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New Clause 19 — Power to remove or reduce burdens

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 15th May 2006.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State 4:30 pm, 15th May 2006

We are grateful to the Minister for setting out the effect of these significant new clauses and amendments. We particularly welcome new clause 19, which is a major climbdown; combined with the other new clauses and amendments, it is definitely a step in the right direction. But as will become clear during our debate—you would expect this of any good Oliver, Mr. Speaker—we want more. [Interruption.] The Minister scoffs, but I thought it worth making the point.

The House will be aware that these new clauses and amendments would not have been necessary had the Government been prepared at the outset to listen to the widespread concern about, and criticisms of, their original proposal. I pay tribute to the Select Committees and their Chairmen, which have played an important role in the campaign, but also to those outside Parliament such as the TUC, the Institute of Directors, the press and other media, and various blogsites. This is an important victory for Parliament and parliamentary scrutiny.

Time and again in recent years, we have had to deal with badly drafted and ill-thought through legislation, or legislation that simply does not have the effect that the Government intend or claim. That was certainly the case with this Bill, which in its original form was dubbed by some of its fiercest critics an attack on parliamentary scrutiny, and even the "abolition of Parliament" Bill. It is good that a major concession has been made at this stage, rather than having to rely on their lordships in the other place to make all the running.

Of course, the Bill should have been about deregulation and reducing the burdens on British business, which have escalated under this Government. Perversely, it has turned out to be almost entirely constitutional in its impact. Deregulation was not mentioned at all, despite the fact that, as I pointed out on Second Reading, the British Chambers of Commerce estimates that the increase in regulatory burden has cost some £50 billion since 1997, that we are passing 15 regulations a day—50 per cent. up on the figure under the previous Government—and that during the same period, we have fallen from fourth to 13th in the league of the world's most competitive countries, according to the World Economic Forum. According to the International Institute for Management Development's "World Competitiveness Yearbook", we have fallen from ninth to 22nd, but whatever measure one looks at, it is clear that, after nine years of Labour, Britain is less competitive and moving in the wrong direction. The burden of regulation is one of the most consistent complaints that Members in all parts of the House hear when talking to business men and women, whether at national or local level.

Like all the business organisations that responded to the Government's consultation before the Bill was introduced, we were in favour of legislation that would make deregulation easier. I thank the BCC, the CBI, the IOD, the Forum of Private Business and the Federation of Small Businesses for all their help and support. They wanted proper safeguards to be included in the Bill, just like everyone else.