Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the impact of deregulation on, and the role of regulatory enforcement in delivering, public services and health and safety.
My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to introduce this debate and particularly grateful to all noble Lords joining me in what is an extremely important matter. At the heart of this debate is a fundamental question: what sort of a state do we aspire to live in? This question is inescapable in the light of the appalling and preventable tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the issues it raises around the quality and safety of public services. Of course, our thoughts are ever with those people whose lives will never be the same again.
Following from this, the question we really need to ask ourselves is what sort of country we want to live in and whether it is one in which the universal principle of government that every citizen should have the basic right to safety and security has been replaced by a political ideology where the minimum will do. If the minimum puts the poorest and most vulnerable at the greatest risk, perhaps this is what the Prime Minister meant when she said, in response to Grenfell Tower, that the state is not working.
It is absurd to say that the state is not working, as if it is something beyond the control of government. The state has not failed; the fact is that the state is being wilfully dismantled and disabled by an ideology that explicitly pursues a leaner and meaner state. This has been marked not just by an increasing frenzy ramped up over seven years by successive Ministers to get rid of as many regulations as fast as possible, but by a climate of hostility that invites compromises over safeguards and standards, and opts for guidance rather than enforcement. Crucially, this fatal obsession with deregulation in all forms across Whitehall has been pursued with no regard for consequences, other than the benefits to business. Even then, the outcomes are far from transparent or consistent.
So it is no wonder that there is such visceral anger about the catastrophe of Grenfell Tower. There will eventually be answers to why the regulations that were supposed to protect residents signally failed to do so. What also needs an answer is why the review of the Building Regulations 2010 was delayed and why the 2013 review of the 2005 regulatory reform order was not converted into recommendations. This debate cannot pursue that or the contextual factors that contributed to the risks of living in Grenfell Tower. One such of course is the conspicuous refusal of successive Governments to prioritise housing for the poor as opposed to the rich and the refusal to respect the dignity and the voice of social housing tenants. When you put that together with 40% cuts on average in local authority budgets, there is no doubt that the poor will suffer the most.
I hope today’s debate will open up further opportunities to uncover the impact of the culture in which regulation has been routinely derided as red tape and where Ministers are incentivised to reduce the so-called burdens on business as far and as fast as possible. It is worth reflecting on the term “red tape”. It has in fact kept greed and exploitation in check since the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and continues to do so. Red tape has meant that over many years in this country children no longer work all the hours God sends. It means that our food and drinking water do not kill us, that our landscapes and green spaces are protected, and that our transport systems, homes and workplaces are as safe as they can be.
On 21 June, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, 70 leading health and safety agencies and practitioners said unequivocally that enough was enough. They stated that,
“for many years, Ministers and others with influence over them have called for regulations, including in health and safety, to be axed as a matter of principle … This mind-set has meant that, even when it was recommended and accepted that mandatory fitting of sprinklers would make homes or schools safer, this was rejected in favour of non-regulatory action. In practice, this approach favours inaction”.
As they emphasised, much of what is seen as most burdensome is due to poor understanding and implementation or an exaggerated fear of liability.
Those independent, authoritative national safety organisations now demand a change in direction and culture from this Government. No one defends keeping redundant or unenforceable regulations. Over many years—and the Labour Government were much involved in it—much has been pruned and improved in the pursuit of better regulation and it is being done daily by the Health and Safety Executive. But here is the change: since 2010, we have had Conservative-led Governments who have departed from a legitimate search for better regulation to a position where deregulation is an ideological and political choice—where, indeed, it has turned into a battle cry.
Having already pledged to,
“kill off the health and safety culture for good”,
David Cameron in 2012 went on to describe it as an albatross around the neck of business. I wonder how that sounds to the families of the 13,000 people who die each year from exposure to chemicals or dust.
Since 2010, the Cabinet Office has charged Ministers across Whitehall with finding first one, then two and now three regulations to ditch for every new one made, on the grounds that red tape stifles growth and reduces profits. The Department for Communities and Local Government, the department responsible for building regulations, has proved only too eager to assist. One of Grant Shapps’ first actions as Housing Minister in 2010, which now has a tragic resonance, was to abolish the National Tenant Voice, the first body set up—just previously—deliberately to represent social housing tenants. He also diverted the independent Tenants Services Authority, the first regulatory agency to champion tenants’ rights, into the Homes and Communities Agency. This move not only made it less visible; it also had the effect of constraining the co-regulation opportunities and consumer elements of its work.
That work of representing tenants’ interests has been taken forward by the national tenant organisations. My first question to the Minister is: will he meet the NTOs to discuss how to go forward in empowering tenants in the light of Grenfell Tower? There are landlords who are hostile to their involvement.
Mr Pickles at CLG also set to work to deregulate as much of development control as possible, thus making it much easier for housebuilders, for example—who have never had the incentive to build in the interests of society—to develop less carefully but more profitably. The provision for “viability” in the National Planning Policy Framework has also let developers off the hook of social housing and social benefit if they can claim that it reduces their profit margins.
Mr Pickles’ successor, Sajid Javid, boasted during the election of May 2015 that the Conservative manifesto promised a further £10 billion of cuts in red tape over the following Parliament. That £10 billion, he said, would be easier to slash than the previous £10 billion. He was particularly pleased that deregulation had achieved,
“less bureaucracy for house builders and developers”,
“thousands of regular businesses no longer face health and safety inspections”.
How right he was, because, in April 2016, a TUC survey found that half of all workplaces had never been visited by a safety inspector.
The Red Tape Challenge ran until April 2013. On 27 January 2014, David Cameron announced that it had identified 3,000 pieces of regulation to be improved or removed, with 800 abolished or simplified. May I ask the Minister for an up-to-date figure on how many regulations have now been scrapped and with what savings, and how are the £10 billion in savings calculated? How much has been saved since 2015? I appreciate that the Minister may not have those figures with him; I would like him to write and I would like a copy placed in the Library. Some of the regulations that have been scrapped are particularly worth noting. For example, new homes no longer have to be zero-carbon rated. That is a problem, not least because it is at the forefront of new technologies. Self-employed people no longer have workplace protections.
It is rare that one gets a glimpse into the workings of Whitehall, but this comment by someone who served as a special adviser to BIS for four years is instructive as to the processes:
“In 4 years … Steve Hilton and his Red Tape Challenge provided more moments of exquisite satirical lunacy than any other. I will never forget listening … to Steve and A Certain Cabinet Minister debate whether to lift the ban on inflammable nighties … At one point Steve suggested scrapping entirely the Consumer Protection Act”.
Bizarre thought though that is, my immediate reaction on reading it was one of simple anger that while this nonsense was being driven by No. 10, no such urgency was being given to updating the fire regulations.
However sophisticated the regulatory system, the loss of expertise, skills and resources for enforcement renders it ineffective. Evidence shows, for example, that since 2010, one-third of environmental health officers have gone, so food outlets are checked less frequently and air-quality stations are closed. The heaviest cuts fall in the poorest areas. Professor Steve Tombs of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has shown that health and safety, food protection and pollution control staff in Liverpool have been cut from 39 to 16, with corresponding reductions in the other Merseyside authorities. There has been a steady fall in the number of enforcement notices issued by the HSE and local authorities. I know that other noble Lords will have other examples. Most significantly, the relationship between the HSE and industry itself has changed. The HSE has been directly disabled by a cut of 46%. It is no longer allowed to conduct proactive inspections. At the same time, the commercialisation of its activities, through the introduction of fee for intervention, means that the HSE is less likely to be consulted over health and safety.
Professor Tombs suggests that there is a long-term downward trend in every form of enforcement. If that is the case, I suspect that there will be a long-term downward trend in health and safety in the workplace, reversing the steady progress that has been made over 40 years. Housing and planning has been particularly hard hit. The planning system is now much weaker than it was, because of the expansion of permitted development and changes to the prior approval process. This means that a high-rise office block can be converted to housing without the requirements for any space for children’s play or social facilities. The Parker Morris space standards are long gone and there is now the prospect that these dwellings will indeed become the slums of the future. There has also been a loss of oversight in terms of building regulations. Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle, has described it thus:
“Buildings can go up and councils have no right to know what they are made of, if the developer chooses to have a private sector firm sign off on regulations”.
This debate is even more timely than I thought it would be, because of the publication of the European repeal Bill today. Stripping out the European regulatory frameworks is a compelling prospect for Brexiteers. Priti Patel, Secretary of State for International Development, told the Institute of Directors:
“If we could just halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3 billion boost to our economy”.
One example she offered was cutting working time protection for self-employed lorry drivers. In this House we will be in the paradoxical situation of both defending the current standards of safety and effectiveness in areas such as medicine or information technology and, at the same time, trying to prevent Government overriding Parliament by the use of excessive, inappropriate secondary legislation. I only hope that we will have the resources and arrangements that will allow us to do that to the best of our ability.
In conclusion, it is almost 200 years since the first expert inspectors were created to stop coal mines, factories and food killing people. The state has changed a lot—it has had to—from one which sprang to action only after a national disaster, in the nightwatchman state of the Victorians, to one which has tried, over a century, to anticipate and prevent new harms as they emerge in an increasingly sophisticated economy. We should be proud of that, not least since it has been good for growth, good for business, good for public health and good for society.
In view of these social and economic benefits, it is alarming that this retreat from regulation over the past seven years has been conducted without any public reference to the impact on anything other than business. So my third question to the Minister is: will he now take the lead in commissioning a comprehensive social and economic review of the impact of the Red Tape Challenge and all that has followed from this so that the claims and assertions of the benefits of the deregulatory regime can be tested and the costs and charges can be revealed? Will he also agree to meet the health and safety bodies which have written to the PM to discuss their deep concerns? Their letter concludes:
“You have it in your power to remove immediately a “risk to people at work and outside of the workplace—unwise deregulation—which threatens public and worker safety.
We, leaders in health and safety in the UK call on you to scrap the Government’s approach to health and safety deregulation and to think again”.
Only the Government have the power to ensure that the state remains proactive, responsible and accountable in its care for the entire community, especially the most vulnerable. Grenfell Tower should indeed be a turning point, and I hope the Government will rise to that responsibility. I beg to move.
My Lords, I listened with great care and respect to the very interesting speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews—as did, I am sure, the whole House—but I respectfully disagree with the impression that she gave that by definition all acts of deregulation are ideological. I am sure that is not the case—I do not believe it to be the case—for we cannot obliterate records or pretend that any party in recent decades has not wanted to get better regulation, including, from time to time, by getting rid of imperfect regulations.
The Labour litany is long, over the 13 years of their Government between 1997 and 2010, and all of it had some impact on regulatory enforcement in delivering public services on health and safety, the themes of the noble Baroness’s debate. There was the Better Regulation Taskforce and there were regulatory impact assessments falling over regulatory impact units and trying to avoid the Better Regulation Executive. The Labour Party was up to its neck in regulation and deregulation in those 13 years, and as a Minister the noble Baroness played her part in all of that.
In many ways, coalition and Conservative Governments since 2010 have been simply continuing the work that Labour started. I suspect that there is all-party agreement and consent to what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in this context as recently as 22 June in another place: namely, that,
“all regulation is not bad regulation; there is good regulation, which we need to ensure that we get right”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/17; col. 189.]
However good, bad or unnecessary any regulations may be, the other key question, which has not thus far been discussed, is: are they always observed in the public sector and the private sector? We have human beings in positions of power in the public sector and the private sector interpreting and applying rules, or ignoring them if they think they are unnecessary or that they can get away with ignoring them. There are well-documented cases of that in the public sector as well as in the private sector.
There is also, alas, an increasing atmosphere among some in the delivery of public services. People are getting pretty fed up with their lot and what they are landed with and are verging sometimes on the sour in their dealings with the public. I can understand why— because under Governments of all colours since 2007, including the last Labour Administration, pay has barely risen. Despite huge increases in public expenditure on public services, money always seems to be tight for those delivering public services in the face of what is very often inexorable demand. Yet despite the growing burden of regulation felt by many in public service overall, in its figures last week the Office for National Statistics showed that the greatest productivity growth had been coming from the public service. Congratulations are due to public service workers who have delivered this massive increase in productivity. Of course, part of it comes from the reduction in the numbers in employment in the public sector doing the same job at a time when the UK has been creating jobs hand over fist—the envy of the rest of Europe.
All that said, I do believe in trusting front-line professionals as much as possible and allowing them to get on with the job in exactly the same way in public services as in business. An important-to-achieve end is making sure that regulations do not interfere with professionals in the public service improving their outcomes in the services for which they are responsible.
A very good example of the effectiveness of this approach is in education. The last Labour Government realised that teachers needed less regulation—more autonomy to raise standards—so they set up city academies where schools were underperforming. I applaud that, followed, as it has been, by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition not only speeding up that process but jointly—the Liberal and Tory parties together—setting up free schools. A tiny touch of amnesia has come over the Liberal Party about its role in setting up free schools, but I am sure that the memory will come back with adequate help. All this has been duly monitored by rigorous Ofsted inspections to ensure high standards. In this and other areas there has been much more agreement than most politicians on either side of the House will agree—which is a pity, because by and large they do agree.
I think we are also just about to see the beginning of some great debate on the balance between less regulation meeting better conditions for the new growing flexible national workforce after the publication of the excellent and thought-provoking report by Matthew Taylor, once a No. 10 adviser to Tony Blair, whom our Prime Minister, Theresa May, has had the great good sense to appoint to conduct his review with its ground-breaking, standard-setting seven principles for fair and decent work, which I applaud—and not just in the private sector, or “gig economy”, as the press has termed it. Matthew Taylor also calls on public bodies of all sorts delivering public services to design jobs offering genuine flexibility, allowing some public sector workers to choose hours that suit them, and public sector managers to meet peaks and troughs in demand.
New regulations perhaps come into play more quickly than old ones are updated, as much in the public as the private sector. However, for sure in the area of the implementation of the Taylor report, new regulations will have to be continuously refined to test where exactly someone should be placed on the employment spectrum. All this comes at a time—as yesterday’s excellent employment figures showed—when unemployment has fallen to just 1.9 million, the lowest level since 1975, when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister. This is despite the threat of Brexit, as some media outlets insist on having it, because there has also been so much inward investment.
All who are in work in whatever sector will continue to need the shelter of good regulation, which I applaud, regularly reviewed and, if found wanting, revised. To be completely transparent—I have never met Mr Taylor, I would not recognise him if I saw him in the street, and I have never talked to him, but I think he has got the balance exquisitely right. He has been excoriated a bit by the trade unions and a tiny bit by some political parties and, on the other hand, a bit by business—but by and large he has got the balance spot on. However, implementing his recommendations will be more challenging.
That said, I strongly support the application of the “one in, two out”—or, as it now is, “one in, three out”—measure in effecting new regulation. I am also reflecting on something that my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness, who is unable to take part in our debate today because of duties he is following elsewhere, said to me on Tuesday. He said that the principle of “one in, two out” or “one in, three out” may well be of great help in dealing with one as yet largely unregulated sector delivering public services: that is, the seemingly unstoppable exponential growth in the spad population of this country.
My noble friend is quite right and I am glad that he reminded me of the spad terror. Indeed, there are even rumours that some senior spads are now seeking to have spads of their own to help them in their work. They are a completely unregulated body—the Civil Service pretends to regulate them but it does not—and I think that we are rapidly coming to the point when we need to have a new organisation called Ofspad to regulate these creatures in the undergrowth.
Several decades ago, there were just a few of them. Proper, grown-up spads are extremely necessary for Secretaries of State: they were demure, attentive and diplomatic, doing a helpful job in advice, speech-writing and sometimes murmuring in the margins interpretations of what the Secretary of State really meant during some Civil Service meeting. I know that one or two of my friends in the Chamber, both civil servants and politicians, have seen all this in action: “No, no, the Secretary of State was just exaggerating”, et cetera.
That is all very valuable, but no wonder today the Civil Service feels undervalued with the emergence of huge numbers of megaspads since the Blair era first promoted them, who see it as their job to promote internecine warfare between departments on too many occasions, which is totally counterproductive and a waste of public money, or to sit giving spurious murmured briefings over warm prosecco to the media about who is up and who is down in a particular department—putting themselves above civil servants. No wonder too many talented young men and women are thinking twice about going into the Civil Service. “Don’t put your son or daughter in the Civil Service, Mr or Mrs Whoever”, is pretty wise advice at the moment. So let a cull begin, on the one spad in, two spads out principle—I am a moderate man, as the House knows—and later on we can move, if that does not work, to the one spad in, three spads out principle to diminish this growing and unregulated industry.
There is a serious point here. Because of the way in which some spads have bossed about Ministers and taken powers on themselves, it is becoming a bit of a constitutional affront. They disturb the balance between civil servants and Ministers, whose constitutional roles are very well known and understood under our unwritten constitution, by interdigitating themselves in a way that is completely uncontrolled. I hope that on this, if nothing else during this debate, there may be some all-party agreement.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Andrews and thank her for seeking and getting this debate. It is timely; in fact a lot of us would say it is seriously overdue. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, is correct to say that the mood for better regulation—or I would say, in many cases, less regulation—has persisted through several Governments, for about 30 years. I think that mood—that surge of anti-regulation—needs to be reversed, and my noble friend is correct that this is an ideological debate. She was very forensic in her approach; I will be somewhat broad-sweeping and pretty ideological in my response, because it is time for change, and the Bill that has appeared today shows us that we are going to have to take some very serious decisions about the future of British regulation post Brexit.
The first duty of the state is to protect its citizens. That used to be entirely about the Army, or possibly the police force, but it is about a lot more things in a complex society such as our own: the state also has the responsibility to protect its citizens from natural and man-made disasters and hazards, from exposure to unsafe substances, from disease, from unsafe buildings and workplaces, from economic and physical exploitation, from other people and sometimes, indeed, from themselves—not just the vulnerable but all of us.
This need also applies in the economic sphere. We need protection as well as freedoms for markets to operate. We need freedoms for businesses, consumers and workers, but we also need to make the capitalist system actually work. The state has stepped in here, from medieval weights and measures legislation to ensure fair trading, right through to the anti-trust legislation we now have. Regulation is not the enemy of the market: literally free markets end in oligopoly and monopoly. Without regulation, markets as properly understood would not work.
It is also true that, at various stages of history, there have been backlashes against regulation. Perhaps your Lordships should consider the House’s reaction to the Earl of Shaftesbury when he first started trying to stop people putting children up chimneys. We have a media which weep crocodile tears over natural and man-made disasters—as just recently—but on the opposite page are attacking the “jobsworths” who are attempting to apply the rules.
In the past three decades, there has been a torrent of abuse in the media and among politicians against the so-called nanny state. I am in favour of the nanny state. There are some bad nannies and some good nannies—so I am told—and the way the state operates needs review to assess whether regulation is right and whether regulators are acting fairly, but the principle of regulation should be a central duty of the state and a central theme of a modern society.
As some more elderly Members of the House will recall, as a Minister I was responsible for large swathes of regulation in transport, local government, health and safety, agriculture and environmental matters, and I still take an interest. I also served on the boards of two regulators. I readily accept the sort of point which the noble Lord, Lord Patten, made: that some regulations are overcomplex, some regulate the wrong thing and some fail to achieve what they were intended to. I also accept that—this is a feature of the British legal system, including within the Civil Service—there has been gold-plating in the UK transposition of certain EU regulations. But that is an issue of better regulation, not of reducing regulation, not even one that favours light-touch regulation. Over the past few years, people have been calling for less regulation and surreptitiously acting to ensure it. What started out as a fairly scientific approach to existing regulations through the better regulation initiatives under different Governments has ended up with the absurdity of “one in, three out”.
In parallel with all this, organisations such as the Environment Agency—set up by a Tory Government as an independent body from government—have had their independence undermined and their resources and powers limited. Similarly, the HSE’s powers have been diluted and the resources given to it cut. In local authorities, because many of these are non-statutory services, the cuts have fallen disproportionately on areas such as environmental health officers, trading standards, planning departments and building regulation departments. The net effect is that there has been not only less effective regulation but, in many cases, an absence of regulation.
We will shortly be faced with a decision on what we do about the so-called great repeal Bill. We are to transpose some key EU laws into the UK and, in some cases, into devolved legislative frameworks. That all sounded very simple and straightforward when it was first announced in the Lancaster House speech, but it will be extraordinarily complex. A whole range of legislation on the environment, agriculture, land use, animal health, food safety et cetera is actually primarily EU legislation at the moment and is enforced by the EU. Simply transposing the regulations does not deal with the issue of enforcement. Of course, we can give some powers to organisations such as the Environment Agency, HSE or, indeed, local authorities, but they are all increasingly starved of resources and expertise and having their powers cut or queried by attacks on the nanny state. If they are to take on what has hitherto been largely the enforcement role of the European Union, they will need to be bolstered, improved and respected by politicians and Governments and not undermined and denigrated. So we need to resist the call for attacks on the nanny state.
Last week, I participated in a debate on air quality. I called specifically for a new UK clean air Act because, at present, our regulations are primarily from the EU, which sets limits on air pollution locally and sets tests for polluting diesel vehicles and so forth. Theoretically, it has been the responsibility of national authorities to enforce those, but that has not happened; we have breached those limits, and the EU is about to take action. Without that threat of EU action and the fact that ClientEarth took cases to the UK courts in anticipation of that EU action, the Government would not have moved at all, and have still yet to deliver a proper and effective air quality strategy.
That is just one example of what we face, and it is crucial at this stage, before going into the debate of how we transpose EU laws into our own operations, that we face up to the need to sharpen up our own enforcement mechanisms and our own respect for the enforcers and those who play the game in industry and society, and who follow the regulations for the benefit of us all.
We are about to have a great debate on the repeal Bill. I accept that some of these negative effects started with very good intentions and delivered some good results. But, as we have seen of late, we start with attempts to simplify regulations, then we try to reduce the burden and cost on business, and then, as time goes on, we fail to keep regulations up to date with changes in use or in technology and society. Then we reduce the powers and cut the resources available to the national enforcement authorities. We put the burden of austerity cuts disproportionately on to local authorities, who then cut disproportionately the inspection and enforcement areas within their own remit. Then, of course, there is the deprioritising of that within both national and local government. As a result—surprisingly—unscrupulous individuals and firms, cutting corners, take advantage of inattentive public authorities and lack of resources for those authorities; and you end up with Grenfell Tower.
My Lords, I start by declaring that I was a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government between 2010 and 2012, and had responsibility for building regulation policy during that time. I alert the Minister to the fact that a week ago today, I asked a Written Question which is somewhat relevant to my latter remarks, and he may want to prompt officials to brief him on that. I do not believe I have yet had a reply.
I very much welcome the debate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for her very well structured introduction. She painted a particularly bleak landscape, on which, to some extent, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, shone a light. I guess that my views are somewhere in between those two different perspectives. In respect of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, there is a good deal of agreement across parties about getting rid of red tape. All parties think that unnecessary red tape should be got rid of. The problem is the subsequent discussion about when red tape is making a safety net. That tension between red tape and safety net is at the heart of our discussion today.
I pick up another point from the noble Lord’s remarks. He said that he welcomed one in, one out—and so did I. I was one of the negotiators of the coalition agreement that included that precise wording. One in, two out and one in, three out is not based on any sound reasoning process at all, particularly when one considers how the Treasury interprets the in and the out. I had a particularly strange example in relation to the energy performance of buildings, which I was keen to upgrade during my time as a Minister. Savings in energy by commercial buildings was countable as a reduction in business costs. Savings in energy consumption in domestic buildings is not counted, because the beneficiary is the householder or renter, not the developer. That is an example of the Treasury applying a sensible rule in a completely foolhardy and stupid way, which actually slowed down the capacity of the Government to deliver better housing for people in tenures of all sorts being built at the present time.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made a very important point about the opportunities that there are to put right anything that may be wrong, and the risks of making it a great deal worse with the great repeal Bill. My party leader has already made it clear what the Liberal Democrats feel about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, with his remark about spads, needs to reflect on how many noble friends of the pair of us are former spads before he takes his purge too much further.
I want to focus on some of the interaction between the horrific and terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the issue of regulation. We need to recognise that it was the worst fire disaster since World War II, and when a fire like that evolves you can be pretty certain that it was not one thing but four or five things that went wrong at the same time. All those things will have contributed to the tragedy, and I hope that the inquiry will be diligent in assessing what they are and what remedies there might be.
My remarks will focus on building regulations, and the impact that they may be said to have had, or not. I want to keep in mind the fact that it is extremely unlikely to be the sole or even the main cause of the huge loss of life. Building regulations are issued under the Building Act 1984, which prescribes matters about which regulations can be made and by its silences limits the regulation-making powers to those topics alone. Fire prevention is certainly one of the areas where building regulations can be, and are, made.
As well as a ministerial background, I had 20 years’ work in the construction industry, and during that time I had many occasions on which to refer to the building regulations and satisfy myself that the drawings that I was making and the buildings and products I was supervising were compliant with those regulations. That brings me to my first main point. It was my job as a building designer and supervisor to comply with regulations and my job to get it right. It was not a question of seeing whether the building inspector catches us out and carrying on merrily until he does. I remember on one occasion taking it as far as testing a fire door of an unusual size and design. I learned plenty of things that day, including never to wear your best suit to a fire test.
The key obligation here is on the installer, applicant or client to comply with the relevant regulations. Some of the press and media comment may have missed that important point. I see a parallel between the Road Traffic Act and the Building Act. If you travel at 45 miles an hour where there is a speed limit of 30 miles an hour, you are committing an offence. If you kill somebody, you have certainly committed an offence. In mitigation, you may say that the signs were obscured or there were no signs, but one thing you cannot say is, “I was relying on the police to stop me”. We need to remember, in relation to what may or may not emerge as far as Grenfell Tower is concerned, that nobody should say, “I was relying on the police to stop me”. It is well established under the Road Traffic Act that the vehicle keeper gets the rap; it is no good saying, “I don’t remember who was driving the car on the day”. There are no excuses or evasions.
A decade or two after my last construction projects, I drew first place in the Private Members’ ballot at the other end of the building. My Sustainable and Secure Building Act 2004 was the first—and so far only—amendment to the original Building Act 1984. I thank my noble friend Lord Dholakia for steering it through at this end of the Palace. One provision in that Act amends the 1984 Act to empower the Secretary of State to require an applicant for building regulation approval to provide a named individual who would take responsibility for the building’s compliance with the regulation—in other words, the equivalent of the vehicle keeper under the Road Traffic Act. My Written Question last week asked what assessment has been made of the costs and benefit of introducing this provision in the light of the emerging findings from Grenfell Tower.
At Grenfell Tower, there was a client—the tenant management organisation, supervised at arm’s length by the Kensington and Chelsea council—and, underneath, there was the main contractor and a second, third and fourth, possibly even a fifth, tier of subcontractors. When we come to the crucial question of who was driving the car on that day and who ran away after the crash, it is quite likely that the inquiry will have to spend a disproportionate amount of time finding that out. If there had been a named building regulation compliance officer, which is thoroughly within the scope of the Building Act, as amended by my 2004 Act, several things would follow. First, the person appointed would have the skills and knowledge to do the job—they would be mad to accept it without. They would want indemnity and professional insurance, and the people providing the insurance would want to be satisfied that the person was doing that job in a diligent way and not going to cost them a packet of money. If that were the system applying to all buildings, there would be far fewer breaches of regulation and far better quality of buildings and homes. It is much less likely that there would be another Grenfell Tower incident. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response to my original Question.
I have another question for the Minister. In the House of Commons on 22 January 2015—in cols. 459-64 of Hansard—my honourable friend Stephen Williams, who was the then Under-Secretary of State at DCLG and responsible for building regulations, replied to a debate that I had initiated following a fire in my then constituency, which had destroyed three newly built homes. He told the House at the other end that the department was putting in hard work with BRE to look at fire-stopping—the technical stuff that goes in between floors to stop fire spreading through cavities from floor to floor. It had been defective fire-stopping in those three houses that had led to their destruction during a repair process, and this seems quite likely to have been a contributory factor at Grenfell Tower as well. Can the Minister say what progress has been made or what conclusions have been reached by that BRE study, which my honourable friend announced was to start back in January 2015? I hope that it did not fall through the cracks of the change of Government and Minister that happened five months later.
Nothing that we do or say today can undo the harm and grief of Grenfell Tower, nor can it lessen the anger and frustration of those who survived, but I hope that my contribution may point the Minister to a simple and ready-made measure that would make a catastrophe far less likely to occur.
My Lords, I declare some past interests. I was a former regulator of the environment as the chief executive of the Environment Agency, a former regulator of biodiversity and conservation as the chairman of Natural England and a former regulator of health and social care quality as the founder chairman of the Care Quality Commission.
I thank my noble friend Lady Andrews for this hugely timely debate in the light of the Grenfell tragedy. It is also timely as today marks, fortuitously, the day that the repeal Bill is published. It is now out there on the internet for those noble Lords who want to wade through its 57 pages. This is no doubt a signal for some Brexiteers to come out of the traps and condemn EU regulation, particularly environmental regulation, and call for its watering down as part of this process.
I was pondering how to encapsulate the wildness of some of the calls for a reduction in EU regulation. However, I spotted an article in the Telegraph in the spring in which it called on the Conservative Party to,
“promise a bonfire of EU red tape”.
The examples the article mentioned were pretty interesting. For example, it referred to the working time directive. So we want to go back to doctors falling asleep while treating patients, do we? The article also referred to builders and newts. Apparently, the entire construction industry is on its knees as a result of too many newts. It also referred to forcing householders to use dim energy-saving lightbulbs. So let us fry the planet with climate change instead. And, of course, there was reference to the perennial bent bananas. I find it difficult to take seriously a campaign with these four prime examples. It is a real shame that noble Lords on the Conservative Privy Council Benches who have continuously advocated such a bonfire are not in their place for this important debate.
A considerable proportion of the EU regulation that will need to be transposed is environmental regulation, the purpose of which is to protect not only the environment but also the public. Therefore, I want to focus on the environmental regulation issue. European environmental regulation has delivered for the environment. We now have cleaner beaches and bathing water. Before the European bathing water directive was passed, only 16 beaches in this country had bathing water considered safe for people to swim in. We now have more than 630 safe beaches. European environmental regulation has reduced waste and made more environmentally sound our handling of waste and our reprocessing and reusing of valuable raw materials. It has also made a huge difference to the protection of our wildlife sites. Every year some 15% of our sites of special scientific interest used to be damaged. That is now down to 0.1% a year on average.
The EU has also been very instrumental in introducing regulation to reduce air pollution. The whole issue of acid rain, which was a major problem for European countries, was resolved by European legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, Europe, and the legislation coming from it, will be a key factor in the short term in trying to get more proactive action in this country on tackling urban air pollution and its impacts on human health.
Therefore, the repeal Bill is very important. However, I would like to outline a couple of principles with which I suspect the repeal Bill will struggle. We may well see European legislation and regulation being brought across without too much fiddling—I use that as a technical term—but the principles that underlie much of our environmental progress are at risk of not being transposed successfully: principles such as the polluter pays and the precautionary principle. Therefore, I ask the Minister to tell us how these vital environmental principles can be brought across safely and not be lost in the process.
There is also the issue of compliance and enforcement. I used to be responsible for the quality of water in the Thames. It was impossible to get adequate government investment and to free up Thames Water to allow the super-sewer to stop London being the last capital in the world that uses its river as an open sewer at times of high rainfall. European legislation meant that we were put into infraction and fined eye-watering sums daily, and that is why the Government enabled the creation of the super-sewer, which is now under way. Therefore, although we will lose the infraction process, the fining process and the European Court of Justice, we need to make sure that individuals’ access to environment justice is not lost in the transposition. We will need proper mechanisms to allow that to be replicated effectively in this country. Access to the courts is not enough. We have recently seen a move to reduce the ability of private individuals to call for a judicial review by removing the cap on the costs. Your future livelihood and assets are now threatened if you take a judicial review without that protection.
We do not simply want a process whereby local authorities and companies can be fined for environmental failure; in cases where government has played a major part, we need a mechanism that allows the nation to hold government accountable for failure to deliver environmental outcomes. There are a number of suggestions for that, such as an environmental ombudsman process or an environment court. I have no strong views about which it should be, but it must be an effective process that allows action to be taken where there has been inadequate environmental protection.
Of course, the environmental legislation that we have is not just good for the environment and for all of us who depend on environmental quality; it is also good for business. For example, the global market for low-carbon environmental goods and services is estimated to be €4.2 trillion, and the EU member state market share is currently 21% of that, according to BEIS figures. Environmental impacts are the third most important factor for EU customers after quality and price. According to a report by the Office for National Statistics, environmental goods and services contribute £29 billion to the UK economy in value added, and they account for 373,000 full-time jobs. Therefore, there are big business opportunities here and big opportunities to use environmental regulation to drive innovation.
Some claim that environmental regulation is simply a burden and a barrier to global competitiveness. However, thinking about that rationally, the reality is that, if we fail at global competitiveness, it is because we are not sufficiently innovative and because inevitably we find it difficult to compete on labour-market costs with companies and industries based in countries with less labour-market and other regulation. Therefore, we need to find ways of promoting innovation and make sure that we compete on the basis of added value, not a race to the bottom on standards.
I have been impressed by the way in which various regulators have demonstrated how their approach to regulation supports innovation under the Government’s productivity plan and complements the industrial strategy. Indeed, businesses mostly do not complain about environmental legislation. However, they say that, if they are to have a level playing field, there needs to be clarity on standards, an adequate lead time to allow industry to adapt to those standards and innovative ways of meeting them. The last thing they want is changes of direction, very short notice and flip-flops—which might be a bit of a problem for this Government.
Of course, we all want better regulation, and various noble Lords have spoken about that. It needs to be risk based, proportionate and transparent. The regulators need to work in partnership with the regulated businesses and parties and to help them improve, not stand on the sidelines until they get it wrong and then shout at them. But that implies that we must have resources for the agencies to allow them to take that more risk-based and collaborative approach. Alas, that has not been the history of the environmental regulators over the past few years.
I have been privileged to work with a number of people in the better regulation field, not least the noble Lord, Lord Curry, who I am delighted to see is in his place. He led the Better Regulation Executive and did some excellent work. Indeed, when he said that he was standing down, I rather fancied the job, so I phoned up and inquired about it. It turns out that there is not going to be a chairman of the Better Regulation Executive in the future and that the Government have simply handed that over to the Civil Service as a process.
With the one in, three out rule, and without proper consideration of the full benefits of the costs to business and proposed benefits to the public—not just focusing on the £10 billion of savings but looking at what environmental regulation delivers—we need proper oversight of the whole better regulation process. We need an independent body that combines business and beneficiaries, and keeps a firm eye not just on the costs of regulation but the benefits. Environmental protection is for people’s future, and it is too important to be a victim of the anti-regulation political tendentiousness we see in the better regulation field at the moment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for securing this debate and for her excellent opening speech. I would add that allowing us 11 minutes in which to speak does produce some superb speeches—I have already learned a great deal this morning. I know that the noble Baroness was deeply affected by the terrible tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, as were so many of us. But she also encourages us today to broaden the debate on deregulation, and I want to look at this issue in the wider context of the UK’s housing scene.
I declare my interests as a vice-president of three bodies: the Local Government Association, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, and the Town and Country Planning Association. These three national bodies all represent organisations at the local level that are concerned with regulation, not least in the housing arena. All three stand up for higher standards and all know the effects of under-resourcing the people whom we expect to enforce regulations: building inspectors, environmental health officers, trading standards officers, and town and country planning officials. All these services have faced significant cutbacks in their budgets over recent years, seriously weakening the ability at a local level to enforce regulations that aim to ensure decent standards for the nation’s housing.
Other noble Lords have noted that deregulation has been the mantra for the past two decades. Certainly, unnecessary regulatory measures are costly and wasteful. However, the conclusion from recent events, in combination with a more general apprehension that the pendulum has swung too far in the removal of important regulations, surely means we are now ready for a less negative attitude to proper regulation and to pay for the people who ensure that regulations are adhered to.
The case I want to make today is that requirements for higher housing standards actually represent a cost-effective approach, quite apart from enhancing the health and safety of the occupiers. My contention is that cutting costs seldom pays in the medium to longer term, yet housebuilders and property developers are very likely to go for the short cut and the cheaper option, unless compelled by regulations to do otherwise.
Although it is excellent that the Government and opposition parties are all committed to increasing the quantity of homes built in the UK, quality—the subject of regulations—gets much less attention. In this country we rely very heavily on a small number of volume housebuilders to construct the bulk of our new homes. Governments have hoped that market forces will mean that all developers will achieve good design, high physical standards and a good deal for local communities in affordable housing provision with amenities like play areas and green space. But, sadly, once a developer has acquired a site, the element of competition is all about who can build most cheaply, who can most cleverly renegotiate the planning conditions, and whose marketing can secure the highest price for the lowest standards. Enhancements to the building regulations often meet with opposition from the building industry, but whenever an upgrade in the regulations is finally imposed universally across the industry, the complaints evaporate and the builders toe the line, knowing that there is a level playing field and all their competitors must do the same.
At the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in the 1990s, we brought together a set of lifetime home standards for improved accessibility: removing the steps up to front doors which debar not only those in a wheelchair or using a Zimmer frame but parents with buggies; ensuring space inside for those with a mobility problem; and making adaptations to the property as easy as possible if they are needed in the future. We demonstrated how building all homes to lifetime homes standards would support anyone with a temporary or permanent disability and would mean significant savings to health and social care budgets, with fewer accidents in the home, possible earlier discharge from hospital, the postponement or prevention of the need for a move to residential care and more. Our efforts to amend the relevant part of the building regulations, Part M, were opposed by the housebuilding industry, but after these changes were accepted by government and incorporated into the building regulations—before deregulation became the order of the day—the housebuilders got on with it and learned swiftly how to produce more accessible homes with minimal fuss. Today, tens of thousands of families benefit from enhanced accessibility standards because of more exacting regulations. I should add that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, championed these standards when she was a Housing Minister in your Lordships’ House, producing the excellent 2008 report, Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods.
Noble Lords have only to visit good-quality housing built 100 years ago like Joseph Rowntree’s garden village of New Earswick, Cadbury’s Bournville or the beautiful Whiteley Village for older people, where I was last week, to see how the economics works out. The 100 year-old homes in these places remain highly sought-after and the initial investment has been repaid many times over: quality pays. We have to ensure that the 1.5 million homes to be built before 2022, including I hope many new garden villages with proper master planning, achieve really decent standards not just for fire and safety but for health and well-being. The international architect Sir Terry Farrell’s 2014 report brought together all the necessary components for excellent urban design, but it never gained traction. Perhaps the next president of the RIBA—I declare an interest as an honorary fellow—might take up this cause and make things happen rather than piously hoping that guidance will do the trick. The Government need to set out clear, tough building regulations and ensure that they be fully enforced. This is certainly the time for a wholesale review of the current building regulations.
As a concluding point, perhaps I may mention a recent regulatory enforcement success story. We all know that some private sector landlords—a minority—exploit their tenants and fail to observe health and safety regulations. To enforce the current requirements on landlords, the London Borough of Newham under the leadership of the mayor, Sir Robin Wales, has established a comprehensive licensing scheme. This has led to 1,100 criminal landlords being prosecuted, £2.6 million in unpaid council tax being recovered and substantial tax bills being issued by HMRC. I joined one of Newham’s dawn raids to witness the work of this borough in uncovering the alarming abuses in its private rented-sector stock and driving out bad practice. This is just the kind of enforcement of standards that needs to be replicated and extended elsewhere.
One genuinely positive outcome from the dreadful Grenfell Tower tragedy would be a recognition that raising and enforcing standards need not be a negative matter of adding bureaucracy, let alone costs, but instead can be a truly positive means of securing long-term value and enhancing quality of life and happiness for hundreds of thousands of us over the years to come.
My Lords, the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Best, was immensely important and underpins the philosophy my noble friend Lady Andrews put forward. There is a real risk that the party opposite, in questioning the role of the state, which it is doing, is clearly undermining many important public safeguards.
I did not agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said, although I take his point on special advisers. Despite Mr Cameron’s promise before the 2010 election, he proved himself to be attracted to the appointment of special advisers if we look at the figures and the amount of money spent. The one thing I agree with the noble Lord on is this: going back 40 years, almost every Prime Minister has had a certain obsession with deregulation. The one thing that seems to characterise each of those Prime Ministers is that none of them has ever had any experience of running anything, which has led them to believe that when people come along and say, “The whole of British society is weighed down by overbureaucratic burdens”, they have tended to believe it. We have had a succession of Cabinet committees, task forces, tsars—you name it, we have had it.
The problem is that it has coloured the approach to sensible regulation that we ought to have in this country. The most important point that has been made by a number of my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Best, is that reputable companies do not mind proper, sensible regulations provided there is a level playing field and that there are regulators that can enforce those regulations. The problem is that if you take the Government’s very light approach to regulation, which is soft touch in terms of regulators, often the regulations they allow to continue are not properly enforced. That then allows the cowboy companies to operate and reputable companies are put at great risk. Certainly when I was Minister responsible for the Health and Safety Executive and the DWP, that is the thing that struck me most: companies would grumble about regulations, but the one thing they would say, once they had the regulations, was, “For goodness sake, ensure a level playing field and enforcement”.
The problem we have is a combination: austerity has forced local authorities in particular but other public authorities as well to almost invariably accept the lowest bid in a competitive tendering process. Whatever the Government say—one can challenge them on this and they blather on about best value—the fact is that nine times out of 10, 99 times out of 100, local authorities and health services go for the lowest tender. The combination of a deregulatory approach plus the kind of public sector tendering we have often means that the very companies we want to encourage—as the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, they are the quality companies—lose out. It is time for us to have a much more sensible approach to regulation.
I enjoyed, if that is the word, life as a Deregulation Minister—we called it Better Regulation Minister—in six departments. For some reason I was always appointed the Better Regulation Minister. It seems to be a punishment for Lords Ministers, looking at some of my colleagues. Regularly, we were summoned across to Downing Street to account for our sins, often with Prime Ministers advised by the special advisers referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, who brought great experience and wisdom to their job. As we explained our dismal performance—because most of us thought that the regulations that we had were pretty good—the Prime Minister’s eyes glazed over in that awful way of his and we knew that our prospects of promotion had been put back yet one more year.
We colluded with the Civil Service and offered up old regulations which were never in any use, so we got the numbers up, but fortunately most of us were sensible and kept the regulations that were required to defend the public interest. The problem was that Ministers in the Government when they were in coalition actually believed in it, so they got rid of some essential underpinning regulations which would ensure public safety and consumer protection. Like my noble friend Lord Whitty, I am in favour of the nanny state. The reason is that it protects vulnerable people from many of the inherent problems that arise in a deregulated society.
I am sorry again to turn to the noble Lord, Lord Patten, but he and I have been debating these things, both here and in Oxford City Council chamber, for many years. He mentioned that the Government had taken this deregulatory approach to the public sector. He mentioned teachers. Unfortunately in your Lordships’ House, we tend not to have teachers in the membership, but my experience is that since Mr Gove’s unfortunate appearance as Secretary of State for Education, their autonomy has been virtually destroyed. We now have this rigid national curriculum where poor kids are focused entirely on a narrow range of subjects, where the liberal arts seem to have been completely taken out of curricula in state schools and where teachers are wholly demoralised by the lack of innovation and enthusiasm they can bring to the job.
Finally, in relation to the public sector, and seeing the noble Lord, Lord Prior, who knows an awful lot about the health service, I would hardly describe the Health and Social Care Act 2012 as an example of a Government approaching the public sector with a degree of light-touch autonomy. As he knows, it is the most extraordinary heavy-handed architecture that has ever been seen in legislation in relation to both the health service and other areas of the public sector. Sadly, the Government seem to have forgotten to bring the Bill they promised in their manifesto to lighten up the health service architecture—no doubt the noble Lord can tell us why.
My final point about regulation is the irony of Brexit. As my noble friend Lord Haskel has reminded us, the CBI reckons that, in place of the kind of regulation we have now, 32 bodies will have to be established in one way or another to regulate us post Brexit. The noble Lord, Lord Prior, will again know that medicines regulation is an excellent example of this. At the moment in the EU, we have a European regulator for medicines and then there is a national regulator. If your national regulator, in accordance with the rules, or the European regulator licenses a medicine, it can be used throughout the EU. In the future, we will have our MHRA, which is excellent, but, under the Brexit regime, to introduce a medicine in the UK you will need to go through the MHRA. The companies that do so will need a guarantee that, if they get a licence here, it will be recognised throughout the EU.
Precisely. The problem is that the European court gets involved in it, so the Government cannot agree a mutual recognition position. We have £4 billion invested in R&D in this country by the pharmaceutical sector. One result will be that it will not continue to invest, despite the fact that 14 of the top 100 medicines are now developed here. That is because it will not go through the pain of getting a licence in the UK when it also has to go to Europe: it will develop in Europe and in other parts of the world. If ever one wanted a great contrast and irony with this Government’s approach, it is that, in the mystical, deregulatory world that they wish to put into our country, the decisions they have taken are going to lead to a country which, because of Brexit, will actually have to be regulated in a very expensive way, putting at great risk our jobs, our economy and our livelihoods. Never could one see a more remarkable and ridiculous proposition than that which we have from this Government.
My Lords, I begin by warmly thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for initiating this important debate and for her excellent opening contribution. What a remarkable series of rather formidable contributions we have already heard this morning, because this debate, of course, is at heart all about safeguarding the lives and well-being of all of us—and there is nothing more important than that.
I will focus on the importance of environmental regulation and protection—something that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, also did. I was chairman of the Environment Agency for six years, from 2008 to 2014. The Environment Agency is responsible for the implementation of much of the environmental regulation that pertains here in the UK, and over the course of the last 15 years or so there has been a real success story in the improvement of our environment.
In the 10 years from 2000 to 2010, sulphur oxide emissions in the UK fell by 75%. Nitrogen oxide emissions fell by 37%. Emissions of PM10s, fine particulates, fell by 39%. The amount of waste recovered and reused at all major industrial plants increased from 37% to 67% and, through regulating agricultural run-off into our streams and rivers, the quality of water improved to such an extent that we now have otters back in every county in England. This was all a result of regulation: a firm but proportionate regulatory framework, coupled with an intelligent business response. Of course, not every regulation is perfect. I point, for example, to the precise provisions for nitrate-vulnerable zones, which contain considerable absurdities. Overall, however, the impact of environmental regulation is really positive.
This applies not just in the UK; there is a global success story as well. When I was first a Member of Parliament in the other place, in my first term I was a member of the Environment Select Committee. We looked in detail at what was happening to the ozone layer, which was, in the 1980s, the big environmental issue. The issues in relation to the ozone layer were very carefully looked at across the world, and a combination of scientific evidence, international agreement and then firm regulation in place in order to tackle the problems of CFCs and HCFCs ensured that we began, as a globe, to resolve the problem—and the ozone layer is now in a much better condition than it was 25 years ago. That was a result of regulation.
All of this makes it all the more absurd and depressing that the constant theme of the need for deregulation, the burning of red tape, seems to be that it is argued for simply for its own sake, not looking at the content or impact of the regulation, or the need for it, but simply based on an assumption that regulation per se is a bad thing. The ultimate absurdity—and I fear that it is not just the present Conservative Government; the previous Labour Government were guilty of beginning this process—is the absurdity of one in, one out, and then one in, two out, and now one in, three out. This is a ridiculous way of trying to administer sensible public policy.
Of course, regulation needs to be smart and proportionate. Sometimes this Government and their predecessors have given the impression, however, of a completely arbitrary assault on regulation just for the sake of it. Our environment needs regulation; it must not be arbitrarily tossed aside. Take a very contemporary and controversial issue, the fracking for shale gas. I happen to believe that fracking has a role to play as an interim energy source in order to help the transition to a low-carbon future, but it can be allowed to be so only if the regulation of it is clear, firm, transparent and rigorously implemented in order to protect the aquifers underground, to ensure well integrity, to control what happens to waste materials and to ensure that no methane escapes to the atmosphere.
I also have direct experience of being a regulator in a completely different capacity. For the last 10 years I have been chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA is a very successful example of self-regulation in practice, in terms of print and published media, and of co-regulation in terms of broadcast media. The ASA has been in place for 52 years. It was put in place and has continuously, through those 52 years, been strongly supported by the advertising industry. Because, of course, advertising, to have real impact, depends on trust, and advertisers have known for the last half-century that they will not secure the trust of the public unless they can demonstrate that the claims they make are properly regulated. They want sensible, proportionate regulation in order to thrive as an industry because it is in the interests of the industry. One thing that Ministers of all Governments who seem to believe that deregulation is a holy grail fail to realise is that, actually, business and industry know that regulation, when properly done, can be incredibly beneficial. Ask the major waste companies the question and you will get precisely the same answer. Regulation is welcomed by legitimate businesses because, in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, outlined, it provides a level playing field and means that the cowboys cannot have an advantage over the legitimate major players.
There is one other important way in which regulation not only helps to protect the public but brings business advantage. It is that regulation helps—sometimes forces—the driving of innovation with new technologies, more efficient ways of doing things, reducing waste and reducing cost by so doing and getting ahead of the market. For example, the constant improvement in the motor vehicle industry that we have seen over the past 15 to 20 years has been driven very much by a lot of the regulatory processes that have been in place. Regulation has meant that much in terms of technology has thrived when it would not otherwise have done so. UK businesses are not yet seizing these opportunities as vigorously as they could.
Is regulation always good? No. Is it frequently essential for public protection? Yes, absolutely. Is it good for business? Often. By and large, has it helped our society and our well-being over the decades? Yes. Has it been done well? Much of the time, yes, it has, although sometimes we could do it better. So let us hear a little bit less about burning red tape and the intrinsic virtues of deregulation and let us hear a bit more about good, safe, smart, sensible and forward-looking practice.
It is a delight to follow my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury, one of our great regulators. It is my fate as sweeper in this incredibly knowledgeable debate to repeat what other noble Lords have already said, but not quite so well. I congratulate my noble friend on securing this timely, indeed prescient, debate and on her excellent and sensitive opening remarks. I declare an interest as outgoing president of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and chair of the Consumer Codes Approval Board.
Just a month ago, an appalling fire broke out at Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block in North Kensington. So far, 80 people are presumed dead, with the final number of deaths not expected to be known until the end of the year. As well as being the most dreadful tragedy for those men, women and children involved, the Grenfell fire has made us all pause as a country and reflect on how such a terrible event could have occurred in the first place and where could be next. People’s safety is now the major talking point in our land. A public inquiry has been launched and will be examining fire safety and construction regulations, as noble Lords have said.
Yet it is not our role here in Parliament simply to wait for the outcome of that inquiry. It must surely be right for us to discuss and examine more widely where we are in terms of our political and legislative approach to regulation and deregulation in modern Britain, and I therefore welcome today’s debate as part of that important discourse.
The House of Lords Library briefing for this debate looks dispassionately at how all Governments have approached deregulation over the past 20 years. In looking through that, what I found striking was how, in that time period, we have moved from a position of better regulation, albeit more simplified and more business-friendly, under the Labour Government of 1997—of course we did not get it all right and of course it was the beginning of the madness we see now, but there was a real emphasis on trying to get better regulation—to the very crude “one in, three out” policy of the most recent Conservative Government of 2016, whereby government departments were required to introduce £3 of savings to business for every £1 cost of new regulatory legislation. That, along with statutory regulators also being tasked by government always to look first at the cost to business of regulation, has led to organisations such as the Government’s advisory body, the Regulatory Policy Committee, concluding in 2016 that,
“society as a whole is worse off”,
as a result of government intervention in this field. That is the Government’s own advisory body telling them that.
It is most surely right to look again at the principles of the 2005 Hampton report, which recommended to the then Labour Government that regulation should be accountable, consistent, proportionate, targeted and transparent. As my noble friend Lord Hunt said in his excellent contribution, we need to get away once and for all from the mantra “regulation bad, deregulation good” and have a grown-up conversation about how we rebalance our priorities not only for business but for the wider public as well.
Of course, in order for better regulation to work, there must always be the ability to enforce, as noble Lords have said, and we know that many years of austerity budgets have weakened that ability to enforce regulation. In the sector I know best, trading standards, I have seen over the past seven years the loss of more than 50% of the trading standards workforce from local government payrolls. It is not just about fewer people being there to protect British consumers and to enforce their rights, but the loss of so much skill, expertise and handed-down knowledge from a sector that goes back more than 100 years in its public enforcement role in this country. We have to take stock now of where our priorities lie and of what difficult decisions Governments will have to make on taxation versus public spending.
Many leaders in the regulatory world are increasingly looking to government for some urgent assurances about the future of regulation in a post-Brexit Britain. I am aware of the good work currently being done on this with reference to consumer protection by our House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee in taking evidence from organisations such as Citizens Advice, Which?, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, the Ombudsman Services and others. As other noble Lords have said, the EU has been a positive and protective influence on the British consumer over the past 40 years. It is vital that, in the Brexit lift and shift operation envisaged for transposing EU rights and protections into British law under the repeal Act, consumer rights will not be watered down and diminished. The British people are in no mood to be ignored any longer on this matter of their rights and their personal health and safety, and they are looking to government for robust answers. It is such a shame that, just when those answers are being sought, we are leaving the EU framework of regulation—which we helped to build, by the way—which could help provide future solutions.
My Lords, I remind the House of my vice-presidency of the Local Government Association. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for the opportunity to have this very timely debate today.
We have heard the words “red tape” a number of times today. It is a long time since red tape was used to bind official documents in the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire was a big, complex organisation and no doubt had to use plenty of red tape to bind its regulations. However, the term has altered over time to mean bureaucracy, unnecessary paperwork, unnecessary licensing systems, too many committees approving a single decision and the creation of unnecessary regulations that make running a business more difficult and expensive. But the problem is that most regulation is beneficial to the general public and most of the time to businesses themselves, because it can lead to higher quality and higher productivity and can make businesses better able to compete. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, reminded us, it enables markets to work better.
For 20 years or more, Governments have been trying to reduce unnecessary red tape. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that we do need better regulation and that, where regulations are out of date or no longer needed, it is right to review. The Red Tape Challenge in 2013-14 identified regulations that should be improved or that were out of date. Inevitably, regulations have to be kept under that constant review. They become outdated, and sometimes they need to be added to on the basis of experience or new products and requirements.
There is nothing inherently wrong with regulation, because regulation protects the general public. Health and safety at work is not red tape. Basic employment rights are not red tape. Personal safety at home is not red tape. Successive Governments have taken action to address perceived problems with regulations—hence the Better Regulation Task Force and the positive work done by the coalition Government, of which my noble friend Lord Stunell reminded us. One-for-one replacement, which was undertaken in that period, can encourage regulations to be kept up to date. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that we need to be careful not to abolish bodies and organisations that help to deliver better regulation.
The one in, one out principle was changed to one in, two out, as we have heard. I have never understood the logic of that. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, reminded us, the pendulum has swung too far. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, and other Members identified, the logic of numbers and targets of one in, three out seems to have no basis. Setting numerical targets does not seem right to me. We should note the report of the Regulatory Policy Committee in 2015 on the overall impact of the regulatory proposals that became law in the period of the coalition Government: 214 had reduced regulation on business but 119 had increased the scope of regulation.
I conclude that, until 2015, a balance had been struck in regulation: it was about better regulation. But in July 2015, the Government announced the Cutting Red Tape programme, seemingly to do things that they had been prevented from doing during the coalition years. It was announced that it was going to save some £10 billion—an enormous sum of money. In the words of the Secretary of State, it was about wanting to free British businesses from “heavy-handed regulators”. How is the potential saving known? How had the “heavy-handed regulators” been identified and what impact assessment had been undertaken by freeing British businesses from those “heavy-handed regulators”? For example, does it imply cutting the national living wage, or the national minimum wage, or perhaps the plastic bag carrier charge? Or is it about the day-to-day protections that the public benefit from?
I hope the Minister and the Government will look again at the Cutting Red Tape programme in the light of professional knowledge and experience. Attention has previously been drawn to the letter from over 70 organisations and figures from the UK’s health and safety profession in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. The joint letter to the Prime Minister called on the Government to end their approach to the deregulation of health and safety legislation. It called on the Government to think again. I hope very much that the Minister will be able to tell the House what has happened as a consequence of that letter from those organisations, figures and experts.
The dreadful disaster at Grenfell Tower should never have happened. Much has been said and written about it, but at its root it was a devastating failure of building control either through the regulations themselves or through their application. The public inquiry may take a long time, but as a matter of urgency we will need to review the building control regulations and the fire protection safeguards and whether they were correctly applied. Speed is essential. Three separate investigations are proceeding: the public inquiry, which may take some time; the police investigations; and the Government-appointed expert advisory group working with the Government for the last few weeks to identify in what ways regulations should be changed. We must heed their professional advice, and it is not for us to second guess the conclusion reached by any of those investigations or the inquiry. However, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, who reminded us that the Government have a role in identifying what changes could be implemented immediately.
I draw attention to the Lakanal House fire in the London Borough of Southwark, which occurred just eight years ago, in which several people died. In 2011, the Department for Communities and Local Government wrote to housing providers with a number of recommendations that should be implemented as a result of the experience from that fire. In 2013, the coroner’s report made a set of recommendations about what housing providers should do to minimise the impact of a fire breaking out. I hope the Minister may be in a position to tell the House today—and, if not, in writing afterwards—what audit the Government have undertaken of the work of housing providers as a consequence of the letter sent by the then Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, in 2011 and the coroner’s report in 2013, which made a number of recommendations. There may have been a list of explanations as to what happened, but I have not seen it and I think it would be helpful if we did see it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, raised the question of the private sector’s role in building regulation, and I agree with her. This has been the case for over 30 years —it is not something new that the Government have done—but I question whether it is appropriate for building control, which is about public protection, to be managed entirely by the private sector in some cases.
Crucially, we have to examine why, in the light of the experience in so many parts of the world of the combustibility of external cladding, action in the UK has been slow and why whole-system testing has not been adopted until very recently, I understand, by the Building Research Establishment. In the course of doing some work on that, will the Government examine the relationship between British Standard 8414 and the relevant EU directive? It would appear that the British standard is actually stronger than the EU directive, but it is only advisory and is secondary to the EU directive, which seems to be weaker. I would be grateful for advice from the Minister about that.
Two suggestions were made, one by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the other by my noble friend Lord Stunell, which the Government ought to take particularly seriously. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, reminded us of the importance of not always agreeing the lowest tender when quality may be compromised. Agreeing the lowest tender is one of the consequences of budgets being under stress. My noble friend Lord Stunell suggested we should have a named building regulation compliance officer for every contract. Both seem to be important suggestions and, taken together, would improve the strength of our regulatory frameworks.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Andrews for introducing this debate and thank the many Peers who subsequently agreed with her opening speech—there was, of course, one notable exception. In a previous debate on these matters, I claimed to be the most regulated person in the House. I am sure that that is not true, but for 51 years I have been under the control of one regulator or another: the CAA when I was an airline pilot; the Railway Inspectorate and the fire brigade when I was running London Underground; the nuclear inspectorate when I was chairman of the UKAEA; and subsequently, the regulator on the railway system. In various cases, I have also been involved with financial regulation over perhaps the last 10 years. If there is a worst example of what happens when light-touch regulation gets out of hand, it has to be the financial crisis, and I am delighted by the way that both the Government and regulators have reacted to improve things. My enthusiasm for regulation, which will come out, was slightly blemished by the threat of prosecution by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency when my radioactive rabbits escaped, but apart from that, I believe that regulation is good for society and good for good business.
It is vital that we have the right level of government regulation to protect citizens, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Indeed, when it comes to public services and health and safety, as in finance and other sectors, the destructive effects of dogmatic deregulation have been plain to see and have been laid out very well in this debate. Many good examples have been provided, and I will add another, in the realm of transport. Outside of London, where public bus services have been deregulated since the 1980s, the number of trips has collapsed from 2 billion to 1 billion; in London, where TfL closely oversees transport services, we have seen the opposite, as the number of trips has risen from 1 billion to 2 billion since the 1980s.
If we accept that untrammelled markets can have negative impacts on society, then we accept the case for regulation. The next question is often framed in terms of extent: should we have more or less regulation? This is important to get right. We must have the right level of regulation to protect citizens in the face of highly complex and evolving markets. We must ensure that regulation stands in the shoes of consumers, making their world safe and fair in areas they cannot control for themselves. We certainly must not see deregulation as an end in itself. Less does not equal better.
Although we must not place undue or unnecessary pressures on business, we must not, as we too often hear from parts of the other side, dismiss all regulations as “burdensome red tape” and seek a minimalist approach. On that note, I would be grateful if the Government would confirm whether they support the view of the Red Tape Challenge initiative that EU regulation 305/2011, which aims to harmonise construction material quality across the EU, including external cladding, is a “red tape folly” which is “expensive and burdensome” for business.
Indeed there is a bigger question than whether we need more or less regulation, which has been touched on in the debate, about the quality of the regulation. Yes, we want the right level of regulation, but above all we want good regulation. Health and safety rules, at their core, are about saving lives. To be effective, they must be well evidenced. They must be flexible enough to deal with new techniques and new technologies. We are fortunate in this country to have the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which has at its centre the requirement to reduce risk to as low as reasonably practicable. As far back as 1974, the importance of proportionality was understood—proportionality is the key to safety and good regulation.
Of course we must achieve a good balance between enabling businesses and the economy to grow on the one hand and protecting consumers on the other. Consumers are vulnerable if regulations do not exist, or are not monitored and enforced. Where we fall into a trap is when we see those aims in opposition. In reality they are complementary, and as far as possible government should work with business to design and enforce regulation. In this way, regulation can be both pro-business and pro-consumer—indeed, it must be. Although many noble Lords have pointed out the costs of deregulation to public services, we must equally point out the benefits of good regulation.
A sound regulatory framework depends on clear communication about the purpose and importance of the rules. This is no easy task, especially when many wish to undermine the case for regulation for their own purposes, but it has never been more important to make the case for good regulation and to rebuild trust in both government and business, which is at a record low. Part of the challenge is to inject more transparency, and clear lines of accountability, into our regulatory framework. One reason why so many feel powerless in their lives is the steady dilution of accountability. No one is ultimately held responsible, and no one knows who to turn to for redress. This is compounded by rules preventing proper scrutiny of private contractors who profit from public funds. A more accountable and transparent regulatory regime can play a crucial role in returning a sense of power and control to people’s lives.
Those who believe in the good that regulation can do must be especially vigilant in the context of Brexit and the powers proposed in the repeal Bill published today. As the Government aim to convert 40 years of EU regulation into UK law, it is vital that those regulations are made properly applicable and enforceable in the UK. I have not been reassured by a series of Written Answers provided by the Government to my noble friend Lady Hayter. There are 1,369 directly applicable EU regulations that apply just to consumer issues, 191 for health protection, 728 for transport, and many thousands more in related areas. Without converting these with proper scrutiny, we will be left with gaping holes in our regulatory system in many crucial areas that protect lives. Will the Minister update the House on how many of these directly applicable regulations have so far been redrafted so that they can be applied outside of EU membership? When may we see those redrafts?
My noble friend Lady Andrews rightly underlined the Red Tape Challenge, which ran until April 2013, and which the Government boldly estimated would make £10 billion in savings. I reiterate her call for the Minister to give an updated figure on how many regulations have been scrapped and what is the final total of savings calculated as a result of this measure. Further, I would value a categorical assurance that consumer, environmental and societal protection has not been diluted by these savings.
Most of the contributions from noble Lords were in support of the general theme that my noble friend Lady Andrews set out. I liked the openness with which my noble friend Lord Whitty agreed to be part of the nanny state. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that one in, three out—or whatever it is—makes any sense whatever. Bad regulations should be eliminated where there are risks in society—
When I talked about one in and three out I was referring to my much-encouraged cull of spads in central government. As the noble Lord’s colleague recognises, we were having a little fun at the expense of spads. I was not discussing the general issue.
I am sorry if I misheard the noble Lord. I thought he was demanding one in and one or two out for regulations and had not realised that one in, three out was solely for human beings.
Other noble Lords made some important points. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, touched on a concept that I have come across in my professional career, which is the idea of having clarity on who is responsible and on the duty of care. My noble friend Lady Young touched on the whole idea of principles. If the principles and themes are debated and got right, the regulation becomes sensible in itself. I liked the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Best, which in my professional career I have found true: getting the regulation right, and then firms and businesses applying it sensibly, means that you will get safer, better operations, and, in the long term, quality in safety and in the environment. Quality pays. My noble friend Lord Hunt touched on the fact that good companies like good regulation—they know the rules of the game and that regulations keep out the freeloaders. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, thoughtfully ran through the tremendously positive impacts that regulations have on the environment, which is extremely important. Like my noble friend Lady Crawley, I too regret that our better-regulation efforts have turned from better regulation to less regulation. It should be about better regulation.
My professional career has shown that regulation, in general, is not burdensome. In general, it requires management to be better and more effective; it makes the world safer, cleaner and fairer; and it means that good managers thrive and that those businesses are not only fairer and safer but more efficient—and, at the end of the day, more profitable.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for tabling this debate, which has been of an exceptionally high standard—
I apologise to the House for not having put my name down and missing the opportunity to contribute to this debate. However, I would like to make two comments. First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, stated, I chaired the Better Regulation—
There was an agreement that the noble Lord might wish to make an intervention at some point during the closing speech, but not at the very beginning. If he wishes to, he will be able to do so, but it should be short and during the closing speech.
I have forgotten where I had got to. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, raised a rather existential question at the beginning of her speech when she asked, “What kind of state do we want to live in?”. Many noble Lords on the other side may be thinking about that at the moment, as noble Lords on our side may also be. I heard the Mayor of London on “Newsnight” last night talking about London and the tale of two cities: the invisible people as well as the visible people. This awful tragedy at Grenfell goes far beyond the narrow issues we have been talking about today. It asks all of us what kind of state we want to live in. However, I take issue with one point the noble Baroness made, when she said that we were ideologically opposed to regulation. As someone who was chairman of the Care Quality Commission for several years and has been quite heavily involved in education for many years, I can tell the noble Baroness that we are not ideologically opposed to regulation; I will address that issue later on in my speech.
I will go further than that and say that regulation is essential to any civilised society. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred back to Lord Shaftesbury. I had hoped that Lord Shaftesbury was a Tory, but I note that as it happens, he was a Whig. However, many former Conservative Prime Ministers throughout the Victorian age were at the forefront of bringing regulation into the factories, to chimneys and the like. So let us be absolutely clear that regulation has a long and proud history and that it is an important and crucial part of improving people’s lives. That does not mean, as a number of noble Lords said, that all regulation is perfect, or that some regulations have gone beyond their sell-by date. All regulation needs to be kept under constant review.
We have heard a number of examples from the environmental field, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and there has been no question that regulation has achieved hugely beneficial things. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned beaches and water quality, as well as air quality and the like. There is no question that regulations have had a huge impact to the good in that area. However, the noble Baroness is concerned within the context of Brexit about some of the principles that underlie some of that EU regulation. For example, she mentioned the principle that the polluter pays. There is nothing to stop us incorporating that as a principle in our future environmental legislation here, and in a post-Brexit world we can carry on many of the good things that have come out of Europe, of which there are many. The noble Baroness mentioned pollution in the inner Thames. The Thames tideway project will remove 60 million litres of raw sewage out of the Thames, and we can do that both in or outside Europe.
It is slightly fishy that action on the tideway happened only when Europe threatened to fine us.
Europe has brought us many good things.
I do not think that there is any doubt about that on all sides of the House; even people who were supportive of Brexit will accept that Europe has brought us some good things. One of the criticisms has often been that we have gold-plated things that have come out of Europe and made them stronger.
On the subject of Europe, as it happens, I just received a “Dear Colleague” letter from David Davis, and it is worth reading just one paragraph. He says that the repeal Bill,
“ensures, as far as possible, that the same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before. For business, workers and consumers across the UK this means that they can have confidence that they will not be subject to unexpected changes on the day we leave the EU … This Bill is not a vehicle for policy changes”.
It is worth making sure that that is on the record.
Turning back to regulation, it needs to be kept under constant review. Products change, technology changes, and, more than anything, people’s expectations change. The noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Hunt, went back 30 or 40 years, and all Governments, rightly, while not obsessed with the need to review regulation constantly, have taken it seriously. A fault of regulation is that although it can drive up quality, it can also level down to minimum standards. That is one of the reasons why it has to be constantly reviewed, because what was acceptable 30 or 40 years ago may not be acceptable today. That is one of the reasons why regulation needs constant revision.
What has been the recent history of keeping our rulebooks and regulation up to date? Over the past 20 years, all Governments of all parties have been working consistently on getting the delicate balance right between the costs and benefits of regulation, developing a number of tools and institutions to make our rulebooks the right ones to have. The tone that has surrounded the debate about regulation has not been a happy one. Regulations and those who enforce them have been subject to caricature and ridicule. The culture that has surrounded regulation has not been very constructive.
In 1997 the Labour Government set up the Better Regulation Task Force. I think it is worth stressing the word “better”—it was better, not lesser, and that has been a consistent theme for the past 20 years. The Better Regulation Task Force identified the basic tests of whether any regulation is fit for purpose, which were set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley: proportionality, accountability, consistency, transparency and targeting. The only word I would add is “intelligent”. There are times when regulations have ticked the box but entirely missed the point. Regulations need to be enforced intelligently. Sometimes more is less.
March 2005 saw the creation of the Better Regulation Executive and the publication of the Hampton report, which led to the introduction of the Regulators’ Code in 2008, which asks regulators to perform their duties in a business-friendly way, by planning regulation and inspections in a way that causes least disruption to the economy. At the same time the Government adopted a target to reduce the administrative burdens of legislation, such as form-filling, by 25%. The rule that has attracted the most criticism today is the coalition Government’s one-in, one-out rule, which later became one in, two out. I should say that in taking two out, they did not have to come from the same area: if you introduced one regulation on safety, you did not have to take out two relating to safety. The coalition also introduced the Red Tape Challenge initiative to tackle the stock of regulation by asking the public to help identify outdated, unnecessary or overly complex legislation.
I argue that these initiatives have delivered some real improvements in how people, business and public bodies are regulated. This includes the removal of some outdated and rather bizarre rules, such as the requirement for childminders who feed children in their care to register as a food business, or the ban on teenagers buying Christmas crackers. But it has also seen the removal of a huge amount of unnecessary form-filling, as well as simplification; for example, 37 million vehicles no longer need a paper tax disc, and small firms do not have to do full audits on their accounts, saving them some £300 million a year.
Of course, in the light of the awful tragedy at Grenfell, we are looking at regulation anew.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. He has reached the point in his speech that is relevant to the comments I want to make. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, indicated, I chaired the Better Regulation Executive during the coalition period from 2010 to 2015, so was responsible for the one-in, one-out and one-in, two-out process, and the Red Tape Challenge programme. It is important to bear in mind that in 2010 business attitudes in Britain were very negative about regulation. We regularly carried out surveys and in 2010 62% of businesses regarded regulation as a barrier to progress and expansion. By the end of that period, that had dropped to 42%. We did that, as the Minister indicated, without putting lives at risk. It forced departments to really review their stock of regulation and to consider regulation that had become outdated and irrelevant. As a cleansing exercise it was a very effective process. I have to say that I was never responsible for one in, three out, which I believe is a step too far, and even one in, two out can be administered for only a short period to allow departments to really look at their stock and, having done that, to move on. The change in business attitudes to regulation in Britain is really important as we face Brexit. We want Britain to be an economy where businesses want to be located, grow and expand, and we need to encourage that thinking.
I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. It is worth noting that over this period, in which a significant number of regulations were taken off the statute book, public safety has improved significantly; for example, the number of fatal injuries in the workplace has halved over the past two decades. Deregulation and public safety are not necessarily contradictory. Throughout this time successive Governments have continued to bring in new regulations when they are necessary, including the licensing of security staff, the mandatory wearing of seatbelts and banning smoking from workplaces. Whenever there has been a public safety or public health issue, the Government have not been slow to bring in new regulations.
How regulation is delivered is just as important as having the right protections in place. My department works with regulators and businesses to support good regulatory delivery so that regulation works in practice. That is one reason why the number of businesses that object to regulations has dropped from 62% to 42%. Good regulatory delivery is not about less enforcement, nor necessarily about a light touch. It is about having competent regulators, being outcome-focused and having regulatory activities that rely on a robust assessment of risk. Those are the principles that underpin good regulatory delivery. It is not about officious box-ticking.
There has been a strong focus in government, in this and previous Administrations, on improving how regulators deliver the protections they are responsible for. Regulators must have regard to the Regulators’ Code, introduced in 2008 and updated in 2014. It is a principles-based framework for how regulators should engage with those they regulate. It requires regulators to consider risk and to be transparent about their activities and expectations. It applies to nearly all regulators across the UK, including fire and rescue services, trading standards and national regulators such as the Health and Safety Executive. Regulators know the industries they work with and the outcomes that they need to deliver, whether that is the safety of premises or the labelling of foods. Through robust risk assessment they can identify and target the highest risks more effectively and make the most difference.
I think the crux of today’s debate is whether the pendulum has swung too far in one direction or whether we have got it about right. That is a matter of judgment. Of course, the awful tragedy at Grenfell will make us rethink some of these issues. I hope it will change the culture that surrounds the way we look at regulation. It is worth repeating the words of my right honourable friend Damian Green, when he said yesterday in the House of Commons:
“The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Cabinet Office are working together across the piece and on the wider building safety programme, about which I know hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned … DCLG has formed an expert advisory panel made up of a range of building and fire safety experts to advise the Government on any immediate action required to ensure that buildings are safe”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/7/17; cols. 316-17.]
The panel will certainly take into account the words of the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Stunell, who both made very interesting observations about how we can improve safety regulations in buildings.
This debate will carry on into the future. I feel that the balance we have achieved over the past 20 years has been about right. It is now time to think afresh about how we approach regulation and certainly time to stop demonising those people who are involved in the enforcement of regulations.
My Lords, I am very grateful to everyone who has taken part. I said that I thought that this would be the start of a wider debate on the state of the nation and the nature of attitudes towards regulation, and so it has turned out. I note that in concluding, the Minister said that he hopes that Grenfell Tower will indeed change the culture around regulation, and I hope that that is the case. It is up to the Government, essentially, whether that happens.
I thank all noble Lords for their incredibly thoughtful and informative contributions. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that there was wide consensus around the House that the attempt to introduce effective, proportionate regulation started with the Labour Government, but there was also a sense around the House that there has been a step change to a more aggressive culture. The Prime Minister has learned of the absurdity and perversity of the process and outcomes of some of the ways in which the one in, three out rule has been interpreted. I was particularly grateful for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, his frank and thoughtful account of his time as a Minister, and his proposition on building inspection responsibility.
I asked the Minister four questions; none of them has been answered. I understand why two of them were not. They were about the review of regulation, although he gave some illustrations of outcomes. I should be very grateful if he would answer them as best he can, especially the invitations to the organisations that I mentioned.
I am sure that I can address those questions. On the meeting with the two groups of people that the noble Baroness suggested, I would be very happy to do that, but I think it would be best if they met my noble friend Lord Bourne from the DCLG, rather than me.
I understand and am grateful for that.
In conclusion, Brexit raises huge problems, some of which have been identified today, in terms of transposition and enforcement. I go back to where the noble Lord, Lord Best, started: when we have effective regulation, high standards and high ambitions for the quality of public services—what we provide by way of housing and everything else—we are actually doing a service to the economy as well as to the community. That should be our ambition; that should be what we want government to do; that should be what we want the state to do.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part, some at considerable personal expense, and I hope that this will open up a debate which we will continue, particularly as we face the prospect of Brexit. I beg to move.