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Businesses: Regulation

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made to ensure that regulation is coherent and regulatory powers are efficiently exercised in accordance with objective assessments of need, risk, proportionality and cost benefits and with regard to the impact on businesses and individuals.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a chartered surveyor, with a professional involvement in many aspects of regulation.

My Lords, the Government are meeting their aim of not increasing the cost to business from domestic regulation. Through the Red Tape Challenge we have begun to remove or simplify ineffective, unnecessary or obsolete regulation. We recognise that how regulation is delivered is as important as the regulations themselves, which is why we have established the Better Regulation Delivery Office in Birmingham, to improve regulatory delivery and to ensure that the business voice is heard.

I thank the Minister for that reply, and I applaud the Government’s intentions with regard to the reduction of red tape. However, does he agree that not a week goes by without some fresh example of regulatory excess occurring, of burdensome and thoughtless use of non-recourse powers by both government agencies and other bodies? Does he further agree, first, that there should be a national protocol or code that governs the way in which regulations are formulated and applied, and secondly, that some person or body should be vested with legal power to intervene in cases of excessive or inappropriate use of regulatory powers?

My Lords, we all understand that there is a constant tug-of-war between those who want more regulation and those who want less. For example, what I do should be entirely unregulated because I can be trusted, what you do should be carefully controlled, and what he does should be stopped.

Is my noble friend aware of pilot studies that have recently been carried out in Solihull and Leicester, where local regulators have sought to reduce burdens on small businesses by streamlining the amount of information they collect, co-ordinating inspection visits and sharing data? Can he say whether the evaluation has been carried out, and when we can expect to see the results?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. Yes, that is exactly the sort of thing that the Better Regulation Delivery Office is concerned about. Eighty per cent of regulatory inspection and enforcement is carried out by local authorities, so that the experiment being conducted with these authorities is intended to feed very much into improving the quality of local regulation.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the lack of regulation of certain businesses in relation to cooling towers in Edinburgh has resulted in a fatal outbreak of legionella, in which two people have died and many others have been seriously injured? Surely the Health and Safety Executive should be doing more to find out the cause of this, and to make sure that it does not happen again. Will the Minister undertake to raise this with the prosecuting authorities in Scotland, to ask why there is no fatal accident inquiry or other kind of inquiry into something that has killed two people and caused so much injury, and why we do not yet know what the cause of it is?

My Lords, I do not know how far that aspect of health and safety is devolved or not devolved. However, I will certainly feed that back and will write to the noble Lord if necessary.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on the brilliant wording of his Question. He asked the Government whether they are making progress against the test of coherence, efficiently exercised regulations, and objective assessments of need, risk, proportionality and cost benefits. Will the Minister affirm that these are the criteria that the Government are using in the better regulation exercise? Will he further affirm that where removing regulations from consumers, customers and the general public is being considered, the same tests, particularly the objective assessment of need, risk, proportionality and cost benefit, will be considered before any protections are removed?

My Lords, I can confirm that. These are close to the five principles of good regulation as set out by Christopher Haskins in 1998 under the authority of the then Cabinet Office Minister, David Clark. We are continuing very much on a course set by previous Governments. There is a constant pull and push between demands for further regulation and the constant need to make clear whether the regulations are still needed. I was very pleased to see that one of the Red Tape Challenge repeals has included the trading with the enemy regulation, which is felt not to be so relevant today as it was perhaps 60 years ago.