HC Deb 17 February 1993 vol 219 cc318-9
15. Mr. Steen

To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many regulations the deregulation unit has (a) approved and (b) abolished in each of the last three years.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

The deregulation unit, unfortunately, does not possess arbitrary powers, as my hon. Friend seems to imply in his question, to approve or to disapprove particular regulations. Our role is to drive forward the deregulation initiative in government. My job is to crack the whip over my colleagues and to ensure not only that we make good progress, but that we have a good time while doing do.

Mr. Steen

The Under-Secretary may be slightly too young to remember this, but some 10 years ago, the then Prime Minister said that we would get the Government off the backs of the people by having fewer rules and regulations. In fact, we have never had so many rules and regulations as we have had in the past 10 years. What am I to say to hoteliers, those in the construction industry and retailers to make them believe that the country will change dramatically under the leadership of the new Prime Minister and my hon. Friend's Department and that they will get rid of some of those rules and regulations, which are crippling small businesses, hoteliers, the construction industry and everyone else?

Mr. Hamilton

The difference is that, this time, the initiative is being taken by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and me. We have the full and enthusiastic support of the Prime Minister. Having recently completed an audit of all the regulations currently in force, we have set up a series of task forces of business men to involve the private sector—those whom my hon. Friend mentioned—which will be able to put the case for business.

I agree that when business is saddled with excessive costs, those costs are felt not only by businesses themselves but in lost jobs and reduced economic prosperity. On this occasion, therefore, we intend to proceed by requiring cost compliance assessments and risk assessments to take fully into account the cost to British business of any regulations that we introduce or allow to continue. Only where the benefits to the public at large outweigh those costs will the regulations survive.

Mr. Cryer

But is not the reality that the Government, who are supposedly pledged to take regulation off the people's backs, produced 3,439 statutory instruments in 1992? That is more delegated legislation than has ever been produced and forced through Parliament by any Government at any time. Is not that situation compounded by the fact that the self-same Government continue to deny the Opposition opportunities to debate prayers against such instruments? Is it not a mark of a centralised elected dictatorship that that torrent of legislation is turning Parliament into a sausage machine?

Mr. Hamilton

Many of the hon. Gentleman's Friends have spent much of the past few decades supporting unelected dictatorships in other parts of the world. I might add that the hon. Gentleman makes a most unconvincing apostle of laissez-faire. I appreciate the fact that the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the statutory instruments procedure is profound and that he has played an important part in the constitutional affairs of the House in ensuring that many such instruments are debated. I share his zeal—if that is what it is—to reduce the quantity of legislation with which we have to cope. It is certainly not in our interests to saddle our businesses with more and more costly regulations of the kind that the Opposition even now are seeking to advance through the social chapter, which would impose—if we were to give in to it —enormous costs on British business, so reducing the employment-creating potential of the economy that the Opposition affect to want.

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