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Red Tape Challenge

Volume 539: debated on Thursday 2 February 2012

To date, of the more than 1,200 regulations considered under the red tape challenge, we have agreed to scrap or substantially overhaul well over 50%. That is in addition to our plans to cap the cost of new regulations through the one-in, one-out system.

I am very grateful to the Minister for that answer. Will he clarify how much the one-in, one-out rule saved businesses in 2011?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is costs that businesses are focused on. I can tell him and the House that last year we were able to rein back planned regulations, which will save businesses more than £3.2 billion a year.

Businesses across my constituency and elsewhere, and organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, are making it clear that red tape and bureaucracy are the biggest blocks to growth and employment. After six new pieces of red tape or regulation a day under the Labour Government, will the Minister outline how many regulations have already been cut and what his ambitions are for the rest of this Parliament?

We inherited a scenario in which there was the equivalent of six new regulations every working day. I am therefore pleased to say that in the last year we have identified 600 regulations under the red tape challenge which we will either scrap or substantially overhaul, and we intend to ensure that we increase that number in the years to come.

Reducing the number of regulations is extremely important, but so are the interpretation of regulations, particularly those from Europe, and the risk of gold-plating regulations, such as the agency worker directive. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that in interpreting regulations, we use the lightest touch possible to comply with the law?

We have changed the guiding principles from those that we inherited. That means, first, that we are not going to tie British business down by implementing early, as we have in the past. We will implement on the last legal day, under transposition rules. Secondly, my hon. Friend is absolutely right about interpretation. We will ensure that we copy regulations out and do not embellish them, as was sadly all too often the case under the last, Labour Government.

Higher education applications in this country have collapsed, although not across the board—I think applications to Oxford, Cambridge and Durham have increased. However, in the universities that ordinary people go to, they have collapsed.

Nobody disputes that unnecessary regulation and red tape have to be dealt with, but Government Members are deluding themselves if they think that is the central issue, when unemployment is at record levels and the economy has ground to a halt. Every time I go to meet a successful manufacturing company that has orders waiting and wants to take on new staff, I am told that the central problem is the lack of finance. Instead of trying to pursue this issue, the Minister should be concentrating on getting money from the banks to manufacturers so we can get the economy moving and they can take on more staff.

I am glad to say that we are capable of doing both. Unlike the last, Labour Government, we are tackling finance. It is sad that the Opposition are not listening to small businesses. We are, and we are working to make sure we help them.

As part of the red tape challenge, will the Minister look again at the regulations that deny employees the right to proper compensation or redundancy payments if their workplace has fewer than 20 people, as is the case for ex-employees of Woolworths? That is regulation that successive Governments have failed to address.

I am aware that what the hon. Gentleman refers to is a live case, so I must be careful in the sense that it is before the tribunals. However, I am sure that the representations he has made are clear. Again, we need to strike the right balance so that employers and employees have a fairer deal. Frankly, I do not think that was the case in the 13 years of the last, Labour Government.

Last year, 171 people were killed at work and 115,000 were seriously injured. Is the Minister really saying that now is the time to water down health and safety legislation?

The changes that Professor Löfstedt has identified are not about reducing safety at work; they are about cutting unnecessary red tape. That is clear; indeed, it is why one Opposition Member has been part of that panel and has supported its proposals, which this Government will implement.