Amendments made: 18, page 37, line 20, at end insert—
‘(6) After section 188A (as inserted by subsection (5) above) insert—
“188B Defences to commission of cartel offence
(1) In a case where the arrangements would (operating as the parties intend) affect the supply in the United Kingdom of a product or service, it is a defence for an individual charged with an offence under section 188(1) to show that, at the time of the making of the agreement, he or she did not intend that the nature of the arrangements would be concealed from customers at all times before they enter into agreements for the supply to them of the product or service.
(2) It is a defence for an individual charged with an offence under section 188(1) to show that, at the time of the making of the agreement, he or she did not intend that the nature of the arrangements would be concealed from the CMA.
(3) It is a defence for an individual charged with an offence under section 188(1) to show that, before the making of the agreement, he or she took reasonable steps to ensure that the nature of the arrangements would be disclosed to professional legal advisers for the purposes of obtaining advice about them before their making or (as the case may be) their implementation.”’.
Amendment 19, page 37, line 20, at end insert—
‘( ) After section 190 of the 2002 Act insert—
“190A Cartel offence: prosecution guidance
(1) The CMA must prepare and publish guidance on the principles to be applied in determining, in any case, whether proceedings for an offence under section 188(1) should be instituted.
(2) The CMA may at any time issue revised or new guidance.
(3) Guidance published by the CMA under this section is to be published in such manner as it considers appropriate.
(4) In preparing guidance under this section the CMA must consult—
(a) the Director of the Serious Fraud Office;
(b) the Lord Advocate; and
(c) such other persons as it considers appropriate.”’.
Amendment 20, page 37, line 21, leave out ‘this section’ and insert ‘subsections (1) to (6)’.—(Jo Swinson.)
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not sure how to describe my relationship with the Prime Minister, but it is quite on and off. On
I fully understand the ruling that you gave this afternoon, Mr Speaker, as you are not in charge of the quality of answers, but I do not think that there has ever in the history of the House been an occasion when a Prime Minister has said that he or she would—full stop—not reply to any question. I think you have ruled, and previous Speakers have ruled on many occasions previously, that when a Minister refuses to reply to a written question, they must answer it, not least because the ministerial code, written by the Prime Minister, says:
“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest”.
That, of course, is incorporated in a motion of the House, resolved on
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, to which I make two points in response. First, with reference to the ministerial code, I simply remind the House that responsibility for it rests with the Prime Minister, and it seems unlikely that the Prime Minister will be minded to investigate himself. I say that not in a spirit of levity, but because I think it is a pertinent observation in practical terms. Secondly, I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, and I do not intend any discourtesy to him, as I take the hon. Gentleman very seriously—almost as seriously as he takes himself. [Laughter.] I do take him extremely seriously and I have a very high respect for him, as he knows. What I would say at this stage is that this is clearly a highly controversial matter, on which I do not feel I can rule off the cuff now. That is not to duck it; I will reflect on the very important point that he has made and I will come back to him and, if appropriate, to the House. I hope that that is helpful.
Queen’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have spent the past two days carefully scrutinising this Bill. Right hon. and hon. Members have clearly invested a lot of time examining the detail, and rightly so. We used all of our time on the first day debating the proposed new measures, and I thank the Opposition for ensuring that they received thorough scrutiny.
I am sure that my colleague the Secretary of State has a very busy diary, but he may well be making an appearance—
Parliament is certainly important enough. I hope not to disappoint Thomas Docherty in my speaking on Third Reading. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke on Second Reading and has been very involved in this Bill, so I am sure that I will be able to deal with the issues raised.
In view of the fact that the sunset provisions have not been discussed because of the programme motion—[Interruption.] They may have been discussed in the past, but amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Richard Fuller were not reached. That is the position. In that context, will the Minister be good enough to explain how it will be possible to bypass European legislation under these arrangements?
I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend by correcting him, but these issues were discussed—
Yes, they were. In fact, Richard Fuller intervened on my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Skills when that discussion was taking place—[ Interruption. ] I suggest to Mr Cash that had he wanted to raise those points, he could have been present for the debate on Report.
I thank the Opposition for ensuring that the measures that we have added to the Bill have received thorough scrutiny. That detailed consideration follows earlier scrutiny in the Public Bill Committee and I extend particular thanks to its members, led for the Opposition by the hon. Members for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah).
As my right hon. Friend will know, the Government have made £3 billion available through the green investment bank, which has already started to allocate that money. Some £200 million has been allocated and the first money has been not just allocated but spent. We know that that institution will certainly be a great success.
At the end of our proceedings in Committee, the hon. Member for Hartlepool observed:
“The Committee has been serious about the need to scrutinise an important Bill and about the manner of its deliberations and questioning”.––[Official Report, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Public Bill Committee,
The Bill is important. It is also part of a wider Government strategy to promote growth, support business and create jobs. Legislation alone cannot guarantee and generate economic activity, but it can help to provide the right conditions for growth and that is what this Bill does. It contains a suite of measures that will lift unnecessary burdens from business and ensure that markets are fair and dynamic to inspire the confidence of business and consumers alike.
The move to a low-carbon economy is a big challenge and, indeed, a big opportunity for this country. Some analysis suggests a demand for more than £200 billion of investment in the next decade to develop the necessary innovative technologies. The challenge is even greater given how new those markets are and the long-term nature of returns on green infrastructure investment, which may deter private sector investors. The coalition Government are meeting that challenge squarely by establishing the world’s first green investment bank and we have made significant progress.
As we were able to announce earlier this afternoon, we have today made an important step forward in the UK’s transition to a green economy with confirmation of the state aid approval that will allow the bank to make commercial investments. That is a significant achievement and means that the bank is firmly on track to be fully operational in the next few weeks.
The Government are deeply aware of the need to do all we can to support business expansion and job creation. The Public Bill Committee heard from business representatives that reform of the employment tribunal system remains a top priority for their members and that the measures in the Bill will increase the confidence of business to recruit. Our reforms will encourage parties to work together to resolve their disputes outside the adversarial, stressful and often costly tribunal system, which will mean that employers will have the confidence to take on and manage staff.
Good leadership and governance of companies is crucial and there should be no reward for failure. Our reforms to directors’ pay, which are supported by both business and investors, will mean greater transparency and more power for shareholders to hold companies to account while allowing genuine success to be rewarded. A free and open market place is key to a growing economy. Pressure from competitive markets helps businesses to boost productivity and that benefits consumers. The Government are helping by setting up the new competition and markets authority to provide a single, strong voice in this area. It will have a duty to promote competition for the benefit of consumers.
The Bill will also strengthen powers to tackle cartels. Cartels damage the interests of business and consumers alike and I am very grateful to the Public Bill Committee—again, I thank its members—for its considered debate on the issue. As a result of the amendments tabled in Committee by Opposition Members, the then Minister, my hon. Friend Norman Lamb, made it clear that we would reflect on the points made with a view to improving the provisions. As a result, we have refined how we propose to tackle the problem of cartels, but in a way that still delivers the key objective of ensuring that we have effective powers against them.
Unnecessary regulation stifles growth and strangles innovation. In our red tape challenge, we are examining swathes of regulation and scrapping those that are no longer needed. The Bill supports that work by ensuring that any new secondary legislation can be time-limited. The CBI hailed that step as the "big prize for business". We are making specific reforms, including removing the right to claim compensation from employers for breach of most statutory health and safety duties unless employers have been negligent. We are also streamlining the duties of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Let me state again for the record that we greatly value the work that the commission does and that the streamlining will in no way reduce its impact. The Government are committed to tackling the barriers to equal opportunity and to promoting economic growth. Unnecessary and complicated regulation restricts our ability to achieve that aim. The repeals in the Bill play a part in tackling the red tape and bureaucracy that holds businesses back.
Ensuring that our copyright laws are fit for the modern age is critical to the growth of the UK's creative industries—one of our most successful export sectors. It is also important for those industries that can make use of materials that may be in digital or other form. We have worked closely with stakeholders on those provisions and will continue to do so. The Bill will help to ensure that we strike the right balance on rewards for creative endeavour, sanctions for unlawful use and greater freedoms when an originator cannot be identified.
I congratulate Ministers on their painstaking work to identify barriers to growth and enterprise. Is the Minister as disappointed as I am that the Front-Bench spokesmen for the Labour party, whose policies contributed so much to our present position, have learned nothing and still oppose sensible, practical measures to get the economy going, add jobs and ensure that we get people out of the despair of unemployment and into the sunlit uplands of well-paid jobs?
In the spirit of consensus, I will say that, on some issues, Opposition Front Benchers have said that they will work with the Government, but I am disappointed that, on others, they have not done so or recognised what we are doing in the Bill. The Bill is good for business and good for consumers, and therefore good for the UK economy. I commend it to the House.
Let me say first, meaning no disrespect to the Minister, with whom I have enjoyed debating during the Bill’s passage, that I find it quite extraordinary that for this—the Department’s flagship Bill—the Secretary of State is not present.
On Second Reading, the Opposition tabled a reasoned amendment stating that the Bill was a missed opportunity to provide a strategy for economic growth and that it contained inadequate measures to improve business confidence, investment and competiveness. That remains our view on Third Reading. In Committee, as a constructive Opposition, we tabled amendments designed to support business, including measures to ensure that the green investment bank can be a strong and transparent catalyst for green growth; to improve the competition framework; and better to empower shareholders in relation to directors’ remuneration. Throughout that process, we drew on our discussions with business organisations and other stakeholders, as well as the evidence given by witnesses during the evidence sessions.
At this point, I add my thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), and for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and all the Opposition Members who served on the Bill Committee for their hard work. The Committee stage was something of a marathon, given the rag-bag of often very different measures contained in the Bill, but although we have not always agreed with the Government, it was good to hear the Minister agree that Opposition Members have thoroughly scrutinised the Bill and done so in good spirit and with some humour, too—I understand that “Fifty Shades of Grey”, One Direction and the Stone Roses have all been mentioned during consideration. Despite all the good work, however, Ministers did not accept any of our amendments in Committee, or pledge to return on Report with acceptable alternatives.
In the hope that we might be able to reach agreement on Report, I wrote to the Secretary of State at the end of last month setting out our position, highlighting the parts of the Bill we agree with and those we disagree with. The Secretary of State—I shall quote, as he is not here—replied saying:
“I believe that we support the same goals of promoting growth and reducing unnecessary burdens on business and I note that you are supportive in principle of a number of measures in the Bill.”
Indeed, it is true. We support in principle a number of measures in the Bill, such as those relating to the green investment bank, improving the competition regime and extending the primary authority scheme that we established in Government. There is no doubt about that.
The Secretary of State also referred in his letter to the changes that he has since made to his original proposals contained in the Bill on copyright. I am pleased that he has listened to what we had to say on that and that in some respects he has U-turned, although I understand that several stakeholders remain concerned.
Although we think the Government should go further in their reforms relating to directors’ remuneration, in principle we do not object to what they have done so far. However, despite our best efforts, we have not been able to reach agreement on the other aspects of the Bill to which we strongly object and which the Government refuse to remove from it.
There are certain red lines that the Bill crosses that the Labour party is not prepared to cross. We want to see enterprise flourish, but in a society where people’s rights are respected. We want to see our economy grow, and I hope and expect the next quarter’s GDP figure, which will be released next week, to be a positive number after three quarters of contraction, but growth cannot be at the expense of the basic protections that people enjoy in this country. In the name of growth part 2 of the Bill will drastically reduce people’s rights at work and part 5, along with other Government measures, takes us along the slippery slope to the abolition of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This is wrong.
Many of the measures in part 2 find their inspiration in the report of the Prime Minister’s employment law adviser, Adrian Beecroft. By his own admission in the public evidence sessions on the Bill, Mr Beecroft said that his findings were based on conversations and not on a statistically valid sample of people. Of course, the Government are implementing many of his measures. For example, having already increased the service requirement to claim for unfair dismissal in the employment tribunal, by reducing compensatory awards for unfair dismissal the Government seek in the Bill to water down further the rights of all employees in this country, as we heard today, most of whom are not members of a trade union.
As I said on Second Reading, reducing compensatory awards for unfair dismissal in particular will impact on those in middle income occupations. They, like others in lower income occupations, are already facing the biggest squeeze on their living standards in a generation under this Government, and weakening their rights at work will only add to the worry and stress that working people are under. Mr Beecroft, I read, suggested that the Secretary of State, who is not here, is a socialist. Well, I can tell him that the Secretary of State has done his best to prove otherwise in the Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is being most generous. Does he feel that the compensation currently available is exactly right or does he think it should be increased further? He must recognise that there is a balance to be struck between looking after the interests of employees and not causing employers to avoid taking people on for fear of the costs. That balance must be struck and the hon. Gentleman obviously thinks the figure should be at the upper end. Does he want to increase the current levels?
With respect, I observe for the record that the hon. Gentleman has not been present for most of the debate on the Bill today, yesterday or at any time. If he had been here earlier, he would have heard me make much the same observation as he has just made—that there is a balance to be struck. We disagree with changing the current regime in relation to the compensatory award. I would not say that any system is perfect. For example, in relation to the unfair dismissal regime and the way that it interacts with the tribunals, yes, we have entertained the Government’s Underhill review because we understand that there are some issues. I am not sure that any system would be perfect, but we disagree with what is proposed in the Bill and the way in which it will change the balance. There is obviously a disagreement on that.
With regard to part 5, which relates to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the new clauses relating to the Equality Act 2010, the Secretary of State on Second Reading referred to the measures relating to the commission as “legislative tidying-up.” They are nothing of the sort, as I think he knows. He likes to pose as the opposition within on so many matters but waves through the more extreme impulses of his coalition partners.
To compound matters, last week the Government tabled an amendment to the Bill providing for the repeal of the provisions in the 2010 Act relating to liability for third-party harassment of employees, which was one of Adrian Beecroft’s proposals. It was a classic example of the Secretary of State trying to face both ways at once. When questioned on Second Reading about the Government’s intentions by my hon. Friend Kate Green, he assured the House that he had no intention of implementing that Beecroft proposal. Then, out of the blue and at the last minute, he presents us with a new clause seeking to do just that.
Samantha Mangwana, a senior employment lawyer at the respected law firm Russell, Jones and Walker Solicitors, asked in today’s Financial Times what signal that sends out. She said
“this is not some meaningless bureaucratic red tape, but the very protections that are in place to protect staff from predatory sexual advances by third parties.”
In conclusion, the unemployment figures released today are very welcome, but more than 2.5 million people are still out of work. In my constituency more than 11 people are chasing every Jobcentre Plus vacancy. Long-term unemployment has risen and the number of young people out of work and claiming benefits for more than a year has gone up yet again, and we are still in a double-dip recession, one of only two G20 countries in that position. That situation will not be resolved by taking away people’s fundamental rights; it will be resolved by getting demand back into the economy. That is what creates jobs, and that should have been the sole focus of an enterprise Bill. It is a shame that that is not the case with this Bill. Instead, we have seen today not the focus on kick-starting the recovery and laying a platform for long-term and sustainable growth, but the final nail in the coffin of any claim the Government could make to marrying competence with compassion. That is why we will vote against the Bill tonight.
Order. I point out that at least six Members wish to speak in the debate.
I want to mention the Osborne estate, since no amendment was tabled until the Bill was on Report. Osborne house was of course built by Prince Albert and lived in by Queen Victoria until 1901. Before I was elected in 2001, its long-standing use as a convalescent home had already come to an end, but better accommodation, more modern individual rooms and higher quality facilities were all needed and they were all too costly. Although the King Edward VII convalescent home was much loved by the people of East Cowes, those who worked there and many people on the island and further afield knew that its days had been numbered for some time.
The part of Osborne house that was used as a convalescent home was restricted by dint of the Osborne Estate Acts of 1902 and 1914 and was to be used for the benefit of service people, their families and senior civil servants. That severely limited the chances of attracting those who could make use of the home. When the current Government were elected in 2010, I knew that we would have an opportunity to bring unused parts of that beautiful and historic building into service once again.
English Heritage has been working hard to find new and innovative uses for the buildings, and I have worked with it to obtain the support of local people. We have held two public meetings, one within the house itself and, subsequently, one in East Cowes town hall, which between 40 and 50 people attended. Although no firm plans were put forward, it was clear that most people want the Osborne estate to be regenerated and think that it is a waste that large parts of it remain unused. The limitations on the use of the former convalescent home will be lifted to a certain extent by the new clause 11, and I welcome that.
I am grateful for the work done by English Heritage—in particular, Mark Pemberton, who has worked with me over many years—and my hon. Friend the Member for
Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who has visited the house and grounds to see for himself the challenges and opportunities offered there. I am grateful to the people of the island, who have worked so hard and assiduously to ensure that Osborne house, the jewel in the island’s crown—indeed, the jewel in the nation’s crown—will have a suitable role that recognises its historic past and looks forward to a unique and exciting future. I have been pleased to support the amendment and I am now happy to support the Bill’s Third Reading.
It is important when we pass legislation in this House that we take into account our duty as employers of the staff who will be implementing the legislation. This legislation will abolish the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission, which will be brought together in one body. In the past, legislation—TUPE—has been introduced to ensure that those staff are protected, but TUPE applies only to those staff who are transferred from the public sector into the private sector. Therefore, to cover the situation where there are transfers within the public sector, there was an agreement under the previous Government—a Cabinet Office agreement of principles that was inherited, and supported, by this Government—that recommended that where there were transfers between public sector bodies there would be placed in legislation a commitment that TUPE would be applied. That has not been included in this Bill. It contains a reference to similar conditions to TUPE, but that does not give the guarantees that the staff are expecting; in fact, it jeopardises some of the benefits that have accrued to them over a period of time.
I send the message to the other place that Members of this House and of the other place have a responsibility for the staff whom we employ to implement legislation. Their views should be regarded—their trade unions have made this point to Government and it has been ignored—and they should be protected. I hope that an amendment will be tabled in the other House that gives this protection to the staff.
This is an extremely significant Bill. It undermines our health and safety regime and undermines the employment rights that have been built up over generations, and it means that bad employers will be able to sack, pressurise, bully and victimise staff with impunity.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission, and the legislation that we enacted in 2006 to ensure that it was effective, have had cross-party support, and I thought that that would be maintained even by this Government. However, this Bill, in addition to the 60% cuts in its budget and the 70% cut in staff, now undermines the commission’s legal foundations. In effect, as my hon. Friend Mr Umunna said, this is leading towards the abolition of the body and therefore undermining equalities work in this country. What really sticks in my craw is the removal of the duty placed on the commission to promote equality for people with disabilities and to prevent discrimination against them. It reflects badly on the Government if this is the direction in which they are going.
The Bill also demonstrates the Government’s absolute incompetence. We are now in a situation where copyright law is in complete confusion. They cannot even legislate effectively to control estate agents. That is the stage that we have reached with this Bill, and that is why I will oppose it.
I support the Bill, which backs risk-takers across Britain—the 4 million businesses with fewer than 10 employees, accounting for 7 million jobs. Most of these businesses are run by people earning less than the average wage.
Despite what Labour says about regulation, it is causing those business owners and entrepreneurs a problem. To continue to get job results like today’s, we have to do more to give those owners confidence to take on more staff. The Bill’s measures—tribunal fees, reducing compensation for unfair dismissal, settlement agreements and the slight rebalancing from employee to employer—will give many entrepreneurs the power and the confidence to take on new staff. The Bill also has measures that will be difficult and challenging for business, such as equal pay orders and board votes, which demonstrates that this Government will not accept bad business behaviour.
Under Labour, business in Britain was being hit by six new regulations every day. There was a relentless focus on job protection rather than job creation; poor oversight of the pay of business boards; and appalling comparative performance on board diversity and on equal pay issues. This Government back the risk-takers, are on the side of the entrepreneur while protecting rights, and are challenging the worst excesses of business that went unchecked for 13 years. Labour is for excessive job protection; we are for job creation. I pay tribute to the excellent two new Ministers and I am sure that their work will ensure that our job figures continue to get better for months and years to come.
I had the privilege of serving on the Committee and I have been present during the House’s consideration of the Bill over the past two days. Nothing that we have heard has been evidence-based. We have heard anecdotes, impressions, perceptions, feelings and conversations. During a Committee evidence session, I asked Adrian Beecroft where his empirical evidence was, and his answer—this is in the Official Report— was, “Um.” That is how little evidence he has.
There has been nothing new in the past few days to change that perception, and why is that? Because the Chancellor’s fingerprints are all over this Bill. The part-time Chancellor, part-time political strategist has told people to sell their rights to get shares, and employers are now able to tell people to sell their rights so that they can sack them without any worries. But there are worries and we have heard them today. When asked whether people who volunteer to go would be able to claim jobseeker’s allowance and whether those with mortgage protection would be affected, the Government’s Front-Bench representatives had not even thought of it. They had to run to the officials’ Box to get an answer, because they do not live in the real world. We also heard some crass comments about health and safety yesterday. There were anecdotes about a bottle of bleach in a cupboard and the Minister made comments about school trips and health and safety. They have absolutely no idea what it is like in the real world.
The Secretary of Sate should be present. I think that the reason why he is not is that he is ashamed of this Bill, because he does not agree with what is being done in his name. He has gone from being the sage of Twickenham to being the stooge of Westminster. He is the invisible man in this place—we do not know where he is.
“Today’s today, tomorrow’s tomorrow, I’ve got a train to catch.”
Under this Bill, that will become the norm for employers in this country. They will be able to dismiss their employees at the wave of a hand. I say to Government Members, particularly the Liberal Democrats, who should know better, that Jimmy Savile would be proud of them tonight.
The Bill contains provisions for a framework to allow the UK Green Investment Bank to report to Ministers and to this House. I say to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Jo Swinson that several of us will take a close interest in the bank. We hope that, when she implements the provisions, she will put in place the necessary procedures so that we can all see how well the bank is doing. It is particularly important that she implements rules for the bank, because the Government now have an £80 billion funding for lending scheme, a £50 billion national infrastructure financing scheme, a £20 billion small businesses special loans scheme, and they are doing another round of quantitative easing worth £50 billion. That represents £200 billion-worth of loans, guarantees and special money for the banking sector, which could cover quite a lot of the projects in which the green investment bank might be interested.
I hope the Minister will ensure that there is no unnecessary competition in the public sector for privileged moneys now that we have so many different strands. Now that there is so much money in the big schemes, the green investment bank can relax about some of the biggest projects, because they could clearly be taken care of by the other schemes. Ministers need to think through how all the schemes fit together and how they affect the green investment bank. They must ensure that anyone who seeks money for investment projects in this field has a clear view of which is the appropriate mechanism.
I spoke about the Bill in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, I spoke on Second Reading and I have sat through the last two days of debate. I am grateful to have a few moments to speak now. However, my opinion has not changed.
The Bill is called the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, but I have seen nothing in it that is very enterprising, nothing that will grow businesses, nothing that will take this country out of the double-dip recession that was created in Downing street, and nothing that will stop the Government borrowing more and more money just to pay for the cost of their cuts. What I have seen is a Bill that removes rights for ordinary working people, takes a big stride backwards on equality, takes a leap backwards on health and safety, and makes it easier to sack people. That will increase job insecurity, harm work-force morale and productivity, harm consumer confidence and, ultimately, harm the economy.
The Government do not seem to live in the real world, where it is already lamentably easy to sack workers and where discrimination is still rife. Instead of removing rights, they should be helping every employer to be a good employer, with good advice and support. That would make us more competitive and help this country to thrive. The Bill is a lost opportunity and an exercise in turning back the clock. It has no answers for our economy and it should be absolutely rejected.
Enterprise and regulatory reform, part of the title of the Bill, are words to bring succour to those who work in the engine room of the British economy—words that can take a thousand ideas for a new business, which have been discussed over a pint or sketched out on paper, and transform them into job-making, wealth-creating vehicles of growth.
The anticipation for the Bill is almost tangible, but I fear that it will fall short of fulfilling the hopeful expectations. Where is the rolling back of the myriad fees and charges that are blithely imposed on businesses; where is the relief for shopkeepers from the sky-high rateable values set at the peak of Labour’s boom-cum-bust; and where is the implementation of our policy to roll back job-destroying EU regulation?
The Bill’s proceedings should have started with a rallying call to our businesses that this Government are unambiguously on their side; a statement cherishing the principles of the free market as the most liberating force for social good; a determination to embrace, defend and expand the global free market that has lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty, to which too many were consigned by the misguided socialist policies of the past; a rebuttal of the insidious assumption, which too often underlies Government intervention, that, left to their own devices, people who run their own business cannot be trusted. That assumption should be replaced by a presumption of trust that in starting and growing businesses, people are doing the essential work of a grateful nation, burdened by its debts and seeking the wealth to maintain its cherished public services.
Capitalism delivers by its results what all rival systems can only promise on paper. That is a truth that the Bill should have heralded as clearly and unequivocally as President Obama did just last night:
“I believe the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world has ever known.”
We need to spread access to capital for people to start their own businesses, so that it is as available in Bradford, Burnley, Bath and Bedford as it is in London, Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. We need to create a front-foot nation, a nation of entrepreneurs. It must be as much a part of our culture for people to want to own their own business as to want to own their own home. We need a people with the willingness to start, the ambition to grow and the courage to try again. We need a local community spirit that expects, encourages and supports those endeavours.
This Bill is a mishmash of ideologically driven measures that have no evidence base. As Opposition Members have repeatedly said, it is Beecroft by the back door. There is no evidence whatever, anywhere in the world, that taking people’s employment rights away from them leads to growth. There is no evidence base for the view that taking away our health and safety protections, which have been fought for by generation after generation, will lead to job creation.
The backdrop to the Bill is, of course, the Government’s red tape challenge and their belief that deregulation will in some way lead to enterprise and a better society. Some Opposition Members have always fought against the Government’s measures, but many Government Members have always believed that they represent the type of society that they wish to see. It is shameful that the Liberal Democrats are providing a face to those measures, and I believe that at the next general election we will see the result and Liberal Democrat Members will be thrown out by the British people.
We have had a wide-ranging debate over two days on Report and now on Third Reading. We have heard speeches by the hon. Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) that have railed against enterprise and against the Bill.
By contrast, my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) have argued passionately for enterprise, business and jobs. I cannot quite match their eloquence or the power of their arguments about the ability of the free market system to create jobs and build prosperity not only in this country but around the world. I am disappointed to find out that President Obama has said something that it will now be impossible for us to say without reference being made to his saying it—that the free enterprise system is the greatest force for progress that the world has ever seen.
No, I will not. I have only a few minutes. [Hon. Members: “Go on.”] I will come on to the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
My hon. Friend Mr Turner spoke passionately about his constituency and the need to remove from primary legislation restrictions on Osborne house. It is interesting that in this single Bill we are amending the Osborne Estate Act 1902, the Interpretation Act 1978, the Estate Agents Act 1979 and many more Acts, to promote enterprise.
My right hon. Friend Mr Redwood talked about the green investment bank and listed the Government’s various measures to support credit. We are adding a business bank, which may well sweep up some of those other measures. He asked about policy overlap, and I point out that thus far, the funds put into the green investment bank have been for projects with a maximum size of £20 million. That shows the scope of the bank so far.
The Secretary of State is at the John Cass lecture on social mobility. Government Members are in favour of social mobility, but Opposition Members argue that the Secretary of State should not be giving a lecture on it.
Making it easier for people to have settlement agreements, ensuring that health and safety legislation is implemented reasonably, helping the operation of listed buildings policy and improving the operation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission will all help the free market system, which is the engine of prosperity.
The Government’s record is clear. We now know that when we arrived in office, the structural deficit was £73 billion a year. Since then, however, 1 million new jobs have been created in the private sector. I did not notice any Opposition Members welcoming that fact. There are 170,000 fewer people on benefits, and the deficit is down by a quarter.
We have introduced measures on competition, on making it easier to employ people, on a green investment bank, on improvements to the Estate Agents Act and on health and safety. Members of the House are inspired and motivated to enter politics for many different reasons, and one of the best of those is to work at creating jobs and help employers to create jobs. It looks as if the Opposition will oppose this measure, and in doing so they will show that they are anti-business, anti-enterprise and anti-jobs. They have only one option—more borrowing—whereas the coalition Government are pro-enterprise, pro-business and pro-jobs. We need jobs for people who want to make their lives better, and I commend the Bill to the House.