[Relevant document: Report from the Joint Committee on the draft Deregulation Bill, HC 925, and the Government Response, Cm 8808.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I will begin by saying something that several in the House might find mildly surprising in the context of this debate: regulation is often sensible and necessary. It is no part of the Government’s plans or our view of life to suggest that regulation is never useful. Indeed, like previous Governments, this Government are presiding over an immense amount of regulation, much of which is constructive and helpful. Nevertheless, it remains true that what we inherited in 2010 was not just a rational set of regulations that anybody who looked at them carefully would have sponsored. There were all sorts of regulations that, frankly, made no sense at all. What we set out to do in 2010 was to review the entire regulatory scene. We have put in an enormous amount of effort, and I am immensely grateful to those in the civil service and outside who have helped us.
As we have gone through regulation after regulation, we have in many instances discovered that there are things being regulated that no longer exist. There are regulators doing things that no longer have any useful purpose, and bodies that are provided for in regulations that no longer function. We have also found that there are things being regulated that do exist, and for which regulations are still operative, but on which such regulation ought not to exist. I suspect that dealing with such matters would be uncontroversial among hon. Members, and I shall give the House two minor, slightly amusing, examples.
On inspection, it turned out that every time the Mayor of London or a borough of London wanted to set up a statue to any grand figure of our past, they had to seek, under a regulation, the specific approval of the Secretary of State. That is clearly completely mad, so I am glad to say that the Bill will remove that particular amusement. A second example—it is a particular favourite of mine, as it has taken a very long time to get this changed—is that until we manage to get the Bill enacted so that clause 40 becomes law, I regret to tell the House that it remains the case that it is an offence to sell liqueur chocolates to under 16s. I can sort of see why someone had the crazy idea to legislate for that at some point, but it does not make any sense, so we are getting rid of it.
My right hon. Friend is starting to outline a delicious smorgasbord of deregulation. I am particularly pleased about the clauses that will cut red tape for business. When the Departments looked at everything that could be deregulated, were there examples that they wanted to include in the Bill, but could not because they are overridden by EU legislation?
My hon. Friend raises an immensely important point. I was going to talk about it later, but let me deal with it now. He is absolutely right, and I am not talking of a few cases. We came across—and we continue to come across—many, many cases on which, given our way, we would certainly have deregulated, yet we found that directives made it impossible for us to do what we would have liked to have done. That is, of course, one of the reasons why, if there is a Conservative Government after the next general election, we will be seeking to renegotiate our relationship with the EU and then—as long as the Opposition do not prevent this—putting that to the British public in a referendum. It is also one of the reasons why we are trying to pass the referendum Bill right now, and we will bring it back and do so.
That is a very tantalising thought, so I shall go back and see whether that is possible. I am sure we can put together a list. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman or Opposition Front Benchers would like to see it very much, but it is extremely clear that there are large numbers of cases in which it would have been desirable to do things, but it is impossible to do so because of the structure of directives that we inherited. Most of those directives were signed up to willingly by the previous Government. It is also the case—
The hon. Gentleman does not need to exert himself; I will give way to him again.
Of course, some EU regulation is perfectly sensible, but the problem is that much of it, unfortunately, forces us to do things in ways that we would much prefer were not the case. I suspect that, if the hon. Gentleman were to look at some of that regulation, he would agree with me.
Order. Certainly the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) does wave eccentrically. There is not necessarily anything disorderly about it, but it may offend the sensibilities of some right hon. and hon. Members, a point to which I am sure, as always, the hon. Gentleman will be sensitive.
I certainly would not wish to offend the Minister; I merely want an answer. He said “many”; he said “many, many”; and I think he said “excessive”. How many regulations—he has been through them all—has he not been able to deal with in the Bill because of European legislation? Is it 10, 20, 50, 100 or 1,000?
I will send the hon. Gentleman a list. It will not be exhaustive, but I suspect it will contain hundreds, rather than tens, of cases for which we would have wished to do something different. Of course we have not kept an exhaustive tally—there is no point, because we cannot change those things in domestic legislation, which is what the Bill is about.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) likes mountains, so I think that that might be the way to get this concept through to him. We are talking about mountains of red tape in Europe. I remind Members that 70% of the cost of regulation on UK businesses comes from EU regulations. The list the Minister refers to is more than 8,000 metres high—it is the Everest of regulation—and it needs to be combated urgently which is, I think, what he is trying to do.
My hon. Friend is quite right. Leaving aside the badinage induced by Opposition Members, the serious point is that even before the renegotiation, the Government have made an extremely serious attempt at deregulation in the EU, working with British business to identify the most important things—I will send a list of them to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), too, because I doubt he has taken the trouble to read what has already been widely published—but that is an arduous undertaking. By contrast, the Bill deals with those things that we can manage under our control in this House, and we should do so right away.
I welcome the Bill and reassure my right hon. Friend that I would be surprised if history remembered this Government as radically liberal. Before he goes too much further into the detail, however, will he reassure me that he has considered, or that he will consider, sunset clauses for all new regulations?
I have good news for my hon. Friend: it is not a matter of considering it; we have done it. Every single new regulation we have brought in—incidentally, their number is limited by our one in, two out principle, which means they are slightly more than twice balanced by things that we have removed from the statute book—contains a sunset provision. We took that step right at the beginning of our taking office, and the purpose is to ensure that people do not mindlessly roll out the same regulations long after they have passed their sell-by date.
If I may, I want to return to the Bill—for a moment at least. To set the scene, the Bill is just one small part of the process. The red tape challenge looked at about 6,000 regulations. The one in, two out constraint holds back the stream, while the red tape challenge removes water from the lake behind the dam. In addition, and just as importantly, we have spent an enormous amount of time and energy focusing on enforcement, because it is not just a matter of what regulations or indeed statutory guidance are in place, but a matter of how things are enforced. We have been taking considerable steps to ensure that the agencies responsible for regulation enforce in a way that is much more conscious of the needs of our businesses.
In that context, clause 61, which is probably the single most important clause in the Bill, creates a growth duty—[Interruption.] Do look it up, please; it is useful for Opposition Members to know about a Bill when they are about to launch an attack on it. The clause requires our non-economic regulators, every time they make a decision, to spend time and energy considering whether that decision takes proper account of the need for economic growth. That is not to say that that consideration should overrule all regulators’ duties, but we are trying to create a sense of proportionality and to ensure that our regulators consider effects on growth as they go about their duties.
That is an excellent idea. I welcome the clause, but is it not the case that now that the EU regulates comprehensively in areas such as the environment and business, we do not need domestic regulation on top, but just the UK consequences of EU rules?
In many instances there is a good case for not layering further domestic obligations on top of international or EU obligations. My right hon. Friend has a pretty long and distinguished record of involvement in this area, so let me give him an example from the Bill. Clause 59 provides for “ambulatory references” in international maritime regulation. We took the approach that the law of the sea is basically formed by international agreements, and that there is every reason for our regulation not to add to that, nor even to qualify or interpret it, but rather simply to refer to it so that every shipping company and captain of a vessel knows that it is the international agreements that apply to them. That has the advantage that we can be sure that our regulation is aligned with international regulation, which tends to induce shipping to come to this country, and it also simplifies the statute book. That is the kind of shift that we are trying to achieve in many domains.
My right hon. Friend seems to be making an excellent case for ending the gold-plating of regulation, although I am a little distressed that the Wreck Removal Convention Act 2011, which I promoted as a private Member’s Bill, will be redundant if this Bill deals with maritime matters. Will he go further and say whether there will be opportunities for Members on both sides of the House to suggest additional measures to be repealed and matters to be deregulated under the Bill, including Acts that received Royal Assent but never came into force, such as the Easter Act 1928?
I certainly do not want to venture on to the particular terrain where my hon. Friend tempts me, but I shall say that in the whole process of looking at 6,000 regulations and a welter of statutory guidance, one of the things we have done is precisely to draw ideas and information from wide sources throughout the country. This has not been a top-down process involving a small group of bureaucrats. I think I am right in saying that about 30,000 responses have been received following our various online efforts to crowd-source ideas, and in every single case—we have done this subject by subject—we have asked panels of real, live business people, “What really matters to you?”
What we are bringing forward as part of the red tape challenge process, of which the Bill is one small fraction, is not a set of changes that have been dreamed up by some bureaucrat or even some elected Minister, but an approach that is based on the advice of those most affected. I think that is the right way of going about it and, incidentally, it is why, across the 3,000 or so regulations that are being got rid of or improved, we have managed to achieve a little more than £800 million a year of savings for British business. I do not think that that is by any means the limit of what we can achieve, but it is already a significant achievement.
The Bill is about cultural change compared with what we saw under the previous Government, when there was the equivalent of six new regulations every working day. The growth duty in clause 61 is an important principle. May I ask the Minister and his colleagues to include on their list of bodies subject to that duty the Valuation Office Agency, whose decisions on business rates for many local businesses are often disproportionate and have driven certain businesses in my constituency to the wall?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his part—which was signal and tremendously important—in advancing this whole agenda in the early years of this Government. As it happens, I have with me the preliminary list of the non-economic regulators that will be within the scope of the growth duty, and I notice that the Valuation Office Agency is not on it. I shall therefore take full account of his recommendations and discuss with colleagues, and with him, the possibility of including it.
My right hon. Friend said that the Bill’s provisions were being introduced on the advice of those who were most affected by the regulations, but he will be aware of the concern that has been expressed by a wide range of media and broadcasting organisations about the effect of clause 47 in removing important journalistic protections. Is there anything he can say to reassure them that it will not have the effect they fear?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, for raising that issue, which is indeed important. It was a late entrant, in the sense that it was no part of the intention of clause 47 to have the effect that some of the media organisations are worried about. Those organisations have been worried that the clause would obviate the need for both parties to be in court when a court orders what is called a production order, which typically requires, for example, a bank to produce the accounts of a person accused of a particular malfeasance, where those accounts are relevant to the trial.
In the case that the media are concerned about, a production order would be used to ask a media organisation to produce some piece of information it holds. Those media organisations were worried that they would no longer have the guarantee of their day in court to contest such a production order, because the effect of clause 47 would be to replace the need for the existence of primary legislation governing inter partes rules with the criminal procedure rules committee. The media were afraid that the criminal procedure rules committee might in some way weaken the inter partes rules. I have good news for my hon. Friend and his Committee, and indeed for the media organisations—which, incidentally, I have offered to meet later in the week or next week. As it was no part of the intention of clause 47 to do that, we are now looking for ways specifically to exempt journalism and all such media items from the clause. If I may, I would like to discuss with him and his Committee the precise drafting of that change, so that we can be sure that the media organisations themselves and the Select Committee are content with the changes we make.
As my right hon. Friend says, the reason this problem arises is that criminal procedure rules are effectively being delegated to a subordinate body, not to this House. Unlike in most areas of the Bill, where I am absolutely behind the Government, this is an area where some of the rules are constitutionally quite important—we have just heard one example. There might be a number of other areas, which have not come up so quickly, where we would not want to undermine our constitutional protections, so will my right hon. Friend rethink clause 47?
My right hon. Friend, who obviously has an immensely distinguished record of concern for civil liberties—which he and I have both fought for in various ways over the years—is right to draw attention to the significance of clause 47. One of the things I have asked officials to look at today is the possibility of going out to a further consultation on clause 47, to see whether anyone else comes forward. In point of fact, because the draft Bill went through pre-legislative scrutiny—there was a Joint Committee of both Houses looking at it, and so on—it had a good airing. It is probable, therefore, that other people would have come forward already if they had concerns, but I do not want to take the risk. I think it would be sensible to have further consultation, to see whether we elicit any responses from others who might be concerned. If in the course of that my right hon. Friend discovers any other bodies that are concerned, or any groups of people who might or should be concerned, my door is open to him to have discussions about that.
I want to say one further thing about the background before coming to some of the other, most important clauses in the Bill. There is a strange state of affairs in our country, which is that although a great part of the regulation that governs us is either in directives and then UK legislation or in UK legislation, including statutory instruments as well as primary legislation, a great part of the regulation that de facto affects our businesses is not in any such place, but in the vast reams of statutory guidance.
These are enormous items. I certainly cannot claim to have read the totality of any major area of statutory guidance, because it would be impossible for one person to embark on such a task with any hope of success if that person was carrying out any serious set of ministerial duties. Some of those items of guidance are tens of thousands of pages long. We have therefore undertaken a massive programme of spring cleaning: for instance, we are hoping to achieve an 85% reduction in the sheer volume of health and safety guidance and legislation.
That does not, of course, necessarily equate to a reduction in the burden of the substance of the guidance. What it does is make it possible for people, for the first time, to be clear about what the wretched stuff is trying to do. My experience in dealing with this morass of over-verbose, under-specific and often extraordinarily badly phrased guidance is that the people who are responsible for enforcing it often do not really know what is in it. We are trying to reach a point at which we do know what is in it, and at that point we shall be able to judge whether it needs to be adjusted. That is another important part of our activity, which is not included in the Bill.
Let me now draw the House’s attention to a few of the most important clauses in the Bill, apart from clause 61, which I have already mentioned, clause 59, which I mentioned in response to an intervention from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), and clause 47, which we have just been discussing. I shall begin with clause 1, which the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) will be able to find quite easily if he opens the Bill. It is on the first page.
Under clause 1, about two thirds of the people in the country who are self-employed will no longer be covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and will therefore not have to engage in a number of activities in which they are currently required to engage because they are covered by the Act. The one third who will continue to be so covered are those who engage in high-risk activities, which will be specified and which will be precisely the activities that the House would expect to be covered, such as the activities of the nuclear, construction and chemical industries. That is a major gain in itself.
My right hon. Friend said that the clause would affect self-employed people. Will it also affect people who work for themselves through their own limited companies? I understand why it will not apply to those with employees, but will the owner of a company who is both a director and an employer be classified as self-employed for the purpose of the clause?
That is a very interesting question, which will need to be discussed in Committee. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, who will be leading the charge, will give it some thought. The clause is certainly intended to cover people who do not have employees, and I do not think that the example given by my hon. Friend involves employees. The intent is there, although I do not know whether we shall be able to find a way of fulfilling it without creating a loophole.
Clause 4 provides for a much simpler apprenticeship scheme. Straightforward agreements and standards will replace a morass of regulation, and employers will be able to secure simple tax rebates as a method of payment for their part in providing the apprenticeships. That is a major advance.
Clause 5 is a good illustration of the way in which the Bill can have positive social effects. At present, disabled driving instructors are in the absurd position of having to have special cars and having to undergo special tests, even when they do not have a disability that in any way affects their capacity to deal with emergencies or other driving problems. The Bill will create a sensible regime under which people will be forced to be tested only if there is reason to suppose that such a special test is necessary.
Clause 7 is another example of plain common sense at work. It removes a crazy situation whereby if gas is being unloaded at a port, and the port is perfectly well licensed for the purpose and contains plenty of people who are licensed to carry out their task, they are not permitted to permit individuals to do the unloading unless those individuals themselves have individual licences and permits. That too is an absurd situation, which the clause removes.
Clause 9 is one of my favourites because it has taken us about two and a half years to get to this. We would have thought it was fairly straightforward. It turned out not to be. This is about knitting yarn. I do not know whether there is anybody in the House who feels passionately that knitting yarn really should be sold only in quantities of grams—perhaps the movers of the amendment feel passionately about that. I personally do not share that passion. It seems to me that if someone wants to sell knitting yarn by quantity of knitting yarn, it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do and we are going to allow them to do it.
Clause 21, by contrast, is not a matter of common sense merely. It is a matter of great concern to very large numbers of our fellow citizens who would like to exercise the right to buy—a fine policy that this Government have been sponsoring and have made much easier in many ways. This clause reduces the period of qualification from five years to three years for right to buy, thereby much enlarging the group of people who can participate.
I notice that my right hon. Friend has scampered past clause 13, which touches on the issue of rights of way, particularly the ones that go very close, or even through, people’s houses. [Interruption.] I just wanted to ask him if we can have confidence that not only are people who like rambling and walking through the countryside going to be able to continue to do so, but people who have a problem with rights of way that intrude on their privacy—and which may have been created willy-nilly by a group of difficult people—will have a chance to fight back without being bankrupted by large organisations that they cannot afford to fight against? [Interruption.]
Yes, I can give my hon. Friend some comfort on that. Incidentally, it is rather interesting to hear Opposition Front Benchers chuntering away as if this is somehow a preoccupation of those who have large houses. Not at all. I do not know about my hon. Friend’s constituents, but I have a constituent who has quite a small house, who—[Interruption.] Actually, it is a perfectly ordinary house with a perfectly ordinary garden and it has a right of way going through it, and it is pretty miserable. I suspect Opposition Members have such constituents too who have very modest houses with very modest gardens, and if the Opposition knew the slightest thing about rural England they would know that.
The fact is that there has been a problem. We need to preserve the system of rights of way as that is an enormously important part of our countryside, but it has been difficult to make sensible adjustments because of the ground rules against which inspectors are making decisions. The stakeholders working group looked at this very intensively over a very long period and took a very balanced view. The upshot is clause 13 and the surrounding clauses, and I am delighted to say that I have agreed with my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary that it should be accompanied by guidance that will specifically ask the inspectors to give real weight to the fact that a particular path goes through someone’s garden. That will help enormously to achieve a more sensible balance. That is now being looked at in detail by the SWG, which I hope will approve the new guidance in very short order.
Will that guidance also refer to the issue of green lanes which has come up among my constituents in north Yorkshire? I would be interested to know whether my right hon. Friend has been lobbied or representations have been made by those involved in that campaign.
Well, to say that I have been lobbied about these matters is mild understatement. I think it would be sensible for my hon. Friend and me to have a detailed discussion of clauses 14, 16 and 17. I will just mention clause 17 for a moment, which authorises the construction of gates on public ways. If my hon. Friend pauses to consider the materiality of that change, he will understand just how important this is.
Clause 29 is one of the favourites of the Communities Secretary. It decriminalises the penalties for misfeasance with household waste. It turns them into civil penalties rather than criminal penalties, which is long overdue.
Clause 33 is the result of lobbying by Members on both sides of the House. It will fulfil a commitment by the Chancellor by enabling child trust funds to be converted into junior ISAs. That is another excellent move.
Finally, clause 43 sums up the whole Bill, in my view. It deals with the exhibition of films in village halls. I am talking not about movies involving ghastly violence and huge amounts of sexual activity, which are classed as X-rated. As we can see from the clause, film certificates will continue to apply. At the moment, however, if someone wants to show a Charlie Chaplin film, they have to obtain a licence. That is astonishing, and there is not the slightest reason for it. I know that Opposition Members have no concern with village halls or village life, but perhaps they will recognise that this is also happening in community halls throughout the urban centres of our country. It would be nice if people could show films in those places without a licence, and I am glad to say that liberty will reign in this respect and that clause 43 will enable that to happen.
I hope that I have demonstrated that, while the Bill represents only a tiny fraction of this Government’s vast and enormously successful efforts to have a period of a Parliament for the first time in this country’s history in which we have reduced rather than increased the burden of domestic regulation, it is nevertheless a significant step forward. I am sure that it will be widely welcomed in all parts of the House, except among those on the far left who want to see this country being further and further regulated.
Rarely have we debated a Bill that is so long and so broad and yet so ineffectual, given what it purportedly seeks to achieve. In true “Yes Minister” style, when faced with the important and necessary challenge of deregulation, the Government have decided to deal with the difficult bit in the Bill’s title and do very little about it in the text.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, and I assure her that I shall not seek to intervene on her on a regular basis. If the task of deregulation is so necessary—a proposition I fully agree with—why were no such steps taken during the many years of the Labour Government?
I find it hard to believe that the Minister has intervened to make a point for which he has so little evidence. During the last Labour Government, we deregulated to bring benefits to business of £3 billion a year. This Government’s record is in no way comparable with that.
The hon. Lady might wish to reconsider those remarks. When we checked with the House of Commons Library, we found that, during the last Parliament under the Labour Government, the equivalent of six new regulations were introduced every working day. Does she deny that?
The hon. Gentleman would be pleased if his Government had our record on growth and business starts.
We now know where the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has been hiding for the past year. He has been off with the Minister for Government Policy tackling big issues such as deregulating the sale of knitting yarn, freeing our children to buy their own chocolate liqueurs and decriminalising household waste. When the Prime Minister told people suffering from high energy bills to put on a jumper, the Minister sprang into action by making it easier for them to knit their own.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy made the point that there is a lot of regulation that we can do nothing about because of EU regulation. If the hon. Lady cares so much about regulation, why will she not support the European Union (Referendum) Bill?
I know that the Government face a real challenge in keeping their Members off the subject of Europe, but perhaps in this debate on deregulation, they will understand that we are not here to discuss the potential of a referendum. I will come on later to talk about the relevance of Europe to the matter under discussion. Europe is not the issue that confronts my constituents today. My constituents are being hit by the cost of living crisis and the measures that this Government, not Europe, have brought in to ensure that their wages do not rise at the same rate as prices.
It is nice to know that when the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government spoke eloquently about every Englishman’s right to have the remnants of their tikka masala collected promptly, the Minister boldly made sure that they would not face prosecution if they placed it in the wrong receptacle. It is all in this Bill—farriers, road humps and late-night takeaways. This is the Christmas tree Bill to end all Christmas tree Bills. In fact, Christmas trees are one of the few things that are not covered by this Bill.
There are some measures in this rag, tag hotch-potch of a Bill that are welcome and that we do not oppose. What we oppose is the approach of this Government to a cost of living crisis, which is to attack the rights of ordinary working people.
By my count, the 69 clauses and 17 schedules cover at least 12 Whitehall Departments. As I have said, although there are many parts of the Bill that we support or do not oppose, there are some very disturbing proposals hidden beneath the knitting yarn, which we will vigorously oppose. There are fresh attacks on employment rights, with the removal of yet more powers from employment tribunals. Those are measures that the Government’s own impact assessment claims will have a negligible effect on businesses or even cost them money. We will not support any new attacks on working people.
Does the hon. Lady not agree that the cumulative effect of the Government’s reforms of small business red tape and regulation have made it easier for those businesses to create jobs and growth and provide the results that we all want, which is our constituents in work?
We all know that small businesses need a cut in business rates, as we have proposed, and then a freeze. We will also freeze their energy bills, which will save an average of £1,800 a year. At the same time, we would change the economy so that it delivers secure employment, which would benefit businesses large and small.
We want this Government to acknowledge, once and for all, that it was not working people’s job security that caused the global financial crash and that preventing employers from discriminating against pregnant women is not the root cause of the cost of living crisis. This Government are so out of touch that they not only do not understand the challenge they face—the need for an economy that works for all, delivering good, well-paid jobs—but fail to understand the real solutions to the problems that they do see.
I know that almost 1 million young people are unemployed and that 1.3 million people in part-time work are seeking full-time work. I also know, because I speak to these people in my constituency, that some people who are supposedly in jobs with zero-hours contracts are getting no work, cannot make any plans and cannot go out and spend money. That is the working environment that this Government support and that the next Labour Government will change.
Let us turn to the first, and most worrying, part of the Bill—the general measures affecting business. Exempting self-employed people in certain industries will create confusion about who is covered and who is not. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, the chartered body of health and safety practitioners and the world’s largest health and safety professional membership organisation, is opposed to that, calling it
“a very short-sighted and misleading move”,
and saying that
“it won’t actually help anyone; it won’t support business; but it will cause general confusion.”
Even the Federation of Small Businesses, which supports the change in principle, says that the implications are not well understood and it is particularly concerned about the unintended consequences for insurance, which will need to be considered further in Committee if the Bill gets there.
The Bill will also remove employment tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations to employers who have been judged to have discriminated against someone unlawfully. Such recommendations are only advisory—they are not mandatory and they promote good working practice. Why are the Government trying to prescribe the ability of tribunals to make observations? What are they afraid of? The Prime Minister says that we are in a global race, but that race cannot be won by attacking employment rights at every opportunity. The Opposition will not support a race to the bottom.
The House of Commons Library considered the impact assessment for that measure and found that despite the Minister labelling it deregulatory and counting it as an out under the Government’s arbitrary one in, two out system, business will incur a cost as a result of the removal of the power. Only this Government could propose a supposedly deregulatory measure that costs business money. Those on the Front Bench look slightly puzzled; this is work by the House of Commons Library.
I am not sure how often the hon. Lady talks to business, but perhaps she saw the submission from the British Chambers of Commerce, which said:
“The BCC supports the thrust of this Bill. The BCC welcomes measures to reduce unnecessary health and safety regulations on the self-employed”.
She should talk to business more before she comes to this House.
I have just quoted the FSB, which stands for the Federation of Small Businesses—I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware of that. I talk to business regularly and if he disagrees with the FSB, we would be pleased to hear the evidence on which that is based.
The Government sacked hundreds of staff at great expense several years ago, and they are now seeking to re-employ them through a recruitment firm, hiring at least half of them. I have seen the job advert, and apparently they will work on the Government’s red tape challenge and deregulation programme. [Interruption.] Well, it is certainly true that the Government need all the help that they can get, but I hope that they will succeed—
The Labour Government did more to support working families and working parents than any Government before, and of course we support that measure.
I shall try to make progress and speak to my experience with business. Before entering the House, I worked for many years in telecoms in the private sector in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Nigeria and many other countries around the world; I worked in companies large and small. I then worked for the industry regulator in this country, Ofcom, for six years, so I have seen regulation from many different viewpoints, and I am familiar with the impact that it can have on businesses of all sizes. I recognise the burden that it can represent, particularly on small businesses.
The Opposition believe that Government must seek to reduce unnecessary regulation at every opportunity, but unfortunately, this Government’s debate on regulation is stale and simplistic. Smart regulation underpins fair markets, and can level the playing field for small firms and new entrants—the very people and businesses that create new jobs and prosperity. Smart regulation saves lives. It is a matter of great pride for all of us, I hope, that the 2012 Olympic infrastructure was built without the loss of one life. We can certainly be sure that regulation played a part in that. The men and women working on those construction sites know the value of having clear health and safety laws in place, and I only wish that were the case for Government Members.
Smart regulation can help to drive innovation and growth. Labour’s zero carbon policy helped to make this country a world leader in low-carbon technology and architecture. Yes, regulation—
I am going to make progress, as many Members wish to speak.
Regulation is a concern for some businesses, but business people understand that rules are needed to protect people’s safety and rights, promote competition and prevent employers from being undercut by those who do not play by the rules. As the Federation of Small Businesses has noted, the concerns of business are often about how regulations are developed and introduced, how they are enforced, and the duplication and overlapping rules that waste their time. The Government’s rather crude “one in, two out” approach fails to recognise that sensible and proportionate regulation introduced and implemented properly can promote healthy, competitive markets. The issue is more complex than the number of rules coming in and out.
We believe it is essential to take a fresh look at existing regulation, how it is implemented, and how—in response to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood)—it is translated from European directives. Regulation protects consumers’ and employees’ rights, ensures that our industries play their part in moving to a green and sustainable future, and keeps citizens safe; it has saved many lives. It is important that it is effective and enforceable. Challenges arise when ill-thought-through regulation has unforeseen consequences or is interpreted bureaucratically and inflexibly. Some regulation can certainly represent an unnecessary burden on businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises that may not have access to legal advice to interpret regulation accurately or the resources to implement it fully.
When in power, Labour sought to reduce regulation by introducing the Better Regulation Commission and the ongoing better regulation programme, and made a number of legislative changes to reduce the cost of regulation. Our programmes for simplifying regulation delivered—[Interruption.] Our programmes delivered— I would have thought this figure would be of some interest to Government Members—£3 billion of savings to business per year. In contrast, the impact statement for the draft Bill—Ministers have not dared to produce a comprehensive summary for the current Bill—estimated that it would save business and civil society £10 million over 10 years. So we have savings of £10 million or £3 billion; I think the Minister can do the maths. The figures underline that while we all agree unnecessary regulation can be a burden on business, a sensible approach to deregulation is about more than repealing statutes.
In government, we introduced legislative reform orders to help Ministers to get unnecessary burdens on business off the statute book. However, as the Regulatory Reform Committee has noted, instead of using those 11 procedures already available to Government for deregulating, Ministers chose to invent a new one. We also set up the primary authority scheme and the Regulatory Policy Committee, as well as a Cabinet Sub-Committee to focus minds at the very top of Government. That was our record in government.
Building on Labour’s progress in government, the Bill seeks to introduce a growth duty on regulators, as the Minister explained. This duty will compel them to have regard to the promotion of economic growth when carrying out their functions and to carry them out in a necessary and proportionate way. We support the aims behind the duty and, clearly, the principle that regulators should go about their business in a proportionate way, but we must ensure that the duty does not inhibit or contradict the primary function of any regulator.
The crude proposals in the Bill do not fit into an overall strategy or vision for this country. They show no recognition of why growth is important to deliver good, sustainable jobs, to help people’s incomes rise faster than costs, and to ensure that we become richer as a nation. They do not mention long-term or sustainable growth—they refer simply to growth—and they fail to recognise that good regulation is necessary to protect jobs and growth. Is it right that a housing bubble or a casino-capitalism-fuelled, short-term growth spurt should be a primary consideration for the Office for Nuclear Regulation? I hope we all recognise that markets need to be regulated in order to protect growth and jobs, or are the Government suggesting that the underlying cause of the global financial crisis was too much regulation?
I am sorry to put the hon. Lady out of her stride, but I have slightly lost her point; I will be replying to this debate, so I just want to follow her argument. She has said that she is in favour of regulators paying regard to the aim of getting growth in the economy and of their regulations being proportionate to the risks they guard against, but now she appears to be speaking against that. I do not follow her argument: is she proposing to vote against the regulators being asked to have regard to the growth of the economy and against their regulations being proportionate? If so, I have not followed her logic. How on earth would our proposed measures produce a casino-like growth bubble? We are simply proposing a sensible constraint on regulators to make sure that they remain proportionate and do not do out-of-proportion economic damage.
I thank the Minister for his intervention, which, I regret to say, illustrates that this Government still do not understand the driving forces behind the global financial crisis.
Although we want regulators to have regard to the impact of their regulations, we do not agree that one of their primary objectives should be to support or promote short-term growth. There is a list of regulators. Should short-term growth be a priority for the human rights regulator? Either the Bill should be amended or the impact of the proposals should be clarified, so as to ensure that we do not find ourselves in a situation whereby all the regulators seek to promote short-term growth spurts, regardless of the consequences elsewhere. I hope that explanation has offered clarification, at least to a certain extent, and that Government Members will find it easy to discuss.
We have concerns about other parts of the Bill. Housing is a critical part of the cost of living crisis for families up and down the country, so should there not be a coherent, long-term approach, rather than ad hoc tinkering? Will not reducing the right-to-buy qualifying time hamper the ability of councils to build more homes at a time when they are needed more than ever? We will certainly seek proof that that will not happen. We will also seek clarification and reassurances on some of the measures affecting transport, licensing and local authorities, among others.
The decriminalisation of waste will, apparently, reduce the regulatory burden on households, but it should be remembered that in 1991 a then Tory Minister said something similar about the decriminalisation of parking offences. I doubt that many car owners feel that parking is less of a burden as a result, but it is certainly the case that it opened up new avenues of revenue for hard-pressed councils.
The proposals on justice are interesting. I imagine that the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), approached the Lord Chancellor, who had just taken his job, and asked him what regulations he would like to get rid of, and that he came back with the idea of stripping away safeguards on the seizure of evidence from journalists, although we hear that that was not the intention, and a proposal to remove parliamentary scrutiny when he wants to close prisons. In answer to one of my parliamentary questions, the Ministry of Justice has revealed that, since 2010, it has yet to repeal any regulations, but has introduced eight. If those are the sorts of ideas that it has come up with, perhaps it is a good thing that we have been spared any deregulation by the Ministry of Justice during the past three and a half years.
Some measures in the Bill are welcome. Although those affecting businesses will have only a small impact on a small number of them, they are welcome, as are those on child trust funds. The measures on rights of way are also good news, provided that the full package agreed with the stakeholder working group is passed.
I pay tribute to the hard work of the Joint Committee on the draft Deregulation Bill, chaired by my noble Friend Lord Rooker. Although it was not given the time it felt appropriate, thanks to the Joint Committee the Bill is in a slightly better state than it was last July, but it is fair to say that the Government have not responded to many of its criticisms.
It is also fair to say that the overall reaction to the Bill has been underwhelming—lukewarm at best. Ministers are delighted with it, but reading the Bill, I realised that that is because it seems to be about removing burdens as much on Ministers as on business. By my count, half the proposals in the Bill will take away burdens from Ministers and the Government, while less than half will remove them from business. This is more doublespeak: deregulation is apparently about deregulating Whitehall, not small business. For some reason, that reminds me of the Localism Act 2011, which has somehow resulted in hundreds of powers being localised in Whitehall.
That explains why the expected impact of the Bill is rather low, and underlines why it is a rather simplistic tool for a multifaceted challenge. All Governments say that they want to reduce regulation—I am sure that every Byzantine emperor came to power on the promise of reduced regulation—but getting regulation right is much more about working behind the scenes with business and interested parties than about bluster and press releases.
I am just finishing.
Once again, this Government’s rhetoric extends far beyond their reach. The Opposition will seek to remove or amend the iniquitous clauses if the Bill is committed, and we believe that the remaining clauses will have a very limited, if welcome, impact.
I rise to give my full support to the Bill, which represents another important clear-out of unnecessary barriers to economic growth and will help to clear a path to the creation of more jobs. It also tackles the worrying “something must be done” culture of believing in legislation as the cure to all problems. Too often, legislation and heavy-handed regulation makes things worse, not better.
We need more first-time entrepreneurs to step forward without being put off by the fog of regulation, and we need more such people to take another step by becoming first-time employers. I therefore welcome provisions in the Bill to simplify apprenticeships, just as I welcomed measures in the Finance Act 2013 to reduce the burden of employer’s national insurance contributions— the jobs tax—which the Labour party has sought to increase.
We need not only first-time entrepreneurs and first-time employers, but first-time exporters. We must continue to help more first-time home owners within our property-holding democracy, so I welcome clause 21, which will reduce barriers to the right to buy—[Interruption.] The receipts will be used to build more social housing, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) has indicated from a sedentary position.
By pulling down barriers to action, we are sending the clear message that Britain is open to people giving it a try, realising dreams and achieving ambitions, regardless of whether they are the first in their family ever to do so. We are saying that there is hope and opportunity. As the Prime Minister said to the Federation of Small Businesses at its conference last week, there are areas where the Government need to
“get out of the way of small business success.”
That means introducing a programme of ongoing tax reductions, continuing to drive down the barriers of regulation and letting businesses steer their own course to success. The new employment allowance is a rebate of £2,000 on the national insurance contributions of every business in the country.
The duty to pay employer’s national insurance contributions for people under 21 will be abolished completely. Last year’s autumn statement included a cap on the increase in business rates and a rolling programme of small business rate relief that will enable a £1,000 reduction in business rates for shops and retail premises, which will help to safeguard our high streets.
The Bill is an integral part of the Government’s long-term approach on deregulation. As the Minister said, the red tape challenge has highlighted just how much regulation there is and demonstrated the Government’s willingness—their desire even—to drain the swamp of existing regulation. The Minister kindly referred to that as a lake, but I think that it is more of a swamp.
I fully support my hon. Friend’s comments. Does he agree that the Minister for Government Policy, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and several other Government Members have worked hard for many years on this specialist subject to ensure that we reduce regulation on business?
I agree with my hon. Friend completely. There has been great determination not only to reduce the deficit, but to build a plan for growth. Deregulation is a fundamental part of that plan, so I praise the work of the Minister for Government Policy and other Ministers who have made invaluable contributions.
The Government have turned their attention to not only the stock of regulations, but the flow of new regulations—the river that is running into the swamp that we are looking to drain. Their progress has been so good that their one in, one out approach has become a one in, two out rule. Ministers must remove twice the cost of any new regulation that they introduce. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), who also made an invaluable contribution in this area as a Minister, that is a culture change that will keep us on the path to more jobs and increased growth.
I welcome the fact that hundreds of regulations have been improved, modified or removed by the Government, and that they are being more ambitious still in the Bill by aiming to improve or sweep away thousands more. As the Prime Minister said, this will be
“the first government in modern history that at the end of its parliamentary term has less regulation in place than there was at the beginning.”
That must be an important priority. With the eurozone in a sluggish period of economic growth and an in/out referendum on the cards in the UK following a Conservative victory at the next election, the Bill will hopefully not only help the UK to tackle its own challenges, but provide the impetus for serious deregulatory reform in Europe.
As co-chair of the all-party group on mountaineering, what is the hon. Gentleman’s view of how clause 1 will apply to mountain guides and those who take people climbing? As he well knows, all mountain guides in this country are self-employed, even though many of them work within organisations and agencies such as the Plas y Brenin centre in north Wales. How will removing the general health and safety responsibility from self-employed mountain guides affect health and safety in that industry?
I will try to respond to that point before I hand over to the Minister. Surely the purpose of clause 1 is to ensure that those who are self-employed in industries in which there is no risk to the lives of others can get on with their work. I do not know the exact details regarding mountain guides, so I will hand over to the Minister, who I am sure will give a much better-informed answer.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because this is a beautiful illustration of the problem. Mountaineering, like many such activities, is covered by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority, so those who are self-employed in that terrain are already regulated. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) illustrates beautifully the kind of problem that arises owing to multiple duplications of regulation. There are clear reasons why health and safety regulations apply in certain dangerous disciplines, but not when they are already regulated.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure that the hon. Member—and friend—for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and I will enjoy further conversations about that subject outside the Chamber.
The Bill will help to provide further impetus for change in not only the UK, but Europe. Fortunately, there is increasing evidence that, in contrast to the abject failure of the French socialist approach under President Hollande, the UK’s plan A can only help to bolster the pragmatic supply-side reform movement that has been spurred on by the Government and by the Prime Minister’s business taskforce. It has already been embodied by Open Europe and the Fresh Start group, which I and other Government Members support. Indeed, I was honoured to help to host a round-table discussion on better regulation only last month with delegates from across the EU. The Bill will do a good deal to deregulate in the UK, but if we are also to increase the EU’s competitiveness, we need to spread the lessons of our approach across the European economy.
I think that my hon. Friend was on the trip to Brussels when we asked the Commission whether it had removed any regulatory burdens from small businesses. The lady we were speaking to looked absolutely startled and could not remember any rule that ever been removed from business.
My hon. Friend makes an important point that further highlights something I said earlier: 72% of the cost of all regulation—that is tens of billions of pounds—that has been put on UK businesses has come from the EU. That has to change.
Churchill once said:
“If you have ten thousand regulations, you destroy all respect for the law.”
Those words from the wise are worth listening to. Of course, 10,000 regulations also destroy competitiveness, so there is an urgent need to make targeted reductions in the swathes of regulatory burdens that are preventing British citizens from getting back to work.
Absolutely. Providing for a more level playing field and enabling small and medium-sized enterprises to compete fully in the marketplace is at the heart of what the Government are trying to do, and that has to happen.
To secure the sort of reform that we are pushing for, we need to continue to inspire our EU neighbours with ambitious reforms such as the Bill. In that way, we can build alliances in Europe with politicians, citizens and businesses that also want a competitive EU—a single market, not a single over-regulated state. That is what we are working for. The EU institutions, especially the red tape-loving European Parliament, have become divorced from the economic reality of Europe and its people, including those in the UK. In the end, however, reality does bite, and the fantasy that it is a public good to have ever more legislation in ever more areas of life is fundamentally exposed. Barriers that hinder innovation, and the overall competitiveness of our entrepreneurs, employers and exporters, must be addressed at EU level as they are tackled in the UK.
In October, the Prime Minister’s taskforce showed what could be done with its “Compete” principles for better regulation and more than 30 recommendations for reducing the bureaucratic burden. The public outcry, especially in the UK, that led to rules on discards being swept away from fisheries policy shows that even Brussels, with enough pressure, will respond to the agenda for change. With the work that is being pushed forward and the alliances we are building in Europe, it is good that latent EU reformists have been enabled and even emboldened to get on to the front foot in arguing for a better Europe.
I am not sure that that contribution particularly advances the debate. I refer the hon. Lady to the comment I made earlier: 72% of regulation comes from the EU. We must address that situation, but Labour Members appear to have no appetite to do so. The issue was ducked for 13 years under the previous Government, but we are getting serious about it.
I will return to the Bill in a minute, but it is important to consider this issue in context. The German Finance Minister, Mr Schäuble, has warned against endless regulation and went as far as to state that among the
“worst news I got as Finance Minister two years ago was that a big bio-chemistry companies was shifting all its research from Europe to the US because of regulations coming from Brussels.”
The Bill helps to show that better news is possible with sufficient political will, not just in Germany, but in Holland and Sweden, where others are beginning to recognise the need for reform. One key thing we must demand is the implementation of the services directive across the EU. That must be a priority to ensure that consumers across the EU benefit, and that UK service companies—and, for that matter, those from other EU countries—can compete effectively.
If the EU adopted steps similar to those taken in the UK, such as the one in, one out requirement, which is moving to one in, two out, and the Government’s three-year moratorium on new regulation for small businesses, that would show that it, too, was open for business. There are signs that the EU is beginning to listen, and hopefully in the light of the Bill and the other work the Government are taking forward, it will show even more interest.
No one knows the precise direction of our economic journey over the next decade and beyond, but it will be easier if the Government continue to turn off the many red lights and deal with the road blocks faced by smaller businesses. As the Minister said, it is good that clauses 61, 62 and beyond deal with the idea that non-economic regulators must have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth, which is an important step forward.
It is also important to present better regulation proposals as a cause of optimism and positivity, rather than allowing the scurrilous left and the Labour party to pretend that it is all too difficult, or to insult the self-employed by suggesting that they do not have proper jobs, when of course they do. The Bill will empower people to achieve the things they want in their careers and businesses, and we must implement such measures to ensure that inflexible labour markets are swept away.
Deregulation does not take rights away; the Bill seeks only better to define them. Clause 1, for example, exempts from health and safety law self-employed people whose work activities pose no risk of harm to others, which is a measure supported by the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses. Clause 2 frees employers from the threat of wider recommendations from employment tribunals, thus de-risking the employment process and making jobs more likely to be created in the first place. If we can spread the Bill’s positive vision of deregulatory reform to our neighbours in Europe and the global economy, we will be pulling down barriers to people’s dreams and clearing road blocks to our constituents’ ambitions, and it is because of that that I support the Bill.
I beg to move,
That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Deregulation Bill because, whilst acknowledging that removing unnecessary burdens on small businesses is welcome, the Bill fails to recognise the social, economic and environmental benefits of effective regulation and contains a number of extremely damaging proposals including: the watering down of safety protections for employees that will leave workers at greater risk of injury, ill-health and abuse; the erosion of protection of journalistic sources and against police seizure of journalistic material, which threatens the basis of the free press; and the imposition of a growth duty on non-economic regulators such as Natural England and the Health and Safety Executive, which is irresponsible and risks undermining their core roles; further considers that this Bill is another illustration of a Government which is embarking on a deregulatory path without due consideration of warnings, including from businesses, that effective regulation is essential to create jobs and innovation and that ripping up vital green legislation risks locking the UK into polluting industrial processes for decades to come, jeopardising future competitiveness, damaging the UK’s attractiveness for green investment, and undermining new industries; and further believes that this Bill represents a race to the bottom and an obsession with GDP growth at any cost which is not in the public interest.
I tabled this reasoned amendment because I believe that the Bill should not be given a Second Reading. I listened to the Minister characterising those of us who have signed the amendment as somehow being of the far left. If that is the case, that category would have to include groups such as the UK Green Building Council, the Aldersgate Group and many other business groups right across the spectrum that have deep concerns about the Bill’s direction of travel.
I did not table this reasoned amendment without giving consideration to those parts of the Bill that are welcome and uncontroversial. Certainly, some parts of the Bill are completely fine. For example, it is cold homes week and many MPs and charities are working hard to highlight fuel poverty in cold homes. Scarves are a symbol of the campaign and people have been knitting away in the past few weeks to draw attention to the need to tackle fuel poverty. I am sure that nobody would object to the clauses in the Bill that would remove restrictions on the selling of knitting yarn. They will allow small and large businesses engaged in the selling of yarn better to meet their customers’ needs. Other provisions are similarly sensible, such as those that would facilitate the recording of public rights of way, and I give them my full support. Removing genuinely defunct legislation from the statute book also makes sense.
My worry is that the basis of the Bill is incredibly simplistic and crude: in the Government’s mind more regulation is bad and less regulation is good, without ever questioning the kind of regulation. Is it smart regulation? What is the purpose of the regulation? Will it actually generate more development? Will it incentivise industry? Will it provide industry with the level playing ground it often asks for? Instead of this nuanced approach, we have a complete knee-jerk reaction that says, “Regulation is bad, deregulation is good” and proceeds in a simple way.
I will make comments on three areas of the Bill. First, I want to cover some specific provisions—I will outline just a few. Secondly, I want to talk about the fundamentally flawed premise on which the Bill is based: it fails to recognise that some regulation can be good for business and job creation, as well as for consumers. Thirdly, I will say a few words about the new growth duty on non-economic regulators, which I fear will interfere with, and impinge on, their ability independently to carry out crucial roles, including: the Care Quality Commission protecting public health; Natural England protecting our environment; the Health and Safety Executive protecting employees and others from harm at work; or the Equality and Human Rights Commission challenging discrimination and protecting human rights. This growth duty is just the latest manifestation of an obsession with short-term GDP growth at any cost, and that is simply not in the public interest.
First, I will focus on just a few of the harmful provisions that I think Ministers are trying to ram through in the name of deregulation. The Bill narrows the application of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, following the 2011 Löfstedt review. The Bill effectively exempts self-employed people from health and safety law where their activities do not put another person at risk. On the surface, one could ask what could be wrong with that. The problem is that the changes in the Bill are completely unnecessary, because the only time the 1974 Act can be used is when a person does put another person at risk. No self-employed person has ever been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution for risking just their own health. Right now, the law is straightforward and it works. The Bill will create not only confusion, but complacency.
Let us not forget that the fatality, injury and ill-health rate for the self-employed is already much higher than that for other sectors. Some of the more dangerous industries, such as agriculture and construction, have a high proportion of self-employed people working in them. There is an obvious risk that people who control the workplace where self-employed people work may think, wrongly, that they do not need to be as concerned about fulfilling their duty of care to the self-employed. The TUC has made this point clear, as have the majority of respondents to the HSE consultation, who rejected the very option we now have put before us. The health and safety professional body, the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, warns:
“This is a very short-sighted and misleading move, it won’t actually help anyone; it won’t support business; but it will cause general confusion.”
As well as health and safety protections, it is also reasonable to ensure that employees do not face discrimination in the workplace, yet the Government are trying to take a massive backward step in the fight against discrimination, too, by removing the powers of employment tribunals to issue wider recommendations on gender, race or other forms of discrimination in the workplace.
As the hon. Lady will be aware, employment tribunals made these recommendations only 19 times in 2012, and in fact employers often welcome them because they help to resolve many underlying issues that often lead to discrimination claims being made in the first place.
That is a clear example of where the status quo is not causing a problem. The Government are looking for problems to solve where there are no problems, and instead are creating a whole lot more.
Affordable housing could be another casualty of this obsession with deregulation. Reducing the eligibility period for the right to buy could seriously undermine housing associations’ ability to provide affordable housing and make it more, not less, difficult for housing associations to do business, contrary to the Government’s own apparent aims. It would be interesting to hear what assessment the Minister has made of the impact on the Government’s ambition to deliver 165,000 affordable homes over the Parliament. Why did they not consult housing associations on the impact of the measure before bringing it forward?
On the environment, in May 2010 in the coalition agreement, the Government committed to encouraging community-owned renewable energy schemes, and that is being delivered with the launch of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s community energy strategy. However, the reduction of energy and climate change duties, set out in clause 28, appears specifically to contradict that commitment and undermine the recent statements supporting community energy made by Ministers.
On public participation in decision making, the Bill weakens the Government’s overall consultation duties by removing specified statutory duties to consult. The majority of the consultation requirements to be removed by the Bill relate to the environment and greatly reduce the participation rights of affected people, including regulators such as Natural England. Consultation is a core element of democratic government and serves as one of the main ways the Government can be held to account for their actions. It also contributes to increasing public trust in government and is essential for developing policy and legislation, because it provides access to wider sources of information, opinions, and potential issues and solutions. The Government risk undermining their legitimacy and triggering a public outcry by removing statutory consultation requirements. The statement in schedule 15 that the Government consider these statutory requirements to consult as unnecessary is neither satisfactory nor sufficient to justify that removal.
More specifically, the UK is a signatory to the Aarhus convention, which binds the UK to provide the public with, among other things, a right to participate in decision making in any proposed activity that might have a significant effect on the environment and/or during the preparation of plans and programmes relating to the environment. The removal of the requirement to consult on the exercise of various powers relating to the environment directly conflicts with the requirements of the Aarhus convention, which stems from principle 10 of the Rio declaration, which opens with the declaration:
“Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level.”
The Government should justify the removal of each of the consultation requirements and confirm how the UK’s public participation obligation, pursuant to the convention, will be discharged.
We have already heard quite a bit about clause 47. I was going to say that hidden in the Bill was a provision seeking to repeal some of the journalistic protections in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that currently ensure proper and fair judicial scrutiny before police applications to obtain journalistic material are granted. I am grateful for the fact that the Minister is attempting to reassure his own Back Benchers on this issue, but it worries me that only at the last moment, when the Bill has got to this stage, is he proposing further consultation on this important part of the Bill. That strikes me as odd, as many organisations have been extremely vocal in raising this issue over several months. The Newspaper Society, The Guardian and many others have warned about the impact of closed material proceedings and so on.
I am grateful that, at the last minute, the Government are looking again at this matter and saying they will consult again, but that raises questions about how many other parts of the Bill will have unintended consequences.
The hon. Lady is making a serious speech; I hope I can correct just one misapprehension on her part. Although it is perfectly true that the Newspaper Society and others raised this issue, from memory it was on Wednesday or Thursday last week. They had not done so when the Joint Committee was scrutinising the Bill, nor did they do so when the Bill left the Joint Committee and we responded to it; they did so only last Wednesday or Thursday. That is why I have said that some further consultation would make sense, in case anyone else out there has views who has not come forward during the whole six months or so of exposure of the draft.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. That is not as I understood it, but I am pleased to be corrected if that is the case. Certainly the lobby that I have been aware of—which is perhaps looking at broader issues than the question we are currently discussing—has been going on for a long time, but I thank the Minister for his clarification.
My second main objection to the Bill is that, in a sense, it just feels like the latest manifestation of a Government embarking on an evidence-free deregulatory path without due consideration of warnings, including from business. Those warnings say that effective regulation is essential to create jobs and innovation, and that ripping up vital green legislation risks locking the UK into polluting industrial processes for decades to come, jeopardising future competitiveness, damaging the UK’s attractiveness for green investment and undermining new industries. Let us take, for example, the UK Green Building Council, which works daily with more than 400 companies and organisations, from the largest to the smallest, across the built environment industry. In response to the Prime Minister’s comment last week about deregulation, Paul King, its chief executive, said:
“The Prime Minister’s boasts of ‘slashing 80,000 pages’ of environmental guidance is utterly reprehensible. It is the same poisonous political rhetoric from Number 10, devaluing environmental regulation in a slash and burn manner. These words are not only damaging and irresponsible, but misrepresent the wishes of so many modern businesses, both large and small.”
I certainly can. I could talk about the Aldersgate Group as one or the Prince of Wales business trust as another. There are plenty of business organisations out there that make it clear that appropriate regulation is helpful to them. What they want is clarity, which is the very opposite of what they have had from this Government, under whom rules have been changed almost overnight. I am thinking, for example, of the feed-in tariff change, when suddenly the rules were changed retrospectively, more or less overnight, causing huge confusion and complication for many companies.
What those companies want is a level playing field, and clarity and certainty into the future. They are happy to have clear, sensible regulation that applies to all; what they do not want is a Government who simply come out with more and more rhetoric and introduce rules retrospectively or at the last moment. Many businesses in my constituency are tearing their hair out about not being able to plan for the future, because they do not know what the Government’s latest response will be to the UK Independence party or whoever else they are trying to close off.
I am not a spokesperson for the Labour party, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to ask that question of those on the Labour Front Bench, he is very welcome to do so. What I am talking about is my knowledge of small businesses, with which I spend a lot of time in my constituency. What they would love to see is a reduction in VAT or an extension of the threshold, so that more small businesses are caught by the business rate relief. There are all kinds of things that they would like to see, but they are not necessarily telling me about a huge burden of regulation of the kind that the Government think they are trying to solve.
An example of the positive role of regulation is the 2016 zero-carbon target. This set a destination in advance and precipitated a huge amount of innovation from businesses figuring out how to get there—new jobs, new industries and new export markets for UK businesses. Customers are increasingly interested in energy efficiency, and a new home will probably save them £800 on their annual energy bills. Builders have responded to a clear stepwise trajectory towards zero-carbon homes, with uplifts in regulations in 2006 and 2010, and again this year, en route to 2016, from when all new homes are meant to be zero-carbon. The costs of building low-carbon, efficient homes have tumbled—by half in the last two years alone, according to forthcoming research. That example highlights the fact that Government regulation, not deregulation, can be incredibly successful in driving innovation, keeping energy bills down, creating jobs and cutting carbon emissions.
Environmental regulation to manage building in flood-prone areas will protect people from the nightmares that we have witnessed on our TV screens, if not in our own living rooms, over recent weeks. There are plenty of examples of disastrous deregulation, too. The US car industry lobbied and funded both Democrats and Republicans to reduce regulation. The result was that it drove itself to bankruptcy, because it was out-competed by overseas manufacturers that developed more efficient cars to meet tougher regulations elsewhere.
The Government seem to be ignoring business representatives speaking out in favour of strong regulation. I have mentioned the Aldersgate Group a couple of times. In 2011, it warned that the drive to cut regulations on business could threaten the economic recovery. In a report launched here in the House of Commons, it stated that Government initiatives such as the red tape challenge that threaten “to rip up” vital green legislation would lock in polluting industrial processes for decades to come, jeopardise future competitiveness, and damage the UK’s attractiveness to green investors. It questioned whether measures such as one in, one out rule made sense, and would address pressing environmental challenges such as climate change. That is just one example of a market failure that requires more, not less, regulation to safeguard the environment and drive development in new industries.
The Aldersgate Group also highlighted the negative impact of putting sensible environmental regulations at risk with a consequent loss of business confidence. Peter Young, the group’s chairman, said:
“It is a myth that all businesses want less regulation. Effective green laws create a level playing field which drives efficiency, early action and the innovation in UK companies that will be the engine for future growth and jobs.
A crude deregulation drive risks damaging competitiveness and severely threatens the Prime Minister’s commitment to a green industrial revolution. The regulatory framework should encourage a rapid shift to a sustainable economy rather than being held back by vested interests or the lowest common denominator.
The Government’s ‘war on red tape' must not become a crusade that threatens regulatory outcomes such as protecting the environment. Even the threat of deregulation on the Climate Change Act and renewable energy support is massively eroding investment and making growth more difficult.”
There you have it, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is not just the Green party speaking; some of the captains of some of the biggest industries in the country are saying, very clearly, that the idea that all businesses hate all regulation is a myth and a travesty.
I certainly think that some deregulation can help small businesses, and I also think that small businesses find it harder to deal with. What I object to is the fact that we are talking in vast generalisations. Let us instead talk about specific regulations. By and large—apart from, for instance, the clause about knitting yarn—the Bill contains none of the measures that small businesses in my constituency are crying out for. As I have said, what they would love to see are changes in the whole economic environment, such as the introduction of a higher threshold before business rate relief comes in. That would make a huge difference to them.
Let me now say something about the growth duty. I fear that it will interfere with, and impinge on, the ability of organisations to play crucial roles. The idea that growth must come before everything is a mantra and an ideological obsession, and it seems to me that an obsession with short-term GDP growth at any cost is simply not in the public interest. The Government’s justification for the growth duty has been inconsistent and incoherent. Regulators are already subject to a statutory duty to regulate proportionately, to be transparent and accountable, and to target activities only when that is necessary. That legislation is already there.
Ministers give assurances that the independence and effectiveness of organisations in carrying out their duties will not be undermined. A Government consultation paper states:
“Supporting growth and stripping back burdens are not sufficiently prioritised.”
However, it also states that
“the regulators would need to be able to demonstrate that they have considered the economic impact of their actions when making decisions”,
“the duty is intended to be complementary to, and not override… existing duties.”
I do not understand why the new growth duty is necessary. As the consultation paper makes clear, regulations already exist, and we already know that the bodies concerned must take into account the impact of their proposals on the wider economy.
It seems to me that what we have here is yet another knee-jerk reaction. Growth must come before everything else—protecting workers’ rights, public health, equality, fair treatment, and the environment—and that, in my view, is a very negative approach.
I am very happy to be contributing to the debate. It is a particular pleasure for me because I served on the Joint Committee, and, during that process, welcomed the contributions of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister without Portfolio.
I especially welcome the Bill’s proposal for a duty for growth. I think it fair to say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has transformed Britain so that it is once more a nation that prides itself on trade, growth and entrepreneurship. Exports are up again, and businesses are growing and benefiting from the fiscal and regulatory changes on which the Government have rightly focused. It is about time that we repealed legislation that is no longer of any practical use, and started to recreate an even playing field for competition, business start-ups and entrepreneurship. That is why the Bill is so important.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) and the Ministers have pointed out, the Bill is one part of the Government’s ongoing deregulation agenda. It sits alongside the red tape challenge and what was formerly known as the one in, one out rule, which is well known in Government circles. I want to highlight some key aspects of the Bill, particularly those relating to business.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he has so succinctly put it, creating jobs and giving people employment are central to our long-term economic plan, and to a sustainable strengthening of our future economy. The Bill will not only help those who are employed, but will help people to secure employment, which is why deregulation is so essential.
I know that my hon. Friend is keen to move on to specific aspects of the Bill, but may I ask her a question before she does so? Those of us who believe in free markets and the power of entrepreneurs to achieve great change want the Government to do as much as they possibly can to get unnecessary regulation out of the way. Given her experience on the Committee that considered the draft legislation, can she assure the House that the Government have gone as far as they possibly could in this Bill to get rid of such regulation?
My hon. Friend is right to ask that question. The Government have, of course, gone incredibly far. They inherited an appalling number of regulations from the last Government, and they are now doing exactly the right thing. They are making good progress, and setting the right direction of travel. We need to support them in that, because British business in particular depends on the changes that we are making in order to create the even playing field that will enhance our competitiveness in the world.
My hon. Friend is making a passionate appeal for common sense and entrepreneurial values. As someone who was a member of the Joint Committee, will she comment on the quality and strength of the proposals that were advanced by Opposition Members? Did they help the debate?
I think that there is a correlation between what we have heard so far today and some of the Committee’s debates. The Committee was particularly well informed, because the draft Bill had been published some time earlier, and because we received many submissions, about which I shall say more shortly. What we have heard from Opposition Members this afternoon in decrying this Bill is a reminder to the House and the nation of their illiterate economic approach and why so much in the past has gone wrong in relation to regulation and lack of support for businesses in particular.
My support for this Bill is absolutely fundamental. It is about jobs, growth and deregulation. Over 80% of my constituents are employed by SMEs. These SMEs are the backbone not just of my local economy in Witham but obviously of Essex and the eastern region, which is a very sizeable net contributor to Her Majesty’s Treasury.
Those SMEs and my constituents who are employed by them welcome this Deregulation Bill because they know that it will transform the landscape for them when it comes to doing business, removing so many of the obstacles and burdens of red tape that have stifled them. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) talked about the swamp of regulation. That is exactly it. We have to move on; we have to drain the swamp and get rid of the burden of regulation across every level that affects SMEs, whether that involves local authorities, county councils or health and safety bodies. These are the barriers we have to remove to enable businesses not just to thrive and grow, but to have that even playing field.
My hon. Friend is making a good point, which is that it is not just the businesses and small entrepreneur employers and the self-employed who will benefit from this Bill, but so too will public sector organisations, that will be freed up from deregulation they do not need so that they also can use the taxpayers’ money in a better way.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is about how we can transform the way public bodies, including Whitehall, function. Our new growth duty is an important step in changing that mindset. This is a real message going out saying, “The status quo is not enough any more.” For us to be competitive as a country, we have to change our mindset across Government and Whitehall and also across all aspects of decision making, to help our businesses thrive.
I would like to bring my hon. Friend back to the general principles and look at the bodies that regulate. The last Government were so keen on establishing regulatory authorities, increasing the burden on business, and that did nothing to stop the increase in youth unemployment and nothing to stop this country racking up massive amounts of debt and the stagnation in wages. Is she sure that under this Government we can really get deregulating? Have we done enough to get rid of some of the bodies the last Government put in place, that stopped us growing as an economy and did not do anything to tackle some of the problems we inherited?
I thank my hon. Friend for his point on public bodies in particular. In the public bodies legislation we went a long way to reshaping that landscape. I am sure there is more to do, however, and this Deregulation Bill is a highly positive and a very welcome start. I commend our colleagues on the Front Bench on everything they have done to champion this. As and when the Bill passes through the Bill Committee, we can do more to strengthen and enhance the ability to deregulate across Whitehall, too.
I mentioned that a vast number of my constituents are employed by SMEs. Interestingly, there is a diverse range of businesses in my constituency. Many of them come under the category of self-employment, but they too come across aspects of health and safety regulation in particular. Many of the businesses in my constituency are hugely supportive of scrapping the rules for self-employed workers, whose activities pose no harm, and of changing the landscape in that regard. They are being liberated now, so they are no longer saddled with this burden and are able to grow and move their businesses on.
Important points are being made in this debate. In Macclesfield we are very proud of our level of self-employment, particularly among women. Is it my hon. Friend’s experience that female entrepreneurs and small businesses run by women have expressed the same sentiments that she has been talking about, and that that cuts across the board for both male and female entrepreneurs? This makes a big difference in helping people to be empowered about deciding how they want to take their careers forward.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those of us who have worked in business are very aware that at the end of the day we want an even playing field. I hope Members will forgive me for saying again that Essex is the county of entrepreneurs; we lead the way. My hon. Friend is right that this is about the empowerment of the individual, and Government getting out of their way so that we liberalise enough to liberate them to move on and do the right thing.
I mentioned the improvements to health and safety regulations. This will show that less regulation does something very important, which makes for better regulation. We have to get rid of all the redundant stuff—the stuff that is causing the problems and the barriers—and have more effective regulation.
It is wrong for those who are opposed to changes in this area just to assume that we are making a change that is going to leave people vulnerable. This is about better and more sensible regulation. There are many measures in this Bill that seek to achieve that.
I mentioned the work the Government are doing through the red tape challenge. That is already making a big difference to businesses. It is saving in excess of £30 million per annum and it is expected to lead to more savings. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield spoke about forums he has been involved in. I have spoken in many business forums over the past three years. For small businesses in particular one fact sticks out: under the last Government small businesses were saddled with red tape and regulation the burden of which was equivalent to £17 billion per annum. That is the cost of Crossrail. These are the types of costs and burdens we have to lift from small businesses, and this Government are going further than any British Government have gone in reducing the burden of regulation and cutting red tape. This is all about boosting business confidence and job creation in particular.
In terms of job creation, does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill specifically addresses young people and the need to have improved and more flexible apprenticeships? The proposals of the Richard review, which are implemented in this Bill, will offer a clear direction of travel that will produce greater skills and more jobs in the future.
My hon. Friend is right. There is rightly a focus on young people, but I come back to my point about small businesses: they are the first port of call for young people in the jobs market. Our schemes for apprenticeships are about making that connection and that link—about supporting both parties to come together in the right way and create jobs and prosperity. Clearly we want sustainable jobs that will benefit our local communities and economies.
I want to touch briefly on an emotive group of clauses: clauses 13 to 19 on the use of land. This topic came up when my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy opened the debate, and specifically the question of rights of way. This is a very sensitive area. It is right that this Bill provides a mechanism to allow landowners to extinguish redundant rights of way on their land where it is appropriate to do so. I have to say we received a great deal of evidence on this issue—that may even be an understatement, as we really did receive a lot of evidence. A lot of work is still taking place and dialogue is going on with the stakeholder working group. There is a long history here, with so many examples where local authorities and landowners have not been able to find the right kind of outcomes and resolutions. The Bill reduces the burdens on local authorities that arise from their having to consider many detailed applications for modifications. There are so many sensitivities and so many people and communities to please in different ways. This Bill has thus far approached this issue in the right way.
Clause 37 relates to education. We have spoken extensively today about business, jobs, growth and young people. Our young people start off in schools, and the clause rightly acknowledges that head teachers are the best placed to know what is right for their schools. We are empowering them not only to improve standards but to do the right thing in relation to teaching, to discipline and to having control of their budgets. We need to get rid of many of the over-zealous regulatory burdens that have hindered them in the past. Our schools are there for all the right reasons, to provide the necessary educational standards for our young people to leave school with good qualifications that will enable them to enter the employment market.
Serving on the Joint Committee was an education for me. It gave me great insight into the extent of the existing regulation in Whitehall, and into how easy it has been to create it. There has undoubtedly been a culture in which creating regulations and burdens seemed like the right thing to do, but this Government are now doing the right thing by deregulating in order to create more jobs and get more people into employment, which will build a stronger and more competitive economy.
Having sat on the Joint Committee on the draft Deregulation Bill, the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) has far more experience than me. The Bill proposes the abolition of many regulations, and it is important that the House should take a close look at all the evidence given to the Committee.
My stance is that sound regulation is essential for a well-functioning market economy, and that deregulation also has a place in those arrangements. I have no time for dinosaur-like regulations that have finished doing their job. For example, I am happy to see that clause 9 will get rid of regulations relating to the sale of knitting yarn. There are many more detailed regulations that should no longer be on the statute book, because they are not helping business or providing the level playing field that it needs. I do not want to see costly or unnecessary burdens on businesses. It is in all our interests to have regulations that are fit for purpose, that are properly enforced and that are properly understood by the general public and by those responsible for complying with them.
We also have to recognise, however, that regulation can be for the public good. The Bill contains a great deal of detail that needs to be understood. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has raised the matter of clause 8 with me, pointing out that if a consolidated list of authorised fuels is to be published, those fuels need to be registered under their original names rather than their brand names. That is one example of the detailed points that need to be examined, and I have no objection to that happening.
Many regulations have come about as a result of lengthy campaigns to get them on to the statute book, often by people who have been involved in some kind of dreadful catastrophe. Those people simply wanted to prevent what happened to them or their loved ones from happening to anyone else. Those regulations can involve important aspects of health and safety and of well-being. Clause 26 deals with the removal of the duty to order the re-hearing of marine accident investigations. The Government are proposing that the Secretary of State should simply have a discretionary power in this regard. They might think that that will be sufficient, but I ask them to consider the case of the MV Derbyshire. We should not forget how many years of campaigning it took for the hearing of that case to be reopened. We need to be careful before we press the delete button for certain regulations; we need to be very clear about what we are doing.
We need a coherent, long-term approach to regulation —in which some deregulation has a place—as a tool to frame policy that is consistent with our international commitments, but this Bill has insufficient regard to the Government’s avowed intention to be the “greenest Government ever”. The Cabinet Office is meant to be the all-knowing, all-seeing hub of joined-up, cross-cutting government, but there is no sense that it used an informed, evidence-based approach in building this latest bonfire of red tape. I say that with particular reference to the proposals for a duty to achieve economic growth.
My biggest objection to the Bill is the duty to achieve economic growth as set out in clauses 61 to 64. I was interested to hear what the Minister for Government Policy said earlier about that. He did not give the House any clear examples of any environmental appraisals that had taken place during the drafting of the Bill. The clauses appear to be a blatant attack on sustainable development, and they have nothing to do with deregulation. They are about something completely different.
I find it extraordinary that little weight has been given to the evidence that the Wildlife and Countryside Link group, and others, gave to the Joint Committee on which the hon. Member for Witham served. Insufficient regard seems to have been given to environmental appraisal throughout the clauses, and I wonder how the Government can square clause 61 with guidance from their own Natural Capital Committee. Did the Joint Committee take any evidence on that?
At the very least, an amendment should be tabled to the effect that the person exercising a regulatory function should consider the depreciation of natural and other forms of capital. The Bill should also replace the duty to achieve economic growth with a duty to achieve sustainable development. I am conscious of the fact that, when the Government got rid of the Sustainable Development Commission, they appointed the Cabinet Office as the hub for all the different green initiatives and charged it with responsibility for all those policies. I cannot see where that sits in relation to the Bill.
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), who is also a Minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, told the Joint Committee:
“I want to stick to growth, pure and simple”.
Sustainable development is seen by the Government as a drag on growth and a regulatory burden. In the light of that analysis, I appreciate that anyone advocating the retention of an overall sustainable development duty by the Government could be regarded as persona non grata, but I want to explain why retaining such a duty is not a retrograde step and should be included in the Bill.
This nation signed up to Rio and to Agenda 21. After last year’s Rio conference on sustainable development, it signed up to the Rio principles. Indeed, our own Prime Minister is responsible for implementing the millennium development goals in a way that incorporates the sustainable development goals. That is an international commitment, and it was made in the cause of the betterment of future generations. It is universal and should be retained by any UK Government, and I believe that it should be referred to in the Bill.
Sustainable development is not an impediment to growth. It is an expression of a much richer and deeper growth; an affirmation of well-being, of social justice and of living within planetary guidelines for the sake of our children and their children. It is in line with powerful and persuasive advocates of placing human betterment and ecological resilience at the core of our human values and endeavours.
Despite what the coalition Government say, they cannot advocate sustainable development if they go ahead with pure economic growth without any reference to it. Sustainable development is a force for good, proclaiming values and outcomes for which people yearn. It reminds us of our place alongside nature so that we cannot inadvertently step on nature’s toes in the pursuit of immediate growth, leading to longer-term, costly and possibly irreparable ecological degradation.
A sustainable development duty would give light to such considerations. It would require us to consider the longer-term implications, for our offspring and for the effective nurturing of our planet, of what we are doing in the name of growth. There is no incompatibility between sensible and reliable growth and sustainable growth. Integration should be recognised as it encompasses social betterment as well as a sound ecological basis for all future growth.
I have two other points to make outside of clauses 61 and 65. The Bill proposes to remove the commitment to promote sustainable communities from general local government responsibilities and to reduce the requirement to consult generally over local government initiatives. We have already heard from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about the importance of consultation and the links with the Aarhus convention. The measure could lead to any proposal from local government being about only economic growth, ignoring environmental and social considerations. We agree to that at our peril, and I hope that it will be examined closely in Committee. The misfit in relation to sustainable development also appears in the proposal to lower or even to remove any obligation on local governments to cut down on carbon-based energy use and to reduce or to remove the scope of micro-generation. Those are valuable planks in the shoring up of the low-carbon future for local living, striking at the heart of the recent advice of the Committee on Climate Change.
The Environmental Audit Committee, in its report on carbon budgets, found that the Government’s voluntary approach to securing local emissions reductions was insufficient. We recommended that local authorities should set emissions reductions targets with progress reports to Ministers each year. Not surprisingly, the Government disagreed with that, but they did commission the Committee on Climate Change to provide advice. The CCC’s advice was to strengthen incentives for local authorities to act. It recommended that a statutory duty be placed on them to draw up low-carbon plans to include a high level of ambition for emissions reductions and increased funding to go with it. That advice has not been recognised.
In conclusion, the Government should reconsider their position on sustainable development in Committee. They should consider how, as it currently stands, the Bill will undermine regulators such as Natural England, and they should think again about how local councils can be supported to build sustainable commitments and reduce carbon emissions. I will leave it at that as my voice is just about to give way.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee of which I am a member. It is a great pleasure to operate under her chairmanship. None the less, I take issue with some of her comments about regulation, because of the issue of enforcement, which applies, for example, to our report on wildlife crime. It is a question not of more regulations but of better-quality regulations, which usually means fewer regulations. That is an area that we can continue to discuss in Committee.
This is a great Bill, so I will not support the reasoned amendment. If the Bill is successful, it will send out a signal that we will not tolerate regulation in excess. The Bill is important in the context of some of the other measures that the coalition has successfully passed. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy is right when he says that it is not the only thing that we have done. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 deals well with regulatory change, because it reduces it in the main, and we can celebrate that. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) will agree with me on that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that European legislation comes into Whitehall and is embellished and made even more vigorous, adding to the red tape? Though a combination of going back to the European legislation in the first place, and abolishing much of the embellishment, we can free up our businesses to work in a more competitive manner.
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 the Member for Witham (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.
And so we move on from “Cash in the Attic”. I apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as although I was present for the beginning of the Minister’s introductory statement, I had to leave the Chamber to attend a sitting of a statutory instrument Committee, which went on for a fair period of time. I was going to speak about the point raised by the National Union of Journalists about the security of sources, but I believe it has been said that that will be reviewed by the Government, so it is clear that I am more effective out of the Chamber than I am in it. I wholeheartedly support my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) in her expressions of concern about the overall nature of the Bill and how deregulation in a range of areas will impact on key policies to which the Government have signed up, but from which they now seem to be resiling, especially regarding environmental protection and tackling climate change.
Let me run through the clauses that will require further clarification as the Bill makes progress and express some of my concerns. Clause 23 removes restrictions on the provision of passenger rail services by amending the Transport Act 1968, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), and permits the passenger transport executives, or PTEs, to carry rail passengers. That is a major step forward in devolving regional rail franchises, but there is a lack of clarity about the consequences for PTEs. Will they remain as local economic regulators or will they be equipped with sufficient funds to provide rail passenger services? It would be useful to receive clarity from the Department for Transport about how it views the future role of PTEs, as the clause calls that role into question.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) talked about the removal under clause 26 of the duty to order a rehearing of a marine accident investigation. The Merchant Shipping Act 1995 placed a duty on the Secretary of State to reopen marine accident investigations in the light of new evidence, but that duty will be abolished. My hon. Friend spoke about the MV Derbyshire tragedy in 1980, which led to a campaign being waged by many people, including families and trade unions across the piece—the National Union of Seamen, as it was at the time, Nautilus and the International Transport Workers Federation. It was a significant victory when then Secretary of State exercised his power to enable an investigation of that case to take place. It would therefore be a real concern if that power were removed from the Secretary of State, because the function is legitimate—
Just to correct the hon. Gentleman, nobody is removing a power; what is being removed is a duty. The fact that the Secretary of State has the power to order such inquiries is absolutely fine; the problem is that he has a duty to do so even in a case when he and everybody else knows perfectly well that there is absolutely nothing we can do as a result of the new evidence. The simple existence of new evidence will force an inquiry that costs millions of pounds, and that is all that we are trying to end.
I welcome that clarification, but it would be helpful and reassuring if there were guidance about how the power will be exercised in the future. There is a concern that removing the duty will mean that the power will not necessarily be exercised without our again having to mobilise long-winded campaigns.
I find that extremely helpful. I chair the RMT parliamentary group, and it would be really useful in discussions with the Department for Transport about this matter if there was full consultation with the unions concerned—the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, and Nautilus International—as well as the UK Chamber of Shipping and others, and especially some of those groups that have campaigned on investigations over the years. It is important that we assure people that if there is an accident—we all hope that there is not—there will be a proper investigation.
Clause 59 deals with ambulatory references to international shipping instruments. It amends the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 to enable the Government to update international shipping conventions without having to introduce secondary legislation. The Joint Committee expressed concern that that will undermine and bypass full parliamentary scrutiny. For example, there is concern in the shipping industry—it has been expressed by the UK Chamber of Shipping, as well as the Nautilus UK and RMT unions—regarding the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships, under which changes to the sulphur emissions regime in Europe are due to come into effect in January 2015, with progressive measures continuing to the end of the decade. It would be unfortunate if something that had a major impact on the shipping industry did not receive full parliamentary scrutiny, as might be the case under the new procedures.
I share concerns that have been expressed about the provisions on the exercise of regulatory functions, and I say that on behalf of many people who work in the transport sector. We are told that consultations will take place over the coming months on which bodies will be covered, particularly regarding the Office of Rail Regulation, which was not included in the original list of bodies. Bodies that are included in relation to transport include the Office of Rail Regulation, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and traffic commissioners. There was a period in which market forces and economic concerns overrode safety concerns as a result of the early privatisation regimes, but we would not want to go back to the days when those economic concerns undermined safety, especially in industries such as rail and shipping. As the consultation is rolled out, I would welcome the Government ensuring that there is full consultation with all relevant bodies, particularly the unions, with experience of the period when safety was undermined, especially in the rail sector, so that that can inform the introduction of this aspect of the Bill. I hope that the Government will think again about the drafting of the proposal, because there are serious concerns about the conflicts that it will bring about between considerations of safety and of economic costs.
The Government should approach a number of the Bill’s proposals on education with trepidation, especially the devolution of school dates to individual schools. There is an understanding that parents want some certainty about school hours and holidays. With the devolution of such measures, near chaos could break out as individual schools determine their own dates and holidays. I caution the Government that parents may become anxious as the wider community becomes aware of these measures.
There are concerns—certainly among teachers—about schedule 14, which sets out proposals to reduce burdens on schools, including the removal of the obligation on employers of teachers in English maintained schools to have regard to statutory guidance relating to staffing matters such as the appointment, suspension, discipline and dismissal of teachers. There is concern that that may lead to the removal of the obligation on the Secretary of State to provide guidance on staffing matters, which might ultimately be a threat to school staffing regulations. If that is the case, schools will be concerned that they will have to take individual legal advice on staffing matters rather than adhering to what is relatively clear staff guidance and regulations from central Government. The Government must look at the consequences of such a broad-brush legislative proposal.
I am anxious about the removal of home-school agreements, which are good and are working on the ground. They were welcomed by the educational establishment and have general support, so I do not understand why the Government have provided in schedule 14 to remove the requirement on governing bodies to adopt such an a agreement.
As others have said, we all welcome the ability to remove unnecessary or archaic regulations, but the Bill is littered with proposals to remove regulations that are relevant, and their removal could have consequences beyond those calculated by the Government, including an impact on safety, which is the major concern that I have tried to express this evening.
May I begin by welcoming the Bill and commending my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (David Rutley), for Witham (Priti Patel), and for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) for their excellent contributions to the debate? I believe that the Bill will act as another lever to encourage economic growth, and it builds on this Government’s record of scrapping obsolete legislation.
I have said before in the Chamber—and I will say it again—that the business of business is business, and the business of government is creating an environment in which business feels confident to grow, thrive and create jobs to create wealth and pay taxes that support our whole economy. The Bill is part of that.
Since the Government took office, some 800 regulations have been scrapped or improved, giving business a welcome lift, including, if you will excuse the pun, Mr Deputy Speaker, changes to working at height legislation. Indeed, there are 2,200 regulations in the Government’s sights for abolition or reform. It is estimated that when this work is completed—if it is ever completed, because regulation needs to be looked at all the time—these measures will save business £850 million a year, underlining the Government’s support for enterprise, entrepreneurs and job creators.
I should like to turn specifically to some of the economic growth clauses that have provoked the most interest, debate and discussion, including in the Chamber today, beginning with clause 1, which aims to take those who are self-employed and who pose no risk to others out of the scope of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. That could remove the unnecessary burden of health and safety regulations from 800,000 self-employed people.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does he share my view that deregulatory steps such as this will give more people the confidence to want to become entrepreneurs, and to take on their first employees. Those are the aspirations that we need to support. Does he think that the Bill will help us to move in that direction?
I certainly do. Having been a business owner under the previous Government, and representing businesses as a regional chairman for the Institute of Directors, I know that the thought of ever more regulation is in the psyche of business people. The Bill is totemic—in fact what the Government are doing is totemic—not only in stemming the tide of regulation but in giving a commitment to reduce the burden of regulation over the term of this Parliament. That will take a lot of believing by the business community, and we need to reinforce that message. It will give confidence not only to people who have businesses but people who would not even consider starting up a business. There is no doubt that when people who work in a business see the pressure that the regulatory burden places on those who run it, they are dissuaded from going it alone and starting their own business. We want to reverse that situation.
Recommending the removal of the self-employed from health and safety law originated under the review ably chaired by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, on which I served as a member of the advisory panel with the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), Sir John Armitt, Dr Adam Marshall of the British Chambers of Commerce, and Sarah Veale, who was later replaced by Liz Snape, representing the TUC. The proposed change is based on the approach taken in a number of other European Union member states, including Germany, where legislation on health and safety at work applies only to employed workers; France, where, as a general rule, the provisions do not apply to the self-employed or to employers themselves, except when they are directly carrying out an activity on a site; and Italy, where the health and safety at work regulations do not apply at all to the self-employed. Clause 1 is nothing new in a Europe-wide sense as regards health and safety.
When the clause was scrutinised by the Joint Committee, on which I also served, with my hon. Friend the Member for Witham, a number of stakeholders raised concerns that the recommendation might lead to the self-employed in risky occupations such as construction being taken outside health and safety law. I can assure the House that Professor Löfstedt has made it clear that that was never, and is not, the intention of the proposal. The clause has the support of the Federation of Small Businesses, which believes that it will help with the perception of health and safety law. I fundamentally disagree with the groups who are arguing that this change will cause confusion, because asking the self-employed, “Does your work activity pose potential risk of harm to others?”, is not too taxing a question. As I said, major economies in the European Union seem to manage perfectly well without this unnecessary regulation. It is also worth noting that it could well save small businesses not only an enormous amount of time but an estimated £300,000 a year.
Clause 2 curtails an employment tribunal’s powers to make wider recommendations. This is another needless regulation. Its discontinuation is supported by business groups, as best summed up by the British Chambers of Commerce, which stated that the measure currently in place extends tribunals’ jurisdiction beyond the
“time, information and expertise of the panel”.
I fully agree with that view. The regulation is unnecessary because it serves only to create fears among employers about inappropriate or excessive recommendations. I therefore welcome this move to abolish it.
Clauses 58 and 59 imposes on regulators the economic growth duty—a new duty that requires them to have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth when exercising their regulatory function. This is a welcome move, as all sectors that are in a position to do so should do what they can to contribute to and complement economic growth. The clauses have received a positive reaction from business groups and many of the regulators themselves, with the British Chambers of Commerce stating that the duty could
“help establish more constructive relationships between business and regulators”.
The Institute of Directors said that it could be helpful in serving as a catalyst for regulators to consider the costs and the benefits when developing new policies. I believe that there needs to be a new and dynamic—a symbiotic—relationship between business and the regulator rather than the historical one that has too often tended to be adversarial, and these clauses will help to achieve that. It is also encouraging that the measure is being positively embraced by many regulators such as the Security Industry Authority, which stated that it recognises the importance of economic growth and supports efforts to encourage it. These regulators are funded to the tune of £4 billion a year, and they need to make their contribution to economic growth if we are to compete on an international level against countries with far fewer regulations and regulators than the UK.
I recognise that the measure has not been universally welcomed, with opposition from, among others, the TUC, which described the duty as “a very odd concept”—but then it often appears that the TUC and its paid mouthpiece the Labour party view free market capitalism as a very odd concept, as underlined by some recent policy announcements. I find that view rather disappointing.
More for the sake of accuracy than anything else, may I point out that the TUC is not affiliated to the Labour party? Individual unions, some of which are so affiliated, do indeed politically and financially support the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman should be accurate in his abuse.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I always try to be accurate in my abuse, as he well knows.
Business is always looking for help to comply rather than pure enforcement from regulators, and giving regulators a complementary economic duty should not undermine their primary regulating function. A number of regulators, such as Ofsted, have made it clear to the Minister that without a duty to consider growth, it is not something they would consider. I hope that the new head of Ofsted, when appointed, will embrace that concept. This demonstrates the importance of getting the duty on to the statue book to empower our regulators. I believe that it will lead to less burdensome and better regulation for business in future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Witham mentioned the use-of-land provisions in clauses 13 to 19. This aspect of the Bill has received a lot of attention, particularly in relation to rights of way and proposed changes to the designation of public footpaths. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will be aware of how emotive and protracted disputes over rights of way and public footpaths can be. Definitive maps and statements setting out recorded public rights of way have never been completed despite work on this being done for well over 50 years. The changes proposed in the Bill will harness and streamline expertise by devolving decisions on public rights of way to a local level. I understand that there have been positive responses to the proposal, with the chief executive of Ramblers, Benedict Southworth, commenting:
“The proposed legislation has been carefully put together by representatives from landowners, paths users and local government—including ourselves and the NFU—who have worked together for over three years to simplify the law around rights of way for the benefit of everyone.”
We should all applaud that. This proposal will have a positive economic impact, as it will cut the time for recording a right of way by several years and save, it is hoped, almost £20 million a year by cutting needless bureaucracy. It is also worth noting that visitors to England’s outdoors spent £21 billion last year—a significant contribution to our economy—including in my constituency, where we have many well-used public footpaths as well as the heart of the new national forest.
Overall, the Bill builds on this Government’s achievements in cutting through needless red tape that has been allowed to build up on the statue book over many years. The previous Government used regulation as a first response rather than a last resort. As we have heard, they presided over the creation of 1,500 new working regulations a year for each of their 13 years in office, or six new regulations every working day. That was a burden that fell on and hindered individuals and businesses. By contrast, this Government have committed to freeing British business of the needless bureaucracy that damages our international economic competiveness, hinders millions of individuals in their daily lives, and reduces the efficiency of our public bodies and services. This Government are committed to reducing the regulatory burden on business by 2015, compared with the target of 2010 that we inherited, and this Bill is another important part of the delivery of that pledge.
I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words in this debate. It is obviously right for Governments periodically to review regulation, not just once a Parliament, as the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) said, but on a continuing basis. Having served for a number of years on the Regulatory Reform Committee during the Labour Government’s period in office, I know that we did a lot to try to simplify regulations in many ways.
Certainly, there is no objection in principle to the idea of a Bill that, every now and then, seeks to remove the regulatory burdens that can build up. One of the criticisms of this Bill is that many of the proposed measures are so minimal in their impact that one wonders why they could not have been brought forward years ago. I find it hard to believe that it has taken the great minds of the Department almost four years under a Conservative Government to work on the measure relating to the sale of yarn and other similar, relatively minor measures. One would think that this Government, who are so stated in their commitment to abolishing unnecessary regulation, could have done that at an earlier stage, even though such measures are welcome.
Some measures are to be welcomed. The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) has mentioned the measure relating to rights of way. They do not apply to my constituents—it is a devolved issue—but from what he has said it sounds like a sensible measure that should be enacted, as I am sure it will be.
The Bill also proposes to repeal those sections of the Digital Economy Act 2010 that allow courts the power to order internet service providers to block access to websites that infringe copyright. I understand that those sections have never been used. Many Members made very strong arguments against them at the time, because they felt they were unnecessary, but we were told they were important. I confess that I was one of the Back Benchers who rebelled against the measures and did not support them, and now, four years later, we find out that they were not necessary in the first place. Clearly, it is right to repeal them and perhaps that highlights the need closely and thoroughly to scrutinise Bills.
That highlights one of the problems with the way in which the Government have described this Bill, because those measures have never been used and are, therefore, not a burden on business. Business is not having to spend lots of money to address the measures, because they have never been applied to anyone. That is also true of other measures in the Bill. I accept, however, that the possibility of a measure being taken against a business might jeopardise its activities, so it is a good thing to address that.
Questions have to be asked about other measures and I hope the Minister will address them either when he replies to the debate or at a later stage. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) raise the issue—I had not appreciated this fully—of the proposals relating to international marine agreements. I have served on the Environmental Audit Committee for some time and we have had a few major discussions about the international marine and maritime agreements, some of which are very important. As my hon. Friend said, both the trade unions and the shipping industry have concerns about the effect some of the measures will have on shipping interests, so it is important that we scrutinise them properly. I may have misunderstood the full import of those provisions; if so, but I have no doubt that the Minister will clarify them.
In the light of the comments made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), which made me look again at clause 59 to see whether my memory was in any way mistaken, I think it would be helpful to give some clarification. Neither the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) nor the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is correctly informed: the Bill does not in any way diminish the ability of Parliament to scrutinise the measures. It enables the Minister to make ambulatory references to international law through a statutory instrument. It would then be perfectly open to Parliament to debate that statutory instrument and come to the view that it should be drafted otherwise.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that helpful clarification.
Another question arises from a letter sent by the Law Society of Scotland to every Scottish MP. Perhaps the Minister will address its two particular concerns either now or in Committee. First, on clauses 10 to 12, it is
“concerned about partial authorisation of insolvency practitioners.”
It points out that, in Scotland,
“significant parts of the corporate insolvency”
“are linked to bankruptcy legislation”,
and its view is that the proposed regime of
“partial authorisation as an insolvency practitioner will not be effective in Scotland because of the linkage between company insolvency and bankruptcy law.”
I have no doubt that that point can be pursued in future.
Secondly, the Law Society of Scotland is concerned about clause 44 on the repeal of the duty of the senior president of tribunals to report on the standards of decision making. This is another measure where it is hard to see how it can be a major burden on business. The only burden is the duty on the senior president to make a report, which a Minister can then presumably choose to act on.
I note with some concern, given my own involvement in it, the provisions that would repeal certain sections of the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006, which, the Minister may recall, I promoted as a private Member’s Bill. Indeed, he and I co-operated on many aspects of it. Perhaps I should at this point declare an interest as an unpaid board member of the Edinburgh community energy co-operative. The Act has a number of measures to promote sustainable and renewable energy and action on and awareness of climate change. I fully accept that many of the Act’s measures have been taken on board elsewhere since it was enacted, including by the Climate Change Act 2008. However, not all of the 2006 Act’s provisions have been taken on board elsewhere, so I would be concerned to see them removed to the extent proposed by the Bill.
My final comments relate to the implications of the duty in clauses 61 to 64 to take account of the
“desirability of promoting economic growth.”
As Opposition Members have said, we support the general desirability of promoting economic growth. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) pointed out, regulators are already expected to take such concerns into account. They do not usually produce regulations without any wider consultation or discussions. They have processes whereby they seek comments from business, among others, and we can be pretty certain that, when business feels that a regulation is damaging economic growth, it will say so. I find it hard to understand how this proposal will have anything other than damaging consequences.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making a characteristically thoughtful contribution. It seems to me that his structural argument—and, indeed, that of other Opposition Members, including the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, who have made serious contributions on the subject of clause 61—ignores the fact that, at the moment, regulators do not have that duty, and the result is that they would be failing in their duties if they were to pay specific attention to economic growth, even in the way the clause requires, which is as a balance to their other duties. For example, the Environment Agency, which always has to attend to environmental considerations, is positively not allowed to pay attention to growth duties.
The Minister makes a constructive point and perhaps it can be pursued and tightened up in Committee. My concern is that the real purpose of the clause is to say that economic objectives should trump other objectives and that they should take precedence over sustainable development objectives and, as my hon. Friend the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee has said, health and safety objectives and, indeed, equality objectives. The proposal is also of concern to other Members and is at variance with our cross-party commitments to prioritise sustainable development and recognise the requirement of public bodies—this had cross-party agreement just a few months ago—to have an equality duty.
Will my hon. Friend tempt the Minister to respond to him again to put the whole issue of sustainable development on the record? If there was a duty for sustainable development, that would balance the economic, the social and the environmental, and there would be no need for the new duty for economic growth.
I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker. I accept this is a slightly odd way to conduct a debate, but it seems to me to be productive, so bear with us.
There could of course be a general duty to have regard to sustainable development instead of all the duties on all the regulators—we could say that we do not need any other duties—but all the other regulators have lots of other duties, and by introducing economic growth not as an override but as a balancing consideration, that precisely induces them to consider the totality, namely sustainable development.
I am grateful to the Minister for his comments, and I welcome his commitment to a balancing duty, with all duties being taken into account in decision making. I am not sure whether the Bill will have such an effect if it becomes law, but that point can no doubt be pursued through amendments in Committee and on Report, if necessary.
It is important not to forget or lose sight of the fact that although it is important to take into account the economic growth imperative, the other concerns that I and my colleagues have raised must also be kept in the balance. Notwithstanding the Minister’s assurances, which I am sure are genuine, I remain concerned that the effect of the Bill, as now proposed, will be to put other objectives lower in the pecking order of decision making than the requirement to consider the needs of economic growth, and I certainly hope that those points can be teased out and clarified at a later stage in the Bill’s progress.
I was on the Joint—or pre-legislative scrutiny—Committee, and it was quite evident that there has been a lack of consultation with the people who will be involved in the Bill’s multitude of changes to regulations.
The Committee wondered whether there would be much opposition to the Bill as a whole and whether it would go through Parliament without any difficulties. When we look at the variety and the wide range of what the clauses are about, we can see that the Bill may contain problems. It moves from health and safety to driving instructors, and from sellers of knitting yarn—nearly every speaker has mentioned them—to child trust fund transfers. It is a mishmash of clauses about regulations, but the reality is that each one is important to somebody: each of these pieces of legislation is there for some reason.
The Minister for Government Policy made light of the Bill, which I am not sure is right, because it embodies plenty of important issues. The Bill is a package of measures, so for it to get the consent of the House, there need to be big changes. He mentioned Charlie Chaplin and children’s liqueur chocolates, for example, but we have concerns about safety and health, and others that I will come on to. I have grave concerns about clause 1 on “Health and safety at work: general duty of self-employed persons”, and clause 2 on the “Removal of employment tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations”, as well as clauses 61 to 64 on the “Exercise of regulatory functions”.
Clause 1 is a particular concern, because it serves no purpose other than to confuse. The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) said quite the opposite, but we are entitled to take different views. That is the sort of thing that the Bill will invoke. The clause will take those self-employed who pose no risk to others out of the scope of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 by restricting its coverage to a self-employed person
“who conducts an undertaking of a prescribed description”.
At this point, we are not even sure what the prescribed descriptions will be. They will be determined by the Secretary of State in regulations. The clause is therefore problematic because we are not sure what the regulations will say or mean.
It is good news that, at least in Committee, people will have a much clearer understanding of the descriptions.
It is not fair to say that there is no problem in relation to the safety and health of self-employed people. Fatality rates among self-employed people are 1.1 per 100,000, as opposed to 0.4 per 100,000 for employees. It is important to recognise and listen to what experts are saying. In opposing the clause, Richard Jones, the head of public affairs and policy at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health—it is hardly a revolutionary organisation —said:
“IOSH fully supports the simplification of legislation and guidance, but is against lowering of standards that could lead to more accidents and deaths. As we have made clear to Government, we think it would be unhelpful, unnecessary and unwise to exempt certain self-employed from health and safety law, as the Government is proposing—causing more of a hindrance than a help. Health and safety is often misunderstood and wrongly labelled as a barrier to business—whereas in fact, it sustains business growth and success. The Government needs to promote this message, provide health and safety support for SMEs and debunk the misperceptions.”
The Prime Minister has made it clear to bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses that he will continue to champion deregulation as a public service to small businesses. However, if clause 1 is agreed to, it might exempt 1 million people from health and safety law. Health and safety failures in the UK cost billions per year.
At present, the self-employed have a legal duty to ensure that they protect others from harm resulting from their work activity. There is no confusion: everyone is very clear that no one, even the self-employed, can take risks with the safety or health of others. That is the situation as it stands. At present, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act can be used only when a person puts another person at risk. If someone is injured through their work, regardless of what they previously believed, the Act will apply. No self-employed person has ever been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution for risking only their own health. However, the Act means that the Health and Safety Executive has been able to give them guidance on how they can protect their own safety. Despite the Bill, every self-employed person will still have to do risk assessments to see whether their work poses a risk to others. If there is no risk, there is not a problem, which is just the same as it is now.
That situation will not change, but what will change is the confusion and complacency that the Bill will introduce. Self-employed people will be unsure whether they are covered, or they may assume that they are not covered if they are not on the list of prescribed occupations or sectors, even assuming that they are fully aware of the list. Worse still, people who control workplaces for the self-employed will wrongly think that they do not have a duty of care to them. Self-employed people who employ others may interpret the provision to mean that they are exempt from the law. Given that the most dangerous industries—agriculture and construction, for example—contain a high proportion of self-employed people, anything that confuses the situation is a recipe for disaster. The Bill states that it will reduce the
“burdens resulting from legislation for businesses or other organisations or for individuals”.
In fact, it will do the opposite. It will not change the situation for those who genuinely do not pose a risk to others, but will create complete confusion for all other self-employed people.
Clause 2 removes the power of employment tribunals to make wider recommendations to employers who are found to have discriminated unlawfully. The Labour party totally opposes that clause. Before the introduction of the Equality Act 2010, a tribunal could only provide a remedy to successful claimants and could not recommend that an employer address the root causes of the discrimination. In almost three quarters of cases, the victim leaves the workplace. The tribunal was unable to ask an employer to change its policies, its practices or a culture that would be likely to lead to further discrimination.
The Government want to repeal the provision that allows tribunals to make wider recommendations because of employers’ fears about inappropriate or excessive recommendations. However, there is no credible evidence to support that argument. In 2012, there were 19 cases in which tribunals issued wider recommendations, according to a recent study that was published in the Equality Opportunities Review. In 15 cases, the recommendation was for training on equality and diversity. In seven cases, respondents were asked to address equality issues generally or to review policies. Such recommendations are made by a tribunal judge and two lay members, including one who represents business. After considering all the evidence at the full hearing, they make proportionate and reasonable suggestions to address the serious cases of discrimination.
Clauses 61 to 64 have been discussed widely by Members on both sides of the House. They are of great concern to Labour Members. They will impose a new duty on some bodies to have regard, in exercising their regulatory functions, to the desirability of promoting economic growth. It is, of course, important that regulators do not set out to impede economic growth. However, having a statutory duty that obliges them to have regard to economic growth in the exercise of their functions, with no clarity as to how it might operate, will potentially interfere with their ability to perform their statutory duties. There is a danger that those who are regulated will attempt to use the new duty to override the actions of the regulator. For example, a business could argue that requiring a particular process to be undertaken before it conducts a certain activity would prevent it from making a profit and thus reduce its ability to grow. On the other hand, not conducting such a process could lead to an accident or to an employee becoming ill. Which of the competing duties would prevail and who would make that decision?
On education, paragraph 1 of schedule 14 removes the requirement on governing bodies in England to ensure that policies that are designed to promote good behaviour among pupils are pursued at their school. Surely it is a mistake to remove that requirement. In the past few days, the Secretary of State for Education has stated that discipline is lacking in schools, and has said what teachers, head teachers and governing bodies should do to instil more discipline. However, under the Bill, behaviour policies may be watered down or removed. Effective pupil behaviour policies are made through collaboration between the head teacher, the governors and the teaching staff. Ofsted is inspecting pupil behaviour more closely than ever before.
Paragraph 3 of schedule 14 transfers the responsibility for determining school term dates from local authorities in England to governing bodies. Teachers and parents share concerns about letting schools decide on their own terms and holidays. The National Union of Teachers commissioned YouGov to survey teachers in 2013. The vast majority of teachers—80%—said that it was important that schools maintained similar term dates. There are also concerns about the statutory guidance on staffing matters in schools.
Before I conclude, I want to mention a number of other clauses that cause me great concern. Clause 23 will remove restrictions on the provision of passenger rail services. Clause 26 will remove the duty to order the rehearing of marine accident investigations. Clause 59 relates to ambulatory references to international shipping instruments. I am concerned about those clauses among many others.
In Committee, consideration needs to be given to a raft of serious and detailed issues, especially safety and health. This is a mixed bag of a Bill. It is hard to support it in its present state because of the variety of deregulatory measures that it contains. Some of them are simple, but some of them are very significant.
I rise to speak in support of the amendment that appears in my name and the names of the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I was delighted that the Minister referred to it as an amendment of the far left in this Parliament. If that is the case, I am probably nicely in the political centre in my home community of Carmarthenshire. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion spoke passionately and convincingly about the many pernicious and insidious aspects of the Bill that reflect the Government’s true intentions.
I am glad that the Joint Committee that carried out the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill criticised the enabling clause heavily. It would have allowed Ministers to scrap regulations by order, as they saw fit. That clause has been removed by the Government, or at least substantially amended. As originally conceived, it would have set a worrying precedent. It was reminiscent of the Henry VIII clause that was originally proposed in the Public Bodies Bill in 2011, which would have allowed the Government to abolish public bodies. At least the Government had the good sense to drop that proposal in the end.
Why do the Government need to do away with these regulations? The origins of the Bill are rooted in the perceived need to do away with red tape that was supposedly holding back economic growth in the dark days of 2011, 2012 and early 2013. However, what was holding back economic growth was not the bogeyman of small but important pieces of regulation and protection, but a dramatic slashing of capital investment, which had the effect of stagnating and even shrinking the economy at a time when the Government should have been stimulating the economy fiscally, rather than simply monetarily. That was the reason for the prolonged nature of the great recession, the massive drop in living standards, and the dashed hopes and dreams of millions. Unemployment rose and companies folded because of a lack of business and a lack of funds as the banks, propped up by the Government, failed to lend.
For many parts of the British state, the economy is not recovering. The Government point to UK GDP figures, but conveniently ignore the fact that growth is concentrated in London and the south-east of England. In my part of the world in west Wales, the latest gross value added statistics showed that the economy had shrunk by 4%. Although Wales as a whole is slowly beginning to turn the corner, we have been massively handicapped over the past five years by reductions in wages in real terms and decreased economic activity, and we have not benefited from the significant capital injection that London has seen in projects such as the Olympics and Crossrail. To suggest that red tape was holding back the Welsh economy is to tilt at windmills.
Before the Government get too carried away and announce the end of boom and bust, as the last Labour Government did, or the end of the struggle endured by ordinary people and the end of the squeeze on living standards, they should take note of the upcoming green budget 2014 by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. It warns that
“there is little reason to expect a strong recovery in living standards over the next few years…it seems highly unlikely that living standards will recover their pre-crisis levels by 2015-16.”
Desperately needing to appear to be doing something, the Government announced a deeply serious investigation to discover what was holding the economy back, pledging to cut any red tape. Finally, that allowed Ministers and the Government to hold it up and shout, “Eureka! Here is the lost formula for economic growth and business investment.” I do not need to remind Members that business investment and lending across the British state is at pathetic levels, even though the Government now rejoice in forecasts for economic growth. Business investment in the UK as a share of GDP is among the worst in the world.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion spoke about several aspects of the Bill but focused on the scrapping of environmental regulations that apply in England. Thankfully, much of the Bill will not apply in Wales, as the National Assembly for Wales is sovereign in those and other areas. However, some of the more pernicious aspects of the Bill certainly do apply to Wales. The Bill is so far-ranging and a real hotch-potch of ideas—some bad, some made and some just plain ugly—but I will focus on just some aspects, particularly those relating to health and safety, employment tribunals, civil liberties, housing and the scrapping of energy and climate change obligations.
The removal of employment tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations is insidious. It follows in the same vein as earlier plans by the Government, such as the proposal to make it easier to fire employees, as recommended by the Beecroft report, and the Chancellor’s plan to allow companies to offer shares in return for workers giving up their employment rights. It also follows the halving of the consultation period before large-scale redundancies can take place, the introduction of fees for workers bringing employment tribunal claims, and proposals for a lower cap on unfair dismissal awards.
The removal of an employment tribunal’s power to make wider recommendations typifies the Bill’s ideological nature. The Government are seeking to chip away further at workers’ rights, and the Bill reflects that attitude and those prejudices. Many Government Members are still chasing shadows, believing that they are fighting the battles of their ideological heroes of the ’70s and ’80s, but the trade unions are not the potent forces of yesteryear, because successive Governments, both Labour and Tory, have emasculated them.
I welcomed the announcement made on the Floor of the House this afternoon on clause 47, which threatened to introduce rules for secret hearings should the police wish to seize journalists’ notebooks, photographs or digital files. Applications, or “production orders”, must currently be made in open court. That change would have represented a worrying and sinister development in the near-continuous eroding of civil liberties under the Labour Government and the coalition.
Clause 28 represents yet another nail in the coffin of the Government’s claim to be the greenest ever. Whatever happened to “Vote blue, go green”? The removal of the requirement for the Secretary of State to set a target for microgeneration follows the fiasco over the sudden reduction in feed-in tariffs. I need not remind anyone of the Prime Minister’s recent reported comment that he wanted—I hope that you will forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker—to cut all the green C-R-A-P.
The changes to health and safety in the Bill have already been heavily criticised by the TUC, which noted that the plans to exempt the self-employed fail to take into account the fact that the fatality rate among that group is far higher. It is important that all workers are protected. Any attempt to chip away at health and safety legislation, even if just for a particular group, represents a threat to the safety of all workers.
Although plans to speed up the right to buy do not apply in Wales, I believe that the move is symptomatic of the Government’s return to the Tory and Labour boom-and-bust model of growth based on rising house prices and personal debt—the British disease, as I call it. It does nothing to address the need for housing where there is high demand and will not bring about an increase in social housing provision. How does something like that affect Wales, Members might ask, as the clause does not apply there? When the boom-and-bust model hits bust and there is another housing crash in England, that will affect the whole economy of the British state.
I look forward to questioning the Government Ministers responsible for the later stages of the Bill’s progress on the consequences and impacts of some of its other clauses and provisions.
For this flagship Government Bill, one wonders where all the Tories have gone. They seem rather reluctant to participate in the debate, whereas on these Benches—[Interruption.] Fine dialogue on modernising the structure of the Labour party might well be going on elsewhere. Colleagues have rightly seen that the mishmash of junk that has been presented as the Deregulation Bill is virtually worthless—so much so that it does not even warrant attendance.
The Bill should be called the Deregulation (of previous Tory laws) Bill. The Minister who opened the debate, despite being such a learned man, suggested that it was undoing the ills of previous Labour Governments, but the truth is rather different. The following clauses remove previous Tory legislation: clauses 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 36, 46, 47, 49, 50, 53, 57, 59 and 60—virtually the entire Bill. The same is true of the detail, as schedules 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 16 and 17 remove previous Tory legislation. I am therefore in favour of some of those changes—although not all—because they relate to irrelevant legislation that should never have been on the statute book in the first place. Redundant and irrelevant Tory legislation is rightly being removed, although of course, being the Tory party, they have to throw in half the legislation on health and safety.
I have not had time to flick through every clause in the Bill, but who was in power in 2004 when the regulations on the management of child trust funds were introduced, and who was in power in 2003—this is a choice example—when we were legislating on the provision of late-night refreshment?
As the hon. Gentleman said, he has not had time to read the Bill, which is why I itemised, for the record, every clause and schedule that removes Tory legislation. In fact, around 80% of the legislation being removed is Tory legislation. Indeed, when the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), responds, he will doubtless wish to outline which bits he introduced in his various ministerial guises. Given his ministerial longevity, there will undoubtedly be several regulations that he was personally responsible for but now wishes to remove, and we on the Opposition Benches might wish to back him on that.
However, the Minister for Government Policy, a highly educated and learned gentleman, did not, when receiving his challenge on self-employment and safety, know what he was talking about. I cited, in relation to clause 1, what would happen with a self-employed mountain guide. He immediately jumped in to assist his hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), who was struggling, because he knew that I was right and that the clause represents an undoing of the self-employed mountain guide’s employment position. There is a critical flaw in the logic of the Bill. Mountain guides require insurance, and to get it they need to demonstrate that there is a health and safety profile, and that is relevant for those who employ self-employed mountain guides who take people out on ropes. By the way, I personally managed to negotiate, on behalf of the all-party group on mountaineering, exemption from the working at heights directive anomalies that affected that profession, demonstrating that the way the industry works meant it was not safe to put that application into place. I am not, therefore, on the side of unnecessary regulation, but the protection of the employment position of those self-employed people is fundamental.
A better-known example, the single biggest civil litigation case brought by a group of workers against a Government, demonstrates the issue more brutally. That common-law action brought by workers in the mining industry, for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Vibration White Finger, cost the Government a huge amount of money, because the people involved were employed primarily by the Government, so it was a taxpayer liability, although there were some private companies. The civil action was successful because the litigators had demonstrated that appropriate practices and procedures were not in place. If there had been proper regulation of the mining industry at the time, the cost to the health of the men forced to bring the case would have been hugely reduced, as would the financial cost to the taxpayer and other employers, which went into many billions.
That is the point of good regulation. A good health and safety procedure—for example on use of breathing equipment in a colliery or the handling of vibrating tools—would have been a mitigating factor in those processes, and a huge mitigating factor in terms of compensation. That is precisely why self-employed mountain guides require a structure within which they can get insurance and quantify it, to take them out of the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. What we are doing is leading to a lawyers’ paradise in which the agency that might employ people, and the individual, will be able to battle between one another over who is liable, if it can be demonstrated in court that particular procedures were not followed. A requirement of responsibility under health and safety law gives protection to that self-employed person as well as to the agency employing them.
Let me tell the House why I know that. When I ran a small business—as I did for many years—we had to deal with working at heights and a range of legislation, and I shall illustrate my point with some examples. A case was brought against us by an employee who had broken his foot. However, because of manual handling at work legislation and the fact that we had applied it, the case got nowhere. That was precisely because the legislation had created a structure with a sensible and rational procedure, which we could demonstrate and insist that the employee followed. When he did not follow that procedure, we could demonstrate that as the employer—with liability—we were not in fact liable for the accident.
It is a myth that good regulation damages small business. I lived with regulation day in, day out, and if we ask small businesses, we find that they nearly always object to two things: paperwork—that is always a nightmare—and cost. When small businesses complain—and when I did—it is about cost. If regulation costs a lot and someone is trying to make ends meet, it is difficult. However, regulations on manual handling at work, and health and safety legislation, do not involve cost other than training the work force. It is a miniscule cost. It is an absurdity when someone is handling heavy goods, as we were, not to have such regulation. Let me give a second example.
The hon. Gentleman is making a passionate defence of the regulations under which he successfully defended a claim many years ago, but the Bill does not affect health and safety legislation as far as small employers—such as those whom he is speaking so eloquently in favour of, and such as he was—are concerned. It is an interesting illustration of the value of health and safety regulation, which I do not dispute, but what on earth has it got to do with the Government’s proposals?
I do not find it amusing that the Government introducing the Bill have no idea what goes on in workplaces and of the effect that this change will have, so let me illustrate my point. In the kind of work that we were doing, such as setting up major concerts in huge halls, a variety of different people come in and work together. Who is responsible for ensuring that the ladders going up—perhaps 50, 60, 70 feet—are secure? If it is a self-employed person, without that requirement in law because of this change, that buck—that burden—can be shifted. One critical thing in such a situation is having an overall duty because then everyone is liable. When working in complex spaces, with people going backwards and forwards carrying huge loads of equipment, lugging it and putting it up on high, all—whether a single person, a company or a company bringing in self-employed people, as we often did—ensure that the systems and the space is properly secured because they have a responsibility without exclusion.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments. His scenario is that of several self-employed people working as contractors in an umbrella organisation, but there is nothing in the Bill or clause 1 that would absolve that umbrella organisation from any health and safety aspect that I can see. His examples just do not apply.
As I illustrated with the mining industry, if we move away from regulation, it will lead to civil litigation, and exactly the same will happen with the clauses in this Bill. That is illustrative not of a specific measure in the Bill in relation to the mining industry, but of the principle that moving away from good regulation creates a liability. It is not a cost saving for the employer because that liability comes back. In such a situation, yes, the Bill would have an impact because there is no overriding factor—that is the point. The case of the mountain guides is a wonderful example because the person who owns the mountain is normally the general public. We cannot say, “Ah well, this private landowner is responsible for this bolt coming out and this person who has been guided up falling to their death.” That is why this form of legislation came in.
The Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe is the sole Euro-fanatic in the Tory parliamentary party these days. He is more Euro-fanatic than my good self. I note that in the past hour, UKIP has just nicked one of my Bills put to this Parliament about shifting the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to Manchester, and proclaimed it as its own.
We are now dealing with the most extraordinary Conservative party. When the people being brought in are self-employed—and that is not an unusual situation—it depends what industry they are working in—[Interruption.] They are the contractors who are brought in. The hon. Gentleman may wish to make pedantic points, rather than getting to the heart of the weakness of the Bill.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I would scarcely have engaged in diminishing the brilliance of his eloquence were it not for the fact that it may be that someone reading Hansard would be misled into supposing that what he is talking about had any kind of rhyme or reason in it at all. Actually, if he was the employer, he would continue to be covered by health and safety legislation as before. That will always be the case for the employer, regardless of whether the people working for an employer are contracted to him as self-employed or otherwise. If he is really serious about this, he will attend to the fact that what we are doing is removing Health and Safety at Work, etc. 1974 Act provisions for those self-employed people themselves in those occupations which are not prescribed and are, therefore, without risk to other people.
We will see which are included and which are not. When the Minister talked about mountain guides, he gave the example of a regulator that does not exist for that profession. That was the example he gave to promote his Bill and demonstrate that it would be regulated. Wrong. That regulator does not exist in relation to mountain guides; it is an entirely different body with nothing whatever to do with them.
Perhaps Conservative Members would like to listen, because I have worked in this situation. For example, when working to set up a concert there will be a range of different people: some will be self-employed and some will be employed. If overall responsibility for health and safety is removed from the self-employed, that will put everybody at risk, because that responsibility will no longer be defined. That is a fundamental flaw in the Bill that the Ministers clearly have not thought through.
The Minister for Government Policy put up the wrong regulator in the example I cited. I personally negotiated with the previous Government the exemption from the working at heights directive on precise technicalities. I demonstrated that it was not safer to be included. Despite the perception, it would not have provided health and safety. In climbing, there are two ropes. The worst-case contingency training did not allow for one of those ropes snapping, so the directive was a nonsense. It was not a nonsense in terms of the principle of the law; it was a nonsense in the detail. The principle of deregulation should be that if regulation is not effective—when it is useless, when it does not work and when it is outdated—it should be removed, as has been the case for stuff going back 150 years.
The HSE does not regulate training for mountain guides. As with any risk assessment, the responsibility for risk assessment, given that there is a health and safety duty, lies with the individual. That is the basis on which the voluntary organisations across the world and in this country that oversee health and safety standards operate. The duty to need to have that risk assessment, and that health and safety duty, is just as applicable for the self-employed as it is for those employing others, so there is no difference in that example.
Let me cite another example of how good regulation works. The Minister said that there were hundreds of pieces of European legislation that should be removed, but he could cite none of them. In our business we worked all over Europe. We had to drive lorries across Europe before good regulation came in. If we did a job in Hungary, we had to drive through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and Hungary. There was different regulation for lorries and heavy goods vehicles in each of those countries at that time, and some of the differences were huge. For example, we could not drive on certain roads in Austria. There were different speeds and different specs covering what kind of vehicle was allowed. In terms of free trade, that was a lot of regulation in many countries, and I would suggest that there is now sensible regulation.
Virtually all the regulation emanating from Europe is to do with the single market. The figure that I have read is 90%, but the Minister without Portfolio is a greater expert on this than me, so I am sure he can confirm that. A single market requires regulations so that products can be sold on an equal basis, and they are counter to import controls. Import controls and regulation do not go together; they are polar opposites. If the Conservative party is saying—it would be useful to have this clarification—that it intends to remove a lot of European legislation on the single market, which import controls would it bring back in? Many economists and others would say that import controls are a cost on business, just as civil litigation costs, as the mining industry found, are a cost on business. Good regulation, especially on health and safety, protects the position of the self-employed and the employer. It is not a burden on them, but a protection to them, as well as the worker concerned.
There is some good stuff in the Bill. The provisions on rights of way may well speed up a long drawn out process and ensure that they are brought in properly, appropriately and speedily. That may well be a very good thing, but it would have been useful also to have dealt with regulation on health and safety in graveyards. They are the perfect example: there was no regulation, and 3 million gravestones, due to what many people described as health and safety, were staked. There was no regulation for that; it was precisely the absence of regulation that led to 3 million gravestones being staked. The House may recall that I am a qualified topple tester in graveyard health and safety. What happened was due to the same problem that the mining industry faced: insurance risk. Insurers demanded action, but there was no coherent regulation that said, “Here is what the health and safety standard should be.” Faced with pressure from insurers, people did their own thing—they made it up as they went along—but that is precisely what the Bill proposes should happen in many areas. That is the principle behind what Ministers are proposing, but the Bill will shift the burden on to insurance companies and the courts, and that is not protection for the employer.
Given the hon. Gentleman’s aversion to releasing the self-employed who do not pose a risk to anyone else from health and safety legislation, will he explain why countries such as France, Germany and Italy do not bring the self-employed under the terms of health and safety?
As a Parliamentary Private Secretary, I am sorry to break the convention of the House by rising to speak, but I am a qualified Austrian and British ski instructor, as well as an avalanche safety instructor, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman, to put him out of his misery, that a person’s qualification, by its recognition, gives them not only insurance, but cover from being sued, and that the people who grant the qualification are obliged under health and safety and other legislation to instruct people in accordance with recognised standards.
The hon. Gentleman will therefore know that he has a legal duty, if he is taking people with him, to carry out a risk assessment, and the removal of precisely that legal duty is the danger of clause 1. That is the danger of ill-thought-through legislation—[Interruption.] Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall pause to ensure that Government Members are listening.
I can give another example of good regulation that was absent for a century but which the Government dare not include in the Bill. I am talking about safety at football stadiums. For 100 years, there was disaster after disaster—two at Ibrox; one at Bolton, Birmingham, Bradford and Hillsborough—but no effective regulation. It was a case of, “Make it up as you go along.” In 1968, a stand burned down at the stadium of the Minister without Portfolio’s local team, Nottingham Forest, but no safety regulation was brought in for football or sports stadiums. Had it been introduced, it would undoubtedly have covered wooden stands. A repeat incident took place in 1985 in a virtually identical stand, which shows the danger of not having effective regulation.
There is another contradiction with this Government. We have heard several times about the one in, two out principle, but the precise definition of “one in” is regulation under statutory instrument. The Department for Communities and Local Government has handed to local authorities regulation in disguise. Over the past year, the Government have put a range of regulatory barriers in the way of self-builders, but they have not classified it as new regulation. They have introduced the barrier of pre-planning consultation fees and extra charges on developers and new builders, and they have introduced the community infrastructure levy and applied it to self-builds, which is another form of regulation. Being a Nottinghamshire MP, the Minister will know that in Nottinghamshire self-building has come to a complete stop. The first local authority to apply the levy was Newark and Sherwood, since when there have been no self-builds. Builders are not building one or two-plot developments because of the burdens on industry.
The Government have gone further, however, and brought in the affordable housing levy for single dwellings, meaning that in Newark a builder or a couple wishing to build their own home have to face those barriers and pay up to £50,000 in new taxes. That is not counted as regulation, but I say it is regulation and a burden on business. In Nottinghamshire, the policy is decimating small family building companies that rely on this kind of work, which is why there are virtually no one, two or three-dwelling property starts in Nottinghamshire. Newark and Sherwood led the way, and others have followed, using new regulation—new burdens on small builders and aspiring home owners—brought in over the past 12 months.
I trust that the Minister will confirm that there will be a change and that these burdens—[Laughter.] The Minister for Government Policy laughs, but it is no laughing matter for the couple in Tuxford who are told they have to pay £64,000 in taxes before they can even start building their own property under policies introduced by this Government. I want confirmation in this debate that that burden on business will be classified as regulation. In terms of one in, two out, they can be classified as part of the in; at the moment, they are not. This is fundamental to the Government’s approach of shifting the burden on to the courts—we will see more cases going to court—and insurers under the pretext that this is all the fault of Labour regulation.
I will end on this—[Interruption.] I have never been in a debate like this, Madam Deputy Speaker, with such rudeness—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Had they been required, I could have given a range of other examples to demonstrate my point.
I come at this from the perspective of someone who has run a small business and who can say unequivocally that good, effective regulation is pro-business, that removing good regulation is anti-business, and that removing regulation will shift the burden to the courts and insurers, and will destroy small and medium-sized enterprises. In their ignorance of the small business sector, that is what the Government are doing.
The Government are slaves to the saying, “Red tape is bad.” Of course, red tape is bad. The Bill gets rid of much bad Tory legislation—nearly 80% of the Bill removes Tory legislation—that was contested at the time and should never have come in. Labour Members accept, I am sure, their apologies and their recompense to society shown through their being prepared to get rid of it, but alongside those measures they have thrown in a few gems introduced by Labour that protect workers and employers, and fundamentally protect the self-employed and small businesses.
I look forward to hearing from the Minister how much European legislation can be identified. It is nonsense to suggest that the Government are anti-regulation, given that, as I have demonstrated with DCLG, they are powering in taxation and burdens on small businesses in my area and elsewhere through the back door. Their disingenuous approach needs to be exposed. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that a raft of bad Tory legislation will be confined to the dustbin, if the Bill—in a greatly amended and improved form, I hope—reaches the statute book.
I will finish with a comment about the amendment from the Greens. Perhaps a coalition is forming—a plan for the future—although there are not very many Greens now, and there will be fewer after the next election. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), speaking for the Green party, cited the Green Building Council, but what does that do? Of course it is the glaziers promoting a specific type of window that is enforced on all house builders. There is legislation that means that for those who, like me, live in a listed building, every single window that is repaired, however minor, should by law go for individual planning consent, at great expense to the householder, but also at cost to the developer. I notice that none of that kind of thing is dealt with by this Bill. There is a lot of talk, but when it comes to the vested interest of the Green Building Council and the regulation introduced to give a competitive advantage to certain sections of industry, there is not a single word in this Bill. For those who want to see some of the red tape removed, there will be an opportunity for Members on both sides to propose amendments to the Bill to ensure that such burdens on business, which should not be there, are removed.
We have had a series of bombshells during this debate. As became increasingly evident would be the case, no Lib Dems whatever have spoken in this Second Reading debate or even intervened, which I thought was very telling.
There were also a series of bookended bombshells. At the end of the debate we heard from the hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), who I was not aware had qualified as an Austrian ski instructor. I will certainly take that on board next time I am on the piste.
The Minister who opened the debate mentioned in his second or third sentence the fact that regulation was, to use his phrase, often sensible and necessary, which also came as a bombshell. That was welcome and—to be sensible for a moment—set the tone of the debate throughout: that we should try to have a regulatory regime that is proportionate and appropriate, but that any unnecessary legislation should be removed from the statute book. We on the Labour Benches would certainly agree with that.
The Minister also mentioned—this was the biggest bombshell of all—that Charlie Chaplin can be now be rehabilitated. Chaplin, who was seen as a communist in the United States in the 1950s, has now been fully rehabilitated into the Conservative party of the 21st century. That is welcome. The Minister said that village halls up and down the country are happy to be able to screen Chaplin. I have to ask him: has he seen “A Woman of Paris”, which highlights illicit sex encounters between an unmarried young woman and her boyfriend, who shoots himself at the end of the film? Is this the type of film that the Minister wants to deregulate, to ensure that it is available to the village halls and the spinsters of old England? I do not think it should be.
This is a somewhat ad hoc Bill. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) called it a hotch-potch, while my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) called it a mishmash. The Minister has scouted and hawked round Whitehall for the best part of a year, asking for any ideas for a deregulatory Bill. In many respects, that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is good, as we have heard several times, to have a spring clean. However, I disagree with a lot of what the Minister said. He opened the debate by saying that health and safety legislation was “wretched stuff”. I hope he will use this opportunity to say that not all health and safety legislation is wretched.
I never said any such thing. What I was referring to was ludicrously overburdensome guidance that is verbose and unclear. That is the bit that is wretched stuff. Of course health and safety legislation is necessary and desirable; it is a question of trying to make sure that is straightforward, clear and to the point.
The phrase that the Minister has just used—straightforward, clear and to the point—is very important, because I am not entirely certain that clause 1 is. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck said that it serves no purpose other than to confuse, and I have to agree with him. The Health and Safety Executive consulted on the proposals. To be fair, clause 1 was the preferred option, but the majority of those responding to the consultation opposed the idea.
As has been said several times in the debate, the Opposition are concerned that clause 1 does not really have any tangible impact, but introduces more confusion for self-employed people, who may wrongly think that they are exempt from health and safety laws. No self-employed person has ever been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution for risking only their own health. Given that only people who pose no risk to anybody will be exempt, I cannot see how there will be a practical impact on business or individuals. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which we have heard about, can already be used only in circumstances where a person puts another person at risk anyway.
We have heard about the construction sector on a number of occasions. There is an awful lot of bogus self-employment in the construction industry. Does clause 1 deal with that? I thought that the Minister was very precise, in a vague sort of way, in his use of language, because he said that by the time the Bill reached Committee, “activities” would be prescribed. Is that activities or professions and jobs? It would useful to have an idea about that, because we are extremely concerned about clause 1. We would like clarification, both this evening and in Committee, about which jobs will be excluded and reassurances that protections will be in place.
Of course I am happy to provide that clarification. When the shadow Minister sees the prescribed list, he will see that it largely concerns activities, but also certain sectors in which so many of the activities cause dangers to other people involved in them that they are completely exempted from the provision.
That is helpful.
I thought the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) made a great speech, which was quite literally Churchillian in its approach. Let us not forget that the second Churchill Government produced the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, because Churchill recognised the importance of improved regulation and health and safety in things such as welfare and employment, especially for women and young people. In terms of domestic legislation, the Churchill Administration of 1951 to ’55 were very progressive.
The hon. Gentleman talked about first-time entrepreneurs and first-time exporters. He talked about realising dreams and achieving objectives. I have to agree with him: that is exactly what we want to see. However, there is nothing in this Bill that allows that to happen. Not one jot of what he mentioned in his rhetoric would be allowed under this Bill.
Has the hon. Gentleman not taken any notice at all of the debate about clause 1? There are plenty of businesses that would like overburdensome health and safety regulation removed from them, as is clear from the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce.
I will come to the precise benefits for business in a moment, but I want first to refer to the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), whom I cannot see in her place at the moment. She used her knowledge from the Joint Committee and her experience in business. I have to disagree with a lot of what she said. I respect her experience in business, but she says that Government just have to get out of the way of business. I do not think that is necessarily the case in a modern, innovative economy. What we need is a Government who will work with business on a long-term vision and an industrial strategy that will enable us to pay our way in the world.
I agree with everything that the hon. Lady said about business start-ups and the need to enhance our competitiveness, but there is nothing in the Bill—no single clause or schedule—that would facilitate start-ups: if only there were such provisions. One of the things that worry us most is the fact that the United Kingdom is slipping down in the world rankings for start-ups. According to figures from the OECD, it has fallen from 18th in the world last year to 28th this year. When it comes to obtaining electricity for a business, our ranking has slipped from 64th to 74th. Surely we should be doing something about that. The Bill could have helped us to do so, but unfortunately it does not.
Several Members mentioned the Bill’s impact on business. One could be forgiven for thinking that it would facilitate an enormous start-up of entrepreneurial activity, but its provisions are so insubstantial and so insignificant to British business that they are almost meaningless. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) in her excellent opening speech, the statement of impact for the draft Bill estimated that it would save businesses £10 million over 10 years: £1 million a year.
Amen to the hon. Gentleman’s apparent call for the Government to take further action to deregulate and to reduce the burdens on business. He has told us several times how small the changes are. Will he, on behalf of the Opposition, table further deregulatory measures in Committee that will reduce the burden of regulation on business?
When I speak to businesses, which I do every day, they tell me that the main factor affecting their long-term growth perspective is access to finance. Nothing in the Bill enables us to take a long-term view when it comes to where businesses can obtain the finance they need to grow.
It takes four fifths of a second for the British economy—for the hard work and effort of millions of people and enterprises—to generate that potential saving of £1 million a year. I say this to Ministers, and to other Members who have spoken today: do not insult the intelligence of Britain by describing the Bill as a substantial piece of reforming legislation. It will not really help businesses; it will certainly not give them as much help as they need. For the purposes of businesses that want extra orders or secure access to finance, or want the Government to be on their side, this Bill is sadly lacking.
Families are experiencing a cost of living crisis, and have lost £1,600 a year since the general election. Just a few days ago, the Office for National Statistics confirmed that since the Government took office in 2010, Britain has faced the largest continuous fall in real wages since records began half a century ago. However, there is absolutely nothing in the Bill to deal with that situation. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr mentioned a 4% drop in wages in his community in Wales. One would think that the Government would want to do something about that in a deregulation Bill whose aim was to free up the inspiring innovation of businesses and individuals, but not a bit of it. The net benefits to individuals as a result of the Bill will amount to 0.18p for every single man, woman or child in this country. I really do think that the Government should do better than that.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) made a characteristically intelligent speech. She observed that some regulation could be good. She also mentioned clause 21, about which I am particularly concerned. The clause reduces the eligibility criteria relating to the purchase of social housing, which will have an adverse impact on the supply of such housing. Any local authority that wants to plan for the long term will need to spend capital, and will need to borrow as a result. The reduction of the qualifying period from five years to three will make it much more difficult for authorities to borrow on the back of a sustained rental stream. We need only look at the evidence that we have already seen: in the last year 10,600 council houses have been sold, but only 1,600 starts have been made.
Let me return to the hon. Member for Macclesfield and his Churchillian “action this day” rhetoric. What Macmillan did as Churchill’s housing Minister, and what Churchill did in the Housing Repairs and Rents Act 1954, was truly inspiring. It is what the present Government should be doing, but unfortunately they are not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) conveyed the powerful message that regulation is an essential part of a functioning market economy, ensuring that we are sufficiently competitive. She also said that the Bill paid insufficient regard to the Government’s supposed goal to be the greenest Government ever. There is no environmental concern and no environmental impact, and in fact there is an attack on sustainable development here. This is where the Government have got it wrong. It is not mutually exclusive to think about green and growth, although Ministers often think it is. Actually, if we think about how we are going to pay our way in the world in the 21st century, we realise that the real emphasis should be on the industries of the future—those of the green economy. As the CBI and others have said, this is what the modern face of British industry should look like.
Unfortunately I cannot see the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) in the Chamber. I consider him to be part of the sensible wing of the Tory party, but his speech tonight disabused me of that idea. He served on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill Committee with me. I do not want to rehash the arguments we had in that Committee, but there was no evidence whatever for some of the stuff that was coming through in respect of Beecroft. What was said was, “I’ve met a bloke down the pub and he said ‘wouldn’t this be a good idea?’” That was the empirical evidence the Government brought forward on that Bill.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that in that legislation the Government abolished the Agricultural Wages Board without a single discussion of it on the Floor of the House or in Committee. It was brought in at such a late stage. What businesses want is certainty. Having uncertainty in terms of feed-in tariffs and other things is anti-business.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) mentioned a lack of clarity with regard to clause 23. He also mentioned individual term time dates for schools in respect of clause 37 and here I declare an interest. My youngest son attends a primary school in Hartlepool and my daughter attends a secondary school in Hartlepool. If those schools do not co-ordinate and instead have different term times, it will cause enormous hassle and pressure for our family and millions like us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) gave a knowledgeable speech and my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck made a key point: the Bill is very wide-ranging—the mishmash that he mentioned—and that variety will potentially create problems. I agree.
There is nothing really troubling about this Bill, although there are individual clauses, such as clauses 1 and 2 on the tribunal powers to make recommendations, that are concerning and we would certainly like to see clause 2 deleted in Committee. The actions in this Bill do not match the rhetoric, however. We do not want to obstruct the Bill’s progress tonight, but we do have concerns on specific issues and we will need to look closely at them in Committee. When businesses are crying out for certainty and greater access to finance in order for us to be more competitive in the world, the Government’s ambitions could have been better with regard to the Deregulation Bill.
A small and select group of specialist people have taken part in this debate, but it has been a very worthwhile one and while it has got very heated and agitated at times, I keep being reminded of how closely we have all been forced together, and the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) therefore finished on a very welcome note. The fact is that, so far as I noticed in every contribution from the moment the debate started, we all rather accept the need for deregulation. Everybody agreed on the other hand that there is a case for sensible regulation in the modern world. Indeed, it is highly desirable, but it is essential from time to time for Governments and Parliament to ensure that what is being done is proportionate, sensible, justifiable and does not impose unnecessary burdens on individuals and branches of government, and on business and small business in particular. We have gone round and round in circles and some Members have got wildly excited about particular regulations, but the fact is we come back to agreement on that point, and I get the impression that no one is going to press any objection this evening to the vote.
I am very grateful to hear it because by its very nature a deregulatory Bill gives rise to many points that can be raised in Committee.
The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) raised a lot of detailed points, and said that they should be considered in Committee. He has already served on the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. It is inevitable, when the British cover such a wide variety of things in regulation, that we sometimes have to have an item-by-item vote.
I take it from the tone of the debate today that the general direction of policy set out by the Government has fairly widespread approval. I have endured the experience of opposition, albeit briefly, in my time, and I occasionally had the burden of being sent along to a debate of this kind and trying to find something to argue about. I think that that was the problem facing the two very able Front-Bench speakers representing the Opposition today.
A strange argument broke out at one point today about whether what we were doing was totally insubstantial, worthless and of no point to the outside world, or whether it was completely horrendous and, as the Green amendment, which is no longer being pressed, says,
“ripping up vital green legislation”.
It was suggested that our blood should run cold at the idea of what we were doing to everyone from those climbing mountains to those running small businesses.
The claim was also made that the last Government had somehow achieved £3 billion of savings through their strident deregulatory measures. I am not here to debate the record of the last Government, but that is quite the most startling exposition of what they achieved that I have ever heard. I do not recommend that any Labour spokesman should try to persuade an audience of any of the small businessmen I have ever met that that was what they were doing.
The Bill represents the most determined effort of any Government I have known to pursue the deregulatory aims to which most Governments have paid lip service for the past 20 years. We were all into deregulation in the early 1990s; then the Labour Government talked about “better regulation”. I believe that this Government can claim that the substance of what we are producing greatly exceeds anything that has been done before.
Some of the figures that have been quoted about the impact of the Bill disguise the fact that it is only one part of the red tape challenge that is being led by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy. The Bill runs alongside and is part of that challenge, and it contains the elements that require primary legislation. My right hon. Friend has mentioned the 3,000 regulations that need to be repealed or improved.
The Bill has to be big enough and long enough to deal with so many detailed areas, and it will supplement and add to that to produce a deregulatory effect for businesses—particularly small businesses—as well as individual citizens, local authorities and branches of government, all of which have better things to do than to waste money on statutory duties the reason for which no one knows, or to produce reports that nobody reads or to have obligations for things that nobody is asking them to give advice on. For example, school governors have to publish advice on discipline. Our reforms will not undermine school discipline; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has talked about the need for school discipline. Most governors do not even know they are under such an obligation, but unfortunately some do produce a statement of policy, which is not required. That regulation will now be repealed.
The key part of the Bill is the one that relates to business. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) on this. I think we will need a Bill of this kind every 10 years or so. In modern times, as a result of single-issue lobby groups and newspaper campaigns, Government Departments engage in ever-more legislative and regulatory activity, sometimes for the sake of being seen to be doing something or, in the case of the lobby groups, being seen to be demanding something new. That has an adverse effect not only on the statute book and the regulatory publications but on the administration of good government and the running of any successful business. The Bill is therefore a welcome, and drastic, attempt to change the culture and go back in the direction of common sense and proper regulation that involves a true public interest and to ensure that environmental standards and the safety of workers are maintained.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), echoed by the hon. Member for Hartlepool, got on to matters that were of concern to her. Although such things can be discussed in Committee, I have to say that an attempt was being made to make a difference of principle that was not there. For example, we had the issue of employment rights and of the tribunals dealing with claims by employees against their employer. Let me make it absolutely clear that the Bill is not remotely trying to roll back the law on unfair dismissal or to reduce the protections against discrimination in the work place.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) tried to identify the party political origin of every measure in the Bill. As it happens, it was a Conservative Government who set up employment tribunals, introduced employment rights and started the whole process that we now have. The intention was to provide a sensible, accessible and low cost way of resolving disputes and awarding compensation where some breach of employment rights had taken place. Over the years, the system has become legalistic. It has become almost habitual for anybody who loses their job to bring a claim, because there is very little risk to them and a great deal of encouragement to have a go. None of that is being tackled too directly by the Bill.
Addressing the power and cost of tribunals is much overdue. The principal fundamentals of employment rights are utterly beyond dispute nowadays. For the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central to claim that this Bill is a serious threat to the real principles underlying employment rights and achieves no important benefits shows that she has not met enough employers. When we talk to small employers about the problems of running a competitive business, most will rapidly start raising the problem and cost of claims before employment tribunals. The changes we propose could be criticised for being too modest, but they are certainly heading in the right direction. They should not invite a knee-jerk reaction from the Labour party, or anybody else, that nothing should be done to deregulate in that area and to remove unnecessary cost.
Similarly, on health and safety, absolutely nobody is suggesting, in this Bill or anywhere else, that we lower standards in this country when it comes to protecting the health and safety of the work force, or anybody else. We are not short of regulation in that area. Most of it will remain intact, but what is proposed here seems to be perfectly sensible. The biggest single change is to take away the burdens of health and safety legislation from self-employed people who are not in an occupation that can pose a threat to other people, as will be specified. It is absurd. Let us take a self-employed person, not one of those self-employed contractors in the business of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, but someone writing a novel in his cottage in the countryside in Dorset. He is a self-employed person. Is Labour going to argue passionately in Committee that he should be subject to health and safety at work legislation, which he is at the moment? Of course he is not likely to be sued unless he throws a book at somebody in a moment of bad temper, but even that is probably not a breach of the health and safety at work legislation. He is subject to inspection. He may have to pay regard to the guidance. I have taken an extreme example of what should be a harmless occupation—if he is a reasonable novelist.
There is a range of other self-employed people who may have to take professional advice on what impact the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 has on their particular activities. We are proposing to clarify that health and safety legislation applies to those people who are engaged in activities that could pose a risk to people other than themselves. Clarity will come when we produce information—as soon as we can in the course of the Committee, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy has said—on the specified sectors of the economy and specified occupations. A statutory burden will be lifted from a wide range of self-employed people who have been covered by it by accident.
No self-employed novelists have had health and safety inspections or a burden that they have had to consider. Is not the problem that once we say a line will be drawn and some will be covered and some will not, that creates a grey area? The grey area creates danger and damage and risk, including for the person themselves.
I deliberately chose, as the hon. Gentleman did at the other extreme, the rather way-out example with my self-employed novelist. I have not done the research on which self-employed people have found themselves subject to inspection, the recipients of guidance they do not want or feeling obliged to take inspections. I do not know whether self-employed beekeepers or all sorts of other people fall into this area, but there is no doubt that the legislative change and the clarity proposed will put the duty and burden on those who might pose a risk to others and move it from vast numbers of other people. Our independent regulatory committee has estimated the saving for the businesses of many self-employed people.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman gives the example of a self-employed beekeeper. A beekeeper friend of mine was nearly killed when moving a hive during rain because he was not aware of the dangers during rain. If the person moving it with him had nearly been killed, there might have been a claim against him. Does that not illustrate precisely why an overarching approach is far better than additional regulation and somebody deciding who is in and who is out?
I admire the eclecticism of the hon. Gentleman. I knew that I could not engage with him on mountain climbing but I underestimated his knowledge of bees and beekeepers. I shall take considered advice on the application to beekeeping and I have no doubt that the matter will be raised in Committee if the position of beekeepers becomes a point of real contention when the list is published. The point that I am trying to make is that I think that the vast majority of self-employed people—I shall not name another esoteric profession—need not be covered by legislation, subject to the Health and Safety Executive, inspection and so on, or to take professional advice. We are rationalising and making sense of one area whereas otherwise our commitment to the health and safety at work of employees and the health and safety of the public remains undiminished.
Another measure that all Opposition Members tried to make a mainstream political point about is the growth duty we are putting on non-economic regulators. I am not a climate change denier; the Government are in favour of environmental protection, and the conservation of our habitat and essential national heritage is a perfectly important objective of the Government. It is completely over the top to describe the changes in the Bill as sometimes threatening all that. We are saying that the various non-economic regulators should have regard to the desirability of the growth of the economy while carrying out their other duties. That was described as a mad dash for casino growth and likened to our casting away of regulation on bankers, which we did not do—it was the previous Government who did that. I would have agreed with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw had he cited that example, as it was a good example of the importance of regulation and the pathetic inadequacy of the Financial Services Authority when the then Chancellor gave it that responsibility. In this case, all that we are doing is saying that while it remains liable to follow its existing guidance—it has been pointed out that it is supposed to regulate only where necessary and proportionate—it is supposed to have regard to the impact on individual businesses, and it should have regard to the growth of the nation. Serious conservation in a highly developed, advanced economy like ours and the protection of our natural environment have to take account of the fact that at the same time, we hope to be a growing economy and a powerful, modern, industrial nation. It is a question of balance, judgment and common sense between the Government’s economic interests and our desire to conserve what is best in our heritage. Describing the Bill as an attack on that is absurd.
That shows why the previous Government’s record was pathetic on deregulation and reducing the burdens on business. They constantly gave in to pressures that drove them in the other direction, and it requires a Government with clarity of purpose to get hold of the subject and make a detailed attempt to reduce unnecessary burdens, bureaucracy and paperwork. The printing of useless documents and general obstructions to growth and efficiency need to be removed if that is to be a success.
I welcome the fact that some things received universal approval. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) discussed what we are doing on apprenticeships, and no one gainsaid him on that. Those are important measures that will strengthen skills training in industry and help to improve young people’s prospects of employment. The measures on yarn received widespread support from those in the House who do knitwork. The measures on rights of way achieved remarkably unanimous acceptance—this is an impossibly controversial area, but the stakeholders’ group has reached agreement. The Government’s proposals have been advanced, and I am glad that they have been accepted.
There was talk of the European Union. We are going to try to secure the application of the same principles there, and Barroso has begun a deregulatory drive, which faces the same difficulty in Europe that it has always faced in Britain, because most of the regulations are supported by some lobby or other. The European regulations are the result of the single market. To stay in the single market required a mass of regulations. When the then Government pressed for the single market to be created, the British Commissioner whom we appointed—Arthur Cockfield, I think—came up with thousands of amendments, which were required in a single market if it was to have common regulation, as we heard, of consumer rights, safety standards, consumer protection, environmental protection and so on.
Our example should be followed in the rest of Europe, and it will help us to guide other member states to adopt the same approach. I believe that for all European countries, but it is Britain that particularly concerns me. If we are to regain our competitive position in the wider market and return to normality as one of the stronger economies in the modern world, deregulation and reducing burdens on business is part of that.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (David Rutley) and for Witham (Priti Patel) said, we are not saying that this is the sole answer for our economy or for small business. It is merely a contribution to a Government policy that is wholly taken up with the plan for long-term economic growth, giving particular priority to small and medium-sized enterprises in this country as never before. We are reviewing the range of advice that the Government give to small businesses and the range of financial support available to them. We have reduced the tax burden on small employers, particularly for young employees. UK Trade & Investment is concentrating on small and medium-sized businesses that want to get into export markets. We are putting a great trade effort as a Government into supporting them. We are reforming UK export finance to make sure that it is available to those small exporters.
This Bill is far from being the entirety of what we are doing to turn Britain into a competitive nation again. It does not cover everything we are doing for the small businesses that provide much of the employment nowadays if one gets one’s economy moving again, but it makes a very important contribution. We actually have a Government who are anti-regulation, anti-bureaucracy and anti-pointless cost. I commend the Bill to the House as a very useful contribution to our efforts.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Deregulation Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Deregulation Bill:
(1) That the Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 25 March 2014.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Gavin Barwell.)
Question agreed to.
Deregulation Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Deregulation Bill, it is expedient to authorise:
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided; and
(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(Gavin Barwell.)
Question agreed to.
Deregulation Bill (Carry-Over)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 80A(1)(a)),
That if, at the conclusion of this Session of Parliament, proceedings on the Deregulation Bill have not been completed, they shall be resumed in the next Session. —(Gavin Barwell.)
Question agreed to.