shall not go into that.

The rate at which the cost of red tape is increasing has gone up. Each year, the Institute of Chartered Accountants conducts a survey based on information obtained by its advisers who conduct and prepare the accounts of small businesses. It uses their expertise to consider the cost to businesses each year of implementing the new regulations that were introduced in the preceding year. In October 2000, the institute showed not only that the regulations increased the costs of small businesses by an average of 4 to 6 per cent., but that for the smallest and micro businesses the rate at which those costs increased nearly doubled in the year to July 2000 compared with 1999.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, at various stages over the past four years, some Ministers appear to have been so unfocused that they were unaware of what their own Government were doing? In particular, is he aware that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who was then the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said in what proved almost to be his swan-song that we have no intention of introducing any legislation that presents a burden on business and reduces the competitiveness of British firms.— [Official Report, 25 November 1998; Vol. 321, c. 214.] Which planet was the right hon. Gentleman inhabiting?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

I concur with my hon. Friend's observation. I have been interested in what Ministers seem to be unaware of, and there are two explanations for the statement of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). The first is that it has become part of his stock in trade—indeed, that of the Labour Government—to say one thing while doing something completely different. It is not that Ministers do not know what is happening, but that they want people to believe that something else is happening. They want the public at large not to understand that manufacturing and business experience daily the problem of increasing red tape.

The second explanation for the right hon. Gentleman's statement is that in November 1998 he was otherwise engaged busily raising money for the dome, for which he was responsible at that time.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

If we are considering issues of which folk are aware, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the Small Business Service, which we set up. It specifically focuses its work on assisting small businesses with regulations. We have extended the periods in which regulations are implemented and we have given audit exemptions by raising the threshold from £350,000 to £1 million, which has saved small businesses £180 million a year We have taken a number of other initiatives. I will not bore the hon. Gentleman with them now, but they do not suggest that this is a Government who do not take the needs of small businesses into account.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

The Small Business Service amply illustrates the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and with which I agreed. The Government set up the Small Business Service with the objective that it would be the British equivalent of the Small Business At ministration and would act as a powerful engine to represent the small business community inside government.

I have news for the right hon. Lady. She and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry may not have noticed that the business community sees the Small Business Service as no more than a repackaging of what went before. In the enterprise component of the training and enterprise councils, business links and various other bodies, the Government sought to impose initiatives on the business community. They have not allowed the business community to take ownership of the service in the way that the previous Conservative Administration intended.

The right hon. Lady seems to think that I am personally responsible for everything that the previous Conservative Administration did. She should know that as leader of the deregulation taskforce, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) made it clear that, in his view, the Conservative Government were making limited steps towards deregulation. At the same time as we were trying to introduce a substantial number of deregulatory measures, the cumulative burden of regulation was continuing to increase. That is why we have the policies that we have, which I shall deal with shortly. On that basis, she should understand that this Government have gone badly in the wrong direction by increasing dramatically the cumulative burden on businesses.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

The hon. Gentleman waxes lyrical about small businesses and the burdens that have allegedly been imposed on them since 1997. I am sure that he will agree that most farms, with the exception of agri-businesses, are small businesses. How many livestock inspectors were there in 1992 under the previous Government, and how many were there in 1997?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman those precise figures, but a deregulation contracting-out order relating to the Slaughterhouses Act 1974 removed duplicate requirements for the licensing of slaughterhouses. He should know that in the year up to the last election, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) made clear to the Minister, the previous Conservative Government introduced 26 deregulation and contracting-out orders. The pace of deregulation was growing. This Government introduced five such orders in the following year, four in 1999, one in 2000 and only one this year, which is a sad record.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

Does the hon. Gentleman accept—will he take my word for it?—that the number of livestock inspectors decreased between 1992 and 1997? Deregulation is not always in the interests of small business.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

We all understand that deregulation has to be balanced. That is why the previous Administration were pursuing deregulatory measures while occasionally introducing regulatory measures. The hon. Gentleman seems unwilling or unable to accept the fact that the cumulative burden on business is a significant part of our competitiveness. It is no good Labour Members talking about the positive aspects of specific regulations without taking account of the context within which each regulation, which they regard as attractive, adds to the burden of the total costs on business.

At the last election, the Labour party said that it understood that burdensome costs should not be imposed on business, but the burdens barometer of the British Chambers of Commerce sets the total cost of burdens at £10 billion-plus. The analysis published for Politea by Nicholas Boys-Smith shows that the annual cost of this Government's regulations since 1997 will be £12.7 billion by May 2001.

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell Labour, Blyth Valley

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the minimum wage, the working families tax credit, the directives on working time, maternity leave and part-time working and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 put burdens on business that, if elected, the Conservatives would remove?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

The hon. Gentleman simply adds to the same point. Let us consider those measures—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman allows me, I will respond to his question.

It is pretty straightforward. My argument is twofold. First, undesirable and unnecessary regulatory burdens have been imposed: for example, the burden of trade union recognition—[Hon. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—yes, and the way in which that was done. It is clear that the threshold at which trade union recognition was introduced extends the requirement down to small businesses that, in effect, have no personnel function. Labour Members should understand that the way in which that requirement was imposed will act as a major additional burden on small businesses that are not equipped for trade union recognition.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

Let me complete my point before doing so.

There has been a string of such measures, including the working time directive. We had no choice about the implementation of the working time directive in this country, although the previous Conservative Administration tried to frustrate it The way in which it was introduced—with a lack of lead times and a lack of clarity in the regulations that it imposed—was extremely damaging to business. In examining the costs and benefits of implementing the working time directive, I meet many business representatives. When I ask about their experience, most reply that they incur massive administrative costs and that most employees simply opt out of the directive's effect. Therefore, the costs are large and the benefits small.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. Small businesses employing fewer than 20 people are exempt from legislation on trade union recognition. The job of the Small Business Service, which he quickly dismissed, is to consult small businesses, and each regulation is considered to ensure that small businesses do not suffer.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

I have to take issue with the right hon. Lady. The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce says that his research shows that only 21 per cent. of firms with fewer than 50 employees have a dedicated personnel resource, whereas the figure for firms with more than 50 employees is 71 per cent. It is all very well for the right hon. Lady to talk about firms with 20 employees, but a more appropriate threshold for trade union recognition would have been 50 employees or more.

I question not the principle of trade union recognition, but the appropriateness of the way in which the requirement was introduced and the threshold that was set, given that the impact on small businesses has been disproportionate. The Government say, "Think small first", but they simply did not do that. Through the costs that it imposes on small businesses, the directive is having an effect on competitiveness.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

Let me provide a couple of summaries to which I shall invite the Minister to respond. Digby Jones of the Confederation of British Industry says of the Government: They have a track record over three years of being one of the most regulations-keen administrations for some time". Chris Humphries of the British Chambers of Commerce says: Despite all its rhetoric, the reality is that Government has dramatically increased the regulatory burdens that threaten small business competitiveness. Excessive red tape is stifling the very enterprises the Government is seeking to promote".

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that setting a threshold of 50 employees would exempt about 98 per cent. of all businesses in this country? If he is so concerned about small businesses, will he explain why there has been a net increase of about 150,000 in the number of small businesses since the Labour Government took control, whereas there was a net decrease in that number between 1990 and 1993?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

The Minister simply does not understand the argument as business understands it. He will know that I am a former deputy director general of the British Chambers of Commerce; it was my job to represent small businesses and to understand their position. They know, as I know and he should know, that businesses constantly face the question of what will happen as the economic cycle turns down. The current Chancellor of the Exchequer has no more abolished the economic cycle than any previous Chancellor has been able to. British business most needs to be competitive when it competes in declining domestic and overseas markets. A few months ago, a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey showed that, compared with the average of EU businesses, two thirds of UK businesses' relative advantage in competitiveness had been lost during the four years of the Labour Government.

Such competitiveness is easily eroded and is difficult to regain. I am afraid that we will not begin to discover the damage done by the Government until businesses start to struggle and lose. Manufacturing businesses that are exposed to international trade have already discovered it; businesses in the service sector that are dependent on cyclical changes in demand will, unfortunately, discover it when the Chancellor's tax and spend policies take us down that unhappy path.

That is why, on 5 March, Forbes Magazine could, unfortunately, publish an article for an international readership, in which it said that the Government were quietly loading the British economy down with new taxes and regulations that threatened to erode the advantages of doing business in Britain". Under this Government, we have discovered that the rate of regulation has gone up, as demonstrated by the survey of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and other work. The position is getting worse, and deterioration is accelerating. Legislation has grown increasingly complex; Conservative members of the Committee that considered the Finance Act 2000 are only too aware of the immensity of financial and tax legislation and the complexity imposed by it.

Too often, consultation is a dead letter. The business community, for example, will have seen that the Prime Minister was so keen on consultation on the work-life balance that, before it concluded, he was prepared to pre-empt it and make announcements at the Labour party's spring conference in Glasgow. Regulatory impact assessments, as provided for by the Government, have been wholly inadequate. They have not been independently audited and are highly subjective, reflecting Ministers' need to try to justify their legislation.

The right hon. Lady talked about policy costs on the one hand and implementation costs on the other. Regulatory impact assessments are highly confusing and tend to muddle policy costs and implementation costs. They tend to exaggerate benefits and underestimate costs. Most of all, the Government's record on regulation demonstrates complete unwillingness to recognise the cumulative effects on the business community of the regulations that they have introduced and continue to introduce.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

I wish the hon. Gentleman would stay in the real world. We have not exaggerated benefits. We have independent business people working alongside us on the regulatory impact assessments and in the taskforce. If, like the hon. Gentleman, they felt that we had done such a terrible job and had failed, they would tell us. As I acknowledged earlier, Chris Haskins criticised one or two measures. Overall, however, our work has been welcomed.

Rather than criticise us using figures with which I do not agree, the hon. Gentleman would do much better to do what we have been doing in Europe—try to work with other member states to make sure that there is not an additional burden from Europe. We are working with other European countries, both bilaterally and in the Mandelkern group, to make sure that, by the time we get to Stockholm, we have a level playing field on European regulation. That is much more important than the hyperbole that we have just heard.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

There is no hyperbole here, just simple facts. The right hon. Lady has come to the House to introduce a Bill designed, she says, to build on the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. I have demonstrated that the Government have no interest in deregulation; frankly, Labour Members had no interest in the 1994 Act. Before the election, large numbers of orders were made and the pace was increasing. Since the election, however, the pace has diminished to the point at which virtually no deregulation and contracting-out orders are being made.

The Government blame the lack of candidates for such orders. The reality is that there is a lack of will; the Government have no will on deregulation.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

I am sorry to stop my hon. Friend in mid-flow, as he is making rather a good speech, but does he intend to come on to the Bill itself? We are listening for that. I want to ask him some questions about it, and I did not want him to sit down without my having had that opportunity.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

Clearly, I gave my hon. Friend the impression that I was engaged in a peroration. There may be those who wish it, but I was not. I was simply seeking to demonstrate that we cannot trust the Government on the subject of deregulation and regulation. They wear deregulatory clothes while engaging in a regulatory objective.

The Bill is intended by the Government, in the dog days of this Parliament, by their lights, to persuade the business community that they have a deregulatory purpose in mind, whereas the business community knows, from its unhappy experience, that regulation is what the Government intend, sometimes to the point at which the utilities, for example, are experiencing nationalisation in a different format.

The Bill is a transparent example of such activity. It is about regulation, perhaps as the new Labour alternative to nationalisation, whereby the Government can get control of businesses without having to pay the price for doing so.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

I have given way many times. I shall make progress as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes wants to hear some views about the Bill, and I shall be happy to supply him with some.

We oppose the Bill and we have tabled a reasoned amendment. I shall tell the House why. The Bill is not a deregulatory Bill. It is designed to create new burdens. It is designed to allow the public sector to reduce its burdens, while it imposes burdens on the private sector. It is designed to allow the public sector to undertake additional expenditure in legislative form, without the usual scrutiny that is applied to legislation for that purpose.

The Bill lacks provision for the necessary external consultation. Most of the important information on proposals would be presented only at the point that they went before the Deregulation Committee, but that information would not necessarily be given to the business community and all those who would be affected, who ought to be the principal participants in a consultation process before deregulation committees sit.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Does my hon. Friend agree that the acid test of the Bill is whether, if it had been enacted, it would have prevented the Government from wasting £628 million of public money on the millennium dome?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

I am sure that the answer to my hon. Friend's question is no, the Bill would not have prevented that. However, I believe that the acid test is: if the Bill had been enacted and the Government had had the benefit of it, what would have been the practical result?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

I hear the answer from my right hon. Friend from a sedentary position. The Bill would have resulted in more regulation. Moreover, the Government found that in the previous Session they had a crowded legislative programme. They found it difficult to introduce primary legislation to suit their legislative purpose, so not only have they resorted, as we know, to the routine guillotining of Bills and the constriction of parliamentary debate, but now they have found a new mechanism that allows them to amend primary legislation, bring in new regulations and take on new responsibilities for the public sector, all by means of a statutory instrument that amends primary legislation without all the scrutiny that should be the product of our parliamentary process.

The right hon. Lady thought that I would intervene on the subject of the Labour party's attitude to the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill during its passage through the House. The right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) spoke on Second Reading about the power that was to be taken in that Act. He said: Ministers would be able to repeal full Acts of Parliament by statutory instrument. There would be no Committee stage in which the measure was considered line by line. Statutory instruments cannot be amended; they have to be accented or rejected as they stand. There would be no Report stage in which new clauses could be considered. The House would have to accept the priorities of the Minister who presented the order."—[Official Report, 8 February 1994; Vol. 237, c. 158.] That is an exceptional power. It is a Henry VIII power. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman described the 1994 Act as a Henry VIII Act. The power is exceptional and should be used only for the specific purpose of limiting the burden that the public sector and the Executive impose on businesses and private persons at the risk of crushing them under an increased weight of regulation. It is vital that the specific and exceptional power to remove the role of the Executive in respect of burdens on private persons should not be perverted and turned into a power that imposes on private persons an additional series of burdens without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

I am confused by the hon. Gentleman. A few minutes ago, he argued that the Government had not used the powers enough, but he is now saying that we are using them too much. Which argument is he advancing? Does he believe that use of the 1994 Act should be limited, or that we should be using it far more than we are currently?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I have confused him. My proposition is straightforward. The 1994 Act established an exceptional power to amend large amounts of primary legislation by introducing secondary legislation, but it did so for the specific purpose of deregulation. The current Government have not used that power, although they should have done, and are now seeking to extend it not to deregulate but to impose new burdens and to give the public sector far wider powers.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) will forgive me, I shall give way first to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Deregulation.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in the previous Parliament, the then Opposition recognised that the procedure worked positively and accepted that it did not have the effect that we feared during debate on the legislation? Does he further accept that there was unanimity on all 37 repealed orders, and that we did not disagree on a single one?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

The hon. Gentleman is correct. I have no problem with that, which is why I did not suggest to the Minister for the Cabinet Office that the Labour party had executed a U-turn since the 1994 Act took effect. The point is, however, that the Act conferred a power for a deregulatory purpose. In the Opposition's view, the power should be confined to that purpose and used to achieve it as effectively as possible. It should not be extended to the wider aim of rewriting primary legislation to suit the Government, who may use it to introduce more regulation.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

The hon. Gentleman makes much of the paucity of orders under the current Administration, but does he accept that in the early days of the 1994 Act the easier targets were obviously those that went before the relevant deregulation committees? One of the lessons learned was that it became progressively more difficult under that legislation to deal with many more outstanding orders than were already being dealt with. Thus, a Bill was needed to regularise the procedure. Does he accept that that is one of the driving purposes of the Bill before us?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

At the risk of repeating myself, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the powers provided by the 1994 Act were not increasingly less capable of being used by the previous Conservative Government before the election. Indeed, that is why I referred specifically to the year leading up to May 1997. I recall that 23 orders were presented in those 12 months and that the current Government presented only five in the following year. If the Government have used the power less since the election, it is because they do not have the necessary will.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

We are getting to the kernel of the issue. First, does the hon. Gentleman accept that any order that is passed must have a deregulatory element? Secondly, will he acknowledge that regulatory regimes are a burden in themselves and that the 1994 Act could not deal with the issues that they create?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

The Minister takes me to the point that I wanted to reach. We oppose the Bill in principle, but we acknowledge that changes were made in the House of Lords. One such change requires an order made under the Bill to have a deregulatory purpose; the Government did not originally intend that. They intended that such a purpose could be placed alongside new burdens, the removal of inconsistencies and anomalies or the lifting of constraints on public sector expenditure. As long as a Minister—a Labour Minister, in the opinion of the Labour party—decides that the consequent benefit outweighs the cost, the additional burdens can greatly exceed the reduction and removal of burdens through some other provision in the order.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

Nothing in the Bill—perhaps the Minister for the Cabinet Office will tell me otherwise when she intervenes—requires a net reduction or removal of burdens as a result of an order made under it.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

The hon. Gentleman suggests that every change will lead to more regulation, but some changes will decrease it. The Bill will not allow Ministers to do exactly what they want. They will have to consult the scrutiny Committees, which have a strong record of having an independent voice on deregulation. If there is any doubt, the issue can be discussed in Parliament. The hon. Gentleman tries to suggest that the Bill provides for bypassing Parliament and allows Ministers to act unilaterally; that is not the case.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

The right hon. Lady takes us to the heart of the matter. The Conservative party does not trust the Government with such a power. At the next election, we aim to remove them. After the election, I hope that we will have a Government who have the will and the way to reduce the burden of red tape on business, instead of the current Government, who are interested in imposing additional burdens.

A Bill is required, and I do not dispute that changes to the 1994 Act might be beneficial. However, they should be used for a specific deregulatory purpose, as our reasoned amendment makes clear, not for additional regulations or creating new burdens. We have the political will and a way to achieve that. A deregulation agency independent of Government should be established to make the regulatory impact assessment. The assessment should not be conducted subjectively inside Departments. The agency should have the power to block proposals rather than simply to offer Ministers advice on them, and to introduce measures on which Ministers have to act. Our Administration will be determined to impose regulatory budgets.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

I shall give way shortly, but the right hon. Lady will not distract me from explaining what business genuinely requires. It needs a Government who are committed to the progressive reduction of its total burden. Regulatory budgets are the only way to achieve that. The cumulative effect of the additional burdens that the Government have imposed damages our competitiveness, and we must remove them. That means an independent audit, which leads to regulatory budgets. If additional regulations are necessary, they should be introduced through sunset clauses so that if the costs are higher or the benefits are less than predicted, the regulations can disappear. There should also be longer lead times before introducing new regulation.

The Government's deathbed conversion after four years of regulatory excess will convince no one. The Conservative party has a commitment, a will and a way to achieve deregulation. Only the Conservative party would achieve that. We will not support the Government's desire to use the exceptional powers of the 1994 Act for the wider purposes of re-regulation, creating new burdens and giving the public sector advantages at the expense of the private sector.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

I should be grateful for my hon. Friend's elucidation of one point. The Bill has two parts: expansion of the powers of the Select Committee on Deregulation and enforcement. As I understand it, the enlargement of the Deregulation Committee's powers, which will allow all sorts of matters to be brought before it, is really a gold-plating of the Deregulation Committee. It will give it extended powers. Does my hon. Friend see that as gold-plating?

The Bill's enforcement powers give people at local level the right of appeal to a Minister, which would bypass the legal system. If a local business was not happy with the decision of a local authority's enforcement officer, it could make an appeal directly to a Minister. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would make the Government judge and jury on such matters, and that that is another reason why the Bill is unsound?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

It might be as well for my hon. Friend to expand on those matters if he catches your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker.

On the second part of the Bill to which my hon. Friend referred, I believe that, on balance, the introduction of codes of practice is not wholly a bad thing; it can be positive.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

We consider regrettable—speeches were also made to this effect in the House of Lords—the removal of any power for Ministers to use a statutory enforcement to ensure that codes of practice are complied with, if enforcement authorities fail to abide by them. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) says that I should give way to the Minister for the Cabinet Office. I have done so several times, but as she was courteous in giving way to me, I shall give way to her again.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

At last we have heard from the hon. Gentleman some of the proposals that the Opposition would introduce in place of the Bill. He suggested an independent deregulatory commission. The House would be interested to know whether that would be more costly and bureaucratic than the regulatory impact assessments that we have now. He also suggested regulatory budgets. How would he prevent that provision from becoming a new layer of complex bureaucracy, leading to further delays in introducing legislation?

The hon. Gentleman also suggested sunset regulations. That is not a new idea; we have already introduced them on two Bills. However, we believe that they should not be part of any order, but assessed on a case-by-case basis. Finally, Baroness Buscombe, on the Front Bench in the House of Lords, said on Second Reading that the Conservative party would not oppose the Bill in principle. Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House why his party's view has changed between the House of Lords and the House of Commons?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

A number of points have been raised, and the right hon. Lady took advantage of that intervention to make a speech on the subjects, dictated by Millbank tower. She knows that it is the practice in the other place not to vote against legislation on Second Reading, and we did not. I pay tribute to the work of Baroness Buscombe and Lord Kingsland on the Bill in the House of Lords. It was their intention to secure substantial changes to the Bill, and some were made. However, it is our responsibility to examine the Bill as it is presented to the House of Commons, and we believe that it is, in principle, objectionable to extend the use of this power in the way that the Government propose.

On Second Reading in the House of Lords, we had some hope of positive amendment. Unfortunately—such are the habits of the House of Commons—it is now incumbent on us to oppose the Bill in principle because it is our unhappy experience that the Government are deaf to good argument in the House of Commons, and unwilling to accept our arguments of principle. There is, therefore, very little likelihood of our obtaining a positive and constructive response, however we might present our argument.

We shall oppose the Bill in principle. We shall also make it clear that, however it has been amended in the House of Lords, it remains a Bill designed to use a power intended for the specific purpose of deregulation for the wider purpose of re-regulation and the creation of new burdens. That would free up the public sector at the expense of the private sector, and do nothing to roll back the regulatory excesses of this Government. It will, therefore, fall to the Conservative party, after the next election, to introduce legislation to achieve the deregulation that business needs and desires so much.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton 4:44, 19 March 2001

First, let me put one or two things on the record.

As I am sure my Front-Bench colleagues will agree, the regulatory impact unit worked hard to produce the Bill. In a remarkable variety of guises, it has done a marvellous job over a long period, under the last Administration as well as this. I also pay tribute to the work of Lord Haskins and his taskforce. Lord Haskins has never shrunk from saying things that may not have been palatable to Ministers at certain times, and he has certainly been forthright in expressing his views on the need for better regulation. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and Lord Weedon of Alexander have played their part—

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

I stand corrected. I am confused by titles, not least those of Members of the other place.

Those whom I have mentioned are people of character and distinction, who have worked very hard to make the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 a workable proposition.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I look forward to hearing the rest of the hon. Gentleman's speech, which, judging by precedent, I expect to be both interesting and entertaining.

The reason I was so quick to intervene is that Lord Alexander of Weedon is a former resident of my constituency. He is a fine man, and Weedon is a fine village.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

I am sure that that is true, but it does not necessarily mean that Lord Alexander is a friend of the present Government in political terms, although he has worked assiduously on this issue and many others like it.

It is all too easy to make glib, cheap political points on the back of a serious attempt, made over a long period, to turn legislation that was plainly not as workable or effective as it should have been into legislation that is workable. I have the doubtful distinction of having spent some time in the Cabinet Office working on these matters, and I was amazed at how complex and arcane they could become. I also represented the Cabinet Office on the legislation committee. Conventions relating to confidentiality prevent me from saying too much, but my role—doubtless performed by someone else now—was to act as gatekeeper in regard to legislation before it was presented to either House, and to ensure that a proper regulatory appraisal took place, including a compliance cost assessment. The process was effective in ensuring that certain pieces of legislation were altered to provide a full and transparent description of what would eventually obtain following the passage of that legislation. No doubt someone performed a similar role under the last Administration.

At one stage, there was agreement among all parties that we needed to do much more to make legislation effective in terms of its ostensible purpose. The result, in my view, is the Bill that we are discussing now. However, as the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has illustrated, things have moved on considerably over the past four years. Not only have the Government been extremely successful, introducing many worthwhile social and economic initiatives in both Houses; the whole approach to regulation has changed.

Initially, all references were to deregulation. When we took office in 1997, we changed the term to "better regulation". That was not an exercise in simple semantics. It sent out a strong message a la Chomsky: changing the language meant capturing the argument, which was not about taking away regulation per se but about recognising that there is good as well as bad regulation. We were intent on doing all we could, where there was a social necessity for us to do so, to ensure that regulation remained strong and enforceable, but was also understood by both individuals and businesses. By the same token, we recognised that there was superfluous legislation that was no use to man or beast, and should be removed—and we attempted to do that as well.

As the speech of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire showed, there is a different agenda on the Opposition Benches nowadays. Conservative Members have adopted a very right-wing position and have moved far out of the mainstream of traditional British politics. They believe in a minimalist state. Their soul brothers in America, the Republican party, would endorse everything that they stand for—[Interruption.] I note that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is nodding. If they had their way, Conservative Members would remove almost every vestige of regulation.

I am particularly concerned about the regulatory and legislative spheres that Conservative Members seem to dismiss. In this debate, I want to hear what they have to say about—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman will hear it.

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

I am sure that I will be hearing from the hon. Gentleman and from other Conservative Members. I want to hear their comments on the types of regulation that are very important to people in this country, such as health and safety regulation. What proposals do Conservative Members have for that? I should also very much like to hear with what they propose replacing necessary legislation. I assume—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire says that we have already heard it. What we heard was an addendum to a political diatribe on how Labour Members could not be trusted in government. Conservative Members are paranoid about proposals from Labour Members, to whom they impute base motives where none exist. Apparently, according to them, in seeking to pass the Regulatory Reform Bill, the Government are trying to circumvent the House entirely—to frustrate the will of the House. I tell them that the will of the House will be demonstrated after the next general election. I dare say that we shall all still be sitting on the same side of the House.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Deregulation Committee's procedures allow for much more extensive consultation and discussion on delegated legislation than such legislation would receive if it were dealt with under the usual procedures of the House?

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Labour, Liverpool, Walton

I accept that unequivocally. As I understand it—I stand to be corrected either by the Opposition or by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench—there has been extensive consultation on the Bill. As I recall it, there was a draft Bill and an opportunity to resolve the issues. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire signally failed to substantiate his claim that no opportunity has been provided to the individuals whom he has quoted as being concerned about the Government's approach to regulation. As I think my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office said, Digby Jones has welcomed our initiative. As one might expect, the Local Government Association has also approved it, as have Ian Handford at the Federation of Small Businesses, and the Institute of Directors. Presumably, they have approved the initiative partly because of the Government's extensive consultation with all parties on the draft Bill.

I can only assume that Conservative Members are opposing the Bill for broader political advantage. There is nothing wrong with that. I think that we all play that game—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) says yes. I agree with him. There is nothing wrong with that. We had hoped to tackle the very real and complex problems of dealing with regulation consensually with the other parties, but if that is common cause, they have certainly not lent their support to promoting it.

I remind Opposition Members that for every regulation that the previous Administration removed, they introduced 13 new ones. Things have not changed an awful lot in that respect. One difficulty is that we have to deal with an ever more complex world. A simplistic, minimalist approach will do nothing to cure those problems. We have to take the type of action that my right hon. Friend adumbrated in her speech. We have to ensure that people have access to transparent advice, and that they understand that something can be dealt with in just one visit, without a plethora of inspections. Those issues are being addressed in long-standing initiatives, but there are no simple, straightforward answers.

The Bill builds upon experience and seeks when possible to improve and streamline the regulatory processes. I applaud the Bill, and I applaud my right hon. Friend's initiative in introducing it.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I call Mr. Norman Baker.[Interruption.] I am sorry; I mean Dr. Vincent Cable.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I am not sure whether that is a compliment or not, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I start on a positive note: I welcome the fact that the Government recognise that too many of the wrong kind of regulations have been made, and propose to do something about it. However, although it took the Conservative spokesman half an hour to get round to saying so, there are serious constitutional problems with the Bill. Those are the issues that my colleagues, particularly Lord Goodhart, tried to deal with in the other place.

To do justice to the problems, one need only look at the language that the Select Committee on Deregulation initially used about the Bill—although that language has subsequently been modified. The Committee, which I believe is all-party, expressed itself in trenchant terms about some of the potential problems with the Bill.

For example: There are few limits to the power in clause 1 of the draft Bill to amend existing legislation…The proposal could allow much of the legislative programme to be implemented by orders rather than by bills". The Committee goes on modestly defining its own capacity to act as a constraint on the legislation: from our own standpoint we do not consider—however flattering it might be to do so—that the fact that we carry out this work to the best of our ability within the existing framework is lasting protection against the misuse of the extremely wide powers now proposed". That was written by an all-party group which will have the responsibility for carrying through the powers in the legislation, so there are serious constitutional problems. I sincerely hope that in what will probably be the rather short time allowed for consideration of the Bill in Committee, those issues will be properly addressed.

As for the substantive issues of deregulation, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) put the point well when he said that regulation was neither inherently good nor inherently bad. There is good regulation and bad regulation; there is excessive and unnecessary regulation, and there is necessary regulation. It is a question of costs and benefits, and of striking a balance. There are good reasons why activity has to be regulated, such as consumer protection, environmental protection and workers' rights. Those are entirely plausible, good economic and social reasons why regulation has to exist.

Indeed, much of the spurt in regulation occurred under the previous Government, as a consequence of privatisation. If one creates private monopolies and networks, there has to be a structure of regulation to manage them and oversee them in the social interest. Regulation is not inherently undesirable; the question is how regulation is managed.

There has been a tendency, which is not particular to the present Government but which has accelerated while they have been in office, towards regulatory creep—a growth in regulation for undesirable reasons.

There are three phenomena that we must try to understand. First, it is increasingly becoming the habit of Governments to regard business as a useful agent for carrying out their own policies—policies that they could have paid for and carried out themselves. For example, the working families tax credit makes businesses act as an arm of the Department of Social Security, and businesses now also have to collect repayments of student loans. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, business has to act as a spy agency for Government, without being fully compensated. That also happened under the previous Government, through the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am grateful to the Liberal spokesman for giving way to me, but when he talks about "regulatory creep" does he have in mind all those Liberal councils that are trying to regulate us off the roads and stop motorists using their cars? That is not so much creep as complete standstill and chaos. Does the hon. Gentleman endorse that kind of madcap regulation that stops people going about their daily lives—or do we need a Bill to stop it?

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I have a Liberal Democrat council in my area, which is introducing traffic-calming measures funded under a special scheme introduced by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) when he was Secretary of State for the Environment. The scheme attracted a fairly wide measure of cross-party consensus. Much of the use of business as an agent for the Government has occurred under this and the previous Government, but the trend has certainly gathered momentum.

The second issue, to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has contributed substantially, is tax complexity, which has been referred to on many occasions and of which the climate change levy is a good example. The levy's objectives—to reduce emissions, particularly carbon emissions—are perfectly desirable. They could have been achieved in simple ways but in fact the implementation has been very complex, with numerous exemptions. One example that was referred to me this morning will, I am sure, eventually come to the attention of Ministers. Launderettes, which have to pay VAT on energy at the full rate—as opposed to households with washing machines—now have to pay the climate change levy as well. People who use launderettes—students in particular—tend to be relatively poor. They are being penalised in a completely arbitrary way as a result of a complex piece of legislation whose consequences were not thought through.

The third way in which regulatory creep has occurred is through gold-plating. It is common and fashionable to blame the European Commission for some of this, but much of the gold-plating occurs in Whitehall. It occurs for complex reasons which I hope we will go into at some stage in the Bill's proceedings.

One of those reasons is the way in which parliamentary legislation is drafted. The whole system of parliamentary draftsmanship contributes to the complexity of regulation. Another, rather important, reason is that unlike countries such as Holland or Denmark, we do not have any common ground or consensus between employers and employees. Because there is a lack of trust and of consultation, everything has to be spelled out in enormous detail.

The working time directive serves a very admirable purpose. It is entirely desirable that workers should not be forced to work excessive hours. The difference between the British system, which I think has 75 pages of explanatory memorandum, and the Dutch system, which has one, is that in Holland it is possible for employees and employers to sit round a table and work out a modus vivendi without officials having to prescribe every detailed item of the administration.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

Does the hon. Gentleman also accept that in Holland the people sitting around the table can understand the language that is used, which is not interfered with by parliamentary draftsmen?

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, and I do not need to elaborate on it.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) described the working time directive as admirable. Does he accept that matters to do with the regulation of working hours are pre-eminently issues with which democratically elected members of the British legislature should preoccupy themselves, and that they are most certainly not matters for supranational authority?

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

The hon. Gentleman and I probably disagree on the fundamental principle of whether the social chapter should be a national or transnational piece of legislation. However, that is incidental to my fundamental point, which is that, whatever the underlying authority, the British have chosen to implement the directive in an interventionist, messy and complex way.

How far is it necessary to achieve the Bill's objectives through new legislation rather than in other ways? There are many ways in which the Bill's objectives could be accomplished through administrative action. For example, a fundamental problem confronting many small companies is the enormous number of inspections that have to take place. I believe that it is possible, under various statutes, for 300 different kinds of inspection by various agencies, not just the Health and Safety Executive, to take place. That number has increased by about 50 per cent. over the past 20 years. Much trouble could be saved if small businesses had to deal with just one inspector at the Health and Safety Executive. Such an administrative change could be accomplished through Government agencies without new legislation.

Many of the objectives of legislation could be accomplished through voluntary legislation backed up by general statute. An obvious problem, which the Government have grappled with, so far unsuccessfully, is that of cowboy builders. Most of us have constituents who have paid several thousands of pounds to have their drive tarmacked; six months later, when a large crack appears in the drive, the constituent rings the company only to discover that it has disappeared. How should we deal with cowboy builders? The problem is not a lack of competition—there will probably be 40 names listed in "Yellow Pages". The problem is that one does not know which of those people learned their trade in the local TEC and which of them learned it in the local nick. There must be a mechanism by which standards can be upheld.

A sensible way to do that, without being over-prescriptive, would be to have the profession of builder recognised by Parliament and the detail of consumer insurance and training decided by the Federation of Master Builders or a comparable body. That could be done voluntarily, in the same way that the British Medical Association oversees the medical profession. Many of the objectives of regulation could be achieved without over-prescriptive and highly detailed legislation.

The Bill raises major constitutional issues. My colleagues in the other place tried to address those and feel that they have helped to improve the Bill, but some issues remain. One is the lack of clarity about the organisations that can claim to suffer excessive burdens. I understand that the provision can apply to the public sector as much as to the private sector. If a Department or a local council wants to be exempted from regulations, it will be able to use the Bill in the same way as a private company. That will cause all kinds of problems that are not related to deregulation in the sense that we have been encouraged to think about it. How will the Bill prevent Departments from simply obstructing or ignoring the powers that Parliament has bestowed?

The second issue is proportionality. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has already made the point that regulations give rise to issues of cost and benefit. We must ask whether the additional burdens of regulation or, in some cases, deregulation are offset by compensating benefits. How will that balance be measured? How will costs and benefits be defined in the Bill? In the other place, an attempt was made to encompass the idea of "desirability", although I am not entirely sure how that common-sense word can be used in a legal context.

The third and most important point is how we prevent large, controversial measures being introduced under cover of the Bill. Clearly, many small changes, such as the 50 listed by the Minister for the Cabinet Office may well be highly appropriate, but who will define what measures are controversial? How will a limit be set so that the Bill is not abused?

I accept that in many cases regulation is necessary and desirable for environmental and social purposes. However, we must ask whether it is necessary, what burdens it imposes and what its costs and benefits are. If the Bill provided a workmanlike mechanism for reducing excessive legislation, I would welcome it. but I suspect that it contains hidden constitutional traps about which we need reassurance.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley 5:08, 19 March 2001

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in the debate and I certainly support the Bill. It is an important step in enabling us to introduce more deregulation and to tackle many of the problems found by the Deregulation Committee since its inception, following the introduction of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994.

I was very disappointed by the speech of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), particularly in view of the fact that in the other place the Bill was not opposed, even at its final stage. I understand his argument that, traditionally, the Lords do not vote against Second Reading and that they try to scrutinise and improve legislation. However, having done so with some measure of success and having amended the Bill, they accepted it and sent it to this House to be debated and scrutinised in accordance with the normal procedure.

Having read the Opposition amendment, I am concerned that their view is that the Bill fails to apply sufficient consultative, scrutiny and review provisions". That is absolute nonsense, and it fails to recognise what has happened since the passing of the 1994 Act. That failure can be traced back to our reasons for opposing the Act: we were outraged by it and said that it was Henry VIII legislation under which Parliament's ability to debate proposals made under the Bill would be bypassed. However, when the Act was implemented, we on the Deregulation Committee found that that was not the case. Indeed, everybody has found that the proposals have resulted in deregulatory measures being dealt with in such a way as to be subject to better consultation and better scrutiny. The procedure is better than tagging measures on to big Bills.

Some Departments and their officials perhaps have not made more use of the legislation because they fear that the scrutiny and treatment of proposals would be much more rigorous, and on several occasions the Committee has sent proposals back to the Home Office. I held the position of Vice-Chairman and the Chairman was Barry Field, who was the Member for Isle of Wight. We met Ministers and officials to give them a severe dressing down, because we felt that some proposals were not being dealt with in accordance with the 1994 Act.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

It is no criticism of the hon. Gentleman's Committee that the Government have not chosen to put orders before it, nor is the reasoned amendment a criticism of the scrutiny carried out by that Committee. It is a criticism of the Bill.

We believe that the Bill is inadequate because the proposed consultation outside Parliament is inadequate. Scrutiny is also inadequate because of the limits on the nature of the material to be provided in the document to be laid before Parliament; and notwithstanding what the Minister of State, Cabinet Office in the other place said, the review of the overall effects of the legislation and of the extent to which it should continue to be used is inadequate too.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

I understand what the hon Gentleman says, but his remarks are misjudged and give a mistaken impression of the Bill. However, we are debating that matter here and there will be further debate in Committee.

The hon. Gentleman's view is that the Bill will add to regulation, not deregulation. Importantly, however, two main changes dealing specifically with that point were made in the other place, and such matters were of concern both to the Deregulation Committee and to its opposite number in the other place and Lord Alexander of Weedon, its Chairman. There is excellent liaison between the Committees and their members maintain a good relationship—they know what we are doing, we know what they are doing and the two Chairmen correspond. Although we do not always exactly agree, we try to work together to ensure that we are doing the job that we are there to do.

In all fairness to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, who will make the winding-up speech, he told the Committee that the Government, after further consideration, would accept amendments in the other place to change and improve the balance between regulation and deregulation, and we were glad to hear that. As a result, amendments were made in clause 1 to introduce a major restraint; it is now essential that provision must be included so as to reduce or remove burdens. There will therefore be a balance, so that the main purpose is the consideration of such reduction or removal. That point is extremely important.

Clause 3 was amended to prevent new burdens, unless a Minister is satisfied that there has been an overall reduction of the burden or that there are other beneficial effects for persons affected In the view of the Committee, those amendments meet many of the earlier criticisms of the draft Bill.

There has been no example of a better scrutinised draft Bill. There has never been better liaison between the Department that produced the Bill and the Committee that considered it in draft. A consultation paper was issued. The Committee made known its views to the Government. They responded, and the Committee replied to that response. We then considered the draft Bill. There has been every opportunity to express our views.

There may not have been 100 per cent. agreement with every provision, but the Government have moved a long way and have taken cognisance of the constructive proposals made by the Deregulation Committee. Indeed, last week we produced our first special report of this Session—"The Handling of Regulatory Reform Orders". That follows the publication of a report by the Lords Committee after the completion of the Bill's passage through that place.

I am the only Member who has been on the Committee since it was established—I joined it on day one—and I am not sure whether that is a reward or a punishment. I have chaired the Committee since 1997.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) referred to the number of proposals that the Committee had considered before the last general election. However, most of them were of little importance; they generally dealt with measures on gambling and bingo. Indeed, the first proposal that we dealt with was for the reform of betting on greyhound racing, allowing people to bet on the Tote—off the track. The Committee visited Walthamstow race track to see what the proposal involved. We had a meal there and were told which dog would win the last race. Disappointingly, it did not, so deregulation certainly did not guarantee the Committee a winner.

At one point, I even asked a parliamentary question asking whether our Committee was a deregulation Committee or a gambling and bingo Committee, because most of the measures that we dealt with before the election were on precisely those matters.

All along, the Committee has said that it is time there was some uniformity of age as regards soft gambling—for bingo, lottery tickets and so on. We have still not achieved that, so there is more to be done.

The most important measure that we dealt with was one that most people would not even notice—banks and cheque truncation. That measure was to be implemented in two stages—I am not sure whether the second has been fully implemented—and it means that when a cheque is paid into one branch it does not have to go back to the branch where it originated. In these days of modern technology, it was nonsense for millions of cheques to move around the country every day. That must have cost financial institutions—and, ultimately, their customers—a great deal of money.

Our original fears about how the legislation and the Select Committee would work very soon proved totally unfounded. As I said in an earlier intervention, we did our job strictly as any Select Committee would do. At the end of the day, after a lot of debate and discussion on some issues, we reached unanimous decisions on every item that we considered before the election. Indeed, in all our time as a Committee, we have divided on only one measure. We did so after the election, on a measure about which the employers and the trade unions agreed, involving a change in the trade union check-off provisions—but the Opposition decided to vote against the proposal at the last minute.

The Committee already provides good scrutiny. It is a good system; it has been proved to work, and good consultation is tied up with it. There is a good procedure of reporting to the House and debating any matter on which the Committee divides. Indeed, the House had to debate the check-off provisions because the Committee had divided on them. That was totally different from the procedure of European Standing Committees A and B when they were set up. They could amend a Government motion, but the Government could still table the original motion in the Chamber, and the House would have to agree to it without debate, forthwith. That is nonsensical, because the fact that a Committee has amended a motion should be reported to the House. Of course the Government always have the right to reamend the motion so that it states what they originally wanted. When I was a member of European Standing Committee A, I thought it nonsense that its proposals could be totally ignored and a motion different from the one agreed could be tabled in the Chamber, and agreed with a Division, if necessary, but without debate. So the Select Committee's procedure is good.

Right from the day after the general election, when I became Chairman of the Select Committee, its view and that of all my hon. Friends has been that it has not had enough business. The Committee has been disappointed about that and has tried to ensure that more proposals come before it. Indeed, we have met every Minister who has been involved, and they share our concern; they also want more proposals to go before the Committee.[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) laughs, but that happens to be true.

The Labour party is in favour of doing something, but the participation of Conservative Members on the Committee has been almost nil. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Cotter) nods, because he has taken a full part in the proceedings from the Liberal Democrat Benches. Indeed, I wrote to the Conservative Chief Whip, because the Committee was extremely worried that the Conservative Members were not taking part in its proceedings. One Member no longer wants to be a member of the Committee, but has not been replaced to this day. So, far from being advocates and campaigners for deregulation, the Tories have been backward in that work.

The then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), was concerned from the start. Indeed, we looked at the position, and it was agreed at a fairly early date that a consultation paper should be issued. Unfortunately, that was not done as speedily as one would have hoped, but it was ultimately issued. I met my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), when he was the Minister dealing with deregulation issues, and he too was anxious that we should increase the Committee's work load and encourage more Departments to put matters before it.

One of the effects of the Committee's not having enough work is that its staffing has been reduced—not in calibre, but certainly in number. That point must be addressed if the Bill makes progress and if the Committee's work load increases.

The Committee called my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields to give evidence and we had a good evidence-taking session. The chairman of the better regulation taskforce, Lord Haskins, also came before us to give evidence and the Committee produced a report.

When my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields was replaced, my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) took responsibility for deregulation. He was also concerned about the position, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), and the latter came before the Committee before this Bill was introduced. The Bill is a result of all the steps that have been taken over the years, so it is important to examine how we reached this stage.

The Committee considered the possibility of a Bill and published a report. In due course, a draft Bill was introduced; my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office appeared before the Committee and we considered the draft Bill in a useful evidence-taking session. In May 2000, the Committee published its second special report. The Government considered the report and produced their response and, quite rightly, the Committee examined their views. We did not agree with everything that the Government had said, so we produced our third special report outlining a few points that we wanted the Government to note.

When the Bill was introduced, it was clear that the Government had not taken account of everything that the Committee had said, but some of our key points have since been accepted. Amendments made in the other place take the Bill very much nearer to what the Committee wanted, and we welcome the positive approach that the Government have adopted. They have not taken a rigid view and they have been willing to consider other views and accept improvements to the Bill. I and my Committee welcome that.

Photo of Mr Brian Cotter Mr Brian Cotter Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the Committee was a little concerned by the Government's lack of commitment to an annual review of the Bill's operation? It is an important Bill, and although the Committee said that it would carry out an annual review, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be far better if it were carried out far more publicly by the Government?

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point; I was going to touch on it in my speech. It is clear that the Committee was not 100 per cent. happy with what the Government said. The latter have moved and said that they will carry out a review after three years to see how the Bill is working. That review will be published and debated, but the Committee has made it clear that it intends to produce an annual report. That is legitimate. I do not know who will sit on the Committee after the general election or who will chair it—the new Committee may take a different view. However, I hope that it will take note of our reports.

The Government are aware of the differing views. Indeed, I spoke to the Parliamentary Secretary about them in the Division Lobby and mentioned them to him last week when we had finalised our report. They are not confidential. The Committee has a right to its opinion, which I accept is slightly different.

The other place amended the Bill. It is now closer to what the Committee wanted. We certainly welcome that. Assuming that the Bi11 receives early approval and Royal Assent, the Government must act speedily to ensure that it is implemented. Initially, the measures will be contained in two pieces of legislation—the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and the new Act. I understand that the Government intend to introduce three proposals next week, which I shall deal with shortly. The measures to which my right hon. Friend the Minister referred are being consulted on and will be part of the new legislation.

I have touched on staffing resources. That will need to be dealt with speedily so that the Committee can carry out its work efficiently. We have always been served by excellent Officers of the House, but we will need sufficient staff to cope with the amount of work. My right hon. Friend mentioned some of the matters with which the Committee might have to deal. Indeed, they are listed in an annexe to the Committee's first special report which was published last week. They are a response to a parliamentary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) and they relate to issues that the Government have every intention of addressing at an early date.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

The hon. Gentleman mentions the Committee's regret at the paucity of deregulation proposals that it received. Has it had an opportunity to consider the 51 proposals that have been mentioned by Ministers in relation to the new power and examined whether, and to what extent, those could have been introduced as part of the 1994 Act?

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

We have not done that; perhaps we should have. However, the list has now been published.

We have spelled out our opinion on producing reports. It is an extremely important job. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will recognise that the report makes it clear that we intend to conduct an annual review. If need be, the Committee will call a Minister to give evidence. That could be the Minister with responsibility for deregulation or a departmental Minister. We have the power to do that and to consider particular failings. We may, of course, decide that the Government are doing an extremely good job and are giving us too much work to do in the new Parliament.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White) will want to refer at great length to paragraph 13 of our report. It reiterates the need to produce legislation comprehensible to those affected by it". However, the Government have not included such a provision in the Bill. The report continues: If the Bill is not amended to this effect" — let us assume for the moment that it will not be— we (and, we trust, our successors) will nonetheless scrutinise all future proposals and draft Orders with these objectives in mind, and will expect Ministers to do the same. I hope that Ministers will take note of that. Reference has been made to legislation in Holland. We want to have legislation in this country that is clear and understandable. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East has pursued that issue both in the Committee and in the Chamber, but he is not the only one who is concerned: many hon. Members on both sides are concerned about it.

Three proposals are to be tabled next week. It is important that Ministers recognise that, once they have been tabled, the Committee clock starts to tick. We have a specific number of days in which to consider the proposals: all days count, including weekends, unless the House is not sitting for more than four days; therefore the timetable stops for the duration of an election, but restarts on day one of the new Session. I mention that because it means that the Committee must be established with all possible speed after the general election if it is to be able to carry out its responsibilities under the Bill.

The first special report also proposes a new name for the Committee and provides some draft Standing Orders. Our attitude to our draft Standing Orders is not rigid; we have published them to provide helpful guidelines, in the hope that they will be taken into account by those responsible for formulating Standing Orders, as they too will be required fairly speedily if the Committee is to carry out its work. We propose that the Committee's name become "the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee",

because we believe that "the Deregulation Committee" will not adequately describe the work of the new body.

I welcome the Bill as a move in the right direction. The 1994 Act has proved too tight and too rigid for the amount of work.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

I should be interested to hear the Committee's and the hon. Gentleman's personal view on precisely what is too tight in the provisions of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act. The comments of the Minister for the Cabinet Office suggest that if the purpose is deregulation, the only real restriction is imposed by section 1(5)(c) of that Act, which limits the measures to which orders can be applied to those that were enacted in Sessions up to and including the 1994–95 Session. Would it not have been simpler to amend that provision than to engage in a wholesale extension of the power?

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

I do not accept that view. It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman appears not to have listened to the opening speech made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, and that Conservative Members did not take part in scrutinising the Bill. The second special report of the 1999–2000 Session addresses those very issues, as does the previous report. Anyone who becomes a member of the Committee on the Bill will, during the few days available to that Committee, find the Deregulation Committee's reports an extremely useful aid to constructive debate on the legislation.

Before I gave way, I was making the point that the Bill will open the door to more deregulation. Finally, to answer the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, from day one the Committee found that one cannot deregulate without putting some other regulation in place. We want sensible, workable and better regulation, and the Government have tried to achieve that. We all want to remove unnecessary bureaucratic regulation that serves no useful purpose. Even when the Committee was under the chairmanship of my predecessor and had a Conservative majority, almost every time we looked at a proposal, we found that we had to replace deregulation with something else to make the system safe and secure, and protect those from whom we were trying to remove burdens.

I fully support the Bill; I shall certainly vote for it and against the reasoned amendment at the end of our debate.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 5:40, 19 March 2001

I have declared my interests in the register.

What a sad testimony we have just heard from the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), the Chairman of a Committee that once rejoiced in the title of the Deregulation Committee. I am delighted that he was so honest because one thing became crystal clear in his long narrative: the Government do not believe in deregulation. They are not at all apologetic for the massive increase in regulation in their four years in office. They have left the Committee entirely devoid of purpose. We saw a rather pathetic image of members of a Commons Committee sitting around having meetings and writing letters to members of a Lords Committee, who were also sitting around having meetings, because they had nothing else to do, and wondering if they could have more meetings together.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I should like to make one little point, but shall then be delighted to give way.

We then heard that if there were a serious chance of any deregulation emerging, the Committee would need a massive increase in staffing because, poor things, its members were already enormously overworked. The only argument against the Conservatives was that some of them did not always turn up. I am not surprised, given that the Committee was boring and did nothing; I am sure that my hon. Friends had better things to do with their time.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

If boredom is the criterion to which we pay attention, I fear that many Labour Members would leave every time that the right hon. Gentleman stood up to speak. However, on a serious note, if a Commons Committee has concerns and wishes to share them with a Committee in the other place, it would be appropriate for the right hon. Gentleman's team to be in Committee to add its voice. Conservative Members were not in Committee and they did nothing; the country knows that.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

For four years, the Conservative team has put across strenuously and consistently the message that the Government are over-regulating, not deregulating. My right hon. and hon. Friends on, and beyond, the Committee would willingly give of their time to work on serious deregulation. The truth is the Government have no interest in that and have no proposals.

Today, we heard the Chairman of the Deregulation Committee make one serious proposal to the House: the Committee should be renamed—and, no doubt, rebranded with a new logo at considerable expense to the taxpayer—thus letting the secret out to the world at large that it cannot deregulate, does not want to deregulate, does not know how to deregulate and has no idea why it should deregulate. Instead, it would like to join in the game of more regulation, more cost, more burdens, more trouble, always putting more impositions on the private sector in the naive belief that there will never be another bust when all around is plenty of evidence of plenty of busts in plenty of sectors.

Photo of Mr Brian Cotter Mr Brian Cotter Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson

Does the right hon. Gentleman genuinely think that rhetoric is a replacement for action? We have heard a lot of rhetoric from Conservative Members. When the Tory Government were in power they introduced as much legislation as the present Government—indeed, possibly more. May I emphasis the point that Conservative Members did not attend the Committee at the very point when they could have influenced the Bill? They had an opportunity to discuss it. They are wasting time talking about getting deregulation when they had a chance to influence things. To stand here talking is rhetoric, not action.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I thought that speaking in the House of Commons was a great privilege, and that speaking in the House about policies might persuade the Government to do something sensible. Earlier, I heard my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), the shadow Cabinet Office Minister, make three proposals about a process for deregulation rather more sensible than the mean and difficult proposals in the Bill, which will undoubtedly backfire.

The Bill has "3 May is election day" written all over it. The Government do not seriously expect to get the legislation through or to do any real deregulation, but clearly, the runes have been consulted, the focus groups have been paid off, the polls have been plumbed, the Government have taken all sorts of factors into account, and they have discovered something that we have been telling them for four years: that the business community feels that it is massively overregulated.

Much of that overregulation has taken place under the present Government—[Interruption.] The Liberals, in the form of the hon Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Cotter), are leaving the Chamber because they know that they are partly guilty, as the junior coalition partners. The regulations have built up massively under the Government. The business community does not like that. The famous peace or truce—

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I shall give way in a moment. I should like to finish the point, then I shall be happy for the hon. Gentleman to have another shy. It will not work either, but we are always willing to encourage talent, if only we could find some on the Government Benches.

Too much regulation is being built up by this Administration. The business community no longer thinks that the Government are friendly to business, so they are in pre-election panic mode. The Cabinet Office has been asked to produce something that the Government can spin to persuade business that after four years of getting it wrong, they will get it right. The Government want the British people and the British business community to sign a blank cheque. The Government say, "Trust us. We now understand that deregulation is important."

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

I thank the right hon. Gentleman again for his courtesy in giving way. It may surprise him to hear that I understand and accept his protestations on behalf of private industry. However, it would be good to hear from him and other Opposition Members some protestation about sensible, appropriate and relevant regulation and how it protects workers.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I hope to give examples of measures that the Government have imposed that I should like removed, as they are totally unnecessary burdens. The Conservative party has always supported sensible regulation for employee conditions, and we are not proposing to scrap worthwhile protections for employees. It is a matter of balance and degree. An avalanche of regulation and taxation has been thrust at businesses. A £10 billion regulatory burden and a taxation burden of more than twice that sum have been added by this Administration. That is becoming the straw that breaks many camels' backs throughout British business.

No wonder the Government want a general election on 3 May. It will not be long before all that comes home to people. Businesses will go bankrupt, businesses will shed labour, entire industries will get into worse trouble, and much of it will be the direct responsibility of Ministers and Labour Members, who willingly imposed tax after tax and regulation after regulation, to cause those troubles.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

When the right hon. Gentleman went to the Back Benches after losing the leadership election in the previous Parliament, did he vote against all the additional tax burdens that the Conservative Government forced on business?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record, he will see that I produced a number of alternative proposals for less tax and less government. I have gone on to support an Opposition who clearly want to lower the tax burden, compared with the Government's very high one. That, surely, is the position of a sensible person who wants to make the case for a more prosperous country.

I draw to the attention of the House a particular concern, in the light of the extraordinary clause 9, which deals with enforcement practice. Clause 9(1)(b) states: the practice followed by enforcement officers in relation to the enforcement of the restriction, requirement or condition ought to be improved so far as fairness, transparency and consistency are concerned". Seemingly, the Bill sets out the need for a code of practice to try to improve the way in which Ministers regulate. I would be delighted if Ministers regulated more fairly, transparently and consistently, but it is extraordinary that they need to introduce a Bill to allow the House to impose on them a requirement to set out enforceable standards of conduct. Why are not sensible enforcement procedures already in place, and why do Ministers need legislative permission to introduce codes of practice that they could issue anyway?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My right hon. I Friend speculated on why the Government are so keen to have the general election on 3 May. I suggest that it is because they know that the Bill is unenforceable. He referred to clause 9(1)(b). Does he realise that any clause that provides that a standard "ought to be" enforced is unenforceable in practice?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

That may be the case, but my criticism of the Government is that they try to introduce so much legislation that is half-baked, ill-thought-out and inconsistent, and that lacks transparency. Furthermore, they keep changing their minds.

One of the farmers in my constituency, Mr. Russell Butler, has a large number of sheep in fields that range over a 70-mile area. Last week, he needed to move the animals, but he came up against bad Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food regulation. Presumably, it was exactly the sort of regulation that clause 9 is supposed to tackle, but we cannot wait for that measure to take effect. The Minister of Agriculture should deal with the problem today. Mr. Butler asked for permission to move his sheep, which, I am pleased to say, are nowhere near a confirmed outbreak of foot and mouth disease. He was told that he could not move them more than 5 km because of the regulations that were extant last week. He needed to move them over a greater distance, because his fields are spread out over a large area. The sheep on his grass were getting into considerable trouble. It is lambing season and he wanted to return them to the farm for the lambing to occur properly. Even if he had to leave them out in fields, he wanted them to have grass to eat. The fields in which they had remained were getting muddy and the grass had worn out. Some of the fields—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will return fairly quickly to his point about regulation.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am trying to illustrate the problem with clause 9 by citing a clear example of legislation that is muddled and lacks transparency. Perhaps a stronger measure than a code of practice is needed, but we cannot afford to wait for primary legislation, and my constituent, Mr. Butler, would obviously like to know that the matter is being taken seriously by Ministers and the House.

Mr. Butler applied for information on whether there was anything else he could do. He was then told that the regulation would be changed during the week and that he could obtain a movement order because the restricted distance was to be changed to 15 km. He was told that the change would occur on Tuesday. I then intervened personally, as he wanted to move the sheep 15 miles and not 15 km. Subsequently, however, he was telephoned and told that he could kill all the sheep, even though they were perfectly healthy. He was assured that a licence would be granted for that purpose. Of course, that worried him considerably and caused me enormous concern. Before I had to intervene again, however, I was telephoned with an entirely different story. I was told that some time during the week, on an unspecified date, MAFF would lift any limit on the distance of movement for farmers in unaffected areas. In effect, I was told that my constituent could hang on in the hope that the regulation would be changed, although his sheep would probably starve to death on muddy fields in the meantime.

I hope that you can see, Madam Deputy Speaker, that that example deals with a point that is central to the Bill, as it demonstrates muddle, incompetence and lack of transparency. It also shows the lack of decent feeling for animals that could die because Ministers do not see—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman can give an example, but as I have pointed out, he must return to the principle of deregulation.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am happy to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Clause 9 states that enforcement should be fair, transparent and consistent. I agree with those aims, but why is such provision needed? Surely those conditions should apply now. Why should we introduce a Bill to make Ministers behave transparently and consistently, when that is how they should behave now? What is wrong with them? Why do they have to rely on the Minister for the Cabinet Office—one of the less dangerous people among them—to introduce the Bill? They are introducing legislation in the hope that, if they stay in government, they will at some stage introduce codes of conduct on regulation. However, we have seen in all too many instances that they have no idea how to regulate sensibly, how to be open and honest or how to leave people sure of what is required.

I have spoken about agriculture and I shall not bore the House with more examples. Business men and farmers want fair, proportionate regulation. They want to know why it was arrived at and what they need to do to comply with it. How can a farmer comply with a regulation when he is given three different versions of what he should do? Should he kill his animals, or wait in the hope that he can move them a shorter or a longer distance? We need immediate action on such issues.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the explanation of the Government's appalling failure on regulation can be found in the two characteristics that the six Department of Trade and Industry Ministers and three Cabinet Office Ministers in the House have in common? First, none of them has ever run a business or worked in one, and, secondly, they are all fanatical European "federasts".

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

Let me take the right hon. Gentleman back to the nature of the Bill. He spoke about lack of consultation, but there has been unprecedented pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft Bill was published last October and was the subject of extensive consultation. He said that it was a last-minute measure, but that is patently incorrect. He suggested that the provisions had not been costed, but they have been, in comparison with his Government's costings. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) spoke about an independent deregulatory commission and a regulatory budget without telling us why his proposals would not create greater budgetary and administrative costs. It would be useful if the right hon. Gentleman could describe such costs in his meandering speech.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I think that the Minister wanted to intervene on my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire, as her points relate to his speech rather than to mine. I gave way to her because I always do so if time permits, and I hoped that she would feel like defending the Government or would have something better to offer to my constituent and to the many farmers throughout the country who want proper regulation. The Bill concerns not only deregulation, but better regulation. Indeed, the main burden of the provisions is amendment of the 1994 Act to allow the Government to use similar powers to increase regulation, rather than diminish it.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the clause 9 provision to which he referred is lifted word for word from the 1994 Act, which he supported when he was a Cabinet Minister? Why does he not support that measure now?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I have made it clear that I fully support the Bill's principles in that regard, but why is the Bill needed to achieve what should be happening now? When we consider the chaos and confusion caused by lousy regulation in agriculture, we are desperate for an immediate solution. We need to know how many animals must be killed and why. If the Government have settled on such a policy, we need to know whether the killing can be carried out more quickly, so that the risk can be reduced, rather than increased.

Those are today's anxieties in respect of better regulation, but the Bill does not sort them out. I do not challenge the principles of regulatory reform. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, I supported those principles—fairness, transparency and consistency—in 1994, and I still support them today, but I want action, rather than more words on a piece of paper that is merely a pre-election stunt that demonstrates no understanding of the seriousness of what is occurring in the countryside or in businesses elsewhere

I should like to move away from agriculture and clause 9, and consider earlier clauses.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when we consider suffering farmers or business men who are burdened with over-regulation, the primary problem is not the regulation but incompetence? The countryside is especially affected by the incompetence of Ministers and managers. The Government are saying that the ship is heading towards the rocks and that we must therefore give it a complete refit and change the engines when we need to change the officers on the bridge. That is all we need to do to help farmers.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He represents many more farmers than me, and he speaks with feeling and understanding from experience. He could also have said that many abattoirs were killed off by regulation, much of it from the European Union. The Government did not oppose it, and they are paying a high price in agriculture, partly because the closure of many smaller abattoirs requires more movements over long distances. I do not claim that that caused the outbreak, but it has made its spread more rapid and more difficult to contain.

If we consider the number of businesses that are desperate for proper deregulation, we can understand why so many people will believe that the Bill is not man enough for the task. Let us consider fishing. Our industry is being killed off by common fisheries policy regulation, whose purpose seems to be to ensure that cuts in catch and quota are borne mainly by British fishing vessels to enable Spaniards and others to take the catch.

Why do not the Government deregulate our fishing industry and press for re-regulation of the foreign fishing industry to change the balance? That is what our fishermen want. They understand the need for some overall controls, but sensible ones, not flinging dead fish back into the sea and believing that that will transform the position. They would like a fairer system that gives them more chances and the foreign vessels commensurately fewer.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

The previous Government signed the common fisheries policy, which largely led to the current position. The Government have done much to reform it. Also, the number of abattoirs more than halved in the two years before the Government came to office. The rural White Paper, which was published in November last year, pledged £8.7 million for abattoirs.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

My constituents do not recognise the world that the hon. Gentleman describes. In their world, European regulation considerably damages the industries that are most affected by it, and a supine Government provide soundbites about being at the heart of Europe and getting on frightfully well with our partners, while being unable to challenge them about anything or stand up for British fishing or agriculture. That has led to the most murderous reductions ever—and there have been all too many over the years—in the British industry's catches. If British fishing is to have a future, we need a Government who believe in the right sort of regulation and deregulation.

The Bill will not help. I cannot go to a fishing village on my travels and say, "Great news. I was in the House of Commons on a marvellous occasion. We had a debate during which Ministers at last realised that European regulation is smashing the fishing industry, and they have introduced a measure to get regulation right." Ministers do not care; they do not even admit that there is a problem. Government Back Benchers are prepared to make foolish points, which will read badly in dwindling fishing communities around our coast.

There is also the meltdown in telecommunications. Share prices have crashed and we have heard announcements that that glamorous and growing industry is about to suffer job losses on a big scale. That process began when the Chancellor of the Exchequer imposed a windfall tax of £22 billion on that successful industry. He perceived no irony in saying simultaneously that he would impose a massive licensing, tax and regulatory bill on the industry and that there could be a new economy with a faster growth rate. He said that there was a new paradigm, led by telecommunications and the dotcom revolution. He believed that it was a great idea to tax the industry to a dangerous extent. Now a bitter harvest is being reaped. The Germans foolishly followed that example; over-regulation took £50 billion out of a lead industry. That has led to difficult consequences in stock markets and telecommunications throughout the European Union.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why he was elected in 1997 on a manifesto that supported the action that he has outlined?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I did not recommend that policy. I made a speech in the House explaining the difficulty. The Conservative party would not have modelled it as mathematically brilliantly as did the Government, who optimised the take and ensured that businesses were left short of cash and unable to make the investment in the next generation of technology as quickly as they should. I pay full tribute to the Chancellor's ability to take the right advice from a mathematical professor, and to ensure that he took most of the money and left nothing for new investment and new ideas. However that is not a success but a great failure.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Willingly—perhaps the hon. Gentleman can do better than his previous intervention.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that the halving of the value on the Nasdaq exchange in New York has much to do with profit warnings by major American multinationals and little to do with the Government's sale of the spectrum, which brought so much money to the Exchequer?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am talking about the United Kingdom. That is our country, where I have a constituency and represent people. The combined impact of the British and German auction is a major factor in the collapse of telecommunications share prices in Britain. As I explained, the German auction was modelled on the British version. Cannot the hon. Gentleman understand that if a Government suddenly take £5 billion from the main participants in a successful growing industry that leads an economy, its growth will be damaged? The crucial companies in Britain were affected by that.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow Anniesland

As I worked in telecommunications for 30 years, I know a wee bit about it. BT has made exorbitant profits and given them to shareholders for many years. It has not invested them properly, and that has now come home to roost. The telecommunications industry—or the communications industry, as it likes to call itself nowadays—has been affected by the global market. That has nothing to do with Britain and the Government. More people are employed in telecommunications than before. Would you not agree—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. First, the hon. Gentleman's intervention is too long. Secondly, he is not using the correct parliamentary language. He has had long enough for his intervention.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

My case stands. The British Government, followed by the German Government, took huge sums from the leading telecommunications companies in this country. Massive over-regulation and the sale of licences when the public sector had a monopoly stranglehold on marginal spectrum is the important issue. That has done enormous damage. The hon. Gentleman can argue until he is blue in the face, but he should watch what happens next. More redundancies will occur—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is going rather wide of the mark. We are getting into a general history of financial affairs in recent years. Will he please return to the Bill?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am happy to do that.

The Bill does not offer the sort of deregulation that industry desperately needs. Over-licensing and over-expensive regulation of the telecommunications industry is an example that the Government will not tackle.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the consequences of the Government's policy on the telecommunications industry is that it has left them unable to pursue the extent of deregulation required by the introduction of full competitive pressures, especially on local loop unbundling, that would appeal to a broader business interest in stimulating broad-band access? The Government's desire for additional revenue and their propensity for regulation are intimately connected.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I quite agree, and I notice that there is nothing to tackle that problem on the list of 51 varieties of possible deregulation. There is a case for the right kind of additional deregulation in telecommunications. Although that would not offset the massive tax burden, it would at least send a signal that the Government have not lost all interest in and enthusiasm for such a leading sector. However, I see from the rather blank looks on ministerial faces that we are not going to get that.

Another area in which I would like further deregulation—which I am pleased to see that the Conservative party has pledged to achieve as soon as it has regained power—is IR35 regulation of the computer industry. That is another important lead industry alongside telecommunications. If the new revolution was about anything, it was about the application of telecoms, dotcoms and computing to create exciting new economic developments. What did the Government do? They smashed not only the telecoms industry with their taxes but a lot of the entrepreneurship in the smaller computing businesses by imposing IR35.

Will the Minister use the so-called Henry VIII powers in the Bill to get rid of IR35? I checked with the Clerks, and was told that the proposal can cover any tax matter. If I give way now, will the Minister say that the Government will get rid of IR35? The computing industry would love to get that provision off the statute books. I see from the Minister's staying in a sedentary position that we have drawn a blank.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I should be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I am sure that he cannot make such a pledge.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had finished his speech. I was rising to speak on my own behalf.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman thought that at all, but there we are. I shall proceed.

There are terrible problems in a raft of rural businesses that are being worried to death by too much regulation. The Government have heaped general regulation, employee regulation and other forms of regulation on them. They are required to have much more sophisticated payroll activities to handle the working families tax credit and other measures that have been introduced—and, of course, the rates keep going up. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has said that, at this time of crisis in rural businesses, the Government should at least get rid of the business rate for a few months. Will the Minister use the powers in the Bill, or elsewhere, to do that? That would be a sensible gesture at a time when those businesses are being grossly damaged by over-regulation.

The Government started their response to the agriculture crisis by saying that people should not go walking in the countryside. That obviously flattened a lot of the hotel and leisure businesses that were making a reasonable living and whose big season was coming up at Easter. We now hear that the Government might relax those instructions. Will Ministers take the opportunity of this debate on regulation to tell those businesses what they are going to do for them? This is an immediate problem: the Easter holiday bookings are being cancelled now. Will the Government deregulate some of those movements, or is it unsafe to do so? If it is unsafe—as it may be—will the Government offer rate relief or some other compensation? This is a serious point.

I was contacted by constituents today, who pointed out how silly some of this regulation has become. My constituents, who, like me, would like any sensible action to be taken to clear up this dreadful disease in our sheep and our cattle, went to the local park. They were banned from walking in it, but were prepared to accept that regulation. They then discovered that a football competition was going to be held in the park for teams from outside the area, and that permission had been given for the competition to go ahead. Yet my constituents did not have permission to walk on their normal route through the wooded area, which is quite ridiculous, but again shows that Ministers are not living up to expectations—even the expectations in the Bill—of transparent, fair and sensible regulations.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

May I give another example? There is a long list of legislation that needs to be changed. Is my right hon. Friend aware that pig breeders are breaching welfare regulations? Weaners are being born and are now overcrowding their pens—thus breaking the law—yet breeders are not permitted to move the pigs away or even to slaughter them in situ? Would not this be an ideal point in the debate for the Minister for the Cabinet Office—who I see has now left her place—to make the position clear on that matter?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

My hon. Friend has come up with a powerful and worrying example of conflicting regulation, yet no Minister is prepared to speak for the Government on which part of the regulation is the more important, or to offer any hope at all to people at their wits' end trying to run their businesses against this awful background.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I go back to a point that I made earlier. Businesses in rural areas are going out of business because regulations are driving our rural tourism industry out of business, yet we are wasting hours of House of Commons time debating a Bill that will never become law because there will be a general election. Is there anything to stop Ministers acting now? Do we need this Bill? What is going on?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

That is our point about Second Reading. On Second Reading, we are allowed to discuss the wisdom of introducing the Bill. My hon. Friends and I feel that Ministers could take action today to clarify the inconsistencies and the awful muddle. We are saying not that they have to be clarified in one way rather than another, but that they must be clarified.

Ministers must go on television and explain how they are going to handle this awful crisis, and tell us which regulations apply and which do not. If many of the regulations needed to be changed, I am sure that Conservative Members would be willing to take some time today or tomorrow to change them, so that it would be done and rural businesses would know where they stood and had some chance of producing a plan for their own survival.

The haulage industry is another example of a set of businesses gravely damaged—in some cases, bankrupted or wiped out—by over-regulation, over-expensive licences and over-taxation. A combination of the highest diesel taxes in Europe, very expensive licence fees and a very complicated bureaucracy to regulate so many aspects of those businesses has led business to go to foreign hauliers. It has also led some British hauliers to flag out altogether and run their operations from northern France or Belgium, and it will lead other businesses into bankruptcy.

The haulage industry will undoubtedly suffer even more because of the spread of foot and mouth disease and the lack of cattle movements. That is a natural event that is extremely sad, but the Government had set the haulage industry up for bad performance long before that disaster hit. It is because the industry was so weak going into the crisis that we shall lose many more haulage businesses as a result of it.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Why did the previous Government not deregulate the road haulage industry between 1994 and 1997, and why did they introduce the fuel duty escalator?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

If we could get back to the levels of taxation and regulation that we enjoyed in 1997, the haulage industry would be cheering in the streets. I am delighted that the Conservative party is now committed to reducing the regulatory and tax burden, but this Government must answer the charge. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the burden was too high in 1997, why did he support all the measures to increase it between 1997 and today? It is absurd to say that because there were some specks of dust in someone's eye in 1997, sticking a twig into it thereafter does not matter. That is what the Government came along and did.

It was this Government's fuel escalator that did the real damage. They increased the rate of increase in the fuel escalator, and dragooned their Back Benchers into voting for the measure. It was not a Tory fuel escalator after 1997; it was a Labour fuel escalator. It was bigger and worse after 1997, and it has done much more damage as a result. Will the Minister tell us what action will be used to help the haulage industry under these deregulatory powers, if they are finally implemented? Will it not be too late? Does not the Minister realise that hauliers will be going bust now, tomorrow and for the rest of this week because the Government are over-taxing and over-regulating?

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether his party had any plans to remove the fuel duty escalator before it lost power?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I was very keen to stop it. I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends would have seen the wisdom of my arguments, because when one is on an escalator one reaches a point at which one wants to get off. There is no way in which a Conservative Chancellor would have increased the rate of ascent, given how high it had already gone. A Conservative Chancellor would have listened to the representations and said, "Yes, the duty is now at the same level as that of our continental competitors. It would be dangerous for the industry to raise it further."

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My right hon. Friend has almost anticipated the point that I am going to make. Does he recall that, at the time of the implementation of the fuel duty escalator, our petrol prices were mid-way in the European range, whereas they are now 10 per cent. higher than the second highest petrol price in Europe?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question, I must advise right hon. and hon. Members that they are again straying from the Second Reading of the Bill.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I ask the Minister to take into account road haulage regulation, and explain to the House why this weedy Bill does not tackle that problem. Will he come back to the House with a Bill that deregulates some aspects of the road haulage industry? He must know by now what the industry wants, because the Government have been in consultation with it for many months. Costs are too high, so business is going abroad and hauliers are being driven into bankruptcy by wrong regulation.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not allow his natural shyness and self-effacement to cause him to understate his case. May I put it on record that on 26 September 1996, during a speech at Haddenham school in my Buckingham constituency, he advocated deregulation on a massive scale, and that there was cheering afterwards?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am delighted to hear that—but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be delighted to learn that I shall not regale the House with the text of my speech. Indeed, as it was made off the cuff, I do not think that I could remember all of it. Anyway, I am delighted that my hon. Friend enjoyed it, and I still believe what I believed then.

Manufacturing has also suffered badly from too much regulation under this Government. Their feeling has been that any amount of regulation can be poured into manufacturing—regulation affecting jobs, and making the industry do their work for them in regard to tax and benefits—without any trouble being caused. There have already been more than 300,000 net job losses; how many more will it take before the Government wake up to the sad truth that my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire revealed, in general terms? We are losing competitiveness. It is no longer cheap enough to make things in Britain—the Government have made it too dear to make things in Britain—so many jobs are draining away to other countries.

Even this Government must have understood the tragedy that is Corus, and the massive cuts in the steel industry. Even this Government, with Members representing practically all the major textile locations, must have noticed that the textile industry is being gravely damaged by the combination of a weak euro—allowing European competitors more of an edge—with massive increases in costs, many pushed through by too much regulation and taxation. The Opposition look for some relief for textiles, steel and the other basic manufacturing industries, but we look for that in vain in this badly drafted Bill.

The Bill is an example of cynical manipulation—typical spin. We are told that the Government need greater powers to introduce deregulation. With their majority they could introduce any deregulation they liked as primary legislation, and given that they shove everything through in two or three hours anyway it would not take very long to do the job. Why do they not simply present some deregulation measures in the form of primary legislation? They might even find that we would expedite the passage of such measures, and would not be as worried about being given so little time for debate as we are in the case of many of the massive regulatory measures that they regularly propose.

We are told that these are Henry VIII powers in a good cause. That does a grave injustice to the late king, who, after all, introduced all his reformation measures in the form of primary legislation, in this House of Commons. Perhaps it is because he was an early Eurosceptic that the Government are taking such exception to him, and giving the powers that name.

The power that the Bill introduces is wholly undesirable. It is the power to regulate anew, and to impose additional burdens on an already massively overburdened private sector without the normal questions being asked and without the normal processes of primary legislation. It is true that there is long-winded consultation, which the Government will undoubtedly ignore when they have decided what they want to do, and it is true that there is a statutory instrument procedure. I think it wholly undesirable, however, that the House should be bypassed—in several ways—when the Government want to impose new regulatory burdens.

It is very different from getting rid of things. People have too much government. I have more government than I want, more government than I need, and certainly more government than I can afford. I speak for many of my constituents in saying that. The Bill will create an additional power to allow more regulation, without proper scrutiny.

I am surprised that the Government think it worth bothering, given that they have developed so many other ways of avoiding proper scrutiny of their measures and regulations. We now have an almost perpetual guillotine, pushed through to ensure that there is as little debate as possible. Labour Back Benchers are asked to occupy all the time available, so that the number of critical remarks can be reduced. Often, Ministers show a contemptuous attitude to those of us who seek to ask legitimate questions about how measures will work and whether they will work.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am not sure what this has to do with regulations. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will return to the Second Reading debate.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I accept your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am trying to discuss the power by order to make provisions reforming the law, which I consider to be a wide-ranging power. My worry—subject to your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is that it constitutes a method of avoiding even the perfunctory debate that we are allowed under the guillotine and primary legislation procedures; and, because it is so wide ranging, I fear that it is possible to talk about more or less anything. The Government have not made it entirely clear what they will introduce.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

It is certainly not possible to talk about more or less anything.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I accept your wise words and your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think you would agree that the Government want to take wide-ranging powers to reform, in unspecified ways, a wide range of law—all law, indeed, that affects persons carrying on an activity or business That is why I have confined my remarks to the subject of regulations affecting businesses. As the Clerks advise me, that clearly encompasses tax regulation, which is often the most onerous and expensive.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the two amendments carried in the Lords, to which I have specifically referred, ensure that a balance of deregulation must offset any new regulation?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am not sure that it must offset any new regulation in the way that I would like, but my point is rather different: I believe that any new regulation should have to go through normal procedures, and I see no objection to Ministers' presenting such measures in the form of primary legislation, according to their proposed truncated method of dealing with such legislation.

I defend the principle of the 1994 Act: that those who wish to strike something off the legislative list might want an expedited procedure. The principle was fairly tightly controlled, but there was some sense in it. I see no case for—effectively—allowing primary legislation to go through to re-regulate increased regulatory burdens under this kind of procedure and I think the House would regret consenting to that.

The Bill shows that the Government are into a cut-and-run election. They know that the telecoms business, the City, the computing businesses, farms and agri-businesses, haulage businesses and manufacturing businesses are going into a bust. The Government know that many of those firms will shed labour, and that some will go bankrupt: they are suffering very badly.

In all cases, there is a common thread. Yes, there are world conditions; yes. there are currency movements. The common thread, however—the thing that makes it worse here—is the Government's attitude and their action in over-taxing and over-regulating, usually by means of very expensive licensing, artificially restricting the supply of something that a business needs, and then charging the earth to enable that business to obtain it.

It is high time that this Government were well and truly rumbled, and my feeling is that the business community is well and truly rumbling them. Far from calling an end to boom and bust, they are creating boom for some and bust for others at the same time. Far from behaving with respect to Parliament they are introducing massive new powers to bypass, sideline and spreadeagle Parliament in the wrong direction. Far from giving us any deregulation, they are going to give us more rules, regulations and costs. Far from understanding the deep trouble in which many of our businesses find themselves, they ride on, taxing and regulating those businesses as if nothing was wrong. I hope that the people will reach the right conclusion on 3 May.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am slightly concerned about the interpretation that you placed on points that may be raised on Second Reading. I genuinely seek your guidance, for future reference.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The hon. Gentleman may be seeking my guidance, but it sounds s'ispiciously as if he is questioning the judgment of the Chair. I can say only that I will judge each speech and ea( h point entirely on its merits.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Of course I am not questioning your judgment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a genuine request for guidance on what we should discuss on Second Reading. I was rather under the impression that, in the case of a wide-ranging Bill with a eery open preamble relating to all "burdens affecting persons", Second Reading-as opposed to Report and Committee-was the one occasion when Members could range widely in discussing the principles behind the Fill. I feel that that is an important freedom, which Parliament must retain.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right that the matter of how widely hon. Members may range in their speeches is entirely foi the occupant of the Chair. I shall bring them back to ordor if I think that they are out of order.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes 6:30, 19 March 2001

The long speech by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) demonstrates the current state of the Conservative party. Conservative Members have raised many issues concerning regulations that they themselves introduced. Many of the issues that they have raised are not properly related to the debate. My neighbour the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) gave the game away when he said, "It is all Europe's fault." Those comments sum up today's Tory party.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as it is always a pleasure to joust with one's parliamentary neighbour. There are many things that I am content to blame on the institutions of the European Union, but at no stage in any intervention did I say that it was all Europe's fault. The hon. Gentleman really should correct himself.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman thinks that there is something good in Europe.

I welcome the Bill. The speeches of both the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and the right hon. Member for Wokingham have highlighted the interesting paradox that, although the United Kingdom is one of the least-regulated countries, we are one of the countries that complains most about regulation. The debate has not yet dealt with that paradox. I think that we should judge the Bill on the basis of whether it addresses the issue of what constitutes appropriate regulation. I believe that the Bill does not go far enough. As I shall explain later, I believe that the Bill is not sufficiently radical and only tinkers with current processes.

There is a real problem with the regulation-deregulation debate. We seem to be saying that deregulation is good and regulation is bad. It is reminiscent of the 1980s debate in which it was maintained—depending on one's point of view; Conservative Members maintained the opposite—that the public sector was good and the private sector was bad. I believe that that is a sterile debate, as it ignores the complexity of the modern world and confuses issues of principle with specific bureaucratic policies. The confusion of principle with policy serves no one who is engaged in the regulation-deregulation debate.

Cynics may assume that, in this debate, Conservative Members are playing a game—which is either to do with a post-general election leadership bid or with preventing the Bill from being passed before the next general election. I am not a cynic and I would made no such assumptions. However, I predict that, at the first meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee, there will be a manufactured row designed to demonstrate Conservative Members' outrage about the Bill.

In their speeches so far. Tory Members have gone on about red tape and the burden on business, but not one has identified what he meant by "burden" or "costs" or has defined "regulation".

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Did the hon. Gentleman not listen to what I said? I gave a whole series of examples of massive costs—costs of licences and costs of taxes—that should not have been imposed. Will he now address those issues?

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

The right hon. Gentleman listed various issues and industries, but confused cost issues in those industries with the bureaucracy that deals with those matters. When some of us talk about regulation, we are talking about the costs of bureaucracy. The right hon. Gentleman was addressing issues that have nothing to do with regulation and had to be reminded of that fact on several occasions. The Bill addresses specific regulation issues, not the principle of measures such as the working families tax credit or the working time directive. The right hon. Gentleman was attempting to deal with those matters of principle. I do not think that anyone should have to apologise for saying that working people should have a right to a decent working life and support.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

Does my hon. Friend agree that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) failed to recognise that spectrum, for example, is a finite resource and should not be given away free, willy-nilly, to telecommunications companies? It is in the interests of the Government and the public that we maximise revenue from the sale of spectrum, and thereby help to pay for schools, hospitals and the Government's other priorities, on which they are doing so well. Does my hon. Friend also agree that it is a matter not of whether we should have more regulation or less regulation, but of how we ensure that we have good regulation rather than bad regulation? That is the issue that the Deregulation Committee has been addressing.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on the latter point-the choice is between good regulation and bad regulation, and I shall give some examples of bad regulation later. As for spectrum, as one who worked in the information technology industry before the general election, I do not think that any of those companies would have been prepared to invest such sums if they had not judged that the investment would bring them very high returns. The private companies that the right hon. Member for Wokingham described are not so stupid that they do not judge the market before investing. I do not think that they would be in business for long if they were. The right hon. Gentleman belittled them when he said that they did not make such a judgment.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire said that the Tory Government intended to reduce burdens. However, as those of us who were not part of that Government know, the reality was very different. There was extensive regulation. Just recently, Virgin railways has offered half fares to people travelling on the west coast main line. I see the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) nodding; he is probably one of those who has benefited from that offer, which was an excellent initiative. My constituents in Milton Keynes could not take advantage of the Virgin offer because, according to the licences and regulations issued at privatisation, the fare had to be determined by Silverlink, the local operator, which decided not to allow its customers to benefit from its rival's promotion. The Conservative Government introduced that regulation when they were privatising the industry, effectively to create a cartel.

Conservative Members' rhetoric is undermined by the previous Government's actions. They go on as if the Tory Government did nothing but deregulate but in fact that Government introduced various regulations from which people have not benefited.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

The hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted the regulations that applied on privatisation. Just as Virgin was, and is, free to choose the fare that it wishes to charge, so Silverlink is free to decide its fares. The hon. Gentleman has just admitted as much. It is not a matter of regulation. It just so happens that Silverlink, unlike Virgin, has chosen not to make such arrangements. Next year, Silverlink may decide to have an offer, and Virgin may not. That is what competition is all about.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. Silverlink does have offers. However, as consumers, my constituents and I are being prevented by regulations introduced by the Conservative Government from choosing Virgin's lower offer. We can take either the lower fare that Silverlink has rightly decided to offer, or Virgin's higher fare, but regulation prevents us from taking Virgin's lower fare. That is the point that I was making. As I said, the Conservative Government added to the regulatory burden. Although Conservative Members try to create the impression that the Conservative party is a great deregulator, such an impression is belied by the facts.

The issue of abattoirs has been mentioned. The previous Government's passage and implementation of over-zealous regulation reduced the number of veterinarians in abattoirs.

Conservatives keep talking about deregulation, but what they actually mean is poorer working conditions, poorer health and safety arrangements, lower pay, and the removal of parts of our disability discrimination legislation. If that is what they mean by deregulation, they will be judged at the general election and found wanting.

When the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) introduced the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, he said that he would try to reduce the number of business licences from the "absurd" number of 265. My understanding is that by 1997 that number had risen to 355, so I do not think that that was a particularly good example for the right hon. Gentleman to use.

The parliamentary procedures have already been mentioned, and I would argue that the deregulation and contracting out procedures under the Bill are much better than the present statutory instrument procedures. I serve on the Select Committee on Deregulation, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Select Committee on Public Administration, so I see the procedures from three different angles. My experience on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments leads me to believe that the procedures outlined in the Bill will be a much more effective way forward, and will also involve more consultation.

Simply focusing on the number of regulations and the need to deregulate pays no heed to the benefits that regulation can bring to business, and does not consider how regulations work. It does not consider environmental issues, either. I suspect that Conservative Members will complain about environmental regulation. They claim that the Government are not green enough, but we have achieved a lot compared with the Conservative Government. Conservative Members ought to realise that what they say now belies what they did then.

We could play a game of ping-pong about regulation all night, but that would diminish the seriousness of the Bill. As I have said, we are one of the least-regulated countries, and when we do introduce regulations we do not really debate why we are doing it, or to what categories of people and businesses they apply.

Another key aspect that we ignore is how regulations are to be enforced. Far too often, they are designed for administrative convenience, rather than from the point of view of the businesses, individuals or consumer groups that will have to use them. That criticism applies to all parties.

We need to consider the types of burden, and costs are another important element. We also need to think about how people react to regulations and the reorganisation that they require. I can remember having to rewrite computer systems and backdate them, because regulations introduced by the previous Government did not allow time for companies to make the changes.

One of the important benefits of the Bill will be pre-legislative scrutiny, which will allow such issues to be highlighted to the Deregulation Committee or its successor, and to the House. We never talk about the burden of time that regulations impose, either. That is one of the fundamental ways in which we as a Parliament ought to examine legislation.

We also ought to think about who the burdens fall on. They do not impact on the business community alone, although of course that community is important. The burden of regulation, also falls on local authorities, education authorities, health authorities and so on. We need a way of ensuring that those burdens can be relieved where appropriate.

We tend to ignore the question of cross-border and multinational regulation, despite the fact that we live in the age of the internet. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 has already been mentioned, and some of its provisions are already irrelevant, having been superseded because the technology has moved on. Some of us would say that that was a good thing.

That example shows us that in a complex modern world, the way in which we introduce regulations in the House is not necessarily the best way. We need to take a fundamental look at the type of regulation that we should be implementing. We should approach the matter from a 21st-century standpoint, rather than simply carrying on with our present procedures.

One of my criticisms of the Bill is that it perpetuates the way in which Parliament enacts legislation. We should consider light-touch regulation; the Government, to their credit, have done that on a number of occasions. We should set an objective. We should ask what the objective of any particular regulation is, and then set out measures by which we can judge whether that objective has been met.

How people deliver the objective should not be the subject of the regulation; that is one of my fundamental disagreements with the Opposition. I do not think that the Bill goes far enough. We should be able to use the procedures within it to go much further and make legislation more appropriate. We should be able to use codes of practice much more, as that would simplify many of our existing regulations.

Enforcement practices are important, too. The Bill starts to go down the road towards simplifying them—but that should not be something tacked on at the end; it should be set in stone in the consultation procedures. Too often in our regulations, we add on at the end the enforcement procedures and the details of the way in which the regulations will work.

There will be 109 statutory instruments before the Joint Committee tomorrow, yet the Committee will probably spend no more than 20 minutes dealing with them. That is no way to deal with regulations—and before the Tories start crowing and saying how disgraceful that is, I have to add that the same thing happened under the Conservative Administration. What is more, by opposing the Bill, the Tories propose to remove a way in which much regulation could be scrutinised more effectively.

I realise that I shall not persuade the Government to move towards setting objectives and introducing more light-touch regulation today, but they will have to come back to such ideas in due course.

One of the reasons why people in Holland and other countries can sit round and talk about their regulations is that they are understandable. I was going to say that they are written in plain English, but of course they are written in those countries' own language. In some places that could be, and probably is, plain English.

How are people to understand what is required of them? An example that came to my attention a few weeks ago is one sentence in one regulation, which reads as follows: In the case of any outstanding request which has been made (in the case of the Gas Act) in accordance with a licence condition imposed under section 7B of that Act either to the Director General or the Secretary of State for a determination of such questions arising under the licence, or under any document specified or described in the licence, as are specified in the licence or are of a description so specified". I have read out only five of the 15 lines of that sentence, and nobody can understand what they mean. What the provision actually means is, "If the application's already in the pipeline we'll deal with it under the old regulations; if it's a new one, we deal with it under the new regulations." Nobody can understand 15 lines of gobbledegook.

Too often we introduce unnecessary complexity in our legislation. People do not understand the issues because they do not understand the language that the provisions are written in. That is what gives rise to the Opposition's comments about the need for more deregulation, when what we actually need is more understandable regulation.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

I agree with my hon. Friend's point. Does he agree with me that we often do that just so that the legal profession can make a lot of money determining what the laws we pass mean?

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

My prejudice against the legal profession is another matter.

We do people a disservice when it comes to understanding and, indeed, implementing regulations. I used to be a systems analyst, and had to interpret the previous Government's legislation. I once programmed changes to a computer system, having got the regulation back to front, simply because I did not understand that a "not" was in the wrong place. I had programmed the system according to what I had read and believed was right, when it should have been the exact opposite. That could have cost my company a lot of money; luckily, the mistake was spotted before the system went live. Such complexity does the country a disservice.

Simply to talk about the deregulation, as the Tories do, is not to address the issue. That is why the better regulation taskforce is such a good initiative, as is the Small Business Service, which looks at regulations. It is not only small businesses that should be looking at them, however: public bodies, trade unions, voluntary groups and the community as a whole should all be asking what regulations are trying to achieve.

I regret the concession given to the Conservatives in the House of Lords, which made the first objective, deregulation, the primary objective of the Bill, when in fact there are places where we could change the nature of the regulatory burden, helping to simplify the legislation and ensure better understanding of it. That is where I fundamentally disagree with the Opposition.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting argument, but I think that he is missing the point. The comparison with continental systems is essentially to do with the nature of those countries' legal systems. For simple, purposive legislation and regulation of the kind that the hon. Gentleman is looking for, one needs a wholly different legal construction. In the United Kingdom, we are essentially free to do what we like unless the law specifically provides that we shall not, so deregulation is of the essence in achieving a reduced regulatory burden in this country. Under the codes systems in European countries, people are not able to do things unless the code allows them to, so the purposive form of codes often makes it easier to have regulations in that form.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about Europe, but I was not arguing from a European perspective. I was arguing for what I believe is right for this country. The way in which we enact laws acts against the interests of ordinary citizens. We have been described as dotting every i and crossing every t, which causes many problems that we could do without. I am not arguing for deregulation. I am saying that the achievement of regulation should be viewed differently in relation to its objectives. We need to separate those two points in a more transparent way than we have in the past.

Our parliamentary process should also change. I do not think that we have the best system of parliamentary scrutiny of regulation. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has a very good Clerk and very good legal support, which its members find tremendously helpful. However, I do not think that the Committee's work represents the best scrutiny of regulations. We have not used the Select Committee on Deregulation and the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee in the other place in the most effective way. I do not see the point of many of the statutory instrument committees; there is a lot of talk but not many changes. The system for holding Ministers to account regarding regulations should change.

The Bill deals with preliminary consultation, but a lot more could be done. The Deregulation Committee should do a lot more proactive work, and I think that the proposed changes to its Standing Orders will allow that to happen.

Removing politically controversial regulations will diminish the role of the Bill. There is so much more that the Bill could do. The successful measures in the 1994 Act would, along with these provisions, enable us to go a lot further and deal with issues such as deferred voting.

A number of changes were made to the Bill in the Lords. It is typical that the Conservatives agreed those changes in the other place and then oppose them here; I suppose that that sums up the modern Tory party. The original four objectives are now one objective and three aspirations. It is important to recognise the change in clause 1(3). It undermines everything that the Conservative party has said, because it makes deregulation the key part of any proposal. I regret it, but in terms of reaching a consensus, it is probably the best way. It is a major step forward, but there will still be anomalies, inconsistencies and inappropriate legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) made a number of points that I was going to make about subordinate provision and the changes that have been made. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office has committed himself to reviewing the Bill. I would like to see it reviewed annually. I hope that in his winding-up speech my hon. Friend will give the commitment that Parliament will review the legislation on a regular basis and that when there is an adverse report from the Committee, the current convention that it should not proceed will continue.

This timely Bill will take us a step forward. However, we should be looking for much more radical reform. We need appropriate regulations, appropriate processes and an open and understandable regulatory system. People need to be able to understand the laws of this country, what the burden of regulation is and why they have to comply.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield 6:58, 19 March 2001

I think that the Bill is designed for a general election: it is not designed ever to become law. This is a Bill in the subjunctive—for example, clause 9(1)(b) refers to "ought". However, the best bit is in the explanatory notes: A number of potential reforms could be brought forward…The following proposals might be capable…Full details of the proposals have yet to be developed … If ever there was an example of spin and no substance, this is it.

Talking about spin, we have heard that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the 10p up, 1p down Chancellor. The Minister for the Cabinet Office said that the Bill will ensure that £40 million is returned to businesses. That makes her "£10,000 million up, £40 million back" Mo. We have already heard from the British Chambers of Commerce that some £10 billion of extra burdens have been placed on business. Although I would welcome just £1 back, when one, considers that £40 million in the context of £10 billion, one gets an idea of the size of the problem that we face. I remind the House that the£10 billion of burdens have been imposed on businesses by this Government since 1997.

I began by mentioning spin, and I want to ensure that the Government do not try to spin my speech to make it sound as if I said that we should abolish the national minimum wage. I make it plain, as I have in the past, that I have never personally opposed a minimum wage. However, as the Minister for the Cabinet Office said, it must be set at a balanced rate. She said in her opening speech that at the last election the Conservative party claimed that the minimum wage would create 1 million unemployed. That was based on the rate of £5 an hour which the Labour party was talking about at the time. As it is, the Government initially set the rate at £3.20 an hour, and it is now about £3.70 an hour, which is very different from the figure on which we based our unemployment predictions.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

My hon. Friend rightly referred to the British Chambers of Commerce. The last publication of its burdens barometer showed that the total cost of additional burdens had reached £9.62 billion. It made it clear that that did not include the recurring cost of the national minimum wage, so the consequent increase in wages as distinct from the administrative cost was left out.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, which is directly concerned with the nature of the Bill. Members of all parties are concerned about the impact that the minimum wage may have on the national health service. We must recognise that while all working people deserve a decent basic minimum wage. the rate at which it is set will affect the rates of those higher up the scale—those are the famous differentials that we heard so much about in the 1980s and 1990s. A change to the minimum wage affects workers all the way up the scale, and unless there is a consequential increase in the money given to the NHS, there will be insufficient funding for hospitals and all the other services that people need.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

I repeat that the figure used by the hon. Gentleman adds the administrative costs of regulation to the cost of the policies themselves. The cost of the minimum wage and the working, families tax credit combined means that the figure is enormous, but the real regulatory burden is much smaller.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I do not believe that that is correct. We questioned the British Chambers of Commerce on that very issue, and it disagreed with the Government's assumption. It argued that the total consists of direct costs imposed on its members. When we questioned the organisation further, it said, "Hang on a minute. We're the ones who did the calculation and we based it directly on additional costs." I note that the right hon. Lady is indicating dissent. I accept what she has said, but I hope that she will accept what I am saying when I simply report that the British Chambers of Commerce, which produced the document and did the calculation, says that the Government are wrong. Those burdens have indeed been placed on its members.

I would add that those members are the very companies that employ a majority of people in the United Kingdom. Many of them are manufacturing companies, so should we be surprised that jobs have been lost? The world economy is expanding and Britain, on the whole, is enjoying a healthy economic climate, not because of actions taken by the Government but because the United States economy is so strong. We have the largest overseas direct investment in the United States, and vice versa. When the United States catches a cold, we sneeze, and vice versa. The economy is doing reasonably well at the moment, except in manufacturing. Unlike the United States, or even Germany, the United Kingdom has lost 300,000 jobs because of administrative burdens. [Interruption.] I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) wants to intervene.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Policy Renewal

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I thought that I had no prospect of interrupting his flow, because he was being so eloquent. I want to make it perfectly clear that the British Chambers of Commerce burdens barometer includes in its gross estimate of £10 billion both a figure for one-off administrative costs for the introduction of the national minimum wage and recurring administrative costs at an average of the various compliance cost assessment figures that have been produced. The organisation expressly states that the total of £674 million for the cost of the national minimum wage does not include the £2.4 billion estimate for additional wage costs and the maintenance of wage differentials consequent on the policy itself, as distinct from its implementation and administration.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I refer him and, more importantly, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, to www.britishchambers.org.uk/ cutredtape/burdensbarometer.htm, where the right hon. Lady can read those facts for herself. Her Department is trying very hard, but largely failing, to achieve the good aim of introducing the internet to Departments. Assuming that she is on the internet, she might care to look at the site and read for herself the point that my hon. Friend has made.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I am only too happy to give way to my old sparring partner. I owe him that, as he voted for me to be joint chairman of the all-party internet group.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

I was frightened lest I referred to the hon. Gentleman as my hon. Friend. He has gone on at length about the British Chambers of Commerce and the so-called burdens imposed by the minimum wage regulations. How does he reconcile that view with the statement made by the Institute of Directors earlier this month? It said: In the past we have expressed some concerns about earlier drafts of the Bill. However, following the amendments made in the Lords. I can assure you that we regard this as a good Bill. If it is used to its full potential it should make a noticeable difference in the Red Tape burden.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I shall not refer to the hon. Gentleman as my hon. Friend, but I thank him for his intervention. The Institute of Directors was concerned about what might be in the Bill, but if he wants to trade reactions to the Bill, I am only too happy to do so. I can tell him that the CBI is not so confident about the Bill. Its president, Digby Jones—a name to conjure with—said that it will not ease concern about the relentless build up of new regulations". The British Chambers of Commerce said that it is concerned that the benefits of this measure will be completely overshadowed by government plans to introduce further layers of employment regulation". That regulation has created 300,000 job losses when, as I said, other countries, including the United States and Germany, are doing so well.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that it was singularly inept of the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) to intervene to invoke the alleged support of the Institute of Directors, in view of the fact, of which I hope my hon. Friend is aware, that its head of policy, Ruth Lea, is on record as saying: This Government has no idea what it is like to run a business. Business is facing one regulation after another. There is no respite. Is that not game, set and match?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Game, set and match indeed. My hon. Friend is right; were he playing at Wimbledon, he would be holding the silver chalice high.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I give way to the hon. Gentleman once more, although I want to move on. I do not want to monopolise the debate.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) talked about balance. Let me bring Conservative Members up to date with the CBI view. Mr. Digby Jones said: It would be worthwhile reiterating CBI support for the Regulatory Reform Bill at this stage. We believe that the Bill has the potential of providing the tools that could deliver real benefits to business by cutting unnecessary red tape". It would have been illogical of Mr. Jones to make such a statement before making the one referred to by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant).

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

We could spend all evening trading remarks about the Bill made by various people. The Conservative party does not oppose the principle of deregulation. Indeed, although I cannot possibly tell, I imagine that we shall not vote against Second Reading. However, I make it clear to the hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), the Government Whip, who is reaching for his pager to send a message to the Government Chief Whip, that I am merely speculating. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) reminds me from the Front Bench that we have a three-line Whip for 10 o'clock. We shall certainly vote for our reasoned amendment: although the principle of the Bill and any reduction in regulation where that is not dangerous to employees and where it does not create an uncontrolled free-for-all are to be welcomed, we are not sure that the measure will improve legislation considered by the House or reduce the burden of legislation.

In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire, I pointed out that the Bill contains considerable weaknesses. One is that it will reduce the scrutiny of legislation by the House. I asked my hon. Friend whether it would have done anything to prevent £628 million of taxpayers' money from being spent on the Prime Minister's folly—the millennium dome. The answer is no. Will it do anything to reduce the £4 billion a year that is lost in benefit fraud? The answer is no. Will it do anything to reduce Government administration costs, which have gone up to £15.3 billion? That is £1.8 billion more than in the last year of Conservative government. Once again, the answer is no. The real fear is that it will further enable the Government to rubber-stamp legislation and whip through the House of Commons measures that would otherwise be scrutinised.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

The hon. Gentleman suggests that the Government will be able to whip legislation through the House. How will they be able to do that, given that consultation will be built into Deregulation Committee procedures? He also suggests that everything can be covered by the Bill. Surely that is not the case, as some matters are outside its remit. I would be interested in his comments on both issues.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

The whole point is that everything cannot go into the Bill; I wish it could. Those matters that involve burdens as defined by the Bill can be dealt with, though I do not think that it will be enacted, as this cut-and-run Government will clearly announce a general election in the middle of a national crisis. The definition of burden is another loose provision. The Bill is subjunctive—it is all ought and might, not will and shall be.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman Conservative, Billericay

I appreciate that my hon. Friend has read the legislation in great detail, so I put to him an example from Italy. To relieve burdens, industrial concerns employing fewer than 15 people and agricultural concerns employing fewer than five are automatically exempt from much of the onerous employment legislation that causes them great difficulty there. Does he agree that the Government would emulate the Italians if they were serious about helping small firms?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My hon. Friend is right. There are exemptions in the Bill, but only some, and they are for small businesses employing fewer than 20 people. However, in this day and age a firm employing 20 is not necessarily small.

I am one of the few Members of the House who did a real job before being elected.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My hon. Friend is another, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who is on the Front Bench.

In 1979, I set up a broadcast electronics and radio station financing company with a partner. The company was small for some time, but in 1991 we were fortunate enough to sell to an American corporation, which gave me the ability to be a Member of Parliament without outside interests. The company had grown and it employed more than 600, but there were fewer than 10 for a long time, let alone fewer than 20. I shall tell you something, Mr. Deputy Speaker had I started my company after the election of the Labour Government in 1997, it would not have employed five people. because it would have gone bust because of the regulatory burden that we now face.

Sadly, the Bill will not be able to stop the Government accepting and gold-plating European Union regulations. I shall give an example of a measure that destroyed a business in my constituency, and I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House not to break into grins when I mention the company's name. Every time I refer to it in the House, which is not often, Members start laughing—even though this is a serious matter and several hundred jobs were lost. The village of Armitage, which is in my constituency, is famous because Mr. Shanks was based there. [Interruption.] It has started already—my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is smiling.

Armitage Shanks is one of the largest manufacturers of toiletware in the world, or it was. For many, many years, the Conservative Government resisted a European directive that changed the definition of the mechanics by which toilets are flushed. Until recently, this country used a siphonic system. When the chain is pulled or the lever is pushed, a vacuum is created and the toilet cannot leak. However, every year in France, leaky toilets lead to the waste of 500 million gallons of water, as they use a flat-valve system which corrodes after a while. As we see in France, Germany and elsewhere, water trickles out of toilets constantly, but that system was illegal in the United Kingdom because it wastes water.

Here is the irony that should have been addressed by the Bill, but which will not be because of its drafting. In 1997, the first year under Labour, the Government went on the attack, telling the private water companies, "Every year, 100 million gallons of water are wasted through leaky pipes." They were right, although similar amounts are wasted in other countries, and it seemed like fair play to attack privatised companies such as Severn Trent Water and Thames Water.

What did the Government do at the same time? They introduced legislation that put several hundred people at Armitage Shanks out of work. Cheaper toilets from Italy and France will be allowed into this country. When they are introduced, they will leak, which will result in 500 million gallons of water being wasted every year—that is a French Government figure. Where is the logic in that process?

One of my criticisms is that the Bill will do nothing about gold-plating and over-regulating legislation. Indeed, it will do nothing whatever to control the Government's obsession with appeasing Brussels and accepting any measure that emerges from there.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman Conservative, Billericay

My hon. Friend will be aware that the flush toilet system that he is talking about was invented by one of our own early pioneers—Mr. Thomas Crapper; his invention set that industry going. Does my hon. Friend think that, in the present climate—of regulatory organisations and legislation on employment, health and safety and the rest—people such as Mr. Crapper, with his excellent invention, would ever have got off the ground?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My hon. Friend is right. Although I do not want to be out of order, I want to make one point about her comments before I move on, especially for our many American viewers—we are watched not only on the Parliamentary Channel but on C-Span in the United States. The first managing director of Armitage Shanks was Mr. John, who went over to New York to sell the British system. That is how they came by the slang name "john" for what we call the "loo"—it is not realised that that too came from the small town of Armitage—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Fascinating though that may be, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman returned to the contents of the Bill.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I was about to do just that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thank you for your patience while I made those points.

The problem with the Bill is that it makes no real difference to the increased burdens that have been put on businesses. There is a backdrop of anger in the business sector as a result of all the red tape that has come from the Labour Government.

In another place, Lord Falconer said that the Bill facilitates reducing the burden of regulation."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 December 2000; Vol. 620, c. 850.] However, that remark is as reliable as his comments about the viability of the millennium dome, or indeed as reliable as the Prime Minister's remark that the dome and its success would be the first paragraph of Labour's next general election manifesto. We look forward to reading that manifesto—especially its first paragraph.

In fact, the Bill can do nothing to reverse the heavy regulatory burden that has already been imposed by the Government. They have no plans to repeal any of the key burdens that they have introduced so far—on pay roll, the social chapter or fairness at work. Neither I nor my Front-Bench colleagues are arguing for repeal of all the burdens costing £9.62 million listed by the BCC£far from it. However, there is a point at which the straw breaks the camel's back; we reached it two or three years ago. The Bill would be more welcome if it actually achieved something—but it will not.

The Government have wasted billions. I have already mentioned the millennium dome. There are many more examples of pet projects and spin that ought to—but will not—be controlled by the measure. For example, this year alone, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is spending £1,852,896 on opinion poll research and focus groups. Actually, I have unwittingly told the House an untruth. I said the DETR was spending that money—but it is our money. Taxpayers' money is being spent on opinion poll research and focus groups. The Government are spending our money—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not talking about matters that come under the heading of regulation or of the Bill. I should be grateful if he did just that.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall not go through the long list of issues that should be covered by the Bill, because you are right. Ironically, if the Bill were all-encompassing, I could list those issues and could congratulate the Government on the fact that they would be covered by the measure. The great flaw of the Bill is that it is one gigantic loophole. This thin Bill is inadequate; it has merely 11 pages and does not encompass the issues that should be covered.

The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) mentioned the support of the CBI, yet that organisation identified the fact that since the Government were elected in 1997, they have issued 3,000 new regulations that impinge on businesses. The CBI pointed out that every day 10 new regulations affect businesses and that that has destroyed 300,000 manufacturing jobs. It stated that additional costs of £23 billion have been imposed on manufacturing by the Government since they were elected in 1997.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

The hon. Gentleman clearly will not want for matters to raise in future. He recites a range of statistics on the volume of regulation since 1997. I am not sure of the exact statistics, but is he aware that the volume of regulation since 1997 is little different from the volume under the previous Government?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

The hon. Gentleman is wrong—he is reading his Labour party brief. However, he is right to point out that the volume is similar to that introduced under the previous Conservative Government, but they were in power for 18 years. I am grateful that he makes that point, because we can be clear about the fact that the Government have had at least one achievement: in just four years, they have introduced the same amount of regulation—burdens on business—as Conservative Administrations introduced during 18 years. As I said earlier, not only do the Government constantly invent their own burdens for business, they gold-plate directives from Europe. They accede to Europe—far from being at the heart of Europe, they are the appeaser of Europe. They agree to provisions that benefit French and German businesses at the expense of British businesses.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

My hon. Friend alludes to regulations from Europe. Did not the previous Conservative Administration actually make strenuous efforts to slow or stem the flow of regulation from Brussels? Indeed, through the opt-out from the social chapter, we put in place one of the most critical impediments to over-regulation. By removing that opt-out, the Labour Government have opened the floodgates and have ensured that an increasing torrent of regulation will come into the United Kingdom. We shall have no say in whether we either accept or implement it.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

In his typically calm way, my hon. Friend hits on the heart of the matter. Not only has that surrender to Europe on social legislation meant that we have had to suffer burdens during the past three or four years. but it is a blank cheque for the future. During the next few years, a whole tranche of regulation will be directed at us; we shall have no right of veto over it. Sometimes I wonder why I stand up in this Parliament when it is becoming—at least in this area of activity—a county council to the European Parliament; indeed, not even to the European Parliament, but to the Council of Ministers, who are unelected.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

As someone who has served in the European Parliament, I point out that it introduces legislation that wipes out thousands of regulations throughout the EU—resulting overall in a net reduction in legislation in the 15 member states. Furthermore, I note that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said that with regard to regulation as a Minister under the previous Government…We would be the first to say that we did not do very well".—[Official Report, 19 November 1999; Vol. 339, c. 250.] May I ask—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman might not ask—two bites at the cherry are enough.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

The hon. Gentleman raises two issues. I am glad, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you did not allow him to make four or five points. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). Some 3,000 regulations in 18 years represents far too much regulation, but we must control any regulation that hinders employment. Although we want regulations that ensure that people are cared for and protected at work, including the minimum wage, it is no good if those regulations prevent people from being employed in the first place. After all, did not a famous man once say, "You can't make a poor man rich by making a rich man poor"? Can any hon. Member tell me who said that? Abraham Lincoln said it.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the previous Government introduced 3,367 regulations in 1995, 3,291 in 1996, and 3,199 in 1997?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

The hon. Gentleman can quote as much as he likes from his Labour party brief. I agree with him that there is too much legislation that burdens business. That is why Conservative Members support the principle of the Bill. However, we oppose the Bill itself because it is a sham. The hon. Gentleman knows that we shall have a general election on 3 May, unless there is a major increase in the rate of foot and mouth infection. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the county council elections will take place then, which is simply code for there being a general election on 3 May. So let us not kid ourselves—the Bill cannot become law unless, God forbid, the rate of infection of foot and mouth disease becomes far worse, in which case even this Prime Minister would have to accept that the general election should be postponed.

I welcome any legislation that will get the balance right. but the Government have nothing of which to be proud. I make that point again because it must sink into the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), who, all the time that I am speaking, reads his Labour party brief. I remind him that the United States and Europe have enjoyed a very healthy economic climate and that the Government have enjoyed the good fortune of inheriting that legacy and also that of the previous Conservative Government. [Interruption.] The Minister for the Cabinet Office laughs, but I remind her that the rate of growth in the economy has been increasing constantly—boom and boom—since 1993. It has slowed down only since 1997, but, because of the success of the Labour party's spin, she believes her own party's lies.

It is untrue to say that economic growth and good fortune have happened only since 1997. There has been continued growth since 1993, but it has slowed down since 1997, and it has done so in manufacturing, where, uniquely among the G7 countries, we have lost 300,000 jobs through European legislation and the sheer volume of expensive legislative burdens introduced by this Government.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I shall make another point before giving way to my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member Preston lists the number of regulations introduced by the Conservative Government during the past 18 years, but he does not list the cost of those burdens on business. I should prefer 10,000 regulations that cost my company £1 than one regulation that cost it £20,000. He is singularly silent and looks into the middle distance.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I have challenged him, so I shall give way.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

The hon. Gentleman says that he agrees with the minimum wage. but he obviously does not because he calls it a burden on, not a benefit to, the workers. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that crocodile tears are shed over the figures quoted? Does he also accept that the figures from the Institute of Directors differ greatly from those given by the chambers of commerce?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has already eloquently told us what Ruth Lea, director of research and policy at the Institute of Directors, has said, so I need not repeat it. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on asking two or three questions where another colleague would merely ask one, but he did not answer my challenge and say what was the cost to business of Conservative legislation and burdens on business. All he did was quote the number of regulations. That is a key point.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I promised to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman).

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman Conservative, Billericay

Is my hon. Friend aware that the local schools in my constituency are unable to undertake the repairs now available to them under Government funds for education because of the dearth of small building firms? When I investigated the problem, I found that the Health and Safety Executive now demands contracts that measure something like an inch thick and specify the safety requirements for each individual at every point in a job. The business man—who is a small builder, not a form filler—has to complete a form for each employee at every point in the job. All that legislation has been introduced under the HSE, and it is making it impossible for people to repair schools and hospitals in my constituency.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. The Minister for the Cabinet Office said in her introduction that it is important to achieve a balance. That was echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), but no hon. Member, least of all my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay, would argue for the repeal of health and safety legislation. There needs to be protection for employees Similarly, I do not oppose the minimum wage. I shed no crocodile tears, as the hon. Member for Preston put it, but the balance must be right.

Many Labour Members, especially those who sit below the Gangway, were very disappointed when the minimum wage was set at £3.20—I believe that it is now £3.70—given that before the election the Labour party promised to set it at least at £5 an hour. The hon. Member for Preston shakes his head, but if he were to look at the documents that his party produced, he would see that they clearly stated that the minimum wage would be between £5 and £5.50 an hour. I am being generous to the Labour party by using the £5 figure. Nevertheless, the Government were right not to set the minimum wage at £5 an hour. If they had done so, our predictions of 1 million unemployed would have come true.

Is it not appalling that the Minister for the Cabinet Office twists that argument? She said that we were wrong to argue against the minimum wage and suggest that it would create 1 million unemployed people, but it has not done so because the Government showed some sense of reality when they came to office and set the minimum wage at a more reasonable rate. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham is right to say that there must be a balance and that we must ensure that legislation is not so burdensome as to mean that no one is employed at all because firms go out of business.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman Conservative, Billericay

Is my hon. Friend aware that the care homes industry, which is very extensive, has said that care homes will have to be closed because the minimum wage has increased, but there has been no increase in the payments that they receive for taking care of elderly people? The elderly people will be shunted around like packages, looking for somewhere that can squeeze enough care from the system. This Government will be responsible for that problem.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which involves not just the minimum wage. The Minister for the Cabinet Office will know that in every constituency—Labour as well as Conservative—private care homes are closing because a minimum bedroom size has been specified. That has meant that homes that previously accommodated 20 people will have to be altered at high cost and may be able to accommodate only 15 people.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I shall give way in a moment.

If the minimum specification means that a firm goes out of business or has to increase its rates so much that people cannot afford to keep their elderly parents there, will the Government be proud of that? I hope that the hon. Member for Eccles has a helpful suggestion.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

The hon. Gentleman's information is plain wrong. The regulations to which he refers will not, in the main, come into force until 2002, and some of them will come in even later. He cannot possibly argue that they are causing economic problems for companies.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I said that companies are having to close—and they are. I challenge the hon. Gentleman: if this debate is being watched in Eccles on the Parliament Channel, I bet you anything you like, Mr. Deputy Speaker

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. That is not the correct parliamentary language. It is not appropriate to refer to people outside the Chamber who might be watching the debate.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

You are right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. but probably no one is watching us.

Firms are having to make decisions now about what will come into force in 2002. 1 remind the hon. Member for Eccles that we are already in 2001, so we are talking about next year.

The hon. Gentleman has a long and respected background in the trade union movement, but I was in business and I know that businesses have to plan more than a year ahead. If I owned a care home and I could see a brick wall less than 12 months ahead of me that meant that my firm would go bust unless I did something now, I would have to do something now. Therefore, the regulations are causing problems. I declare an interest: I have a 90-year-old mum, so I am very conscious of this issue.

I had hoped that I could have said that I support the Bill unequivocally. Unfortunately, I cannot say that because it is such a loose Bill. We have witnessed an admission from the Minister for the Cabinet Office that has identified her as the £10 billion up, £40 million back Mo, but I suppose that is a little bit nicer than the 10p up, 1p down Chancellor.

European Union regulations, which have so damaged legislation in this country, have already affected many industries, creating 300,000 unemployed.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I have given way to the hon. Gentleman three times, but he never asks a short question. He always asks two, three or four questions in one, so I will not give way. I am reaching the end of my speech because other hon. Members on both sides wish to speak.

Instead of making faces at me, I hope that he will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and make his own useful contribution.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

No, I will not give way because I am concluding my speech.

The Bill is condemned by virtue of the fact that it is ineffectual. I repeat one more time that the CBI has said that 3,000 new regulations have been introduced since the Government came into office and the British Chambers of Commerce has identified £9.62 billion worth of legislation that is damaging business. The real proof of the pudding is that, since the Government into power at a time of world economic prosperity, we have lost 300,000 jobs in manufacturing. If the Government are re-elected, the sad thing is that many more than 300,000 jobs will be lost over the next few years.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries 7:44, 19 March 2001

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). I am sure that my contribution will not be as exciting as the one that we have just heard.

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman made comments similar to those of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). They both talked about a cut-and-run Government, but I was interested by the final comments of the hon. Gentleman. It is not a question of if another Labour Government will be returned, but merely of when. The contribution of the right hon. Member for Wokingham was perhaps nothing more than a pre-emptive strike in a leadership bid.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak because I recognise the Bill's importance for two reasons. First, like some of the other hon. Members who have spoken, I am a member of the Deregulation Committee —albeit for just over a year. The general consensus on the Committee is that this Bill has been needed for a considerable time to simplify the current system. Secondly, I represent a rural constituency that is like many others in that it is dependent on small and medium-sized businesses. That fact has come into sharp focus in the past couple of weeks because of the foot and mouth outbreak. My area has been badly affected and we have seen the impact on the local economy. Therefore, it is right that we should try to remove the burdens on small and medium-sized businesses.

A lot has been achieved in my area thanks to the work of Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway, which has done much to sustain small businesses over many years. That success can easily be measured by the survival period of many new businesses.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the burden of regulation should be lifted from businesses in his and many other constituencies. Does he believe that the burden on small businesses in his constituency has become greater or less during the four years that the Government have been in office?

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

I have spoken to many businesses, and I would say that the burden is less. My constituency can tell a success story and that is reflected in the survival period for small businesses.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

Does not the Conservative party wish to introduce privatisation arrangements for the industrial injuries compensation benefit? That would add considerably to the costs of small businesses and industry in general, because they and not the Government would be asked to stump up the money for the cost of those arrangements.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

My hon. Friend is right and makes an important point.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office noted earlier, when Lord Falconer opened the Second Reading debate in the Lords, he said: The Bill will provide a major tool for this and future governments to reform, entire regulatory regimes and to tackle unnecessary, overlapping, over-complex and over-burdensome legislation." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 December 2000; Vol. 620, c. 850.] That is one of the Bill's key aspects. It is part of the Government's drive to reform outdated, overlapping and over-burdensome regulations on businesses and the public sector. The Bill will enable whole regulatory regimes to be reformed using a tried and tested parliamentary procedure, and that will result in clearer legislation, better targeted regulation and a climate that encourages thriving business while providing proper protection for people at work, consumers and the environment.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman Conservative, Billericay

On protection at work, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that all small firms—in fact, anyone who employs anybody—have to have public liability insurance that covers people against injury at work. A small firm could not legally exist without such insurance.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

That is right, but we need to consider business and the people whom business employs. Clearly, there is an onus on us all to protect employees. I am sure that the hon. Lady employs staff and that she does her utmost through her insurance to protect them. However, that is not an additional burden that has been put on business by this Government.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

In response to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), my hon. Friend may have implied that insurance prevents accidents from happening, but it does not. Good regulation and good working practices—employers and employees working together and following safe practice—are what stop accidents.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

My hon. Friend is correct.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Is it not the simple fact that without regulation, many companies would not have insurance and would have to be taken to court in pursuit of a claim? It is those regulations that benefit the worker.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

My hon. Friend is right. He has years of experience and I am sure that he has had to tackle cases of employers who flaunt and break the law.

The Bill is at the core of the Government's regulatory regime. It will allow them to tackle problems caused by existing regulations. Such measures can cause problems. Fire safety legislation is scattered across 120 Acts of Parliament, which makes it difficult for companies to be sure that they are complying properly with the rules. As someone who comes from an industrial background and who worked for 23 years in the chemical industry—18 of those in the explosives industry—I can say from experience that fire safety regulation is a minefield. It is extremely difficult to understand, even by major employers. Many small and medium-sized businesses find it hard to follow. If we only simplify fire safety regulations, that will be a major step forward for many businesses.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful and interesting point. Does he agree that there needs to be consistency between fire brigades? I see him shake his head. Does he not think that it is confusing to have a national organisation with several branches throughout the United Kingdom? Surely it would be helpful to have a consistent standard throughout the country, or at least in England and Wales, because fire brigades interpret legislation differently.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

That is not what I am saying. I am concerned about 120 Acts of Parliament, not about fire and safety regulations as followed by fire and safety crews in different fire authorities.

The Bill could be used to simplify and consolidate rules by means of powerful secondary legislation. Pressure on parliamentary time means that such worthwhile reforms might not be tackled. Hon. Members voiced concern about such pressure in the run-up to a general election.

The Bill will also give Ministers the power to introduce a code of practice for enforcers if they believe that there is a problem of overzealous enforcement. The code of practice would be taken into account at subsequent hearings, although it would not be binding. The Government have had considerable success in getting local authorities to sign up to their enforcement concordat. The additional power will enable them to intervene to give added protection to business if enforcers are failing to adhere to best practice.

On the more general issue of regulatory policy, the Government have a wide range of measures in place to ensure that regulations meet the five fundamental principles of good regulation as set out by the better regulation taskforce. They are transparency, accountability, proportionality, consistency and the need for targeted regulation. Since 1998, no regulatory proposal with an impact on businesses, charities or voluntary organisations should be considered by the Government without a thorough assessment of the risks, costs and benefits, a clear analysis of who will be affected and an explanation of why non-regulatory action is insufficient. The regulatory impact assessments are usually published for consultation at an early stage so that interested parties can comment, suggest improvements and make corrections.

The Government have been accused of being more willing to add to the burden of regulation than previous Administrations. We have heard that loud and clear. In fact, the number of statutory instruments is of the same order of magnitude under this Government as it was under the previous Administration, ranging from 3,367 in 1995 to 3,475 in 1999. The vast majority of statutory instruments have no impact on business. The separate process of regulatory impact assessments is used to consider burdens that are imposed by regulation. The number of the assessments that show significant costs on business ranges from 180 in 1995 to 166 in 1999.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Although I said that we do not want too many regulations because of the amount of paperwork that they create, it is their cost that is important. The hon. Gentleman referred to the number of regulations that have been introduced. What did they cost business?

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

I have to admit that I cannot answer that. However, I am making the point, as did as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), that the statement that there were 3,000 additional regulations over 18 years was way off the mark. There were 3,000 a year in the past three or four years of the previous Government.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) has not said how much his Government's regulations cost business. It is bizarre of him to expect us to give such a figure when he will not.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. He is right. I apologise to the hon. Member for Lichfield for not furnishing him with the figures, but I shall be happy to give way if he has them.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I was simply going to respond to the point raised by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick). Conservative legislation cost a lot less than legislation introduced by this Government because we did not lose so many jobs at a time of boom.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

No doubt we shall all rush to the Library to check that statement.

We have to consider the Government's approach to regulation. They continue to strengthen systems for controlling red tape. We have established a new ministerial panel to hold Departments to account for their regulatory performance. We have heard again about the creation of the Small Business Service to ensure that the voice of small business is heard throughout Whitehall. A Minister for regulatory reform has been appointed in each Department to advance the better regulation agenda throughout Government. We have established a central unit in the Cabinet Office—the regulatory impact unit—to ensure that new regulations are necessary and meet the principles of good regulation. We have revised guidance on regulatory impact assessments, which was issued in August 2000. New regulatory proposals must satisfy the criterion of benefits justifying the cost. That is vital.

The independent better regulatory taskforce has been appointed to advise the Government on improving the quality of regulation, taking into account the needs of small businesses and ordinary people.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman Conservative, Billericay

I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman genuinely wants to help the small business sector. However, the Conservative Administration established similar organisations, such as the group on small business deregulation, and they simply do not work. We have to take small firms out of regulation and trust them. By covering themselves with insurance, should anything sadly happen to an employee or even to the firm's proprietor, they are at least protected. That is about the best we can do if we are to encourage enterprise and small firms to start up.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

I thank the hon. Lady for acknowledging that I want something to be done. All Labour Members want that. However, I am not convinced that the measure at which she hints would set everything right. What we want is regulation that is not burdensome, not to sweep away regulation altogether, as she implies is desirable.

The hon. Member for Lichfield and I might remain at loggerheads over the cost of regulation. Many wild estimates have been made of the current costs of regulation and its impact on business, ranging from £5 billion by the Institute of Directors to as much as £12 billion by the British Chambers of Commerce. Clearly, both cannot be correct, and I would argue that neither is. The figures confuse the cost of the policy itself—for example, money paid out in the form of the national minimum wage—with the cost of administering the policy, by keeping records, filling in forms and so on. True administration costs—red tape—comprise but a tiny fraction of those sums.

As one who represents an area that has had extremely low pay, I am not prepared to apologise for introducing the national minimum wage. I served on the Committee that scrutinised the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. I do not know what the general election holds for me, but even if I leave Parliament as a result of it and do nothing else in life, I shall be able to hold my head up and say that I served as a member of a party that introduced the national minimum wage in this country. I am proud of that measure, from which the people of my constituency have benefited greatly.

We make no apology for improving maternity leave, introducing paternity leave, giving millions of employees for the first time the right to paid holidays, or tackling discrimination against the disabled. Those measures also protect good employers—a point that we must always bear in mind. The overwhelming majority of employers are good employers, and our actions must be about protecting them against unfair competition from the unscrupulous few. When introducing those measures, the Government listened to the views of business and made changes to the working time regulations and the national minimum wage to meet concerns and reduce the administrative burden. I believe that the Government will continue to listen.

Millions of people have benefited from those measures. About 1.5 million workers are now entitled to higher pay as a direct result of the introduction of the national minimum wage; of those, about two thirds are women. The business community now accepts the national minimum wage, and the recent announcement of an increase to £4.10 will be applauded by those who have already benefited from it. Under the working time regulations, 3.1 million workers have for the first time ever the right to paid annual leave. New maternity rights mean that 85,000 women benefit from the increase in the minimum duration of maternity leave from 14 weeks to 18 weeks.

The value of benefits accruing to part-time employees under the part-time workers directive will be £17.6 million. The number of people receiving an increase in non-wage benefits will be 400,000, and 27,000 will receive an increase in pay. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 provides more than 8.6 million disabled people with the choice and opportunities that others