Amendment made: 57, page 155, line 21, leave out paragraph 2 and insert—
2 (1) Omit sections 110 and 111 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (which require the governing bodies of certain schools to adopt home-school agreements), and the italic cross-heading before those sections.
(2) In consequence of sub-paragraph (1)—
(a) in section 138(4)(a) of that Act, omit “, 110(10)”;
(b) in the Learning and Skills Act 2000, in Schedule 9, omit paragraph 85;
(c) in the Education Act 2002, in Schedule 7, omit paragraph 9;
(d) in the Education Act 2011, in Schedule 13, omit paragraph 10(9).”—(The Solicitor-General.)
Paragraph 2 of Schedule 15 currently provides for the requirement that governing bodies of certain schools (maintained schools, city technology colleges, city colleges for the technology of the arts and Academy schools) adopt home-school agreements to cease to apply in England. The amendment substitutes a new paragraph 2 which provides for the requirement to cease to apply in both England and Wales.
Queen’s and Prince of Wales’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I start by thanking all those responsible for bringing the Bill in good order through Committee, in particular my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons, and all those who participated. I specifically acknowledge the role played by my hon. Friend Andrew Bridgen, who helped to draft the amendment on BBC licensing, and by my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Sir William Cash) and for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), who helped enormously with the section on the Defamation Act 2013.
Before saying a few words about the Bill, I will say something that I know the Solicitor-General would have liked to say at the end of Report, before he was timed out. I see Jonathan Reynolds is in his place, and he will know that the Queen’s Speech outlined the steps we will take to deal with zero-carbon homes and establish allowable solutions. We are aware that within that framework, the decision on the commencement date for amendments to the Planning and Energy Act 2008, which restrict the ability of local authorities to impose their own special requirements, must be made in such a way that the ending of those abilities to set special requirements knits properly with the start of the operation of standards for zero-carbon homes and allowable solutions. I hope that will make the hon. Gentleman—and, indeed, my hon. Friends who are concerned about the same question of timing—rest easy.
The Bill goes to the House of Lords in a condition which, despite the splendid rhetoric from those on the Opposition Front Bench, is similar to that in which it entered this House. There have been significant discussions in Committee and on Report—some things have been added, some things changed, and some dropped—but broadly the Bill goes as it came, and does what it set out to do, which, as I explained on Second Reading, is not in any way to substitute for the enormous amount of work that has been going on across Government for the past three or four years to lessen the burden of regulation by removing regulations from the statute book, improving regulations, changing guidance, and reducing the complexity of bureaucracy that surrounds guidance, orders, codes of practice and so on. Nevertheless, this Bill makes a contribution to that process and helps in a significant way to reduce costs. I remind the House of some few items in the Bill that are of great significance.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but does he not accept that a Bill that is so ideologically based—it is essentially evidence-free, simply saying that all regulation is bad and that the free market is always good—does not do justice to protecting people or the environment?
The hon. Lady makes an odd point, in the sense that if the purpose of the Bill were to suggest that all regulation were bad, it would have a much wider scope than it does. There will remain after this Bill many thousands of pages of regulation, much of which is well intentioned and well aimed. Our contention remains that there is, alas, a certain amount of regulation that is burdensome, bureaucratic and sometimes counter-productive and that often has adverse effects on growth and—this matters very much to the hon. Lady—the ability of our country to satisfy social and environmental concerns.
I draw the House’s attention briefly to measures such as clause 1, which gives self-employed people the ability not to be governed by health and safety at work laws under most circumstances; the sensible measures on taxi and private hire vehicles, which were widely welcomed by those around the country who are being unnecessarily constrained; the significant changes being made to alcohol and entertainment licensing; and the considerable advances on poisons that have just been made on Report.
I want to end with a word on poisons. A part of my personal journey in the red tape challenge began when I discovered that in this country we operated a system—this is germane to the hon. Lady’s point—whereby someone would pay a small fee and send a piece of paper to an office; there the paper was stamped, which cost the taxpayer a certain amount; it was then sent back and the person was allowed to sell all sorts of very poisonous substances. However, people had to send the same piece of paper and the same fee if they wanted to sell things such as household bleach. It was an entirely purposeless exercise, which had gone on for years and years. It neither served the purpose that we wish it to serve—that of regulating properly the sale of extremely dangerous substances—
I am terribly sorry, but I need to bring my remarks to a close.
That system did not stop the sale of extremely dangerous substances properly, but it did impede the ability of corner shops to sell perfectly innocuous substances easily, so we are changing that. One of the measures introduced on Report will help to do that by getting rid of the poisons board. I therefore hope that the House will welcome a modest but highly useful contribution to the enormously important task of making this country an easier place to do business, so that we can fulfil our long-term economic plan.
This Bill has given a fascinating insight into the Government’s priorities and how they develop policy. On Second Reading I described it as a Christmas tree Bill, but one without the presents, and indeed, the Minister is an unlikely Santa Claus. By Committee stage, so much had been added to the Bill that a colleague said to me that it was more like the Blackpool illuminations than a Christmas tree, and since then there has been yet another festooning—I believe the Government are trying to go for Las Vegas.
My understanding is that when they were putting this Bill together, Cabinet Office Ministers were hawking themselves around Whitehall for regulations that were supposedly choking the economy. What they came back with, however, was a Bill that deregulated the sale of knitting yarn, but was more about removing burdens from Ministers than from the entrepreneurs and business people we seek to support, and of course it had the customary attacks on working people’s rights that we have come to expect from this Government.
The Minister shows a lack of understanding of what is considered poisonous by many in households across the country, and that goes with a lack of understanding of what the country actually needs to improve the situation of working people.
When the Bill was introduced to Parliament, Ministers estimated that it would save business £10 million over 10 years—20p for each and every business in the country. As my hon. Friend Mr Wright observed on Second Reading:
“It takes four fifths of a second for the British economy…to generate that potential saving”.—[Hansard, 3 February 2014; Vol. 575, c. 97.]
“Of course there’s a cost of living crisis”,
so it has taken him four years to come round from “They’ve never had it so good,” to “Of course there’s a cost of living crisis.” We Opposition Members have been saying it for years, and I hope the Prime Minister will now listen.
We need a Bill to help businesses that cannot get the finance they need and to help people who are struggling with energy bills and the cost of living. Families have lost £1,600 a year since the general election, yet this Bill, by its own estimate, will benefit each person in this country by 18p. I think Britain deserves better. It deserves better than a Bill contrived to meet the Prime Minister’s vainglorious goal to leave government, come what may, with fewer regulations than when he entered government—not fewer zero-hours contracts, not fewer youth unemployed, but simply fewer regulations.
On its way through the House, we have seen various measures tacked on to Bill. Despite a comprehensive and ongoing process of scrutiny of the area, we had three new clauses rammed into the Bill over a 10-day consultation and far too much that we could not discuss today. We had 49 minutes to debate 43 amendments, as my hon. Friend Toby Perkins put it: there is certainly much that we will need to return to in the other place.
Given the need to return to the subject a number of times, would the hon. Lady support an annual deregulation Bill, perhaps driven off the back of Law Commission work? I know from having served on the Joint Committee over 11 months ago that there seem to be a number of other issues that the Government have not been able to include even at late notice, but that should be included in future.
As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the Law Commission excellently pursues the identification of regulations that are obsolete and need to be removed, but given what the Government have placed in this Bill, I dread to think what sort of a ragbag of unthought-through measures would appear in an annual Bill. It is clear that this Government have run out of ideas. This zombie Parliament is not short of time—in fact, we have so much of it that I hear rumours that the recess may be moved by a week yet again—so it is particularly strange that Ministers are rushing through proposals in this way.
We will continue to oppose several other clauses in the other place. Clauses 1 and 2 are unwarranted attacks on employee rights, and Ministers have been unable to produce any evidence or facts to make an economic case for the provisions. As my hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins suggested, it is simple dogma. Also, clause 1, which deals with health and safety regulations, will create unwelcome confusion that may endanger lives. Clause 17, on insolvency practitioners, is another clause that we oppose. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield made many excellent points about it earlier, and I shall not repeat them.
Despite those misgivings, we shall not vote against Third Reading, as we remain hopeful that the problems that I have highlighted will be rectified in the other place. However, it is clear that the electorate will have to wait until 2015 for a Government who will take action to end the cost-of-living crisis, improve child care, build the houses that we need, end the abuse of zero-hours contracts, and give guarantees of work to young people and the long-term unemployed. That is where our policy development has focused: not on ad hoc tinkering with knitting yarn, but on real action that will deliver real prosperity for hard-working people in this country.
Order. Three hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. It would be good if all of them could be accommodated, but we shall see. Economy is required.
Having worked on the Löfstedt review of health and safety reform and served on both the Committee that subjected the Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny and the Public Bill Committee, I can tell the House that no one is happier than I am to see the Bill reach its final stages. It will serve as a further lever to economic growth, and it builds on the Government’s enviable reputation for reducing obsolete, redundant and unnecessary legislation. I am thinking particularly of the duty of care for non-financial regulators to take account of economic growth as a game-changer. It will change the relationship between business and the regulators, and will lead to better regulation. Health and safety reform is good news for our economy, for our wealth creators and for jobs. The “use of land” provisions have brought about an accord between landowners and ramblers which has been welcomed on all sides and which should streamline the process of moving public footpaths for the benefit of both landowners and those who use these greatly valued rights of way.
Clauses 51 and 52 were originally tabled as new clauses in my name and that of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. My original proposal was supported by 149 Members on both sides of the House, who formed a coalition across the political spectrum—a rainbow coalition. Such a number of supporters for a Back-Bench amendment to a Government Bill is unprecedented in recent years, and I thank all the Members involved. Of course, I also thank the Government for adopting the measure.
For 20 years, the Magistrates Association has been calling for the decriminalisation of non-payment of television licence fees. It believes that a higher level of compliance can be achieved without recourse to the courts. The BBC itself said that it did not want people to go to prison, but the fact remains that last year 51 people did go to prison, as opposed to 48 the previous year. An e-mail that I received from a barrister stated:
“During my time in Court I was struck by the number of poor people up before the bench who were receiving a criminal conviction for not paying their television licence. Most of them were guilty only because they were very poor. They did not seem to be feckless people, just people who were down on their luck. Prosecuting them was (and is) shameful and remains a blot on our legal system.”
The BBC has responded to the proposal for decriminalisation by saying that it will lead to an increase in evasion and a reduction in its income, so I hope that the review will include consideration of the experience of Scotland, where the number of prosecutions for non-payment decreased from 2,827 in 2004-5 to just 34 in 2012-13, owing to greater emphasis on alternatives to prosecution such as fiscal fines as a result of the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007. I understand from the latest evasion figures issued by TV Licensing that the number of evaders in Scotland is 66,000, and the rate of evasion is 5%—exactly the same as it is in England, although we criminalise 180,000 of our fellow citizens every year. The BBC has been guilty of spin on this topic, and trying to spin politicians is a dangerous game to play.
Let me sum up the debate by saying that the Bill builds on the Government’s achievements in cutting the needless red tape that has been allowed to build up on the statute book for many years. I hope that, in the case of BBC licence fee non-payment, it will remove a blot from our legal system.
I thank the Minister for his courtesy and for the constructive way in which he dealt with the development of amendments 16 and 17, meeting representatives of the National Union of Journalists, editors and others to avoid what could have been a disastrous incursion into the freedom of speech and of written material. None the less, I oppose the Bill overall and will be shouting against it. I will seek to vote against it, if only with a few others, for three reasons.
I believe that the health and safety legislation with regard to the self-employed means that people will be put at risk. It will cause absolute confusion. Only during the debate did we receive from the Minister a list of supposedly dangerous categories of employment, where people who are self-employed will still have the health and safety legislation applied to them, but whole areas of employment were left out, including the docks and some parts of the maritime sector, which are particularly dangerous. I think this will cause absolute confusion and will, sadly, result in loss of limbs and loss of life.
I am also opposed to the Bill because of its reforms relating to taxis and public hire vehicles which, as has been said today, will put the travelling public at risk. There will be no effective control over who will be plying that trade. Last year there were 200 incidents of attacks on people travelling in private hire cars in London, where this type of legislation already applies.
Thirdly, it is a disgrace that we are tearing up legislation introduced by a Conservative Government that ensured there was a proper investigation into the sinking of the Derbyshire and brought at least some comfort to the relatives of the victims. What we are doing now is ensuring that if another such accident occurs, whether or not an inquiry is opened or reopened will be based on the whim of a Minister. That is a step backwards, and it means we have not learned the lessons the Conservative Government did learn in 1995, when they put this legislation in place.
For those reasons, I will seek to oppose this Bill at every possible opportunity.
I want to say a few words about clause 44, which gives individual schools the ability to set their own term times and potentially reduce summer holidays from six to four weeks. I understand the rationale for that measure both from an educational point of view and from the perspective of giving schools greater autonomy, but there is concern that the measure could have a significant adverse impact on the tourism industry, in particular on family seaside attractions such as Pleasurewood Hills and Africa Alive! in my constituency.
Such businesses tend to be concentrated in specific areas, very often on the coast, and they are an important component in the local economy. A good summer season is vital to the viability and profitability of many such businesses. Cutting the traditional summer holiday by a third could be extremely damaging to many local economies around the country. To properly assess the impact of the proposal, will my right hon. Friend the Minister consider carrying out an impact assessment while the Bill is being considered in the other place?