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Volume 510: debated on Thursday 3 June 2010

3. What his most recent estimate is of the financial effect on businesses of the present level of regulation. (769)

5. What his most recent estimate is of the financial effect on businesses of the present level of regulation. (771)

7. What his most recent estimate is of the financial effect on businesses of the present level of regulation. (773)

While no official estimate currently exists, British Chambers of Commerce calculates that, since 1998, the additional regulatory costs introduced by the previous Labour Government have equated to approximately £11 billion every year.

I thank the Minister for that response and welcome him to the Dispatch Box; I can think of nobody in the House better qualified to occupy his role. The cost that regulation has imposed is staggering. Can he estimate how much of that regulation emanates from the European Union, and what can he do to minimise that?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those kind opening remarks, and I hope to be able to satisfy my colleagues’ desire to make sure that we make a real change in how we help small businesses. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that Europe is a key source of many of the regulatory problems that we have, but we gold-plate the situation. That is why the Government are determined to adopt a different approach. Let me briefly say what that is. There are two simple principles: first, we will ensure that the timing of implementation does not disadvantage British business, when compared to its European counterparts; and secondly, when introducing regulation, we shall do so in a way that does not substantially increase either the cost or the scope. That is a crucial commitment to small businesses, and I hope that it will stem the tide.

I, too, welcome my hon. Friend to his position. Labour’s red tape comes in all shapes and sizes. There are examples of that in Bournemouth, where a heavy goods vehicle licence is now required to drive one of the Noddy trains, which have provided an excellent service for years. Also, the police are now required to pass a course to allow them to climb an 8-foot ladder to erect Neighbourhood Watch signs. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is not what made Britain great?

My hon. Friend is right about the way in which common sense seems to depart from the way that this works. That is why we need to change the system, not just deal with the symptoms of the problem. That is why we are introducing a one in, one out approach to change the whole culture of Government: no new regulatory burden on business can be brought forward unless reductions are made to existing regulations. That will change the culture of Whitehall and stop some of the nonsense to which my hon. Friend refers.

As chairman of the all-party group on small shops, I receive many representations from shops in Southend West and across the country on the burden of such regulations. In these still unfavourable trading conditions, will my hon. Friend look carefully at those representations and, as a Minister open to new ideas, meet a small deputation from the all-party group?

I am very pleased to accede to that request. My hon. Friend is an excellent advocate of that vital part of our economy. It is crucial that we are open to fresh ideas, so I look forward to hearing those representations, and if he will contact my office, we can arrange that as soon as possible.

With reference to the Minister’s desire to help small businesses, it has to be accepted that some effort needs to be made to create the right environment for manufacturing businesses. Will he therefore please explain the Government’s plans to remove the annual investment allowance, which helps thousands of manufacturing businesses, hundreds of which are in my constituency?

The hon. Lady is right to point out the importance of manufacturing; it is a crucial part of our economy. Sadly, it became imbalanced when her party was in power, and we need to change that. On the tax measure in question, and the representation that she made, she will understand that we are in the period running up to Budget purdah and need to be careful not to get ahead of what I think the Chancellor’s ambitions will be, but at the CBI dinner he made it very clear that, as regards corporation tax changes, we will not act in any way that impugns manufacturing in any form.

Does the Minister consider any part of health and safety regulation to be burdensome or, as he just said, red tape? If so, which bits?

The key principle in regulation is to ensure that it is proportionate and balanced, and that risks, where they exist, particularly in health and safety, are recognised. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman and to the whole House, let us ensure that regulations are introduced and implemented with a degree of common sense. Under the Better Regulation Executive we have good rules about proportionate regulation, and I want to ensure that health and safety meets those standards.

May I offer my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on his appointment? I was very pleased to read that this Government are to follow the previous Government’s initiative in publishing the forward regulatory programme. Indeed, I was very pleased to read the press release in the Financial Times this morning, which I must say was very familiar to me. Press releases are the easy bit, but when will the Government bring forward the costings for additional regulations, such as minimum pricing and additional planning regulations, which have already been proposed and are set out in the coalition agreement?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and look forward to jousting with him in a reverse of the situation we had before. I am very pleased to answer his point directly, because he raises the question of those regulations that are in the pipeline. I am pleased to tell the House that this Government will initiate a fundamental review of all regulation that is scheduled for introduction over the coming year. In the first few days of this Government, we have already identified several billion pounds of costs in those regulations, and we want to ensure that, where we can, we remove them so that business can get on and grow.