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Regulations (Cost-Benefit Analyses)

Volume 268: debated on Monday 11 December 1995

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To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what progress has been made in preparing the cost-benefit analyses of regulations. [3300]

When making new regulatory proposals that affect business, Ministers now need to certify that the benefits clearly exceed the costs. Revised booklets on carrying out benefits assessment and compliance cost assessment are currently being prepared for distribution within Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if Britain is to remain the enterprise economy of Europe, we must look at the cost-benefit analyses of all rules and regulations that affect business—whether they come from Brussels or from Westminster? We must also examine the interpretation of those rules and regulations so that they are not made worse by Whitehall or town hall. Does my right hon. Friend agree further that, if the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats were to come to power, Britain would change from the flourishing enterprise economy of Europe into the bureaucratic clipboard centre of Europe?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I believe that his analysis is correct. For a number of years, the European Union has attempted to assess the costs of implementing new directives. However, I am bound to say that that system has not worked well. I hope that, by the end of this calendar year, the Commission will adopt new procedures, which will involve a much more rigorous assessment of the costs of introducing new directives, and introduce the new principle of proportionality. We want directives to be relevant and proportionate to the problems that they seek to solve.

Will the Minister assure the House that the use of cost-benefit analyses in relation to regulations arising from legislation originating in this Parliament does not underpin the report that appeared in the Financial Times of 30 November? The report said that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary are seeking to abolish national quangos in Wales which deal with bodies such as the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales tourist board and those with education functions. Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that there is no truth whatsoever in that suggestion? We in Wales want those quangos to be more answerable: we do not want to see them eliminated or collapsed into United Kingdom quangos.

Where he has responsibility, my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues shall continue to drive down the number of quangos. I am pleased to inform the House that we have reduced the number of quangos by about 100 in this calendar year. [Interruption.] Those are the facts—even though hon. Gentlemen do not like to hear them. As to the hon. Gentleman's specific question, the abolition of individual quangos is, and will remain, the responsibility of individual Ministers.