Deregulation Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 6:24 pm on 3rd February 2014.

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Photo of Neil Carmichael Neil Carmichael Conservative, Stroud 6:24 pm, 3rd February 2014

My hon. Friend makes a good point. He puts his finger on one of the big problems that we have had for generations—since we joined the European Union—which is gold-plating. We must be bold enough to admit that and rigorous enough to remove it where it is inappropriate. People often misunderstand regulations from the European Union. We should be thinking about the spirit of them and not necessarily the precise detail.

The Bill proposes measures on purely domestic matters, which is not surprising because a huge amount of unnecessary legislation has stacked up over the years, as we can see if we look through the various clauses of the Bill. Before my hon. Friend intervened, I was trying to set out the case that the coalition Government have achieved a lot. I was going to move on to the abolition of quangos and so forth, because they too bear a huge burden of responsibility when it comes to excessive interference and regulation. We must not overlook that fact. I compliment the Government on the actions they have taken thus far to reduce the number and scope of quangos.

My second point relates to the speech of my hon. Friend Priti Patel. On one matter she was precisely wrong: of course, Essex is not the only place where small businesses thrive. Gloucestershire is another place—more precisely Stroud valleys and vale. Wherever I go in my constituency, small businesses are concerned about the perceived or actual burden of regulation, so they need that succour that encourages them to think that there is a way through and a way forward. Many of the specific issues that I discuss with small and medium-sized businesses crop up in this Bill. I am not surprised that matters such as employment, health and safety and so forth are covered. I will say a few words about specific clauses shortly.

Of course we want to remove regulation where it should be removed, and we need to refine it where it should be refined; but some regulation is necessary and we must accept that. Anyone who looks at the disastrous decisions of the previous Government leading up to the banking crisis will know that good regulation of financial services is necessary. We should say so, and we should ensure that such regulations are effective and transparent and can evolve through time. Changing circumstances demand that, and that is another theme that runs through the Bill.

Let us take as an example a regulation that I have just discovered, which hampers the Secretary of State’s approval of the use of fuels for domestic burning. At a time when we are looking for more sources of energy and worrying about our supply of it, it is absurd to have such an unnecessary hurdle in the way of new technologies, however small. It seems to me that the first test of regulation should be that it can reflect changing technology and new innovations. The regulations on fuel and fireplaces need to be ripped up and I am glad that is part of the Bill. They illustrate an important point about regulations, which is that they can become far too restrictive.

I also came across another regulation that I had no idea existed. If someone wants to be a driving instructor and happens to be disabled, they have to go through a separate licensing system. There are two big problems with that. First, it is discriminatory, and, secondly, it is simply monstrously unnecessary. Why should that be a regulation? Obviously, it should not and it is absolutely right that the Bill will remove it.

Another classic has to be the regulation that prevents railway companies from extending rail beyond 25 miles. When was that regulation introduced? In the Transport Act 1968. Things have changed and we need to start to recognise that changes such as those we have seen in the rail industry must be dealt with commensurately through the removal of unnecessary regulations.

Another great regulation that is to be removed concerns the role of the Secretary of State for Education and the office of the chief executive of skills funding. It is quite right that that office should be removed because it is effectively an unnecessary quango that removes the transparency and accountability that there should be around the decisions of and issues to do with the Skills Funding Agency. It is right that we give more power to the Secretary of State and not have such a structure standing in the way of effective progress.

In my constituency I always talk about promoting apprenticeships, which MPs of all political complexions want to do. I have been asked how reimbursement takes place and have had meetings with businesses through colleges. One thing they want to know is whether their cash-flow situation will be eased if appropriate, so I certainly welcome the changes to apprenticeship schemes.

I will not go through all the regulations covered by the Bill, but I particularly salute the change to the growth duty. It makes huge sense to encourage all regulators—in fact, all agencies involved in government—to think hard about how their measures relate to economic growth, because that is our central requirement right now. Economic growth is coming along and various sectors, including manufacturing, are doing quite well but they do not want to be hampered by unnecessary interference and regulation. We need instead to have confidence in the people involved in such industries. If one theme runs through the Bill, it is that we should trust people. That is emblematic of various measures passed by the Government since 2010, and the Bill brings all that work together.

In conclusion, let me reinforce the point that the Bill is part of a wider story of our deregulating and improving delivery in government, often by standing back from various sectors. It is also about trusting people and ensuring that we give them a sense of accountability and transparency. We must do all that with a clear mind about what we want to achieve: a free economy that can thrive and develop while taking account of and benefiting from changes in technology, modern ways of doing things and so on. We cannot rely on the Transport Act 1968 and such measures indefinitely.

I welcome the Bill. This exercise is a little like cleaning out the attic every now and again; it should be done frequently, as we get clutter. It seems to me that such an exercise would be a good thing to do virtually every Parliament.