HC Deb 04 May 1993 vol 224 cc19-24 3.30 pm
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to empower the Secretaries of State and the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food to repeal those rules and regulations which unnecessarily restrict the profitability and competitive nature of commerce and industry; to encourage enterprise in small businesses; and for connected purposes. I am seeking to introduce a Bill which will dramatically cut the number of rules and regulations which, like an insidious poison, have infiltrated into every nook and cranny in our way of life. It will empower every Government Department to halt the headlong rush for more legislation; instead directing them to evaluate existing legislation, the rules and regulations which arose, the number of public officials employed and the damaging effect that such legislation has had on job creation, the private sector and its profitability.

There were five times more pages of legislation in 1989 than in 1979. What has the deregulation unit that was specifically set up to curb the growth of unnecessary rules and regulations been doing?

Brussels churned out five volumes of legislation before we joined the Community; it now churns out 37 volumes each year. What has the director-general of DG XXIII been up to with his army of officials? He has not improved the regulatory environment. As a result, our economy has been damaged because of the suffocating effect of rules and regulations accompanied by the ever increasing numbers of officials, who by their very existence erode the profitability of business and our people. Far from lifting the burden, the load has become crippling.

Perhaps the House would join me on a trip round my constituency to see what I mean. Perhaps we should start on safari at Paignton zoo, which boasts an ornamental lake. It is not infested with tsetse fly or crocodiles; it is just a common or garden lake—but not as far as the National Rivers Authority is concerned. It says that one cannot have a lake without a licence, and the licence costs money.

The zoo director tells me that the environmental health officers are hunting him down because every load of rubbish must be categorised and be accompanied by a signed certificate. Should zoo staff really be clambering over skips counting coke cans and hamburger wrappers? Enforcing those and other rules costs the zoo £60,000 a year, diverting money from investment to paying the salaries of public officials to enforce unnecessary rules and regulations which affect the zoo's viability.

Let us drop into one of our excellent supermarkets en route to our hotel. In the old days, J. Arthur Rank kept children entertained by Saturday cinema; today's supermarket equivalent should be a crèche. Not surprisingly, few supermarkets can afford that facility because of another daft regulation requiring one member of staff on duty for every eight children, two for nine children, three for up to 24 children. When there are three staff a supervisor is also required. The losers are not only the children but their parents, yet in many primary schools there is only one teacher to at least 30 children.

Time for a drink? But what is the barman up to, writing on all the labels? I forgot. He is complying with the alcohol strength labelling regulations which require a notice on every bottle of its alcohol strength. Some hon. Members may think that that is absolute rubbish, and they are right. Rubbish too is what they may see if they wend their way through the beautiful Devon countryside where, unfortunately, contractors are throwing some of their waste over the hedges rather than going through the tortuous process of using the public tip, once so simple. Under the Control of Pollution Act 1974, all contractors must apply for a licence, which takes several months to process and for which they must pay, as well as a tipping ticket at £12 a throw.

Now to our hotel. It is not just the Thurlestone which has been caught up by the electricity at work regulations, whereby every electrical device must be tested regularly by a computer or a qualified electrician. Television sets, trouser presses. lamps and kettles all have to have their own log book. And, dare I say it, even the Serjeant at Arms has caught this bug. Every publicly and privately owned piece of equipment in the entire estate must be tested and logged. In the Palace of Westminster there is no problem in finding the money—alas, the taxpayer must pay—but in private hotels the owner must pay. Where does he find the money to fund additional staff? No wonder the tourist industry is suffering as a result, not just of the recession, but of a surfeit of red tape.

While we are on the Palace of Westminster, may I remind all hon. Members that office staff should not use Tippex for hiding typing errors? Together with plutonium and sulphuric acid, it is a dangerous substance under the Control of Substances Hazards to Health Regulations 1988 and must be locked away at all times, preferably in an underground bunker.

How did we get into this mess? How has all this happened without any of us apparently being aware? I have traced two principal sources: directives from Brussels and legislation from our own Parliament. Directives from Brussels are often quite sensible and come to Britain suggesting one way of dealing with a problem, but once the directive gets here Whitehall officials occupy themselves by rewriting it, more often than not with the opposite effect, causing unnecessary and often immeasurable damage. The scrap metal trade has been savagely hit by officials' interpretations, and now our chemical industry is in their sights. Then there is legislation from our own Parliament, particularly the setting up of self-financing regulatory authorities which make quangos look like cuddly toys. They are menacing monsters not only with lists of regulations to enforce but often with the ability to create new ones.

It is not surprising, therefore, that 2,945 statutory instruments came through Parliament in 1991 as a result of the many Acts of Parliament which created the self-financing regulatory authorities such as the Financial Services Act 1986. the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Bodies such as the National Rivers Authority and the Agricultural Development Advisory Service all have their own army of officials demanding compliance and threatening penalties, a racket that would not seem out of place in Palermo. Now there is talk of a new environmental agency employing 10,000 public officials.

In addition to rules and regulations there are other requirements, trade statistics, not just for the Department of Trade and Industry but for Europe whereby firms trading with other European Community countries must list the value added tax numbers of every company with which they trade and return the form within 14 days. There is a mountain of paper requiring endless time and additional people, employed and paid by the private sector to do what is demanded

I forgot: I should have included a visit to Dartington in my constituency which has a marvellous £170,000 arts project receiving a mere £14,000 grant from the publicly funded South West Arts. Dartington has had to employ an additional person one-quarter time to deal with the massive amount of paperwork and requests for information conditional upon the grant.

The fact that things are getting out of hand was recognised by the Health and Safety Executive when in its newsletter last November it warned against bogus burdens on business, saying that misinterpretation of the laws relating to electricity, chemicals, hazards and display equipment was causing unnecessary delay and expense to firms at a difficult time. Businessmen insist that they are not the enemy and that we must train the officials and the regulators. One cafe owner told me that the weights and measures people treated her like a criminal. Their manner was adversarial and made her feel like a crook. Christopher Booker, the well-known champion of deregulation, said: Trading standards officers and inspectors of pollution seemed to be imbued with a zealousness more akin to a new cult. The threat of penalty is having the effect of freezing everything, so that it is just like Pompeii after Vesuvius erupted. It is fixing industry at a point in time, and the culture of enterprise, of entrepreneurs, is dying.

Finally, let us just drop in for a cup of tea at the South Hams district council, where officials are too aware of the damage done by too much negative application of regulations—too much stick and not enough carrot, which is exactly what my distinguished constituent, Lord Robens, implied 20 years ago. Not that local authorities do not have their problems, what with the Audit Commission pressing them to increase standards of performance, which in turn means a more rigorous application of statutory duties and regulations being more zealously enforced, when officers are faced with target enforcement standards.

This Bill attempts to turn the clock back, but it cannot happen without a fundamental culture change on the part of central Government and local government, or without the taming of SEFRAs.

3.40 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

It does not seem very sensible to try to stem the number of regulations that Ministers have produced by giving Ministers more powers to make more regulations, but that is precisely what the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) proposes to do. All the regulations of which he complains have been produced by delegated powers, passed by this House, to give powers to Ministers both to make and to repeal regulations.

Instead, the hon. Gentleman should be telling Ministers to produce repeal orders to remove unnecessary regulations. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman is complaining about the very regulations and Acts of Parliament that he trotted through the Lobby time after time to support at the behest of the Whips.

If the Government are serious about getting rid of regulations, and if they really believe in the hon. Gentleman's proposal—to give Ministers more power to make more regulations to get rid of regulations—then Ministers will have the opportunity of going into the Lobby and voting for the Bill. My guess is that they will not do that.

The hon. Member for South Hams specifically mentioned health and safety at work. Is there any hon. Member who seriously wants to make the workplace more dangerous so as to create greater profits and generate more competition? We shall find out when the vote takes place. Tory Members complain bitterly about the number of days lost in strike action and cheerfully go through the Lobbies to pass legislation against trade unions. Indeed, they have done so on many occasions—

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

And will do so again.

Mr. Cryer

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that probably 10 times more days are lost because of injuries at work than because of strikes. That being so, I expect all Conservative Members to vote against the Bill, which proposes to remove the health and safety provisions that attempt to protect people and stop so many days at work being lost because of the loss of life and limb.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned standards of food hygiene, too. It was not very clever of him to talk about the lowering of standards in this area. At least one Minister had to resign because of salmonella outbreaks due, surely, to a lowering of food hygiene standards. I do not suppose that any hon. Member wants those standards to fall.

The hon. Gentleman also made a point about the Common Market pouring out directives, but he has always voted for the Common Market when it has been discussed in this Chamber. The answer is not to attack it; it is to recognise that this nation and this House can produce standards if they so desire. As it happens—the hon. Gentleman does not seem to be aware of this—Common Market directives are actually reducing standards of health and safety at work. We ought to ensure that our standards are higher than those of other nations; we must preserve them.

To give carte blanche to Ministers to eradicate legislation which the House has produced is a dangerous proposal. The proposed Bill should require the House to examine primary legislation and to be careful about giving such wide powers to Ministers. The Bill contains a dangerous proposal which would compound the Government's felony of issuing regulations. Therefore, we should vote against it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 116, Noes 166.

Division No. 254] [3.45 pm
Alexander, Richard Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Alton, David Browning, Mrs. Angela
Ancram, Michael Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Budgen, Nicholas
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Butcher, John
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Coe, Sebastian
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Colvin, Michael
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Congdon, David
Blackburn, Dr John G. Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Body, Sir Richard Cormack, Patrick
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Couchman, James
Dickens, Geoffrey Marland, Paul
Duncan, Alan Marlow, Tony
Duncan-Smith, Iain Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Durant, Sir Anthony Mills, Iain
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Moate, Sir Roger
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Nicholls, Patrick
Fabricant. Michael Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Pawsey, James
Fry, Peter Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Gardiner, Sir George Richards, Rod
Gill, Christopher Shaw, David (Dover)
Gillan, Cheryl Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW) Shersby, Michael
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Sims, Roger
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Hargreaves, Andrew Speed, Sir Keith
Harris, David Spink, Dr Robert
Hawkins, Nick Spring, Richard
Hawksley, Warren Sproat, Iain
Hendry, Charles Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Sweeney, Walter
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Sykes, John
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hunter, Andrew Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Jenkin, Bernard Townend, John (Bridlington)
Jessel, Toby Tracey, Richard
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Trend, Michael
Johnston, Sir Russell Tyler, Paul
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Walden, George
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Wallace, James
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S) Ward, John
Kilfedder, Sir James Waterson, Nigel
Kirkwood, Archy Watts, John
Knapman, Roger Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Whittingdale, John
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Wilkinson, John
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Legg, Barry Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Lidington, David Wolfson, Mark
Luff, Peter
Lynne, Ms Liz Tellers for the Ayes:
Maclennan, Robert Sir Michael Neubert and Mr. Anthony Steen.
Maitland, Lady Olga
Abbott, Ms Diane Callaghan, Jim
Ainger, Nick Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Canavan, Dennis
Armstrong, Hilary Chisholm, Malcolm
Ashton, Joe Clapham, Michael
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Barnes, Harry Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Barron, Kevin Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bennett, Andrew F. Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bermingham, Gerald Cohen, Harry
Betts, Clive Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Blunkett, David Corbett, Robin
Boyce, Jimmy Corston, Ms Jean
Bradley, Keith Cox, Tom
Bray, Dr Jeremy Cryer, Bob
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Cummings, John
Burden, Richard Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Byers, Stephen Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Dafis, Cynog Mahon, Alice
Dalyell, Tam Mallon, Seamus
Darling, Alistair Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Maxton, John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Meale, Alan
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Denham, John Miller, Andrew
Dixon, Don Morgan, Rhodri
Donohoe, Brian H. Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Dowd, Jim Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Mowlam, Marjorie
Eagle, Ms Angela Mudie, George
Eastham, Ken Mullin, Chris
Enright, Derek Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Etherington, Bill O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Evans, John (St Helens N) O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Faulds, Andrew O'Hara, Edward
Fisher, Mark O'Neill, Martin
Flynn, Paul Patchett, Terry
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Pickthall, Colin
Fyfe, Maria Pike, Peter L.
Gapes, Mike Pope, Greg
Garrett, John Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Gerrard, Neil Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Primarolo, Dawn
Grocott, Bruce Quin, Ms Joyce
Gunnell, John Randall, Stuart
Hain, Peter Raynsford, Nick
Hall, Mike Redmond, Martin
Hanson, David Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Hardy, Peter Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Rogers, Allan
Hinchliffe, David Rooney, Terry
Hoey, Kate Rowlands, Ted
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Sedgemore, Brian
Home Robertson, John Sheerman, Barry
Hoon, Geoffrey Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Simpson, Alan
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Illsley, Eric Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Spearing, Nigel
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Spellar, John
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Strang, Dr. Gavin
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Jowell, Tessa Trimble, David
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Turner, Dennis
Khabra, Piara S. Walley, Joan
Kilfoyle, Peter Wareing, Robert N
Leighton, Ron Wicks, Malcolm
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Litherland, Robert Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Livingstone, Ken Wilson, Brian
Llwyd, Elfyn Winnick, David
McAllion, John Worthington, Tony
McFall, John Wray, Jimmy
McKelvey, William Wright, Dr Tony
Mackinlay, Andrew
McMaster, Gordon Tellers for the Noes:
McNamara, Kevin Mr. Dennis Skinner and Mr. Terry Lewis.
Madden, Max

Question accordingly negatived.

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