HC Deb 08 February 1994 vol 237 cc147-245

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker

I have to announce that I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). I have had to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches between the hours of 7 and 9 o'clock. I trust that other hon. Members will co-operate by voluntarily reducing the length of their speeches.

3.43 pm
The President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I shall start by setting the Bill in the wider context of our competitiveness as a nation. There is not one item, or even one group of agenda items, that constitutes national competitiveness. There is not a given moment when that competitiveness can be measured in final or absolute terms. The essence of competitiveness is that it is a process, perhaps even a culture, which, to be effective, must be ongoing. It permeates society and affects the attitudes of the public and private sectors alike. In the private sector, it should embrace the smallest sole trader and the largest multinational corporation. In the public sector, it embraces major issues—the management of the economy, the quality of training and the output of our schools—but it must also penetrate less familiar but contributory factors such as standards, design and, of course, the regulatory climate.

The Government have announced their intention to publish a White Paper on competitiveness, exploring the strengths and weaknesses of our performance and indicating where we are ahead, how we stay ahead and, where we are behind, how we catch up. The Bill is one part of our approach to one aspect of our competitiveness—the regulatory climate.

No advanced society can manage itself outside a regulatory framework. Indeed, it is impossible to contemplate the sophisticated assumptions on which we conduct our everyday lives without the underpinning of regulation. Inevitably, regulation is about restraint. The central issue that confronts us as we manage the Government's deregulation initiative is, therefore, the balance between the legitimate entitlements of society and the damage that can flow from the over-fussy, over-prescriptive use of restrictions.

Regulation can be a spur to innovation and competitiveness. Regulation can be vital to protect the safety of workers, of customers and of the environment. If the balance is tipped too far, however, there can come a point where the real costs outweigh the assumed benefits. That can be particularly true as time passes, as practices change and as new technologies emerge. Regulations that were once considered right and necessary can become burdensome. Businesses feel that they are swamped with red tape and no one should underestimate the significance of that, particularly for the smaller business.

I have been struck by the different psychologies that can be found in small, often owner-managed, businesses and the larger, often international, corporations. For the former, it is often the boss, in what time he or she has to spare, who has to face the forms, the questions and guidance notes. Let us imagine trying to wrestle with an illuminating passage from "Home Office Guidelines on Fire Precautions (Places of Work) Regulations 1992", which states: Alternative escape routes should generally satisfy the following criteria: (from any point from which there is initially a single direction of escape) they are in directions apart, equal to 45 degrees plus 2.5 degrees for every metre travelled in one direction. See appendix 1. I am extremely happy to say that it is now being rewritten.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Who was the Home Secretary in 1992 and what did he do about it?

Mr. Heseltine

I am delighted to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that it was rewritten by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Before the Opposition leap around with expectation, let me read from an order issued by the Excise Office in 1976 under the then Labour Government. I am sure that the Opposition will now be carefully listing the incumbents of the various offices responsible for the Excise Office in 1976. The difference is that the order was still on the statutue book when the Labour party left office, but we changed it. I was trying to be bipartisan by quoting one example of regulations passed under a Conservative Government and then one of measures passed under a Labour Government, but the Opposition cannot resist the temptation to deal with this important issue in the traditional banging about of party politics.

As the Opposition have tried to provoke me, let me be provoked and quote from the 1976 Excise Office order. It states: Relief in respect"— [Interruption.] I thought that the Opposition might listen as I am quoting from an order passed under a Labour Government. It reads: Relief in respect of assimilated articles. The use of oil in manufacture or preparation of an assimilated article does not earn entitlement for relief from duty. But entitlement in respect of oils so used may be earned by subsequent use of the assimilated article in the manufacture or preparation of an article that is not an assimilated article.

Quite honestly—

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)


Mr. Heseltine

I wish to make other arguments.[Interruption.]

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)


Madam Speaker


Mr. Heseltine

My problem is to keep the hon. Gentleman out.

Madam Speaker

Order. Secretary Heseltine.

Mr. Spearing

Will the President kindly give way?

Mr. Heseltine

Of course.

Mr. Spearing

Does the President agree, first, that regulations come before Statutory Instruments Committees for clarification and authentication and, secondly, that when they are made by, one hopes, knowledgeable officials and agreed by, one hopes, well-versed Secretaries of State, the technical language can probably be understood only by the people whose everyday work is involved in carrying out and complying with those regulations? Does the President agree that it would be easy to guy any good statutory instrument on those grounds.

Mr. Heseltine

The question reveals the attitude of the Labour party. As Ministers, we are not supposed to understand; as members of the Committee, we are not supposed to understand; as ordinary people, we are not supposed to understand; but there are some awfully clever people somewhere who do understand, who draft that sort of stuff.

Just try, Madam Speaker, going to those thousands of rooms at the back of hard-pressed businesses where ordinary men and women try to earn a crust and saying to them, "We have all these awfully clever people in Whitehall who understand all that stuff." The fact that business people spend hour after hour, night after night, trying to understand the regulations and we do not understand them simply puts us in the same chaotic position. It must be incumbent on us to make regulations in a language that the ordinary man and woman in the street can understand. It is no excuse for the Labour party to say that it does not matter if they do not understand it as long as clever people understand it. I am not saying that.

This afternoon we are getting a surfeit of over-regulatory zeal here, with half the parliamentary Labour party rising to its feet to try to over-regulate my speech, on which I should like to make progress, if I may.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)


Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)


Mr. Heseltine

I give way to the hon. Member for Workington.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In the case of the two quotations that he has read to the House, will the President read the explanatory memorandum on the back, which is what we normally read when we want to understand statutory instruments when we debate them?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a 10-minute limit on the time of speeches and it will be important for him to have the chance to make that important argument if he can cram it into the time that you, Madam Speaker, may or may not give him.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Heseltine

I will not make progress if there is any further discussion about that.

Mr. Cryer


Mr. Illsley


Mr. Heseltine

I will not give way. The place must calm down, if I may suggest it. [Interruption.] Madam Speaker, that was not intended to be lese-majesty, if that is the right approach to your distinguished office.

I am trying to argue, patiently and at some length, that that type of officialese—garbage-speak, if I can coin a phrase—is all too characteristic of government, whether it is local or national. We all know examples of it—the sub-paragraphs, the multiple choice questions and the complications of language. They can drive people who have to fill in the forms and understand the regulations to despair.

That frustration and despair are often a great deal more intense in the small business than they are in the large. The reason is not difficult to find. Larger companies are more able to afford the professional advice or the skilled staff to cope with the intrusions of the public sector. That is why we have ensured, in our deregulatory initiative, that we take special account of small businesses when we consider the burden that that type of activity places on them.

Our deregulation initiative put in place a system to scrutinise the regulations that affect the wealth-creating process. We set out to review those regulations that were imposed by primary and secondary legislation, those regulations arising from domestic initiative and from European requirements and those regulations that were the product of administrative decision by the army of inspectors that enforced all those regulatory decisions.

We were not prepared, in the exercise, to rely on the advice of the people who had drafted the regulations in the first place. Therefore, we invited Lord Sainsbury to chair eight task forces, which were drawn largely from the private sector, as they began to work their way through the thousands of regulations that actually exist.

As a result of that intense work, the business task forces have made more than 600 recommendations. We have [Interruption.] It is fascinating; the Labour party is solemnly trying to persuade the private sector that it has at least entered the 20th century, yet the moment that the House debates the issues about which the private sector cares most, all that we hear from Labour Members are sedentary interventions about trying to recreate a class divide that the whole country, with the exception of the Labour party, knows disintegrated during the 1980s.

Mr. Cryer

The right hon. Gentleman will, of course, be aware that, year after year, the Government have set their face against providing time to debate a Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments report about poor drafting and extensive use of powers that Ministers do not have. A Committee with a majority of Conservative Members has several times asked the Leader of the House to require that the Committee's report be brought before the House before the statutory instruments are taken, yet the Government have refused time after time.

As the right hon. Gentleman is so worried about statutory instruments, may I ask him why in 1992 the Conservative Government produced almost 3,500 of them—more than at any time in the history of Parliament, and almost double the highest number produced by any Labour Government?

Mr. Heseltine

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, that has happened because we have completed the single European agenda, which has meant harmonising the entire range of such matters throughout western Europe. That has required a whole range of reforming regulations. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, and I shall deal with that subject later in my speech. Moreover, as he also knows, and as I shall explain later, our proposals for special scrutiny under the Bill go a long way towards meeting some of his objections.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

Arising from that point, my right hon. Friend will be aware that the measures that have given most cause for concern and anger in recent years have come under the general heading of food safety or food hygiene. They have affected hotels, restaurants and the tourist industry in general, as well as shops and all sorts of other businesses throughout the country. In the explanatory material on the Bill, I see few examples of such horrors, which Christopher Booker, among others, has exposed. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Bill will eradicate as many of those horrors as possible?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The answer to his question is that all those issues are under review.

I was about to say that, as a result of the exercise that I described, the business task forces have made more than 600 recommendations. We have announced that we have accepted about 250 of those, and 280 are still under consideration. We rejected about 70, because we felt that the public interest demanded their preservation on the statute book.

When the Bill was published, we issued a booklet called "Cutting Red Tape", which is available in the Library and the Vote Office and which shows the scale of our first response. About 440 proposals are being implemented now or are under active consideration, and we expect recommendations from the voluntary sector task force shortly. We have already identified many changes that would not remove any necessary protection and could usefully reduce burdens.

I shall give some examples of what those changes amount to. Why, for example, should not the Patent Office accept documents electronically, instead of on paper? Why is Government approval needed for parking control equipment used by local authorities to enforce traffic orders? Why should insurance companies have to submit detailed information, which is no longer needed for prudential supervision?

Those are only a few examples. If we needed to find time for primary legislation for every such change, change would take years to achieve. The first four clauses of the Bill therefore provide an order-making power to allow the amendment or repeal of outdated or unnecessarily burdensome legislation.

The order-making power could be used to replace a system of regulation with one that was less burdensome but achieved the necessary protection. We have built in considerable safeguards and constraints on the use of that power: necessary protection will not be removed; consultation with interested parties is required; a draft order would then be laid with an explanatory document giving the reasons for the measure, including savings in compliance costs.

The nature of the deregulation order-making power is that it could cover a wide range of policy matters that may need separate consideration. I understand the sensitivity of that issue. In our view, it is therefore appropriate to provide a special and exceptional form of parliamentary scrutiny in addition to consultation. We have provided a 40-day period during which such additional scrutiny could take place. We have submitted proposals to the Procedure Committee on the form that such scrutiny might take.

The key elements of our suggestions are set out in the explanatory guide to the Bill. We have suggested that a new scrutiny Committee might be set up in each House, with power to examine witnesses and seek additional information. The role of the new Committee—it might be for the consideration of both Houses where they have a joint Committee—might be to consider whether the subject matter was appropriate to be enacted in subordinate legislation and whether the proposed order would remove any necessary protection. Such Committees could recommend whether particular proposals should proceed or whether they should proceed only if amended in some way.

The Bill provides that Ministers would have to take account of the outcome of the scrutiny and of any other representations in finalising any order. I should make it clear that the Government will look carefully at any other option for effective scrutiny that emerges as the Bill proceeds.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Will the President of the Board of Trade make it clear what he means in clause 3 by consult such organisations as appear to him to be representative of interests or consult such other persons as he considers appropriate"? Having described the mechanism—"Cutting Red Tape" says that the Government have identified 3,500 regulations that they may wish to remove—how on earth will that procedure not be swamped by the sheer volume of the changes that he wishes to introduce?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman can be assured that the process of consultation will be wide. It is obvious. Anyone who has read the explanatory memorandum will know that we are trying to give the fullest possible opportunity for people to make representations. But that is for the scrutiny committees to determine. The hon. Gentleman asked about the scale of the problem. We are fully aware as a Government that the scrutiny committees have absolute power to determine the pace at which the process can go through. Therefore, we must have regard to the workload that they can carry. We shall do that in a practical way.

Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham)

I know that my right hon. Friend has not come to this part of the Bill yet, but I am concerned, as are some of my hon. Friends, about part II and contracting out. My right hon. Friend will know that that part of the Bill concerns the powers of the Minister or an office holder to contract out.

As Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, I should like to say that the position of the Comptroller and Auditor General appears to be in some doubt under the powers of the Bill. Hitherto, and for 140 years, the position of the CAG has been in no doubt whatever; he is a servant of the House and is not subject in any way to ministerial orders. Will my right hon. Friend therefore give the House an assurance that the measures in the Bill will allow separate rights of contracting out by office holders, not through the aegis of Ministers? It would be quite intolerable if there were any suggestion that the CAG came in any way under the powers of a Minister, since the CAG has the power to pronounce on Government matters and he must be wholly independent of Government.

Mr. Heseltine

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that point, which a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are in their places have also raised. I anticipated the possibility of the matter being raised, so I can give a considered reply to what my right hon. Friend said.

Our policy in drafting clause 57 was to ensure that in the functions of an office holder, it would be the office holder—he or she alone—who could give the authorisation to make use of contractors, should an order be laid by a Minister and approved by both Houses. Any order could, therefore, be enabling only. Nothing in the order could suggest compulsion if the office holder chose not to make an authorisation; the powers are, therefore, voluntary. I am advised that clause 57(2), as drafted, gives effect to that policy. If, however, hon. Members believe that differences in interpretation of the clause may arise, I have no hesitation in giving an undertaking to table in Committee an amendment to make the matter clear beyond doubt.

We have published a list of 55 measures that illustrate the sort of measures for which we consider the order-making provision would be appropriate. They are also listed in the publication "Cutting Red Tape", to which I have already referred. We recognise that how a regulation is implemented and enforced can be just as crucial for business as what is said in it. The task forces have helped to identify problem areas in enforcement. As a result, we have produced guidance material for enforcement authorities and business. Some 18 local business partnerships have been developed to encourage business organisations to work with their local authority to make it easier for them to comply with regulations enforced by local government. Most of the 70 enforcement agencies in central Government have now published codes of good practice.

Reducing the burden of existing regulations is only part of the process. We want to ensure that before new regulations are introduced, the implications are fully thought through. Before new regulations can be introduced, a full compliance cost assessment must be carried out. We are also strengthening the system for assessing the effects on business of EC legislation and we are persuading our EC partners to take more account of business needs. The Bill is only a part of our campaign, but it is an important part.

Chapter II of part I deals with a wide range of matters that the House will wish to explore in Committee. It includes matters as diverse as building societies, slaughterhouses, shop hours, children in pubs, market arrangements and competition law.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

I imagine that the President of the Board of Trade realises that, over the years, major pieces of legislation have been reversed or substantially changed within a year or two; examples of that are the poll tax, criminal justice provisions, education provisions and the Child Support Agency. He will not, therefore, be surprised to know that the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain is afraid that clause 21, which appears to take away from local authorities powers over markets and fairs, will actually lead to an increase in the power of local authorities to interfere in the setting up of fairs and markets. Can the right hon. Gentleman put those fears at rest and confirm that that will not happen?

Mr. Heseltine

I can help the hon. Gentleman. Nothing in the Bill will increase the powers of local authorities. The Bill takes away the powers of local authorities, in some limited cases, to prohibit markets operating within six and two thirds miles of the central area. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman.

Chapters III and IV of part I make the licensing system for operators of goods and passenger vehicles much less onerous. The main provision is a move from licences renewable every five years to licences that can last for the lifetime of a person or of a company. As with all good regulation, the Government aim to deliver services according to need and with the least possible burden on the taxpayer. That means finding ways to encourage the delivery of quality services at the best value for money.

The contracting-out provisions in part II will, subject to essential safeguards, provide us with the means to sweep away unnecessarily restrictive distinctions between what can be done by contractors and what must be done by civil servants. It will, thus, widen the range of activities that can be tested in the marketplace. The provisions in the Bill provide an order-making power for that purpose, but one which excludes functions affecting the fundamental liberties of individuals. It ensures that accountability and legal liability remain unchanged and provides strong safeguards for confidential information.

There is one other matter, which was raised earlier and was raised previously by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). I do not dispute the fact that many of the regulations that we are reviewing have themselves arisen over the lifetime of the present Government. Two things have coincided with that process. First, as I told the House a few moments ago, there has been the completion of the single market and, secondly, there has been a growing awareness of the need to intensify our drive to competitiveness in Europe and, above all, the realisation that Britain now has a real advantage over our European partners, which we are determined to maintain.

The single market required the completion of the Cockfield agenda. Initially, some 300 agenda items were listed for agreement across the 12 members of the Community and the implementation of those items in case after case required regulatory action in the British Parliament. If we have over-regulated, over-prescribed, or if we have overdone it, it is a sign of strength to recognise that and to put it right. It would be a sign of weakness to shrug our shoulders and allow the drift to continue.

It is a sign of neither strength nor weakness to do what the Labour party has done. It is a crass misjudgment to go on repeating what the Leader of the Opposition again repeated on Sunday. We, he said, will sign up to the Social Chapter". That social chapter represents the greatest regulatory overload in history. It is the surest way to choke off the investment boom from overseas companies.

Howard Davies of the CBI put it starkly in the past week. He said that Labour's support for the social chapter ignores the rest of the world, ignores the whole purpose of the single market and ignores the unemployed". He went on to say: The main aim of the single market is to make Europe more competitive, by increasing competition and expanding the size of European companies' home markets. The Social Chapter works in the opposite direction, imposing costs on European employers, for uncertain benefits". That is the stark position that the CBI has put before the country. The social chapter means fewer jobs and longer dole queues.

Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition does not believe what the director general of the CBI has so clearly spelt out. It is difficult for the Labour party to square its assiduous courting of the CBI with the fact that every time it receives a piece of the CBI's advice, it is among the first to disown it. That is the real world. The Labour party still does not understand the need to make our companies efficient and to give them the climate in which they can compete. The Labour party still does not believe that it is compatible with national interests in Britain to have opted out of the social chapter, thus avoiding the dramatic costs which would have been put on us.

The Labour party cannot understand that our flexible labour markets are the envy of our continental partners and that the social chapter would undermine all that we have fought to achieve in this country. In reality, it is yesterday's dogma masquerading as tomorrow's panacea.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

So that we can test the Secretary of State's rhetoric, will he answer this fairly simple question? He has given his enthusiastic support for the takeover of Rover by BMW. Give his analysis of the huge commercial advantages of operating in a country without the social chapter, as opposed to one with the social chapter, can he confirm that it is his view that if BMW is faced with the prospect of cuts in the future, it will make cuts in Germany where the costs of the social chapter are high, rather than in Britain where they are low?

Mr. Heseltine

The real danger to cuts in investment and jobs in this country is the fact that the Labour party has signed up to the European socialist election manifesto, which threatens our industry with a range of restraints that are incompatible with prosperity.

Labour Members need to understand what danger they pose to our industries. Let them understand what the Leader of the Opposition signed up to in November when he flew to Brussels. He signed up to a substantial cut in working time and the possibility of a 35-hour week; "European works councils" and "European sectoral collective agreements"; and "a guaranteed minimum wage". Those are the ways in which employment and investment in this country will be threatened.

Labour Members pretend that they have a solution to this problem. They say that they have a package of measures. On Sunday, the Leader of the Opposition proudly proclaimed: Like our partners in Europe, the Labour Party understands that economic success depends more than anything else on the knowledge and the skills of our people. We need to build a self-confident, acceptable, highly skilled and highly motivated workforce to meet the demands of a competitive, rapidly changing economy. Let us take a look at those partners in Europe to which the Leader of the Opposition was referring. At present, there are two countries in the EC that have a guaranteed minimum wage—Spain and France. The former has a socialist Government; the latter only recently escaped from one. What have socialism and the minimum wage done for those two countries? In France, the unemployment rate is 11.7 per cent. and the youth unemployment rate is over 20 per cent. In Spain, the picture is even worse: unemployment is at 23 per cent., and rising, and 40 per cent. of those under 25 are unable to find work. Yet the Labour party threatens to impose the social chapter on this country and the economy.

Labour Members talk about an adaptable work force to meet the demands of a competitive, rapidly changing economy as part of their business plan for Europe and Britain. How do they square that with a cut in working hours, a minimum wage and European sectoral collective agreements? It is an impossible concept to understand.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)


Mr. Heseltine

No. I am not giving way any more—[Interruption.] Okay, I shall give way—why not?

Mr. Burden

I am grateful to the President for changing his mind. I look forward to his changing his mind on one or two other things in the future.

If the right hon. Gentleman is so interested in lifting the so-called burdens of business, may we take it that he will also lift the burden on business caused by this Government's passing the buck on statutory sick pay? Will he lift the burden on business caused by the Government's failure properly to invest in nursery education? Will he lift the burden on business that was imposed in the past year by causing employers to seek from employees regular agreement to the check-off arrangement, which a great many firms have described as a burden on business? Will he lift those burdens, or just the ones that he picks?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for thanking me for changing my mind. I did so because I could see the fatuous nature of the question welling up in his mind. The House will have been in no way disappointed by my judgment on that occasion.

Britain today has an economic opportunity, the fact of which has rarely been more exciting in recent memory. One should remember Britain 15 years ago. For decades, Britain had had a declining share of world trade in manufactures. Britain had been bottom of the European Community and Group of Seven growth leagues for decades. Britain was widely described as the sick man of Europe.

We have come a long way since then. Our share of world trade has stabilised. Our manufacturing productivity has grown faster than in any other major industrialised country. Our industrial relations have been transformed and our inflation record during the past year is the best for 30 years.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development forecasts that we will grow faster than Germany or Japan. The German Economics Minister was quoted recently as saying that Britain provided a model for the German economy on deregulation. He paid tribute to the "exceptional results" that we have achieved in breaking down bureaucratic obstacles to starting up new businesses and managing existing companies. That is the sort of tribute which can be measured in terms of jobs and investment. It is in stark contrast to the willing acceptance and the posturing of the Opposition with every nostrum dreamt up in Brussels.

The Bill represents an important step in reducing the burdens on industry, particularly small companies. It is about helping to increase our competitive edge and will sweep away unnecessary burdens on business. It has the potential to save British industry and taxpayers millions of pounds. It will make a substantial contribution to the more efficient working of our economy, and I strongly commend it to the House.

4.22 pm
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

The President of the Board of Trade, perhaps wisely, did not spend the greater part of his speech talking about the Bill which is before the House. Nevertheless, in those early passages which had some tangential relationship to the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman presented it as a measure which would cut red tape.

The Opposition are worried that what makes the Bill notable is not the extent to which it cuts through red tape, but the extent to which it cuts through the procedures of Parliament. No business has a burden removed from it by the Bill to the remarkable degree to which the first four clauses lift from Ministers the burden of accountability to Parliament. Let us be clear what those four clauses propose. They propose that Ministers may be able to set aside Acts of Parliament by statutory instruments.

I understand that such clauses are termed Henry VIII clauses in disrespectful commemoration of that monarch's tendency to absolutism. They have, of course, become increasingly common under this Government, as we would expect, given their tendency to absolutism. To be fair, the Henry VIII clauses which the Government have produced have so far been slipped into the back of Bills. They have been consequential clauses, temporary in their powers and always related to the Bill which contained them.

The Bill is one big Henry VIII clause. It gives power to any Secretary of State to suspend any Act of Parliament by order. If there is any doubt, the opening subsection of the Bill, which the President wisely did not quote, says that the order may be made to suspend a full Act of Parliament if a Minister of the Crown is of the opinion—

(a) that the effect of the provision is such as to impose … a burden affecting any person in the carrying on of any trade". While the President was speaking, the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) intervened to ask about the Food Safety Act. That Act was passed with support from both sides of the House. Under clauses 1 to 4 of the Bill, it would be possible for any Minister to come to the House and, by order, suspend an Act passed through the House only three years ago with all-party support.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

Good idea.

Mr. Cook

It would certainly be possible to find Conservative Members other than the hon. Gentleman who cried "Good idea" about a full Act of Parliament being lifted by statutory instrument, who would regard the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 as a burden on business, and who would want to see it reduced, amended or repealed by order of the House. It would certainly be possible to find cowboys in the construction industry who thought that way.

I have not the slightest doubt that we would find Conservative Members who regarded the possibility of a Labour Government as a burden on business and, if they could find a Secretary of State who was of the opinion, would amend the Representation of the People Act 1989 accordingly. They may be wise to do so.

The President of the Board of Trade referred to the Department of Trade and Industry document "Cutting Red Tape". The first example of deregulation given by the Department of Employment in its chapter of the document is the abolition of the wages councils. That section is as bold as brass. It presents the abolition of the wages councils as an important step in deregulation because it freed 2.5 million workers from the rigidities of statutory minimum wage fixing. It took a Bill to get that abolition through the House.

Let us hear it from the President. Is that the type of measure that will be brought in by order under the Bill? That is what clauses 1 to 4 give him the power to do. A measure such as that, which took away protection from 2.5 million citizens, could be bounced through the House in 90 minutes.

I am surprised and sorry to see that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is not in his place. Undoubtedly, he has an important audience to address with his thoughts. I nurse the lively hope that we shall read about them in tomorrow's papers.

Five days before the Bill was published, the Chief Secretary lashed out at those who undermined great institutions. He particularly warned the nation about those who would do a hatchet job on Parliament, which he called the world's premier debating Chamber. No wonder that, in the same speech, he warned the nation of the spread of cynicism. Nothing does a more thorough hatchet job on the proceedings of Parliament than the Bill presented by the Government.

Let us be clear what would happen and what we would lose if clauses 1 to 4 were passed unamended. Ministers would be able to repeal full Acts of Parliament by statutory instrument. There would be no Committee stage in which the measure, was considered line by line. Statutory instruments cannot be amended; they have to be accepted or rejected as they stand. There would be no Report stage in which new clauses could be considered. The House would have to accept the priorities of the Minister who presented the order.

There would be no Lords amendments in which the second Chamber gave us a chance to have second thoughts. We would not even have the now traditional debate on the guillotine motion, which is a standard part of the proceedings under the Government. Instead of that full, exhaustive process of legislation, we would have the miniaturised proceedings of a statutory instrument, which are usually taken last thing at night in 90 minutes dead, without even the troublesome need to move a guillotine motion.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I wonder whether my hon. Friend has considered whether Ministers have considered how a Labour Government might wish to use the legislation as it stands or even in marginally amended form. Do Government supporters really want to leave legislation such as this on the statute book?

Mr. Cook

I do not know whether Ministers have considered that. I have to say that I found myself fantasising about it last night. The very fact that Ministers probably have never thought about it points up the problem we have with the Government. They have been in power so long that they cannot envisage anyone but themselves in power.

Of course, there is an innovation in the Bill. That is that the proposal for a statutory instrument will first be put to a new Committee. I listened with interest to what the President had to say about the new Committee. He laid great stress on the new Committee and what it would say.

If the President of the Board of Trade is genuine and that Committee will be such an influential part of the new process, I find it strange that clause 4—under which the committee is appointed and given those procedures—does not give it the power to reject a proposal, but only creates an obligation on the Minister to "have regard" to its views. We have had a lot of experience of the extent to which the Government have regard to the opinion of anyone other than themselves—we have had 15 years' experience of it.

If anyone has forgotten the lesson of that experience, the Bill contains a good example. Clause 20 removes the rights of local authorities to object to new markets within the vicinity of an existing market. A year ago, there was some consultation about the proposal. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities believes that 90 per cent. of those who responded were against removing that right, including the local authorities who would lose it, traders in existing markets who would have extra competition and the residents of those sites where the new markets might spring up, who would have extra hassle.

Yet, such is the selective capacity of Ministers to have regard to other views that they have chosen to have regard to those of the minority 10 per cent., who were in favour, and not those of the 90 per cent. who were against.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

On the subject of market rights, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that the city of Leicester has a right to control markets up to six and two third miles beyond its boundary. Is he aware that that includes the borough of Oadby and Wigston in my constituency, which is entirely outside the city of Leicester? The city therefore has power to control markets in another borough, although not one elector there has elected the councillors of that city—whether Labour or Liberal—or had any say in the matter at all. Is it right that that undemocratic practice should be allowed to continue?

Mr. Spearing

Change the statutory instrument.

Mr. Cook

I shall return to my hon. Friend's remark.

I am aware that Leicester county council, which includes the hon. Gentleman's constituency, has expressed grave concern that some of the car boot sales springing up in that county are creating dangers to life and limb. I believe that it is important for local authorities to have the right to object.

Mr. Garnier


Mr. Cook

I shall not give way again.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has put his finger on the problem. The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is perfectly entitled to his point of view, and Opposition Members are entitled to theirs. If a matter required primary legislation, that allowed us to debate it. We can debate the contents of clause 21, for example. So why does the Minister need powers to do something by order, which would prevent the hon. Member for Harborough from tabling any amendments?

The Bill contains one anomaly. Let us assume that the President of the Board of Trade really believes that his new procedures in part I are an improvement. Part II of the Bill concerns the remit of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is responsible for the Office of Public Service and Science. It deals with contracting out central and local government provisions and does away with the irksome need for Ministers to pass legislation through this House if they want to hive off another part of the public service. Instead, the power of Parliament is contracted out to Ministers, who will be able to do so by order.

Last month, the Public Accounts Committee warned us that the pace of the transfer of public functions to quasi-private agencies had led to a departure from the standards of public conduct". Yet here we are, only two weeks later, debating a Bill which blithely refuses to have regard to the Public Accounts Committee and proposes powers which will pave the way for a more sweeping transfer of the functions of public service to the private sector.

The Bill has an explanatory guide, which lists 26 areas of public life which might be privatised under the provisions. Only two of those have ever been floated for market testing. The list includes the traffic commissioners, the Registrar-General, the official receiver, the rent registration services and court administration.

Bizarrely, the gas measurements service is one of the functions that may go out to contract under part II of the Bill. That service is responsible for measuring the energy content of gas sales, and the accurate calibration of gas meters. Only one private company has the expertise to provide such a service throughout the nation, and that is British Gas, so that would leave the policing of the honesty of gas sales to the company responsible for selling gas.

There is a simple test by which we can tell whether the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister responsible for the civil service believe that the new procedures in part I of the Bill will provide an increased and improved service. Why will not the orders to be laid under part II be subject to the same new procedures provided for under part I? Why will they not let a parliamentary Committee, such as the Public Accounts Committee, first consider any proposals to privatise another part of public life, so that it could monitor whether the Government have any regard for their own reports?

Why not insist on the same extent of consultation with the public, who are the customers of those public services? Why not ask the tenants whether they want estate agents to bid for the rent registration service? Why have two different types of order in the Bill?

There is another reason why we do not believe that the House would be wise to trust the Government with powers to do by order what they find too troublesome to do by Bill. It is as well to be frank about that other reason: we know the Minister to whom we are asked to give those powers. I do not mean the President, who is a big picture man, as he showed in his speech when he quickly moved off the Bill and on the big picture. I suspect that he will forget about the Bill as soon as he can decently slip away from the debate.

The Minister who makes the hair rise on the back of our spine and reach into our pockets for a clove of garlic is the Minister for deregulation, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton). He has wisely not been allowed to speak in the debate until after the 9 pm watershed, in case he frightens young strangers. May I make a confession: I have a sneaking respect for the hon. Gentleman, based on the fact that I know where he stands. Usually so many miles to the right, he is visible only on a clear day.

How did the Minister for deregulation choose to relax on the night of his Bill's publication? He spent it among friends, with the Libertarian Alliance—[Interruption.] I see that the Minister has other supporters in the Chamber. Among much else, the Libertarian Alliance has called for the deregulation of all drug offences; the abolition of a public police force; and privatising the currency so that every citizen will be at liberty to mint his or her own money.

Instead of telling its members, "Away with fairies," and that he had better things to do with his time, the Minister showed that he was a spirit after their own hearts. He assured them: Deregulation is really part of a much broader libertarian agenda which I fully share". We are asked to trust that Minister with powers to extinguish Acts of Parliament by statutory instrument. We are asked to believe that he will "have regard" to the views of a Committee if it asks him nicely to drop a proposal. The House would be wilfully negligent—so negligent that it could be sued by its constituents—were it to hand over those powers to such a Minister.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs (Mr. Neil Hamilton)

Later, I shall address the hon. Gentleman, but that does not mean that I agree with anything that he says.

Mr. Cook

The Minister has removed a weight from my mind in suggesting that he agrees with nothing I say. It would be worrying if he did.

The Minister's candid expression of those trenchant views, however, helps this debate, because it shows where the real division on this matter lies between the two sides of the Chamber. It has nothing to do with red tape. We have no objection to a cremation of red tape that serves no useful purpose and binds the hands of business.

As the President observed, Labour did not, after all, think up the vast majority of the regulations that the Conservative Government are now reviewing. The Government brought them in. Of the 3,500 regulations referred to the task forces, 71 per cent. have been introduced since the Government took office, and 21 per cent. since the present Prime Minister entered Downing street. Of those regulations from the Department of Trade and Industry, 84 per cent. have been introduced since the Government took office, 27 per cent. since the present Prime Minister entered Downing Street, and 13 per cent. since the President was appointed to the DTI.

In the Queen's Speech debate, I pointed out that, when the Government came to power in 1979, "Butterworth's Company Law" was just under 500 pages—broadly comparable to a light novel by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) "Butterworth's Company Law" now runs to more than 4,000 pages—the equivalent of "War and Peace", the works of William Shakespeare and the Bible all rolled into one.

To rub home that point, in 1979, the annex to that volume had 80 forms that businesses might be required to fill in. After 15 years of Conservative Government, the annex to the 1993 volume contains 265 forms. It is not for nothing that the number of business accountants has increased by 75 per cent. under the present Government.

The Government are complaining not about our regulations, but about their own. It is their regulations which they believe to be pointless, burdensome and misplaced. Yes, if the regulations are pointless, we shall happily vote for the new provisions. For example, there is much merit in the new auditing proposals, which will significantly reduce the burden on very small companies.

We shall not, however, support any deregulation that reduces the safety of employees, the health of the public or the protection of the consumers; that is the real divide between the Opposition and the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs. We believe that Parliament has the right and duty to provide a legal framework to reduce those dangers.

In his heart, the hon. Member for Tatton believes that the state has no business interfering in such matters. That is why, whenever Ministers talk about regulation, they talk about it only as a burden, as did the President of the Board of Trade.

Regulations that cut accidents at work are not a burden on business; they are a benefit to business, because they cut the cost of injuries to the work force and reduce the production lost through accidents.

The Health and Safety Commission estimates the cost of accidents to business as between £11,000 million and £16,000 million every year. That is the really big burden on business; that is the burden which the Government should be trying to cut, instead of cutting regulations that reduce accidents, and the budget of the Health and Safety Commission which exists to police the regulations. It is another example of the Government being penny wise, pound foolish.

Nor do we impose burdens on industry by obliging companies to meet high environmental standards. On the contrary; we shall leave British industry handicapped in the competition for world markets if we encourage it to settle for lower environmental standards than other countries will accept. We believe that Parliament has a duty to regulate to ensure fair play between producer and consumer.

I understand that the Minister believes that consumers should be free to make up their own minds on what they want. Very well: consumers have made up their minds. They want Parliament to regulate for fair play. A recent poll by the National Consumer Council shows that 90 per cent. of consumers believe that the Government have a responsibility to provide regulations to protect consumers.

Even in the Government's reduced circumstances in the polls, that 90 per cent. must include somebody who still wants to vote for them. That 90 per cent. of consumers see regulations not as a burden that costs them money, but as important protection for the money in their wallets and purses—an enabling measure which helps them get value for money.

There is one consumer issue bigger today than it was before the Conservatives came to power. The operation of debt agencies has increased, because one of the real burdens imposed on the nation is the trebling of personal debt. The Government have published a list of measures that they might introduce under the new powers in clauses 1 to 4. One is to amend by order the Consumer Credit Act 1974 to reduce the obligation on credit agents to notify the Government about changes in their key personnel.

In their constituency work, many right hon. and hon. Members will have come across the sharp practice of those who prey on the needs of those who are desperately in debt. Those hon. Members who have not, have either been extremely fortunate or not very active in their constituency work. My own experience is such that I agree with the spokesman for one consumer group, who said that we should be tightening rules on debt agencies, not loosening them.

Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

The hon. Gentleman seems to have missed the mood of the country. Many of those people who are helped with their debts are in the voluntary sector, and the voluntary sector is crying out for the cutting away of regulations, which are often more burdensome on them than on trade and industry. The hon. Gentleman has missed the whole point.

Mr. Cook

If articulating the views of 90 per cent. of consumers is missing the mood of the nation, it is the hon. Gentleman who has the selective hearing problem.

I understand why the Government missed the mood of the nation; it was because of the people to whom they listen. There were no consumers on the task forces that they set up to advise them.

The President of the Board of Trade made great play of the importance of small businesses and the importance to small businesses of cutting regulations. It is a pity that that was not remembered by whoever set up the task forces. There were no small businesses there either; it was the big boys. GEC, Bovis and Kingfisher were in the chairs of the task forces.

Membership of the task forces reads like a list of donors to the Tory party. Between them, the companies represented on the task force made 88 separate donations to the Tory party. Four of the eight chairmen of the task forces come from companies that together donated to the Tory party only a few thousand short of £1 million in the last Parliament alone.

They are the people to whom the Government are really prepared to have regard—not some Committee of the House—

Mr. Spearing

The Sleaze (Pay-off) Bill.

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South is very supportive, but he must allow me to continue.

One of the recommendations from the task forces that was carried into the Bill is that brewers can continue cheating us of the full measures in our pints. They can continue serving up to 5 per cent. of froth instead of 100 per cent. of beer. It certainly removes a burden from the brewers: the burden of providing a full pint to the customer who has paid for it.

Mr. Heseltine

Why did 30 Labour Members of Parliament sign an early-day motion asking us to do just that?

Mr. Cook

Thankfully, as the President of the Board of Trade does not yet have the power to act by order, those hon. Members will have the opportunity to argue their case when we reach that clause, and I shall listen.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to quote to me 30 of my Back Benchers, he may recall that the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who was the Minister for Consumer Affairs until last year, said in the current issue of the CAMRA newspaper: Once more a Conservative Government has caved in to the brewers". Nobody from the Campaign for Real Ale was on the task forces. I suspect that nobody on the task forces was from the drinking public. I doubt whether any of the exalted membership of the task forces has been in a public bar in the past 10 years.

Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough)


Mr. Graham Riddick (Coln Valley)


Mr. Cook

I shall give way in a moment to whichever of the hon. Gentleman has been in a public bar.

Bass was represented on the food and drink task force, as was Whitbread, which has given £250,000 to the Tory party during the lifetime of the Parliament. That is why the provision is in the Bill: it has nothing to do with cutting red tape and everything to do with paying back the vested interests that bankroll the Tory party.

Mr. Sykes

Leaving aside the fact that it is impossible to get a frothy head on a pint of London beer, how can the hon. Gentleman justify the extra expense on pubs across the country, when last year there were only 16 complaints, although 200 million pints of beer were served?

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman concedes our case when he asks how they could meet the extra expense. Did we need any further evidence that the brewers are pocketing the money by short-changing the customer? That is where the money is coming from, and they are afraid of handing it over. The Government will have regard to those people, not to the House.

Mr. Riddick

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

I have given way generously during this debate, and I have given way to the hon. Gentleman on many other occasions.

There is, of course, a double standard that is represented by this Bill. The Government are so keen to deregulate—[Interruption.] We have in the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) another spokesman for the brewers. I should not want the Tory party to lose the money that it gets from the brewers.

Mr. Riddick

Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of the brewers' imposing an extra 7p on the price of a pint of beer? That would be the cost of enforcing this provision. Let the hon. Gentleman now answer the question that has been put to him: why did 33 of his hon. Friends sign the early-day motion supporting the introduction of this provision?

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman has put a precise price on the point that was made by his hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes). We have been told that brewers now admit that they cheat drinkers out of 7p on every pint. For once, I agree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, who, when he was the Minister responsible for consumer affairs, said that the drinker should get the pint he pays for.

Mr. Riddick

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

No. I have given way often enough. The hon. Gentleman has earned his keep from the brewing industry and will now have to stay in his place.

Mr. Riddick

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to display total ignorance of the fact that brewers would have to introduce new glasses and new meters to correspond with these new measures?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Cook

None the less, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising it. Having consulted the Register of Members' Interests, I can tell the House that the hon. Gentleman is a parliamentary adviser to the Brewers Society. A more genuine point of order—although I shall not raise it—might concern whether the hon. Gentleman declared his interest before intervening in this debate.

Mr. Riddick

It is in the register, you berk.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am not sure that I heard that remark correctly, but if I did, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw it.

Mr. Riddick

I withdraw it, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am most grateful.

Mr. Cook

We can lay the hon. Gentleman's point in the place from which the cheques come.

There is, of course, a double standard represented by this Bill. We have a Government who are so keen to deregulate the private sector—

Mr. Riddick

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to labour the matter, but it is only fair to the House to point out that a Labour Member too is a parliamentary adviser to the Brewers Society. I can speak with some authority about this subject, as, unlike the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), I happen to know something about it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

All hon. Members should be quite clear that if they have an interest in the subject of a debate in which they are taking part, that interest must be declared.

Mr. Cook

There is a double standard in this Bill. We have a Government who, while keen to deregulate the private sector, keep rolling out more central control in the public sector.

The President of the Board of Trade will recall that he began his career in the Government as Secretary of State for the Environment. Just after his appointment, he set out his strategy for the deregulation of local government. He said: We will sweep away tiresome and excessive control over local government. They do not need, they do not want, the fussy supervision of detail". Fifteen years later, we have more central regulation of local government than any other country in Europe. If the right hon. Gentleman wants a bonfire of regulations, let us throw on that bonfire the red tape that ties up local democracy—the capping powers, the rules on compulsory competitive tendering and the Treasury regulations that prevent councils from using their own capital receipts to shorten their waiting lists.

What about putting the torch to red tape in the national health service—the mountains of red tape invented through the Government's reforms? In four years, the number of managers needed to control the red tape has increased by 400 per cent. That burden on business, which was created by the present Government, could be removed by them. Such is the gulf between the hype with which Ministers preach deregulation and their own record in office.

At his press conference to introduce this Bill, the President of the Board of Trade was strong on hype. He said: This Bill will save hundreds of millions of pounds." When his Department was asked to quantify the hundreds of millions of pounds, it produced figures that added up to precisely £50 million. The Customs people, when they were approached, said, "We're a little puzzled by the figures." I suspect that the truth is that none of the measures in chapter II or in the background documents will make much difference, one way or the other, to the vast majority of British businesses.

There is, however, one obvious exception. The document "Cutting Red Tape" contains one item that will make a big difference to the budget of every firm, large or small. I refer to the first entry from the Department of Social Security. That Department claims, unbelievably, that the imposition of statutory sick pay on employers cuts red tape by reducing the administrative burden on the Department. It would take an Orwell to do justice to the double-speak which argues that imposing an additional bill of £750 million on industry reduces the burden on business.

But most of these measures are fairly harmless. The removal of the 1889 Act that prohibits the sale of methylated spirit on Sunday and the repeal of the Pedlar Act 1887 are no doubt worthy tidying-up measures, but they are modest provisions that will not improve our international competitiveness. They are not a substitute for the industrial strategy that Britain needs.

Last week, Britain's economy became the first major one in Europe without a car manufacturer. [Interruption.] Only five years ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs warned that British ownership and control of the car industry must be a matter for the Government. He said that, if that fact were forgotten, the British car industry would go further up the cul-de-sac. of extinction. Now that that is happening, he is laughing.

This week, a group of senior industrialists launched a report that highlights the long-term damage caused by Britain's obsession with short-term financial priorities. Since the new year, we have lost 1,900 jobs in our biggest exporting industry, aerospace. That is not only a tragedy for those who have lost their jobs but a handicap for the economy, which is losing its pool of skilled engineers.

These are the real challenges facing British industry. These are the big issues which the House should be debating. Instead, we have this mean-spirited little Bill, which will weaken our procedures in Parliament without doing anything really to strengthen our industry. It is the final proof of the bankruptcy of a Government who have been in office too long—too long to know how to solve the problems of the nation, because they are problems all of their own making.

This is no time for a uniquely unpopular Government to ask Parliament for yet more powers. It is time for the Government to give back to the people the power to decide who should govern them. In the Division Lobby tonight, we may not prevent them from giving themselves these extra powers, but the people will soon strip them away through the ballot box.

4.58 pm
Dame Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)

The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) may well pull out his binoculars when he hears me welcome this Bill. The hon. Gentleman has presented an awesome spectacle today. He has made very clear the extent to which we would be not only over-regulated but also deeply over-governed if—God forbid—we were to have a Labour Government.

I welcome the Bill very warmly. For a long time, I have thought that we in this country have suffered from over-regulation in every part of our daily life. It is interesting—and this is a very important point—that in the early 1980s, when a similar difficulty was caused by our employment legislation and the restrictions that it imposed, we took steps to introduce measures on an incremental basis. Although we started relatively slowly to reform our laws, we introduced more and more legislation, which incrementally opened up the possibilities for employment on a free basis and for the exercise of people's rights. I hope that we shall introduce further legislation after the Bill has completed its Committee stage—successfully, but no doubt with some jollity, judging by the early part of today's debate.

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade rightly stressed the importance of the Bill in relation to our industrial competitiveness. We should consider not only our ability to compete with fellow members of the European Union, but the increasing competition presented by lightly regulated Pacific rim countries. If our small businesses are to grow and compete we, too, must be lightly regulated rather than over-regulated.

Over the past few years, people and businesses have suffered as a result of regulation. Sadly, small businesses suffer particularly from over-regulation when there is a downturn in the country's economic fortunes.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Can the right hon. Lady explain how the current position has arisen—other than through the need to incorporate European Community directives in domestic regulations? For more than 13 years she has supported the current Administration, both inside and outside the House. If the current over-regulation is the fault of that Administration, why do they not reverse it? What could be simpler than to do that and admit that they are at fault?

Dame Angela Rumbold

Many of the regulations involved were introduced during the 1960s and 1970s when the Conservative Administration were not responsible for the legislation.

Most of our constituencies contain small and medium-sized businesses in considerable difficulties. Many of those difficulties were brought about by over-regulation and over-complication involving such matters as value added tax, sick pay and administration generally. I was enthusiastic about the measures introduced in the Budget because I thought it important to relieve small businesses of some of the burdens of form filling—especially in connection with VAT—that officialdom has created over the past year.

Many young entrepreneurs with certain skills—not necessarily accounting skills—start up small businesses. They are then confronted by a huge number of regulations. Some of the regulations relate to accounting procedures. Others, however, emanate from the DTI and other Departments which insist on burdening those young entrepreneurs with a plethora of regulations and forms, making it impossible for them to establish forceful, successful businesses which can compete with their rivals in other countries.

That is the world on which we should concentrate. A young engineer, for instance, may be suddenly confronted by the VAT man or some other official, and told, "You must do such and such today, or we cannot allow you to continue in business". He may also have an important contract to fulfil on that same day. When considering the way in which the growth of new businesses is constrained, we should take account of the amount of business that is lost as a result of time factors and the restrictions imposed by today's over-regulated world. Young and even middle-aged people starting up businesses should have some idea of the accounting and management skills that they will need to acquire. That is a question of training. As I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister will acknowledge, the one-stop shop approach has already proved helpful. I hope that that scheme will be expanded, as I believe that it will assist with the regulations that will have to be introduced at some stage.

I do not want to suggest that I am a total deregulator. I know perfectly well that we must live in a world containing reasonable restraints. I know that even in local government, which was cited by the hon. Member for Livingston, councillors and other officials often have to regulate and impose restraints, for good reasons. I should add, however, that I was a local councillor for some 10 years and I used to dread—and, indeed, leave—committee meetings dealing with what I considered to be interference in other people's business. In the development control and planning committees, every "i" had to be dotted, every "t" crossed; even the placing of dustbins was a matter for those committees. If we allowed some of the more enthusiastic regulators in the House of Commons to have their way, I believe that the House itself would be turned into a development control committee overnight. We would be dotting every "i" and crossing every "t" in every piece of legislation with which we were presented. There is no quicker way of obfuscating the proper business of the House—that of legislating on serious matters—than allowing ourselves to forget that we are not here to interfere in every moment of people's daily lives.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Are not the most welcome parts of the Bill those dealing with the fresh guidelines with which local authorities will be issued? No longer will an enforcement officer say one thing to certain groups of businesses while another officer in the same local authority says something completely different. At present, the arrangements differ from area to area. We need simple standard guidelines, full of common sense, which people will understand.

Dame Angela Rumbold

I could not agree more. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The regulations are so complex that it is possible for them to be defined in one way by a group of people in Birmingham, for instance, while another group in Bristol interprets them as requiring greater controls. When I was in local government, I found that it was possible to misinterpret every regulation that resulted from legislation passed in the House of Commons.

Before I became a Member of Parliament, I also spent some time examining the task force proposals on deregulation. I was encouraged by those proposals, but less encouraged by "Cutting Red Tape". I hope that the Government will not allow themselves to be over-cautious. I fear that with a Bill of this nature it would be easy enough to withdraw from the initial thrust of legislation which would otherwise produce excellent results in the future. That would nullify all the efforts not only of enthusiastic supporters such as myself but of those who have the pleasure of serving on the Standing Committee, although I trust that I shall not be among their number.

A raft of opportunities is available for us to consider. Many are set out in the task force proposals and others will emerge as we consider the Bill. It is important for hon. Members to recognise that the Bill should set a trend whereby it will become the norm for people to consider legislation and its regulations closely, and for those regulations to be not only clear and simple but written in understandable language, which has not yet been achieved. I am happy, therefore, to support the Bill and the efforts of my right hon. and hon. Friends the Ministers to ensure that the Bill successfully progresses through the House.

5.10 pm
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House, while welcoming the removal of unnecessary and out-of-date regulations, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which proposes to remove these regulations without providing a mechanism for proper debate and which encourages the transfer of decision-making over public money to private individuals who are in no way properly accountable to Parliament. The amendment makes it clear that I accept the case for getting rid of out-of-date regulations and regulations that are a genuine barrier to efficiency and understanding. I am more than willing to have constructive discussions with the Government to identify and agree on procedures that will achieve those aims. As the amendment makes clear, however, we are concerned about how those goals should be achieved, what the mechanism should be, and how we can ensure that the matter is properly debated. There should be a genuine attempt to strike a balance in the process; at present, the Bill does not do so.

In his opening speech, the President of the Board of Trade acknowledged the creative tension that exists and set out the case for regulations and the continuing need for them. I am not always sure whether the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs agrees with his boss. He sometimes gives the impression that he has not been convinced of the case for any regulation.

If one considers the task forces' report and the proposals that the Government have either accepted or rejected, it is clear that there was, even at the Department of Trade and Industry, tension on the subject of the task force. For example, the task force was opposed to the protection of hedgerows, whereas the Government were still committed to introducing legislation to achieve that end, which I welcome.

Other serious tensions, particularly on small businesses, were well drawn out in the Library brief. It is easy for hon. Members to provide a catalogue of information from individual small businesses on regulations, planning controls and health and safety factors. Those small businesses are required to respond to those regulations, which causes them considerable difficulty. That problem was acknowledged by the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) in his Social Market Foundation paper, which identified that big businesses are sometimes relaxed about regulations. They not only have the mechanism to police and enforce them, but they regard them as a barrier to market entry for some smaller businesses. That argument should be noted.

It is interesting that, in the same Library brief, the Small Business Research Trust showed the danger of not acknowledging the risks. It argues that many small businesses will concentrate only on picking up business on the fringes, because it is cheaper. That brings the danger that they will perhaps be tainted with the label that they are not of as high a standard as larger businesses. The legitimate questions that need to be asked are: should we abolish regulations for small businesses and give them derogations or should we help them to meet the regulations in two ways? First, we could ensure that they are simple and necessary—there can be a meeting of minds on that matter. Secondly, we could provide small businesses with practical assistance that recognises the difficulty that they have in meeting regulations, which have too often been drawn up by the Department in consultation only with the large businesses, which do not have the problems.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in considering how to help small businesses to meet levels of regulation, we depart from the real issue: was it necessary to impose such regulations on those businesses in the first place? Is not that nonsense? We should get rid of those regulations that are not necessary.

Mr. Bruce

We need to tackle both the problems that I mentioned because there will still be regulations that are necessary and which small businesses will find difficult. I accept the hon. Member's argument that we should always examine whether regulations are necessary and whether they create an unnecessary barrier or burden.

I want to pursue the argument that many regulations have been introduced by the Government in the wake of privatisation and the broadening of the market. It may well be that, as the market becomes more effective, there will be room to lower those regulations. But we have to be sure of what we are doing, because those regulations were introduced for good reasons. If conditions have changed sufficiently and changes are justified, it will not present a problem. But concerns will continue in some quarters.

The constitutional proposals in the Bill are of genuine concern. Clauses 1 to 4 represent a major constitutional change to the way in which the House does its business. As I said in my intervention during the President of the Board of Trade's speech, the Government, by recommending the new process, at least acknowledge that a radically different position exists and that the House needs to consider that. We should welcome that acknowledgement and consider the proposals.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East)

Is not the key difference that the Bill, for the first time, makes it much easier for regulations and legislation to be withdrawn? That is the key change from previous practice. Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise and welcome that?

Mr. Bruce

I am prepared to acknowledge that the B ill provides a better mechanism for removing the regulations than applied when they were introduced. If the hon. Gentleman will have a little patience, he will discover my concerns.

My first concern, which I mentioned earlier, involves clause 3, which seems specifically designed to avoid the possibility of judicial review. It states: Before a Minister makes an order under section 1 above, he shall—

  1. (a) consult such organisations as appear to him to be representative of interests substantially affected by his proposals; and
  2. (b) consult such other persons as he considers appropriate."
It goes on to state that if it is appropriate to vary the whole or any part of his proposals, he shall undertake such further consultation with respect to the variations as appears to be him to be appropriate. I am aware that there have been occasions in the past when judicial review has been successful because parties that believe that they should have been consulted have not been consulted, and they have been able to have the matter looked into. The clause seems to ensure that all the Minister has to say is, "I did not consider it necessary to consult them, whatever their interest and however essential it was." The clause is too wide and I hope that it will be amended.

Mr. Sykes

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that the two Select Committees will have the power to call before them whomsoever they would wish to call?

Mr. Bruce

The interventions are anticipating the arguments that I am advancing. I have acknowledged that the Government recognise that there is a need for new procedure. I am addressing their proposals. We should first recognise, however, that we do not yet know in detail how the new procedure will operate. All we have are recommendations from the Government that have to be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure. I understand that that Committee has not started to meet to discuss the matter, although it originally said that it might do so. It is waiting for the end of the debate and for the Bill to go into Committee. It would be extremely helpful if the Committee report were to be made available before the Bill reached its Report stage. Otherwise, we shall be debating in a vacuum without any clear idea of the Procedure Committee's concerns.

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Gentleman has hit—perhaps untowardly—on a most important constitutional point. He asks that a body, perhaps a Committee of the House or, indeed, the Government, who no doubt have some views on the matter, present some ideas about the constitution of a Committee which, under Standing Orders, would discuss the probable views of the House. Would not it be more appropriate for that to happen only after Royal Assent has been granted because, prior to that, this House or another place might not wish clause 3 to remain part of the Bill?

Mr. Bruce

I respect the hon. Gentleman's constitutional niceties, but I am being pragmatic. The Government have a majority and I should like to hear what the Procedure Committee has to say, for pragmatic rather than constitutional reasons. Incidentally, the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments currently has no representative from the minority parties. I wish to put it on the record that, if the procedure is to be developed, I hope that the Committee will be more representative of the House as a whole. It is fine to talk about the theoretical and constitutional niceties of an alternative procedure, but I am worried about the practicalities.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who is no longer in the Chamber, has already pointed out the statistical implications. We already face thousands of statutory instruments every year, but the Government are now asking for an additional procedure to deal with potentially thousands—or at least hundreds—more in any given Session. There is no chance of the Committee dealing with anything other than a tiny fraction of them. It will be able to undertake nothing more than a cherry-picking exercise, choosing to consider those that appear to be most contentious or those that are of most public interest.

The President of the Board of Trade has offered us only an unquantified self-denying ordinance that the Government would undertake to be "reasonable", but we are being asked to give the Government additional powers without any idea of what "reasonable" means. In those circumstances, the House is entitled to express its serious reservations about the implications of the proposals.

A further constitutional implication is to be found in part II of the Bill, which deals with contracting out. It extends the removal of parliamentary control and accountability even further than the measures that have been introduced in the past 13 years. It is a matter of genuine concern and it is interesting that the debate is coming out into the open. When the Conservative party was in opposition, I remember that there was a great campaign against the wicked quangos which were being created by the Labour Government, but no one has created more quangos and provided them with less constitutional accountability than the Conservatives.

The contracting-out provisions of the Bill take the notion a stage further. The provisions essentially mean that private contractors, private individuals, the employees of private contractors and the contractors of private contractors can act as if they were Ministers or civil servants and that the Minister can override local authorities and require them to transfer the powers of local government councillors and officers to private contractors. The Conservative party claims to believe in tight control and sound money, but it is creating a monster over which it has less and less control.

The Public Accounts Committee has already identified the extent to which money voted by Parliament is being spent by people who are not accountable to Parliament. We are talking not about millions of pounds but about hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pounds being transferred to people who are not accountable to the House.

I have often campaigned for fundamental constitutional changes to the way in which the country is run, and argued for a written constitution, a Bill of Rights and a fairer voting system, but let us leave that aside. Under the terms according to which the House chooses to operate as a sovereign Parliament, the basic rules are that Parliament votes money and Ministers are accountable to Parliament for spending it. Now, apparently, we are to be told increasingly that private contractors are responsible.

I hope that the Minister will explain the real meaning of clause 60, because I have heard two interpretations. One was that if the Minister intervened and stopped a contract because he believed that a contractor was abusing his power, the contractor might be able to sue him for breach of contract, which would presumably mean that more public money could be lost. What is the use of the safeguard in clause 60 if a contractor has already disappeared with the money, gone bust or is simply unable to account for it? I hope that the Minister will answer that question.

There has been a continual blurring of the proper role of Parliament and Ministers and of the proper control of money voted by the House of Commons for public services. That is unacceptable and it is why the Bill is much more important than it perhaps appears at first. Hon. Members, including those who, I regret, are not here today, should realise that we are not debating a simple Bill being promoted by the Department of Trade and Industry.

The Bill will fundamentally alter the pattern of Parliament and will affect every Ministry and Department. It could mean that any Minister in any Department could unilaterally amend, abolish or repeal huge rafts of legislation without proper consultation or debate in the House. We should not underestimate the significance of the proposals.

Mr. Nigel Evans

The hon. Gentleman has spent some time talking about the aspects of the Bill with which he disagrees, but he has not once said what the Liberal Democrats would do to cut the red tape which is holding back our businesses and stopping them flourishing and growing. He should stop sitting on the fence and instead tell us what his party would do.

Mr. Bruce

I have no problem with the hon. Gentleman's intervention. The amendment makes it clear that we are in favour of sweeping away unnecessary regulations, but that we are concerned about how it is done. I can, of course, identify proposals that we favour. One of our concerns that has been mentioned, but which the Government do not share, is that the imposition of statutory sick pay on small buisnesses is a big burden on them. Even small businesses say that the lack of markets and cash flow and their inability to get their bills paid on time are far more serious than regulation.

The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) quoted the relief of the auditing requirement for businesses with a turnover of less than £90,000. I not only welcome and support that but point out that the Liberal Democrats advocated it in our alternative budget in advance of the Government's Budget. Indeed, we have made, and will continue to make, representations to the Government for the removal of unnecessary or overly restrictive regulations. If the Government approached the issue in a less partisan spirit, this would be a great opportunity to reach agreement to remove regulations which all parties agree are non-controversial.

One fact that I am sure the Minister has already indentified is that no one believes that it should continue to be a criminal offence to provide someone with more than a pint of beer when they have paid only the statutory charge for a pint. We welcome some of the proposals to change shop hours and the relaxing of restrictions regarding children in pubs. Indeed, we have advocated many such proposals, so the intervention of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) was irrelevant.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the practical problem that was highlighted in the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is that to overturn regulation on a large scale would take not years but decades if one were to follow the usual parliamentary procedures?

Mr. Bruce

I am not convinced. Let the Government be honest: we all agree on the regulations that can be removed relatively easily because they are out of date, obsolete or marginal, but others, such as those relating to consumer protection, involve a fundamental difference in philosophy. It is odd that, while one Minister is saying that he will deregulate, when there is a major scandal or row or someone runs off with the money, another Minister tells us what he will do to ensure that consumers are protected and says that we shall have legislation in a few weeks. I do not know whether at that point the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs will come over to the Opposition Benches and start to argue against it. It is only reasonable that the creative tension is acknowledged.

I can leave many details of the Bill to the Committee. However, one of the valid and legitimate objections made by the Association for Consumer Research is that the deregulation does not appear to have a coherent framework. That is a direct challenge to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. It will be helpful to Members of Parliament, to businesses of all shapes and sizes, to consumers and to all the relevant groups—whether it be for employment protection, health and safety, consumer protection, standards or whatever—to know the groupings of regulations that the Government are putting together to declare them obsolescent and get rid of them.

There is no clear framework. We are getting rafts of unrelated deregulations with no pattern to them. The Government will simply decide to get rid of the regulations, which will be discarded in their hundreds. If they are grouped coherently, people will be aware of the benefit and businesses will understand the sense of it.

My final argument is that the Government are in danger of pursuing a wonderful line of rhetoric—the hon. Members for Ribble Valley and for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), who intervened on my speech, would do well to consider that—which they will find that they are unable to fulfil. They will create hopes and expectations in the small business community in their constituencies, who will ultimately be disappointed because it has not proved practical because there is no coherent strategy. We are already beginning to experience that type of approach.

The Government must also recognise that they are raising fears that consumer protection legislation will be weakened; that employment protection or people's rights, especially to redundancy payments, will be swept away; that health and safety provisions could be diluted. Those are the worries which will legitimately be addressed in detail in the Bill.

I would suggest to the Government and to hon. Members that we need to have a constructive and honest debate about how we can, get rid of unnecessary regulations, and about how we can, by all means, introduce a culture that enables us to review regulations properly before they are introduced. I would suggest that that mechanism, if it is good for removing regulations, ought to be good for introducing them as well. The Government should consider that. We should realise that that is not as simple as it appears.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

I am glad to hear the constructive tone of the hon. Gentleman's speech because I believe that there will be a great deal of agreement on both sides of the House on the meat of the measures that will be brought forth under the deregulation initiative. The order-making power will in general be used, as is evident from the nature of those which appear in this company document, for measures that will be uncontroversial. I believe, though, that the overall strategy is properly dealt with in that document and the other documents that were published at the same time as the Bill. Reviews are continuing over the range of Government policy in which consumers will have a full part to play when we consult them, before and after the Government make their proposals. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's fears are illusory.

Mr. Bruce

I hope that I am right, but, as we get into Committee, we shall obtain more detail. Many of the proposals in the meat of the Bill will not cause major problems for the Government. Some will, but most, probably, will not. The trouble is that most of the things that are identified in the accompanying documents are not in the Bill, and some are not clear.

For example, I do not understand why European time should appear. It is acknowledged to be a non-regulation matter. Is there any serious suggestion that we could be forced on to European standard time on the basis of a statutory instrument, among hundreds of others, which cannot be debated as primary legislation on the Floor of the House? The future of the Forestry Commission is mentioned. Does the privatisation of forestry, if the Government were to go down that route, require primary legislation or not? We should be told.

We are worried that fundamental structural changes could be introduced on the basis of a mechanism that will not allow for proper debate and amendment. If the Government are able to provide us with assurances in due course by the time that the Committee has sat, they will find that the Liberal Democrats respond constructively, but we shall have to be convinced that we are not discussing a constitutional outrage which will sweep away the proper responsibility of Parliament and the proper responsibility of Members of Parliament to scrutinise, to vote money and to hold Ministers to account for it.

5.34 pm
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I hope that the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) will forgive me if I do not follow him down the route that he has signposted. I shall confine my remarks to a very narrow sector—a point touched on earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) during an intervention.

I do not oppose the main principles of the Bill. Deregulation provides additional opportunities for businesses by removing controls and bureaucracy. It stimulates new ideas and can do a great deal to create a climate in which prosperity and jobs can grow and flourish.

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, in his splendid opening speech, quite properly drew our attention to the benefits that will flow from the enactment of the Bill. I wish, however, to discuss a narrow part, and I am concerned about two clauses that might, at first sight, seem insignificant.

They are outside the main thrust of this measure, but they have serious implications for the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and the Health Service Commissioner—the ombudsman. It is more probable that the Comptroller and Auditor General will also be affected, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham said. It is even possible that the Clerks of the House would be unintentional targets of the legislation.

My interest in the measure arises because I am Chairman of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. It is, therefore, my intention to confine my remarks to the implications that the Bill holds for that office, even though it may have implications for other servants of the House.

The relevant clauses are clauses 57 and 67. It will be seen that clause 57(2) and (3) draws attention to what might happen as far as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration is concerned. It would seem from at least one interpretation that a Minister would be able to instruct an Officer of the House.

I put it to the House that that would be something of a constitutional novelty. It has serious implications for the ombudsman, whose office was set up by the House and who is required to inquire into complaints made by citizens about the way in which Government Departments administer or implement Acts of Parliament. It is the ombudsman's duty—a duty that has been laid upon him by the House—to inquire into examples of maladministration—for example, in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Transport or the national health service.

The ombudsman is required to publish a report following his investigation, which sets out his findings and suggests remedies. From time to time, therefore, the ombudsman is seen to be clearly critical of the way in which a Government Department discharges its duties and responsibilities.

The Parliamentary Commissioner or the Health Service Commissioner can do that because he does not owe his existence to any Minister or to Government. He is an Officer of the House, and he is therefore independent and impartial, owing no allegiance to Ministers or Government Departments. If his office is contracted out, I believe that that impartiality will be substantially damaged. Like the judiciary, the ombudsman is involved in justice—justice for the citizen against an overbearing or maladministering arm of the state.

A recent report by the Select Committee on the powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration concluded that the independence of the ombudsman should be further emphasised and enhanced, and that it should be done by changing the way in which he is appointed and his office funded.

In the report—only the second issued by the Select Committee in about 25 years—that relates to the powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the Committee said: We recommend that the Government introduce legislation to meet the expenses of the office from monies voted directly by Parliament on estimates prepared by the Public Administration Commission. We also recommend that the Government introduce legislation to provide for the appointment of the ombudsman by the Crown on an address of the House of Commons. No motion being made in such an address except by the Prime Minister with the agreement of the Chairman of the Select Committee and the Leader of the Opposition. The Bill, or rather the part of it that I have mentioned, goes in the opposite direction, with powers being transferred from the House to the Government. I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends in government would not abuse their new powers, but someone else, perhaps in some new Parliament, might be tempted to do so.

That is why I believe that the two clauses should be amended to remove the Officers of the House from the effects of the Bill. Alternatively, any decision conveying the powers and responsibilities of the Parliamentary Commissioner to any third party should lie firmly with the Commissioner himself. It should be his decision, not that of a Minister.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster invited my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and me to meet him yesterday to discuss that specific issue. I thank him both for his courtesy and for his time. He showed considerable understanding of and sympathy for the views that we expressed. I therefore hope that, when the Under-Secretary of State sums up, he will be able to reassure me on this matter.

I regard it as an issue of constitutional importance, which has a considerable bearing on an Officer of the House and on the House itself. I shall therefore listen with even greater care than usual to what my hon. Friend says when he winds up.

5.41 pm
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood)

The day that the President of the Board of Trade published the Bill, he spoke on the "Today" programme on Radio 4, and was asked to give illustrations of the kind of burden that he meant to remove. Casting around for an example, he lighted upon school governors, and said that the governors he knew were always telling him that they were burdened with regulations. He did not pause to think where those regulations had come from. Therein is a microcosm of the story of the past 15 years. There we see the origins of the deregulation that is now being discussed.

The Government said that they were a new kind of Government, representing a new kind of Conservatism, which had nothing to do with the old kind. They intended to take up society by the roots and remake everything they could get their hands on—the health service, local government, education, the trade unions—you name it, and in they would go to legislate. Of course, the consequence is that we have never been so legislated against.

I am not sure whether I am allowed to say this, but the President of the Board of Trade was not telling the entire truth when he said, in his casual way, that Europe and the single European market alone had caused all that legislation. If one examines the figures, as I have done, and the pages and pages of Acts and statutory instruments dating from the 1980s, one finds that it was all there from the beginning.

The record shows the simple story: since 1979, the Government have issued on average 500 more pages of legislation a year than the Labour Government of the 1970s—and also on average 500 more pages a year on statutory instruments. That is the background to the issues that we are dealing with today.

Even more intriguing is the fact that, since 1985, there has been a deregulation unit inside the Department of Trade and Industry. Clearly, it has not been awfully successful, because in 1994 we apparently need a deregulation Bill.

Mr. Steen

If the hon. Gentleman says that there has been too much legislation, why does he disagree with a Bill that aims to reduce it? The fact that we got it wrong in the past surely means that he will now say that we should put it right. That is exactly what we are doing. How can he possibly oppose that?

Dr. Wright

I am grateful for that intervention, because I did not hear the President of the Board of Trade tell the story in quite that way. I did not hear him say, "Of course, we have rather screwed things up. We have got it all wrong since 1979. All those monstrous laws that we introduced were quite misguided, and we would now like to make a public apology for them. As a token of our remorse, we shall start moving in a new direction." In fact, I did not hear much of an apology at all, despite the fact that, as we all know, all the legislation that the right hon. Gentleman talked about was derived from that period.

What happened when the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) wrote his recent pamphlet on deregulation for the Social Market Foundation? He plucked out 10 or 12 B ills to illustrate what he was talking about—and of course, they were all Bills from the past five years or so. That conveys the fundamental truth about what is happening.

The larger truth, which we must also establish, is that there are good and bad regulations: sensible regulations and regulations that are not sensible. It is possible to tell the story of regulation in a way that makes it sound rather different.

For example, what about the demands from small businesses for a late payment scheme? They argue for a new kind of regulation that they would find helpful. The work of the Small Business Research Trust shows that regulations can be a spur to innovation and competitiveness. The environmental technology industry argued this week that the Government's failure to take environmental regulation seriously was holding that industry back from winning new markets.

The food and drink industry was mentioned earlier, so I shall cite a recent statement by an organisation representing that industry: Reducing the complexity of legislation through simplification and consolidation, together with ensuring that it is enforced to the same standard not only in the UK but also across the EC, would provide similar, if not greater, benefits to the industry than piecemeal changes to existing legislation. The Government have not persuaded even those they claim are the beneficiaries of their efforts.

That is all simply a preliminary. The heart of the matter, and the issue of fundamental importance, is the manner in which the Government want to proceed. We are being offered a Bill entirely without precedent. Many Bills—a growing number in recent years—carry large order-making powers. Both the Education Act 1993 and the Child Support Act 1991 give their respective Secretaries of State more than 100 such powers. Since 1979, there have been 143 Acts relating to local government, and so on.

There is no question but that the development of order-making powers is a phenomenon associated with the present Government. However, what is new and without precedent about the Bill is that the Government are saying to the House of Commons, "We would like you to give Ministers blanket powers to make orders to repeal legislation." Anyone who knows anything about the way in which Parliament has examined such measures in the past will understand immediately why that is unacceptable.

In 1932, the Donoughmore committee said: The use of the so-called 'Henry VIII Clause', conferring power on a Minister to modify the provisions of Acts of Parliament (hitherto limited to such amendments as may appear to him to be necessary for the purpose of bringing the statute into operation) should be abandoned in all but the most exceptional cases, and should not be permitted by Parliament except upon special grounds". Let us leap forward 60 years, because the House of Lords has taken an interest in the matter in recent times, to the House of Lords Scrutiny Committee, established in 1992. In its first report, it says: In sum, the case for using Henry VIII clauses for updating lists, uprating for inflation and for making consequential and transitional provisions was recognised. In any event the Government should be expected to justify the use of such clauses as being necessary: they should not be used simply for convenience. We are being offered a Bill for the convenience of Ministers, in contravention of everything that has ever been claimed about the relationship in the matter of legislation between the House of Commons and the Executive. Either the House says that that is fine, that we do not mind being rolled over like that, or we say that there is something fundamental going on here; and there is.

Deregulation never was much of a big idea. Indeed, it is a rather little idea. But the big idea that is going on is that Ministers can decide for themselves what to do in the matter of making orders, irrespective of normal parliamentary procedures. If hon. Members are prepared—particularly Conservative Members, because it is not, or should not be, a party matter—to accept and approve the first four clauses of the Bill, they are not, as they believe, lightening the burdens on industry and small businesses, but taking a major step towards the transfer of power permanently from the House of Commons to the Executive. That is precisely the choice.

Looking at the history of the House of Commons over the past 15 years—heaven knows, its esteem is low enough anyway—and the way in which it has consistently failed to stand up to the Executive, the promise of the scrutiny Committees as an offsetting device against the massive transfer of power looks small and pathetic here.

In the period since 1979, the Government have been defeated only seven times in the House of Commons. On two of those occasions, Members of Parliament ganged up on their pay and conditions; at other times it was to do with dogs and Sunday trading. The idea that somehow, through party-based Committees, the House of Commons will suddenly become, as the Prime Minister might say, "muscular" in relation to the Executive is a fraud and a delusion. This is a House of Commons matter. It is a parliamentary matter. It is a constitutional matter. It is a democratic matter.

One hundred years ago, Sir James Ferguson looked across the Chamber and said that he had heard many arguments which influenced his opinion, but never one which influenced his vote. I ask Conservative Members to reflect on that, to consider the importance of what they are being asked to approve in the Bill, and to support Parliament instead.

5.53 pm
Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)

My colleagues will be relieved to hear that I propose to make a particularly short speech, because I shall address myself to the shortest clause in the Bill—clause 17, which must be one of the shortest clauses of any legislation, by only one word overlapped into a two-line clause.

The clause totally deregulates weekday shopping. As one contemplates that tiny clause, one is bound to reflect on how great a fire may be set alight by one small spark. The scale of the total deregulation for all weekday shopping can be gleaned from the fact that it will potentially and realistically add about 22 hours—or 35 per cent.—of additional shopping time to the existing Monday-toSaturday shopping week.

Mr. Steen

What is wrong with that?

Mr. Alison

Perhaps I can illuminate my hon. Friend. There is an upside and a downside to the proposed change.

On the upside, there is no doubt—my hon. Friend will endorse this and add his weight and approval to it—that total deregulation of weekday shopping will add many more opportunities for shopping through the whole of the working day for many people.

Women who work normal hours in employment quite different from the retail industry will find it possible to shop with their families until 10 pm, and to do the kind of shopping in which, hitherto, on Sundays only many were forced to engage. There will be many more opportunities for shopping as a result of the deregulatory change. I warmly approve of and endorse that aspect of it.

I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends, including the Minister, and Opposition Members will realise the downside to the change. I hope that my colleagues will use their imagination and brood a little about this.

The unregulated or deregulated shopping hours, both on Saturdays and, largely, on Sundays, will impose a colossal strain, but particularly on small shopkeepers. If a shop is run by a husband and wife, who may face Sunday opening as well, it will be difficult for them not to enter into competitive later opening hours. The strain of additional opening hours on small shopkeepers should not be overlooked.

I hasten to add that the potential pressure on shopworkers who are not shopowners to work long hours during the working day and perhaps at weekends should not be totally ignored as one contemplates the effect of deregulation in that area. I ask all hon. Members to reflect on the general shindy, noise and other aggravating factors of the typical working day for many homes and home owners throughout the country, where disturbance as a result of shopping already occurs during the working day, but tends to subside after normal closing hours.

Many residents in such pleasant residential precincts where there are shops, in places such as South Hams, Rugby, Hampstead, Hallam or Wyre Forest—just to draw a bow at venture—will be disturbed unexpectedly after normal closing hours by the fact that the shops there will be open until all hours. Some may be open until midnight, others until 1 am.

Mr. Steen

Throughout the night.

Mr. Alison

Some shops may indeed make a profession of opening throughout the night, although I doubt whether there will be any of that sort in South Hams.

The fact remains that many areas where the local population tolerate the coming and going, the shindy and general disturbance of shoppers in their streets during normal working hours, will find that extended indefinitely into all hours, including Sundays, if deregulation is carried in the Shops (Amendment) Bill.

We are rapidly approaching the time when, in the light of this welcome aspect of deregulation, we should look again seriously and deeply at the Shops (Amendment) Bill. Perhaps we should have a view to modifying and changing the permitted hours of opening on Sunday in the light of the proposals on weekday shopping.

I ask colleagues on both sides of the House to consider changing their position on Sunday trading in the light of the Bill. I am glad to have been able to make that short and simple point. I hope that I carry many of my right hon. and hon. Friends with me in urging that we consider Sunday shopping from a quite different perspective as a result of deregulation under the Bill.

5.59 pm
Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

If the Bill were really about simple language and about bringing legislation up to date, as the President of the Board of Trade told us it was, we should all be on a one-line Whip. We would not be here debating a serious Bill, since we would all agree. In fact, the Bill is about democracy. As we are part of the democracy, we assume that Parliament drafts legislation in the public interest. The careful clause—by—clause consideration in Committee and in the other place is designed to fine-tune legislation, to protect the public, to prevent the misinterpretation of legislation and to close loopholes.

No Government, even one as misguided and incompetent as this one, would describe their own legislative programme as "a burden". This deregulation exercise has turned the democratic process on its head. The Government have taken provisions mainly designed to be a public safeguard out of a raft of legislation and renamed them "burdens on business". The provisions have been submitted not to public scrutiny but to the scrutiny of a task force of business interests; incidentally, the gender balance is four out of 65. The Bill then empowers Ministers to remove or to alter any provisions in primary or secondary legislation simply by statutory instrument, which is the minimum scrutiny that Parliament can give. It is astonishing that this undemocratic process has been led and driven by the Prime Minister himself.

Mr. Steen

I have been following the hon. Lady's argument. If she would not act as we suggest and if she accepts that quite a bit of repeal is needed, how would she go about it?

Mrs. Jackson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because in one of his contributions on the issue, he made me think how the matter should be dealt with. He bemoaned the fact that village halls have to provide public toilets if they are to receive a public entertainment licence. They also have to provide public toilets that are suitable for physically disabled people. That is done by regulation. As there is no VAT on toilets for disabled people, every community hall in the country, as the hon. Gentleman mockingly said, is now building toilets that can be used only by disabled people. That is a way in which regulations can be used for the positive benefit of everyone, which is welcome. We would use regulations in a positive way. We would not rename public safeguards "burdens on business".

There are many issues about which we should be concerned, such as lorries going through London. Restrictions were imposed to protect air quality for Londoners. Clause 24 removes the need for lorries to have exemption permits to travel at night or at weekends; instead, guidelines will be issued to lorry drivers. Can one imagine a lorry driver, driven by his time-related bonus payment, continuing the ban voluntarily? With air quality-related diseases, such as asthma, increasing rapidly, do hon. Members really think that the people of London see that safeguard as a burden?

Let us consider school bus safety. A recent example in my constituency concerned a bus operator who carried 81 children to school on a single-decker. The public's reaction in my constituency is to protect the children and not to protect the bus operator's business. Yet the Bill removes the requirement for public service vehicle operators to renew their licence with the traffic commissioners every five years.

The Department of Trade and Industry document "Cutting Red Tape" promises to meet the Task Force's desire for the lightest possible regulatory regime in waste disposal. The intention is to relax conditions, even those about pre-notifying authorities of the movement of hazardous waste. That is a further move from a statutory, enforced system towards a voluntary and self-monitored system. Do the public really want to weaken safeguards in that respect?

All the feedback that I get, especially from young people, shows that there is increasing concern about the environment and a desire to make a positive use of waste. The Select Committee on the Environment, of which I am a member, inquired into recycling and we picked up that enthusiasm. Any system of positive waste disposal, whether through heat recovery, recycling or energy recovery from landfill, requires careful management. The rubbishing of the word "regulation", which is a key element in any waste management strategy, will destroy that positive movement.

The task force recommends reducing the planning role of local authorities and the scope for planning gain. That is an amazing recommendation. The biggest planning problems that I have encountered stem from irresponsible developers and unauthorised development. Some developers know that the enforcement powers available to planning authorities are so weak and that the financial penalties are so severe if the authorities lose on appeal that they have nothing to fear.

A couple of cowboys in my constituency dumped a million tyres with no planning permission, just with a vague promise that they would buy a shredder when they had enough tyres. The pile of tyres caught light, resulting in a huge fire that threatened a vast area of community forest land and nearby communities. The penalty in court was a laughable £1,000 fine and 120 days of community service. Is it any wonder that the public are sceptical about the Government's "get tough" policies when public safety is treated so lightly?

The Bill will encourage the view, whether the Government like it or not, that anything goes if it is good for business and if there is money to be made. I quote the members of the Sheffield Trades Union Council. They said that they had to emphasise to us as Members of Parliament the strength of feeling amongst trade union members who feel that should deregulatory legislation be placed on the statute book, then many workplaces would no longer be safe places in which to work.

Mr. Nigel Evans

The hon. Lady has gone through a catalogue of her favourite regulations. She has described the areas where she would not only not deregulate, but further regulate. Will she share with the nation the areas in which she would deregulate?

Mrs. Jackson

I believe that the public should be able to expect Parliament to regulate more strictly if public safety is at risk. There are various small regulations that are outdated and I am sure that they will be debated in Committee. I should be more than happy to deregulate in some areas. There is one matter on which I am very keen to deregulate—the ability of direct works departments of local authorities to bid for tenders and to work for other authorities or private businesses as they like. That would do a great deal of good for local authorities.

Mr. Sykes

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Jackson

I should like to continue. One of the difficulties is that if, as a result of public consultation, a need emerges to strengthen the regulations and the regulatory regime, the Bill prevents the Minister from taking action. Clause 1 says that the Minister can set up a regulatory system only if it is less onerous than the existing regime.

At the heart of the proposed legislation is another fundamental attack on open government and public accountability. For example, clause 9 deals with information that companies are required to give to the. Office of Fair Trading. There are already provisions which require commercially sensitive information not to be open to the public, but business wants more secrecy. Can it be in the interests of the Government, given the recent business scandals, that even more is allowed to go on behind closed doors? In the end, the cost will be greater as scandals hit the headlines and Parliament and the public demand major inquiries.

In the past week, the Government have published "Charter News". Its lead story was, "Complaints—Why we should value them." That is a nice lead from the Government! Complaints depend on openness of operation so that people know their rights and have confidence in the regulations that protect them.

The Bill is riddled with more suggestions of contracting out, one of which, I was disturbed to see, relates to business statistics. I was interested in a report on business attitudes to statistical inquiries, which was placed in the Library only the week before last. It showed that if the request for information came from a private consultant, only one in four businesses said that they would offer any information, whereas only 4 per cent. of businesses would decline to give the information if the request came from a Government Department. If we are aiming for positive regulation, we shall need regulators and they will need accurate information. If the Government base their policy decisions on information collected by organisations that have only three quarters of the facts, the Government will be wrong at least 50 per cent. of the time. Perhaps that has already been proved by the Government more than we care to say.

Businesses are not always right about what is in their own interest and not always right about what is in the public interest. They look to the short term—they have to—and to the next year's profit, but it is the Government's job to see beyond, to the next century and to pass laws that will bring lasting prosperity and jobs. Regulations should be seen as a positive way in which to bring that about. Of course, we must consult businesses, but we must also consult the other organisations that represent public health, environmental protection, health and safety and local government. They also have at the root of their function the need to take a long-term view.

We should be concerned that the deregulation outlined in the Bill endangers the very substance of democracy and accountability in the country.

6.13 pm
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this important debate on an important Bill. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) because it would be difficult to have a greater contrast between two approaches. The hon. Lady and many of her colleagues, as somebody said about the Bourbons on the restoration of the French monarchy, have learnt nothing and have forgotten nothing. That is certainly true of the Labour party on this subject.

The Government had promised a wide-ranging, detailed and innovative Bill and have produced just that. The Bill covers a wide area and, at a glance, it covers most areas of government and public regulation. It is even more interesting to consider some of the further improvements which will occur in due course, by regulation or otherwise. In the words of President Reagan, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

As the Bill's title refers to regulation and contracting out, it reinforces our commitment to cornerstone policies which have guided us for many years. The Bill seeks to underpin the enterprise culture for business, based on a view of Government as a help to wealth creation and not a hindrance, which the attitude adopted by the hon. Member for Hillsborough showed. The view proposes that private sector business, and not Government, creates wealth and we must create, and in some cases modify, the framework in which that business wealth creation takes place.

Mr. Spearing

Both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) are dealing with the issue seriously. But why is the limitation of creation of wealth justified if that creation of immediate wealth, especially for a short period shown in the balance sheet, means the undermining of long-term public health or of the long-term interests of the whole country? Surely that should be an area for proper regulation, even if, for the short term, productivity is thereby marginally lower.

Mr. Waterson

At a stroke, the hon. Gentleman underlines the basic misunderstanding of Opposition Members of the point of the Bill and the regulations that will flow from it in due course. We are not proposing a completely unregulated free-for-all in British business. What we recognise, and what the hon. Gentleman will never recognise no matter how many times I tell him, is that Bitish business men and women do not need a mass of contradictory regulations, many of which do not serve the purposes which he rightly mentioned.

Mr. Spearing

Of course I recognise them.

Mr. Waterson

I must get on.

I am delighted that we began with some 3,500 regulations and the task forces have published 655 proposals, 250 of which have been accepted in full and 280 of which are still under review. Much of the Bill, which underlines the point that I made to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), seeks to return common sense to some activities and to remove wholly archaic rules, some of which should have been swept away years ago. If it proposes nothing else, I would support the Bill because it seeks to remove burdens from our business and public life, which weigh down business men and administrators, increase costs for everyone, including the consumer, and in most cases benefit nobody. Surely, it makes sense to allow shopkeepers, for example, to decide if they will close early one day a week.

We must see the Bill in its full context. As I see it, it is a down payment, just the beginning and, perhaps the first wave. It is part of the Government's rolling programme of deregulation. The second wave is set out in the document "Cutting Red Tape", in which there are another 29 measures waiting in the wings to be tackled. It will come as an enormous relief to many hon. Members that one thing proposed in that list of secondary measures is the abolition of the so-called long pull offence—the repeal of section 165 of the Licensing Act 1964, under which, amazingly, it is a criminal offence to serve somebody with more alcohol than he or she requested.

I am also pleased to see the foreshadowing of the introduction of double summer time, to which the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) referred. That is a subject close to my heart, on which I introduced a ten-minute Bill and which I know would be welcomed by many.

I am secretary to the Back-Bench tourism committee and I also represent an area which is perhaps the prime seaside resort in the entire nation. Along with other hon. Members, I spoke in a debate in July on tourism and deregulation. I am delighted that so many of the general principles that were set out in that debate are contained in the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who has been consulting other Departments as well as the Department of National Heritage, will be able to help to free one of our vital industries—tourism—from many burdensome regulations.

Mr. Steen

I understand that there were 300 or 400 proposals for tourism deregulation—I do not have the exact figure. Is not my hon. Friend a little disappointed that only one deregulation proposal is contained in the Bill?

Mr. Waterson

I would be disappointed if I were not utterly convinced that many of those matters will be addressed in what I call the second, third and subsequent waves.

I refer hon. Members to the answer given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage on 27 July 1993 in which he gave an interim report on the work of his Department in examining unnecessary regulations affecting the tourism industry. At that time—presumably, things have improved even more since then—he identified more than 80 pieces of legislation and regulations affecting the industry. He covered areas such as food safety and hygiene—I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the President referred to that as a matter for continued review—fire safety, package travel regulations, the electricity at work regulations, public entertainment licensing, tourism signposting and price display regulations. Those are all matters for ongoing review not only by the Department of Trade and Industry but by the Department of National Heritage.

I quote my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary: The preliminary overall conclusion of my review is that the complex proliferation of regulations is unquestionably having a damaging effect on the tourism sector. This should now cease. I intend it to do so."—[Official Report, 27 July 1993; Vol. 229, c. 770.] I am sure that we all support him in that endeavour.

It is worth remembering that, just as it is possible to have poor regulation, it is equally possible to have poor deregulation. One example that comes to mind is the Use Classes Order 1987, which the Department of the Environment is good enough to refer to as its contribution to deregulation. I cannot dwell on that issue at great length; suffice to say it has caused a phenomenon in many seaside resorts around the country with a great mushroom-like growth in Department of Social Security hostels.

Mr. Sykes

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a report before the Department of the Environment at present on a national survey that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) and I conducted on the effects of DSS hostels? We have asked the Department to look closely at changing the Use Classes Order. Apparently, ministerial advisers have said that much of our evidence is anecdotal. I can assure my hon. Friend that the evidence is not anecdotal.

In Scarborough last year, we had three murders. We are not used to murders in Scarborough, but two of those murders related strictly to DSS hostels and the activities that take place there. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have a solution to the problem in the palm of their hands by changing the Use Classes Order as soon as possible?

Mr. Waterson

I am well aware of the vigorous campaign being led by my hon. Friends the Members for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) and for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) on this issue. Suffice to say—because it is not a central issue in this debate—it is a perfect example of how poor deregulation, without being thought through at the time, has brought about a truly disgraceful result: local authorities have no control over whether hotels and guest houses convert to DSS hostels and where they are located. I look forward to that and many other matters being addressed in the second, third and subsequent waves of deregulation.

There is an irresistible tide at work here to increase the volume of deregulation as we go along. It is right—to that extent, I agree with Labour Members—that these matters should be examined carefully and closely and should be the subject of careful and detailed consultation with those who are affected and those who legitimately have a view.

I welcome what is in the Bill, as well as what is not in the Bill but is yet to come. I hope that the bonfire of regulations has been well and truly lit tonight. I know that my right hon. Friend the President and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs will keep the bonfire going. If they are ever in danger of running out of suggestions, we will continue to keep them supplied with kindling. I fear that, unfortunately, the Opposition parties will merely remain jeering on the sidelines of this great bonfire, praying for rain.

6.24 pm
Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

It is with some trepidation that I rise to speak in a debate where the phrase used perhaps more than any other concerns the undesirability of "burdens". I must tell the House that burdens are not always undesirable. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] Tory Members may disagree—I do not know.

The Bill, like so many other aspects of the Government, is not really all that it seems and is not all that it is claimed to be. Of course, it comes from the team that promised low taxes and brought us massive tax rises. It is from the team that said that the national health service was safe in its hands, but which brought us bed closures and cancelled operations. It is from the team that said that it was the party of law and order, but which has managed to preside over a massive rise in the crime rate.

The fact that the Bill is not all that it seems should not take us too much by surprise because we are getting used to it. When this team came to power in 1979, it promised an expansion of individual freedom. However, in the years that it has been in office, it has presided over the greatest centralisation of power in the hands of the Executive. That is precisely at the root of what the Bill is all about.

Ministers have said that the Bill will liberate businesses from excessive regulation. Undoubtedly, that is a legitimate description of some aspects of the Bill, but many of its provisions, and some measures hidden behind its words on the paper, have a greater implication. Rather than liberating any businesses from excessive regulation, they will remove from citizens the protection of law where that protection is vital to their interests and their quality of life. Perhaps we should not be surprised that most of the danger of the Bill is lurking behind what is written on the paper.

Ministers will say that there is nothing to worry about; they have promised us scrutiny committees. Indeed, they have established a permanent deregulation unit to examine those sectors where red tape can best be removed. Undoubtedly, they will promise that there will be a proper, independent and objective examination. I am a little sceptical about exactly how objective that permanent deregulation unit is likely to be. When we look at who heads that unit, we find the name of Mr. Francis Maude, head of the global privatisation unit of Morgan Stanley and a former Tory Minister.

Some regulations are outdated and unnecessary. As we have heard, many of those regulations were introduced by the Government. There are pointers in the Bill to what its implementation—when we get past the Committee and Report stages and Third Reading, it is operating and the Minister has the power that he is seeking—is likely to mean for citizens and their rights in Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) referred to the likely effect of the Bill on the Companies Acts. We have been told that there will no longer be a need to register the business occupation, nationality or particulars of other directorships at Companies House. We have been told that that matter is not important and it is just red tape.

Those of us who are interested in piecing together certain matters think that they are of some importance to our citizens. Those matters include how trade deals have become mixed up with overseas aid and who is involved in those deals and how certain directors of companies that manage to get an amazing amount of the Government's overseas contracts also happen to turn up as the chairs of quangos and NHS trusts. Those are matters of legitimate public interest and they should be scrutinised. Removing the requirement for companies to be honest and open and to log such information at Companies House is important and does affect open government and democracy.

Clause 19, which deals with the provision to repeal any local building regulation, is open ended, but contains nothing about the need to maintain standards. When the Bill was first mooted, there were reports in the press of the great fear that there would also be a wholesale sweeping away of health and safety regulations. Ministers backed off rapidly at that point, saying that there was nothing to worry about and that there would be no reduction in standards.

There are some dangers contained in the words in the clause, although there are not many specific references to which health and safety regulations are to be repealed, but let us be under no illusions about what the Bill means. Ministers will tell us that all kinds of outdated and unduly complicated health and safety regulations have been replaced and updated since 1975, and indeed that has happened.

The Bill differs from previous legislation in an interesting way. All previous legislation has provided for the replacement of health and safety regulations, when replacement is deemed to be the right thing to do. Rather than replacement or reference to standards, the Bill provides only for wholesale repeal of such regulations. That is not obvious in the Bill, but it is sheltering behind the words on the page.

The Bill contains the provision that employers will be removed from the cumbersome burden of having to agree with, or even consult, their workers on how selection for redundancy can take place. Under the present legislation, an employer can argue why there should be a departure from normal practice on selection for redundancy. If the employer has good grounds for that, he can select for redundancy away from the normal procedures.

Mr. Sykes

As an employer, I should like to give the hon. Gentleman an example of how frustrating the process can be. I ran an oil depot in Leeds for many years, from which we delivered heating oil. Due to the rules and regulations—in other words, the last in, first out convention—I was unable to sack a driver who was probably one of the laziest men ever to draw breath. Unfortunately, the fellows who did work hard had to leave because they were last in.

Mr. Burden

The hon. Gentleman should perhaps have studied industrial relations laws a little more. If it turned out that he had a lazy employee, my understanding of the law is that that is a disciplinary issue, and not a redundancy issue.

Mr. Sykes


Mr. Burden

The hon. Gentleman can come back at me when I am finished. No law or regulation says that redundancy has to take place on the basis of last in, first out, although such a convention is often agreed between employers and employees. Any employer or any representative of the employees can suggest a different way of selecting for redundancy, but the important thing is that the process must be fair. The employee must have the right to test the process at an industrial tribunal.

If the hon. Gentleman felt that it was fair to select for redundancy someone whom he felt was lazy, he had every right to try that. He would have to prove his case in front of an industrial tribunal. If he won it—I think that that would be unlikely in the case that he outlined—good luck to him. It is not appropriate for the law to be changed so that an employer can suggest the person he wants for redundancy, even if it is for a disciplinary matter. It is not appropriate for the employee to be denied the right even to go to an industrial tribunal to contest that decision. That would seem to be the wrong use of the law. Such a use of law should not necessarily take us by surprise, as the Government have already been whittling away at the protections on redundancy.

Mr. Sykes

I do not wish to labour the point, but in the 1970s employers followed the convention to which I referred. I do not know how many people the hon. Gentleman has employed in his life, but I have employed 600 in my time. I have found it extremely difficult to prove a case such as the one to which I referred.

A driver might say that a wing-mirror had gone on the lorry that morning, or perhaps that his tyres had been let down the night before. Those little things built up gradually over time and added up to the problem. I am trying to explain to the hon. Gentleman, who has probably never employed people on the shop floor, why employers must be able to employ people who work hard for them rather than keeping people who do not.

Mr. Burden

I hope that, in years to come, employees who are considering whether it is worth while joining a trade union take the time to read that intervention from the hon. Gentleman. If ever they needed an example of the kind of attitude that underlines the value of trade unions, it is that one. I hope to goodness that the hon. Gentleman will not be in any position of responsibility at the Department of Employment in the future, given his attitudes to the rights of employees.

We should not be surprised by the Government's attempts to whittle away the rights of employees. A few weeks ago, I tabled a quite innocent question to the Department of Employment asking whether a particular employer who had announced redundancies had notified the Department, as is required by legislation. I also asked, if he had done so, on what date the employer had notified the Department. That does not seem to be too much of a big deal.

The answer that I received was that information as to whether an employer has obeyed the provisions of the statute is confidential. That is the type of mentality which exists at the moment. It is a matter of confidentiality whether an employer abided by the basic principles of employment law. Yet, when it comes to the apparent rights of an employer to sack people for a disciplinary matter, using the basis of redundancy, the law can be changed to permit that. That seems to be quite wrong.

The Bill has nothing to do with rights. If it had, its provisions on employment agencies would perhaps have been different. The Bill says that those agencies will be freed from the need to have a licence, but where is the acknowledgement of the rights of the employees of those agencies to decent terms and conditions? There is not a word about that.

There is the deregulation of markets and the abolition of traditional franchise rights, but where is the recognition of the rights of consumers to be freed from being sold shoddy and, in some cases, dangerous goods? There is relaxation of waste controls. It has been said that probably, in years to come, the National Rivers Authority—itself a candidate for market testing and privatisation—will be able to relax consent on effluent discharges. Where is the right of citizens to have a wholesome supply of water and decent quality rivers? There are the proposals for the freeing-up of the controls on third-party mortgages. That is said to be lifting a burden from businesses, but if the Bill were about red tape, it might be saying something else. The proposal on mortgages will not allow one extra home to be built. It will not house one extra homeless family.

If the Government are interested in lifting burdens and deregulating in housing matters, I suggest that they lift the regulations on capital receipts so that local authorities can build the homes that people need instead of being hidebound by the red tape that the Government impose on them.

Mr. Waterson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Burden

I have already given way enough and ti me is moving on. The hon. Gentleman has already spoken and I am sure that he will speak again.

We also have the provision on the head of beer. It is proposed that breweries will be able to charge for froth. That is hardly surprising in a Bill that is itself full of froth.

Mr. Pawsey

Like Banks's?

Mr. Burden

I shall not mention Banks's, although the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) will understand my interest in Banks's as he comes from the same region of the country as me.

Some regulations are petty and some regulations undoubtedly need to be removed by due process, proper debate and so on, but that will not happen as a result of the Bill. If Conservative Members are interested in deregulating and lifting burdens on business, why do they say nothing about statutory sick pay? Why do not they want to lift that real burden on business that they voted in?

Conservative Members expressed surprise when I suggested in an intervention that the absence of decent nursery provision in Britain was a burden on business. It should not take them by surprise. Do not they realise that the absence of nursery education means that working parents have to give up work when they should not have to do so and acts against the rights of women to be employed? That is a burden on business.

Mr. Pawsey

How much would it cost?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. There are too many sedentary interventions and conversation pieces.

Mr. Burden

That burden on business should be examined by the Government, but there is no reference whatever to it in the Bill. Conservative Members patently fail to understand that burden.

The Bill is not about deregulation. Excessive regulation is not the main problem with the Government. It is not the main problem with Britain. One of the main problems with Britain is the lack of democracy, which the Government have furthered by centralising power in the hands of the Executive. That has undermined what democracy existed at the workplace, in the neighbourhood and at local level. The Government have systematically stripped away from elected local authorities the right to decide things locally. They have handed those powers over to Ministers or quangos. The Government should deal with that lack of democracy. They can best start doing so by examining some of their own practices.

I do not see that it will further democracy—indeed, it will undermine democracy—to pass a Bill that strengthens the hand of Ministers not only in sweeping away petty regulations but in sweeping away, by ministerial order and with cursory consultation, any piece of primary legislation that they care to sweep away. Anything more threatening to democracy is difficult to imagine. That is why the Bill is wrong and needs to be opposed. That is why we desperately need a Government who are interested in increasing the rights of citizens, whether employees or employers, to have a say, rather than a Government who are interested merely in the right of Ministers to create and destroy regulations in the interests of their friends.

6.43 pm
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I suspect that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) would say that any Bill introduced in the House was about democracy. The Bill is not about democracy any more than anything else. It is about reducing the amount of rules and regulations that affect our lives. If I may make a poor joke, it is to reduce the burden of laws on life in Britain.

Life has become ever more complicated, frenetic, pressurised and stressed. More people have high blood pressure and heart attacks. Cancer is on the increase. There are more broken relationships. One in 80 marriages ended in divorce in 1961, compared with one in nine in 1991. In 1991, three in 10 children were born outside wedlock. We live in a society under pressure. The stress of modern life is intolerable. For many, it is not only inescapable but unbearable. The stress of modern life leads to social irregularities, emotional distortions and physical ilness and does nothing to enhance the quality of life.

As if the problems of living were not enough, over-officialdom and over-bureaucracy make things 10 times worse. As a nation, we have indulged in too many rules and regulations, many of which are simply not necessary. Who is to blame for all this? The answer is that all of us here are responsible. This place right here has made those rules and regulations. We are a huge law-making machine churning out legislation in the same way as Wall's produces sausages and Mars churns out Mars bars. It is a relentless, ongoing process.

What do we say to each other when we pass each other in the House? We say, "I have just written you a note", or "There is a letter on the board", or "Were you lucky enough in the ballot to secure a Bill?" The Bill turns into legislation. The whole building, with its thousands of support staff, is focused on thinking up ideas—good ideas—for more laws which directly result in an increase in bureaucracy and officialdom to implement them.

In the hurly-burly of politics, we pass too many laws that are not carefully scrutinised or thought out. Worse still, they are badly implemented by insensitive and often untrained public officials. If many of our civil servants ran private businesses, they would have gone bust years ago. Like the sun trying to shine through an increasing layer of cloud, small enterprises and individual citizens simply cannot see their way through. Rather than facilitating and improving the efficiency of the country, legislation filters its strengths and reduces its efficiency.

The Bill is so important because it is the first major attempt by the Government to slay the red tape dragon. The maxim that man learns nothing from history is often proved true, but the Bill shows the Government learning from history. Throughout the ages, Governments have repealed legislation. There is nothing new about repealing legislation. It is repealed either because it has proved unworkable or because it has simply outlived its shelf life.

In the new world in which we live, legislation has grown like Topsy and thus requires more drastic pruning. Those in the House who are gardeners know that shrubs grow irregularly. To keep trees and shrubs in prime condition, pruning is essential. So, too, with a mob of deers—which is a west country phrase—or a pod of seals. Culling is essential for their survival and health.

In 1989, there were five times more pages of legislation than in 1979. Brussels churned out five volumes of legislation before we joined the European Community. It now churns out 37 volumes each year. However, the cause is not simply too many Eurocrats in Brussels. Directives from the Commission are often sensible and come to Britain suggesting a simple way of dealing with the problem. Once the directive hits Whitehall, bevies of officials are stirred into action, taking time and effort to interpret and rewrite the directive.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Perhaps I may help my hon. Friend to expand that argument. He said that the regulations are often helpful, but the European Community passes general regulations to member nations' Governments for them to implement in detail. While the regulations may therefore seem helpful on the surface, they are the ramp by which all such regulations flow through.

Mr. Steen

I am not sure that that was terribly helpful, but it is useful to hear a diferent point of view. The directives come in a simple form and officialdom in Whitehall interprets and rewrites them. Those officials are rather like a horde of ants on a crumb.

I do not like to talk theoretically and I always give the House some practical examples. My first example is the private water supply directive. There are about 650 private water supplies in South Hams. One is to an old house called Lud house in the little village of Ermington, where my constituent Gordon Johnston has lived for many years and has enjoyed rude health—as did his father and grandfather and his children. He enjoyed drinking from his private water supply, but along came an environmental health officer—doing a perfectly responsible job—who told him, after testing it, that the water was not terribly good. Mr. Johnston said that he had enjoyed it all his life—as his father and grandfather had—and asked what was wrong with it. The officer said that it had too many nasty things in it and instructed that some chemical be poured into that large source of water to clean it up. Mr Johnston has never been the same since—he was a happy and a healthy man, but now he does not like the taste of his water. He has never felt well since and nor have his family. I hope that the environmental health officer, who charges about £50 or £100 a time to do the job, will not be so enthusiastic in future.

That illustrates part of the problem. We have created too many rules and regulations, which make people feel quite ill.

Mr. Spearing

Can the hon. Gentleman answer two questions? First, was it an indictable offence for the constituent to continue to drink his water? Secondly, was the charge for the unwanted treatment and inspection, which was perhaps statutory, the result of any legislation to put charges on local government services which has been enacted since 1979 and voted for enthusiastically by Conservative Members?

Mr. Steen

I cannot answer those questions without some notice, but I do not dispute that we Conservatives may be responsible. We have a lot to answer for. That is why I am glad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs is listening so conscientiously and enthusiastically. Conservative Members and my hon. Friend the Minister are concerned—as, I am glad to say, is the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). If we have made mistakes and been too free with some of the directives we should put it right.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

The key point is that all the legislation that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is so concerned about was passed before I became a Minister. Things will be very different now.

Mr. Steen

The House will be greatly reassured by my hon. Friend's interjection. I always find it reassuring when he is sitting on the Front Bench.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Newham, South will both be concerned about the many Acts of Parliament that have created self-financing regulatory authorities, or SEFRAs. They are new animals with powers to create rules and regulations, charge for licences and fine for enforcement. Rather like a Hitchcock film, the Government have created self-perpetuating organisations which are branching out all over the place with new laws and an increasing number of officials who get in our hair and into all aspects of life.

SEFRAs are the most dangerous of animals. They are the 1990 equivalent of the quango, but with real teeth. The Financial Services Act 1986, the Food Safety Act 1990, the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the National Rivers Authority and the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service are all SEFRAs. They have armies of officials, are funded by charges which have resulted from their rule-making powers and they demand compliance and threaten penalties for non-compliance. I am sure that the Minister will be well aware of SEFRAs.

Mr. Burden

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Steen

No, the hon. Gentleman spoke for 18.5 minutes and that was 18.5 minutes too long.

Changing attitudes among public officials is a crucial facet of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Minister must deal with the following question. I do not think that he will find it too embarrassing. His Department has 11,389 officials. What are they all doing? If it has a deregulation unit, should it not be studying those officials and asking whether there are not too many of them? We also have to change the attitude of the Opposition. I hope that all hon. Members present will help the Minister and show him where he has gone wrong and how to put things right.

The Bill speaks of educating inspectors to make them more sensitive to business realities and to help them to apply a common sense approach in their work. That is long overdue.

Perhaps you will allow me to tell another story, Madam Deputy Speaker, about Mr. Wheeler of Harbertonford, who is registered disabled and, I fear, hobbles with a stick. He went into Totnes—my market town, which you know well, Madam Deputy Speaker—just before Christmas to get some medicine because his wife was not well. Unfortunately, he jumped into her car, which does not have a "disabled" badge, and parked it where he should not have done. When he came out of the shop he got a ticket. He is a registered disabled person and has a disabled badge and a clock, but he got into the wrong car. A very apologetic parking warden, who knew Mr. Wheeler, said that he was awfully sorry as he had not recognised the car or realised what he was doing. He issued the ticket, but said that he was sure that if Mr. Wheeler rang up it would be cancelled.

The attitude of the public officials to whom Mr. Wheeler explained the situation was less understandable. They clearly had no humanity or sympathy. The official in Plymouth told him that it was his own fault for parking without a disabled badge, which he knew—although he did not expect to be told what he already knew. The official also said that he seemed to be full of self pity and looking for … sympathy when he asked for the fine to be cancelled. As a result of my intervention, the chief constable of Devon stepped in, but it took his intervention to get the charge cancelled. That is wrong and it should never have happened.

Mr. Pawsey

Well done—a good Member of Parliament.

Mr. Steen

My hon. Friend is right.

Over-zealous environmental health officers are causing immense and excessive costs, according to a survey published recently by the Food Hygiene Bureau and reported in January's edition of Free House, which I know that hon. Members read avidly. The survey of 300 west country business properties, where work had been carried out during the past two years as a result of action by environmental health officers, showed that there had been a 25 per cent. overspend—that is, over and above what they would have had to pay for the minimum legal requirement. The survey uncovered the fact that out of a total expenditure of £445,000—about £1,500 per property—£113,000 was for items that were not legally enforceable, such as fly screening of windows, fitting vapour-proof fluorescent lights and providing additional hand washing facilities, which might be helpful to Lady Macbeth but are not helpful to small companies.

It is not surprising that a visit from the environmental health officer is enough to strike fear into even the best managed kitchens, which is "right" according to the chairman of the Health and Hygiene Council, who goes on to say that, Heavy fines, closure or even prison can result from violation of the environmental health laws. That sort of bullying attitude needs to be purged from organisations that were established to serve the public, not to crucify them. Only when the zealots have been weeded out will common sense prevail.

Quite simply, the Bill is about helping us to recover our efficiency. The principal means of doing that will be by diverting, reducing or getting rid of the quagmire of rules and regulations, and the accompanying officials, which divert our time, effort and energy—particularly in small businesses—from getting on with the job of running businesses, providing a service for the customer and creating wealth and employment for the nation.

The Bill will ensure that the laws enhance our quality of life, making the way that we live richer, more valuable and more purposeful, with less time spent on the senseless activity of filling in forms, making phone calls to officials who are never there, paying bills for services that we do not want, and turning up in court for failure to comply with notices that have been served.

I should have thought that the Labour party would hail the Bill as one of the best measures that the Government have ever introduced—but not at all. The Labour party is a notoriously slow learner and has described the Bill as hopelessly out of step. I am not sure with whom it is out of step. It is probably out of step with public officialdom. It is certainly out of step with bureaucracy, but one must remember that the Labour party is the country's custodian of bureaucracy and the champion of red tape: it believes in the cause of overmanning and public officialdom as fervently as Arthur and his knights chased the holy grail.

If the Bill achieves nothing else, it will make politicians and, I hope, officials think twice—if not thrice—before embarking on the merry-go-round of passing more laws. Less regulation does not mean that we shall live in a more dangerous, unhealthy or unsafe society. On the contrary, it will result in giving greater legitimacy to the political process if people know that the Government pass only a minimum of legislation, expecting the public to exercise common sense. We want legislation emanating from Westminster and Whitehall which the public knows will be sensitively and efficiently administered and the officials put in charge of it intelligent, experienced and flexible. We must fell the current forest of ludicrous rules and regulations in which many of us get permanently lost.

Nothing undermines the credibility of Parliament more than the passing of too many laws. Too much law shows an indiscipline in Government and an inability to weed out what is unnecessary. Reducing the number of rules and regulations will help to put back an element of common sense into the political system. So next time any of us on either side of the House talk about changing the law or introducing a new Bill, I suggest that we should swallow our words, because more laws are the enemy of the people and of our traditional British way of life.

Madam Deputy Speaker

May I remind the House that the 10-minute limit on speeches is now in operation until 9 o'clock.

7.2 pm

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

I am pleased to follow the witty speech of the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), but his speech and mine will show the contrast in approach between the two sides of the House.

I oppose the Bill because I have grave reservations about how existing legislation will be amended. I am also fundamentally opposed to two main areas of the Bill, particularly deregulation of health and safety legislation and of market franchise rights. Deregulation in those areas will not improve the quality of life, but will be detrimental to it.

The frightening thing about the Bill is that it is ill-conceived. It will not only be detrimental to ordinary people's quality of life but will impact on businesses in a generally detrimental way. The exercise has been presented as a way to widen business opportunity, whereas it cloaks a crude political device to justify deregulation, particularly of health and safety legislation.

The architects of the Bill say that it is essential to wipe away the archaic legislation that has built up on the statute book. In reality, however, the Minister knows that it is much more, especially concerning health and safety. I believe that there is a hidden agenda. Clause 27 will allow the Government to make way for 19th century working practices. Some companies—albeit only a small number—will be able to create the very worst of working conditions.

The seven sectoral task groups—STGs—set up to examine the individual regulations are expected to move with extreme haste in identifying those regulations which, it is argued, impose a disproportionate cost on business. In reality, evidence points to the fact that the regulations are being subjected to a superficial examination. On 20 July last year, the Secretary of State for Employment announced that the Health and Safety Commission would examine proposals to revoke 30 sets of regulations. When the Minister winds up the debate this evening, he may be able to say how the 30 sets of regulations were identified and evaluated when, at the time of the Secretary of State's announcement, they had not even been examined by the STGs.

The real burden of the health and safety review will be borne by the victims of occupational accidents and industrial disease. Health and Safety Executive figures estimate that, over the period of the review, 586 people will have been killed in British industry; 194,579 people will have suffered major injuries at work; and 6,355 people will have been diagnosed as suffering from industrial disease. That is the carnage taking place in British industry. The overall cost to employers of accidents and ill health is estimated to be between £4 billion and £9 billion. The cost to society is put at between £10 billion and £15 billion. The Government should ensure that firms comply with the law rather than deregulate health and safety legislation. In that way, more accidents would be prevented.

The other major area of concern to me is the deregulation of market franchise rights under clauses 21, 22 and 23. Currently, many local authorities have market franchise rights, which means that a rival market cannot be set up within 6⅔miles of the local authority market.

Conservative Members have said that the deregulation exercise will free up trade, but it presents a threat to market franchise rights because local authorities have provided good conditions for market traders. They are motivated primarily not by profit but by the wish to provide a service to the community. The surplus that accrues to some local authorities is used, to give financial support to the general rate fund so that the entire community benefits from the operation. The protection of markets by the franchise rights has been wisely and responsibly used, to the benefit of markets and the community. It does not restrict trade, as some Conservative Members seem to believe. The removal of that protection will effectively provide an opportunity to anyone to operate a market in direct competition with the market already established.

Hon. Members should think about that for a moment. It will result in a proliferation of markets and car boot sales around towns. It will siphon trade away from town centres to the detriment of urban communities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) and I have launched a campaign to save market franchise rights. I urge Conservative Members who have not already done so to sign early-day motion 84 to support the campaign. If they do not vote against the Bill tonight, I urge them at least to abstain.

7.10 pm
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

We have heard many constructive comments from Conservative Members. In general, they have fully supported the Bill, although they have flagged one or two matters of concern. We have also heard some charming vignettes, such as that from my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who told us about the tottering punter from Totness. With his inimitable superhuman assiduity, he solved his problem, and no doubt he will have the support of the entire village.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) told us about a lorry driver. He said how idle, indolent and lazy he was, and that he was now a Labour Member of Parliament.

My right hon. Friends the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) also made constructive speeches.

We have also heard a number of speeches from the Opposition, including the eloquent contribution from the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham). The speeches of the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) were articulate, but they are living in the dark ages.

The Opposition oppose every measure designed to encourage managers to manage their firms and to cut businesses loose. They are the enemies of the self-employed and small business men, and they approached the debate in a thoroughly negative manner.

It is appropriate that my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) is the Minister responsible for deregulation. He has thrown himself into the task with tremendous enthusiasm. I remember him as a deregulator many years ago, when we were both at the same educational establishment in the Fens. He once deregulated a pile of crockery.

My hon. Friend has matured since then. He deserves his post, and is moving from strength to strength. I am certain that the Bill will be a success, largely because of his determination and will power, and he has our support.

It is fair to say that, to some extent, the Government's policy on small businesses lost its direction in the late 1980s. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden said that, during a recession we over-regulate small businesses, but I consider that the reverse has occurred.

In the mid-1980s, we had a vibrant small business policy under Sir David Trippier and Lord Young. The deregulation initiative was given a great deal of prominence, and much was achieved in terms of lifting the burden on small firms and encouraging the supply-side economy.

When the economy picked up, unemployment fell and growth took off, we forgot about small firms and tended to give too much leeway to pressure groups that wanted more regulation on such matters as the environment, health and safety and transport. We gave in because the economy was strong, there was growth, and businesses could stand extra regulation without jeopardising jobs.

During the recession, it took the current President of the Board of Trade to redirect our small firms policy". The past two Budgets contained a number of important measures geared to help small businesses dealing with audit requirement, VAT and the business expansion scheme mark two. The Bill is in addition to those measures, and it is particularly welcome.

We have to redirect our small firms policy. Our economy will not move forward with the rapidity it should unless small firms are in the vanguard of wealth creation, entrepreneurial initiative and, above all, job creation.

There are a number of medium-sized businesses in my constituency, many of which are doing very well. Recently, we had the bad news that British Sugar is to close its sugar beet factory at King's Lynn. However, the new supply-side environment in the economy means that the conditions are right for small firms to get going, for start-ups and for existing small firms to take on more people. I should put on record my appreciation of the work of the West Norfolk enterprise agency, which, over the years, has helped a large number of people.

I must mention one small element of concern. I have heard that the new business development centre, which will be part of the business link, is to receive funds from the Department of Trade and Industry.

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry is now in his place. The other day, I spoke to a small business man in my constituency. The manager of Sainsbury in King's Lynn was also concerned about the enterprise agency, but, as the borough council and the DTI are redirecting their support to the business development centre, there must be a question mark over its future. I hope that it will become part of the development centre, to provide advice on start-ups to people who want to know the nitty-gritty, instead of information that would be more applicable to companies that have found their feet and want to expand.

I should be grateful if the Minister would say a few words about the future role of enterprise agencies and how they will fit into business development centres. The Bill is about deregulation and helping small firms, and one mechanism for doing that is the enterprise agency network.

Small businesses want a strong economy and falling interest rates—I welcome today's fall of 0.25 per cent. They want corporation tax and small companies tax to remain the lowest in Europe. They want inflation kept very low. They also want a number of measures that only a Conservative Government can provide, and the Bill is one such measure.

The Government have done a great deal to support the supply side and, if we get it right, the Bill will be the icing on the cake. However, we have to be conscious of the conditions in Britain that are attracting foreign investment.

Why are we getting roughly 40 per cent. of all the inward investment into the EC? Out of the top 25 firms in Europe, why are a staggering 14 British? I find that quite remarkable. We have heard much about BMW taking over Rover, but out of the top 25 firms in Europe, only four are German. We should be proud of our achievements and shout them from the roof tops. The miseries among the Opposition only run the country down.

We have an opportunity to move forward into sustained growth, but we have to be careful about our policy towards Europe. The Bill encapsulates the Government's intention to do all they can to lift the burdens, and to remove petty regulations and other burdens on business.

We must not fall for the lure of some of the federal ideas that resulted from the Maastricht treaty—parts of which I support, particularly those relating to subsidiarity. The one provision that would undo a great deal would be the move towards a single currency. That would re-erect at the centre of Europe the power to issue directives and regulations and increase the burden on business.

Having given that warning, I urge the Government to get on with their policies and let businesses manage their own affairs. We in Britain have a tremendous amount of initiative and entrepreneurial verve and expertise and we must allow people to create jobs and wealth. The Bill will be the icing on the cake, and I support it.

7.19 pm
Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)

Like the President of the Board of Trade, the hon. Member for Nottingham, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) talked a great deal but said very little about deregulation. We heard about small businesses, a federal Europe and the exchange rate mechanism, but we did not hear very much about the Bill.

I, too, have to depart from the Bill to some extent, as I am worried not so much by what it says as about what it does not say. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) let the cat out of the bag when he said that the Government do not have any proposals for tourism, but that these will come later, and that other fields will be covered in the second, third and subsequent waves of deregulation.

It is quite clear that we are not talking just about the 250 proposals to which the Government have already agreed—in most cases without consulting any consumer or safety groups—or about the 280 proposals still being considered, the details of some of which we do not know.

We are not bothered about any of the 605 proposals. What bothers us is the fact that this Bill will give Ministers the right to change primary legislation without going through the current procedures. What Ministers want is a blank cheque to cash in the future as they please.

I am not talking just about Conservative Ministers—the same thing could be done by a Labour Government. Ministers are asking Parliament for a blank cheque in all sorts of fields—fire safety; the transfer of waste, including nuclear and highly toxic waste; road safety; health and safety at work; building; the environment.

I mean no disrespect to hon. Members on either side of the House when I say that we must not be drawn into looking simply at specific proposals. Specifics are difficult enough to debate, but how much more difficult the situation is made by the fact that this Bill is a real dog's breakfast. It deals with matters as diverse as the froth on beer, the welfare of animals in knackers' yards, market charters and unfair dismissal. These things are all chucked together in one piece of legislation.

However, they are at least specifics, about which I could talk tonight if I had the time. In future, I shall not be able to oppose change as I can tonight; in future, because of the 40-day time limit, the press will not be able to oppose change as it can at present; in future, Parliament will not be able to oppose legislative change as it can now; in future, the people of this country will not be able to oppose legal changes in the way they currently can.

The Government have presented their proposals as merely a means of dealing with red tape. We have heard about the red tape dragon. I did not realise that the Lambeth worm is probably a tapeworm. Many of the people I talk to tell me that they want more regulation.

Just over a week ago, I saw in my local newspaper an article about the number of children injured by fireworks during the Guy Fawkes period. In this field, our regulations are tighter than those of any other part of Europe. Germany produces bangers five or six times the capacity of ours. I do not want to see our regulations relaxed so that continental standards become our standards. The number of children in Nottingham who were injured last Guy Fawkes night was higher than in previous years, despite the fact that Nottinghamshire county council had run a big awareness campaign. Many of those children were under 13. How were they able to come by the fireworks that injured them?

In a radio interview, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) described these legislative changes as the froth—I do not know whether he was talking just about beer. You say that there will be consultation. I wonder how many people know what is being looked at?

Do you think that members of the public know that these task forces have been looking at the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations, which stopped manufacturers putting foam into furniture? Deaths in 1987 caused such an outcry in the country that the Government had to introduce those regulations. Then there are the Nightwear (Safety) Regulations 1985, which were introduced for the protection of young children wearing nighties. I remember television warnings in which people were shown how to roll up in a carpet a child whose nightie had caught fire.

Do we want to go back to that situation? I have letters showing that the Government have been looking at such legislation. A week ago, the Prime Minister echoed the words of the President of the Board of Trade in referring to this exercise as the biggest bonfire of controls in modern history. If you tamper with such regulations the Prime Minister's words may prove to be horrifically apt.

I should like some sort of guarantee about safety, but the truth is that you are reviewing legislation on health and safety. Do the public know that you are writing to bus companies to ask whether drivers' hours of work should be relaxed, and whether the right to breaks should be removed? Do the public know that you are talking about enabling bus drivers to work as long as they like regardless of the danger to the public?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am always reluctant to interrupt speeches, but I must remind the hon. Gentleman that he is addressing the Chair, and that I am not responsible for any of these things.

Mr. Heppell

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was a little carried away by the importance of the issues.

When we talk about froth on beer, I can get annoyed, but when we are talking about people's lives, I can get angry. We hear constantly about things being done on a cost-benefit basis. Is it valid to ask whether the implementation of safety regulations is worth while on that basis.

Let me give an example. I am a bad traveller—particularly bad in aircraft. I am one of those people who grip the seat as the aircraft takes off and comes down. But I am always grateful for the statistics that show that flying is the safest form of travel. Do you realise that, under your formula—

Mrs. Helen Jackson

Under the Government's formula.

Mr. Heppell

Sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Do Ministers realise that if their formula were carried through, the fact that there is less risk in air travel than in other types of travel would indicate less need for regulation? How many jumbo jets is it acceptable to write off? If one or two were written off, would the risk be seen as acceptable?

When we try to legislate for an ideal situation, we still have accidents, deaths and disasters. If we legislate to make safety regulations less than ideal, the numbers of accidents, deaths and disasters will increase. No Government would be entitled to ask Parliament and the people to accept legislation putting profits before people's safety and lives.

7.28 pm
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Let me begin by gently reminding the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell)—whose speech was long on rhetoric, but a little short on balance—that no Conservative Member, and probably no Opposition Member, wants to dispense with regulations in a deregulation drive if either safety or consumer protection would be substantially affected. The Health and Safety Commission asked for powers to repeal unnecessary regulations not only because such regulations impose burdens on business, but because they encourage people not to take important existing regulations seriously enough—which is against the interests of health and safety in the economy a whole.

I support the Bill for two reasons. First, I think that, in an increasingly competitive world, it will reduce the burdens on business—especially small business—thereby enabling it to create far more jobs; secondly, it accords with my vision of the relationship that should exist between Government and country.

Let me deal with the second reason first. I have always believed that good government is primarily small government. I believe that, ironically, it was Khrushchev who said: Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river. Sadly, politicians of all hues experience that temptation. It is regrettable that, after 14 years of Conservative administration, no less than 45 per cent. of our gross national product goes through Government or their agencies; Ministers are tempted to see their ministerial macho in terms of the size of their legislative programmes.

We need not read Osborne and Gaebler's "Reinventing Government", from the other side of the Atlantic, or "Small is Beautiful"—written by Schumacher back in 1974—to be interested in the kind of government that involves the genuine devolving of responsibilities to communities, thus energising them rather than making them feel more remote. That is my personal vision of government, which I want to be limited to activities in which a valid contribution can be made.

The Bill has the merit of reducing companies' costs. It is significant that it was Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of England, who pointed out—in a speech in Glasgow on 17 January—that, according to research carried out by Newcastle university, between 1982 and 1991 2.4 million jobs had been created by companies with fewer than 20 employees. Such companies are generally the owner-drivers, and tend to have more to lose in terms of heavy regulation. The larger companies—which generally have less to lose in terms of regulation, and may even have something to gain as a result of the barriers that it imposes—had lost about a quarter of a million jobs over the same period.

The Federation of Small Businesses has said that operating a business in today's climate will cost about 3 per cent. of turnover, and the reading of about 400,000 words. Surely that does not provide an incentive for people to enter the business world and create jobs. Someone wishing to open a local supermarket will be less likely to create jobs if he is faced with the possibility of having to jump through 23 regulatory hoops in the form of licences.

The great unsung hero of the deregulation debate is not the small business man—although he will be assisted indirectly by the Bill. Unfortunately, the only available research seems to be American; but that research suggests that the consumer will benefit most. The Brookings Institution recently completed a study of deregulation in America, where a substantial amount took place between 1987 and 1988. According to that study, the economy benefited to the tune of about 7 per cent. of gross domestic product—between $32 billion and $46 billion; the consumer secured $32 billion of that amount in the form of better services and lower prices.

That is where I hope our deregulation initiative will show its teeth. I am glad that the DTI task force identified 3,500 regulations that it wanted to examine, although I must tell my right hon. Friend that I think it slightly sad that only 450 were specifically identified as beMg redundant. Equally important, in my view, are the continuing activities of the DTI unit chaired by Francis Maude, which will insist—through advice on future regulation, risk assessments and other such measures—that the necessary consumer safeguards remain, while unnecessary regulations are abolished.

Let me refer briefly to an issue that has been a subject of general debate in connection with the constitutional implications of the order-making powers taken by the Government, particularly in the first part of the Bill. Along with the rest of the House, I do not underestimate the importance of the principle involved: Ministers should not be able to undo Acts passed by the House of Commons by ministerial order diktat. That is a democratic principle which we give away at our peril. It is nothing new; as long ago as 1932, the Donoughmore committee—whose findings have already been quoted—spoke of the dangers of Henry VIII clauses. Indeed, the committee wanted to set up a Select Committee on delegated powers, which the House of Lords established in 1992.

I think that the Government have gone some way towards the desired position in recommending a 40-day consultation period—although I agree with the Council of Civil Service Unions and the Confederation of British Industry that it should be an open period, and that those consulted should be identified so that the range of consultation is made clear.

I also believe that the Government are right to establish two separate Select Committees to examine specific legislation, and I am glad that the House will be enabled to debate the matter by means of the affirmative resolution procedure. I think, however, that the scrutiny procedure could be improved further: some people, including me, want the bonfire of controls that are unnecessary for consumer protection, but also want to ensure that changes are debated adequately. That is an honest feeling which I hope hon. Members will respect.

I do not think that the powers conferred on the Government should be open-ended. It was, I believe, the Donoughmore committee that said that order-making powers must meet two tests. First, they should be essential to the passage of the legislation involved; secondly, so fundamental was the constitutional precedent that they were setting that they should be time-limited. The committee mentioned one year.

In 1991, the Lord Chancellor said: Obviously this is a power which has to be given with discretion."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 March 1991; Vol. 527, c. 519.] So say all of us.

I suggest that these proposals—which are far reaching, and could affect not only past but future legislation—should be time limited in the first instance, and that the House should then be invited to debate them again, precisely because of their constitutional significance. We cannot overlook that with impunity. Moreover, I think that Select Committees should be given powers not only to consider the specific legislation, but to examine all delegated legislation, as now happens in the House of Lords. Order-making powers in existing legislation should be inspected. I also think that there is a case for the extension of these powers to clause 57, but we shall need to discuss that in Committee.

I welcome the Bill, which will increase competitiveness and reduce the size of Government; but I have the reservations that I have mentioned.

7.38 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) has made constructive comments on the Bill and if his suggestions were carried out, it would be less bad than it is. I hope that by saying that I will not put him at a disadvantage among Conservative Members. I particularly agree with his comments on the Select Committee. Consideration of the role of the Minister would be best done—and seen to be done by the public—by a Select Committee rather than by the normal Standing Committee procedure.

The use of the word "burden" in the Bill is a mistake. One assumes that a burden is something which one has not taken on willingly and about which one cannot do anything—an illness or something that should not happen. Regulations do not fit that sort of definition—they are the way in which we in society reach a mutual agreement on the obligations of corporate or private organisations, balanced against the importance and sanctity of individuals' interests.

Primary legislation gives Ministers power to make what were originally administrative adjustments—but the Bill assumes them to be otherwise. Many hon. Members believe that they are inherently wrong, but any state that claims to be democratic must have such structure and must ensure that the protection of interests and the ability to be free and to innovate are properly balanced. There will be more regulations as life becomes more complicated, with more scientific devices, and faster travel and communication. People are subject to more disadvantages; so there have to be some forms of protection.

The fact that this is a Government Bill reminds me of satan protesting about sins. None of the arguments of Conservative Members has been convincing because the Conservative party has been in power for 13 years. If the Government wanted to abolish statutory instruments, they could follow normal procedure. Such measures need not be renewed or could be revoked. The phrase used in most Acts is "the Minister may", not "the Minister shall"—although some Acts do use that wording.

I want to concentrate on the part of the Bill that has not received much attention and which, in effect, gives greater opportunity for more quangos and for more public services to be contracted out. Although the first half of the Bill is important, the final part will be its trademark or, one hopes, its epitaph. By definition, quangos are unaccountable, often unknown and, for practical reasons, often consist of unidentified people.

Returning from a welcome visit to Scotland last weekend, I read in Scotland on Sunday that a conference of Scots in the west of Scotland had, by a narrow majority, agreed quangos are a gravy train for Tory supporters". A full majority of the members said: there were too many quangos in Scotland. Those were the decisions of the conference of west of Scotland Conservatives. But the Bill will create more quangos; it will create more contractors.

The public service ethic was born in the early years of this century and was perhaps at its best during the period of great administration from 1906 to 1914. It was reactivated between 1945 and 1951, but it has now virtually disappeared. It was often not party political; people of all parties believed in public service and admired public service administrators, particularly those in local government. Now they are being undermined by the rat race that has been hotted up by Conservative Members in the past few years.

Of course, regulations were not always perfect. The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) was right—it is up to hon. Members to criticise officials, and badly drafted and unnecessary regulations. That is part of our job; that is what Parliament is about. But we are discussing a Bill not for business but for undermining Parliament. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham), who is no longer present, said that the Opposition run down the country. We do not. Some of us are proud of it, especially its parliamentary democracy, or what is left of it. Time and again, Conservative Members undermine not only parliamentary democracy, but local government democracy where it counts most and where people are being ground down by lack of facilities and accountability. That will also be one effect of the Bill.

One of the most trenchant clauses in the Bill is described in the explanatory memorandum. Despite the time limit, that description deserves to be read out. It states: Clause 60 provides that for all purposes, except those relating to criminal proceedings or contractual relations between the Minister, office-holder or local authority and the contractor, the acts of the contractor shall be regarded as the acts of the Minister, office-holder or local authority when the contractor carries out the functions for which he is authorised. Of course, the contractor is authorised by Acts and, probably, by the very statutory instruments and regulations of which Conservative Members complain, and which will create more contracting out, more compulsory competitive tendering and more quangos. The explanatory memorandum explains that contracting out will extend to the functions of the traffic commissioners, the Registrar General for England and Wales, the public trustee, the Comptroller-General of Patents and the courts service.

The measure is an extension of an unwelcome development in British society. Other than those who benefit from it, I do not know of anyone who supports or wants it. Whether knowingly or not, Conservative Members have created a cascade of patronage and sub-despots. They took their cue from a super-despot who is no longer in this place. Her rather nice successor and some other Conservative Members cannot tackle the problem because it is not in their nature to do so. The Government are beginning to fall apart because they are split on the issue of public service. The Bill further undermines service to the public and the social contract that the representatives of the people have a right to determine. It puts more power into the hands of Ministers who may be rivals in the creation of small pyramids of sub-patronage. Authority is being taken from the House and transferred to a Cabinet of sub-despots—there could even be another super-despot.

Some people would judge that the developments show that we are moving towards what might be called a quasi-fascist authoritarian state. I have heard no argument that convinces me that we are not.

7.47 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I noted the declaratory and rather frightening ending of the speech of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I want to concentrate on some of his remarks and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs).

It is my recollection that, since 1979, my party and I have gone around proclaiming the fact that we overregulate. I know that the Opposition Front-Bench team is much attached to election addresses. I sometimes complained in my election addresses about the overregulation in our country. Of course, during general elections in 1983, 1987 and 1992 the same rubric was cited. It is not a rubric any more, but a rhetorical argument—we were never able to grasp the nettle. The problem was how to deregulate a range of Bills passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. We could not pass such powers into the hands of an Executive. We are now having a bonfire of the vanities of previous Executives. It is the constant search for more legislation with attendant statutory instruments that causes us problems. For many years, I have campaigned to change the procedures of the House as they are affected by the use of the guillotine. Our bonfire of the vanities is a response to our legislation in haste and our repentance at leisure.

Before Christmas, during a debate on yet another guillotine motion, I said that I could not contemplate handing to the Executive the right to do away with legislation completely, not through debate or scrutiny and the testing of propositions but in an hour and a half's debate after which we have unamendable legislation. We do not know, however, whether that will be the procedure recommended by the Select Committee on Procedure. We are, in effect, buying a pig in a poke—[Interruption.] I understand the Bill, but, at the end of the day, it is the House that in theory makes the regulations and the Standing Orders. It is up to us—[Interruption.] I do not intend to engage in bickering across the Floor of the House.

The substance of my argument is that clauses 1 to 4, and possibly clause 6, give the Executive powers that we should be cautious about giving away. We all want to do away with regulation, but it is a slow process. The reasoning behind my argument is our regard for the rule of law. This is the most remarkable country in the European Community—or the European Union, as I should call it now—because we expect obedience to the law and we do so because we can change the law.

Looking over the history of our party back to Burke, we have required that the rule of law should be not merely the stroke of a Minister's pen or the wish of the Executive but due process. That process confers on the law the solemnity and regard that we expect every citizen to have for it. To provide a bonfire of the vanities by sweeping away all that for which we so cautiously and carefully legislated—and, in recent years, so carelessly and incautiously legislated—means a constitutional crisis for the working of the Chamber.

There has been no reflection on what the Bill means to the balance between Opposition and Government. I am mindful of the fact that one day we may be in opposition and all the powers that we take unto ourselves or confer on colleagues in the Executive whom we trust will be available to any Executive. There are moments when, of course, our own Executive is unsuccessful and not to be regarded. Why should I give to those whom I do not necessarily trust powers to wipe away laws that have been crafted by the processes of Parliament? That is my question to the Government. I know why wiser and previous Governments have held back from taking unto themselves such powers—caution.

The Chamber has lasted for centuries and has been able to change from autocratic and oligarchical forms of government to a democratic government. I should like to have thought that that was the last development in our constitutional process, but, as I see the constant nibbling away by the impatience, or other means, of Europe or Executive design, I want to hold on to the integrity of the House of Commons to ensure the liberties and freedom of our people. That is why I urge the Government to undertake a cautious rethink of the Bill because, without regard to the process of legislation or to the ability of the House to examine, amend or reject measures and to consider the balance of the arguments, we do not have a proper function.

The making of law is our most solemn first responsibility. The attestation that that law can be borne or can at least be acquiesced in by our constituents is our very solemn duty. Clauses 1 to 4 are, in a sense, a repudiation of the history of a democratic House of Commons.

7.53 pm
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

It is a privilege to follow such a speech, especially as it came from a Conservative Member. It was a powerful denunciation of the Government's attitude and of their claims about what the Bill will do.

The Bill has major constitutional implications, but that fact does not appear to worry the Government who, in recent years, have become cavalier about observing the constitutional proprieties. We have heard about the so-called Henry VIII clauses which give Ministers the power to repeal and amend primary legislation with the stroke of a pen. The civil service unions, local authorities associations and others are wary of the new and highly centralised powers and the ineffective parliamentary scrutiny that goes with them.

Among the trade unionists and others outside the House who are worried is the former Employment Minister and Defence Minister, Alan Clark, who told The Mail on Sunday: I find it incredible that any Conservative, unless suffering from megalomania to an extent that is medically significant, could put his name to such an authoritarian provision. I can think of one such Conservative, and he opened the debate for the Government this afternoon.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said, the second part of the Bill gives Ministers the same sweeping powers as the first part. It removes the statutory obstacles to the contracting out of functions that are currently within the civil service and local government. However, as I understand it, there is no provision for additional scrutiny by the special Committees of both Houses, which Ministers have mentioned.

Like me, many people fear the privatisation by stealth, and without proper debate in the House, of major public services. Several of those were mentioned in the short list read out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South, and they include the Forestry Commission, the Patent Office, the Agricultural Development Advisory Service, which is so important to my constituents, and the administration of the courts service. Others fear that the Benefits Agency, medical services and local authority revenue collection services could be privatised, a point raised yesterday by Conservative Members. They fear that even the functions of the official receiver could be privatised.

The local authority associations that have scrutinised the Bill carefully have asked some pertinent questions. They want to know whether the Bill will allow the contracting out of sensitive functions such as the determination of planning applications. It is not inconceivable. What about the contracting out of licensing functions or even of decisions on school admissions? Such ideas may appear to be fanciful, but they are not. I look to the Minister for assurances on those points.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) mentioned the bonfire of the vanities. I shall say a few words about the President of the Board of Trade, whose speech tonight I have heard a thousand times before. It is now very well worn. He talked about rolling back the frontiers of the state as long ago as 1980 and here he is again, still rolling back those frontiers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said that the task force had considered 3,500 regulations of which 71 per cent. have been introduced since 1979. No fewer than 21 per cent.—just over one fifth—have been introduced since 1990 when the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) became Prime Minister. It is ludicrous for the Government to suggest that regulations are a burden or a spillover from a socialist past and that we need the Conservatives to wipe clean the legislative slate and get back to some super-competitive nirvana. There is so much hypocrisy in what the Government are doing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston mentioned double standards. The Government have double standards, as was graphically demonstrated at Prime Minister's Question Time today. When the Prime Minister was asked to comment on the £10 million pay-off to the chairman of British Aerospace plc, John Cahill, after the Rover-BMW deal, he said that it was not a matter for him. However, the scrapping by the privatised British Telecommunications plc of its peak rate for weekday calls was apparently a matter for him and he said much about it.

The President of the Board of Trade has the same double standards. He says that the regulation of the private sector and quangos, which spend millions of pounds of public money, is not a matter for him, but the regulation of the public sector is a matter for him. One regulates some things but not others. When he was Secretary of State for the Environment 15 years ago—it seems much longer ago than 15 years—he promised the Association of Metropolitan Authorities Review a "bonfire of controls". He spoke about freedoms, but we know what Conservative freedoms amount to. He spoke about freedom from detailed controls in housing; we have more controls in housing than ever before. He spoke about freedom from circulars; we have more circulars than ever before. He spoke about freedom from 300 controls, but we know from what Conservative Members said that most of the regulations have been introduced since he made that statement 15 years ago.

The President of the Board of Trade said that local authorities had the freedom to use 50 per cent. capital receipts for housing and we know that that means nothing. He said: Central controls are so detailed and stringent that we are drawing back from this web of detail. Exactly the opposite applies. He said that every local authority should be able to raise as much money as it wanted from the rates. That has been changed. There is central control. He said that block grant—now replaced by the revenue support grant—would not prevent an authority from determining how much it wished to spend. That is not true. New central controls are pinning down local authorities.

The President of the Board of Trade told the "AMA Review" in September 1979: I believe in giving greater discretion to local government." Fifteen years later, local government has never been more constrained.

The President of the Board of Trade says that he wants local authorities to have discretion. The fact is that we live in the most centralised state in the western world, where opportunities for free democratic expression are being curtailed by Conservative Members and where the market is being deregulated even when it can be shown that that is against the national and the public interest.

The Government are creating freedom to exploit—as in the abolition of wages councils—freedom for people to say what they want to say, as long as the Conservatives determine that what they say is okay, and freedom to do what the Government allow them to do. The Conservative party has a corrosive antipathy to the public sector and public provision. The Conservatives abolished elected local authorities—the Greater London council, ILEA and the metropolitan counties—and they abolished elections in 1985, before those authorities had been statutorily wound up. They imposed, as I have explained, myriad central controls, removing discretion from local authorities, and they transferred en bloc many functions that used to be held by democratic councils to unaccountable, unelected quangos stuffed full of Tory placemen and placewomen.

The Conservatives have created in Britain a new magistracy, and that is not in the public interest. Parliament is told that it must protect the public interest. I will conclude at this point—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. I call Mr. Peter Ainsworth.

8.3 pm

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East)

Listening to the hyperbole of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), I cannot help but feel that he could have done with a little self-regulation in his remarks to the House.

It has long been accepted that one of the prime responsibilities of Government is to encourage enterprise. and to foster prosperity, because from them come not only jobs, not only the personal satisfaction that millions of people get by going to work to improve the quality of their lives and to provide for their children, but the funds to furnish a flourishing public sector and to provide standards of health care and education that the country rightly demands.

The Government's direct ability to generate prosperity is heavily circumscribed. It is not Governments, after all, who create wealth, so it is not easy to legislate for prosperity. Obviously, low interest rates, low inflation and low taxation can help. It is simpler, however, to legislate for poverty and for decline, with excessive taxation, excessive and self-defeating social protection, excessive restrictive practices in the workplace and excessive interference in free markets.

Labour Governments have proved how easy it is to legislate for decline. I have no doubt that, given the opportunity, Opposition Members would prove that they have failed to learn from their mistakes. We need to look no further than to adherence to the social chapter, the minimum wage, the European workers councils and so on, to realise that.

Excessive regulation is one of the most insiduous and widespread impediments to prosperity and enterprise. As my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade was brave enough to admit, that tendency has by no means been confined to Opposition parties. Over the years, it has woven its way into the very fabric of Government culture. It is easy to see why. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) mentioned a few reasons.

Not all regulation is bad. Much of it is necessary; much is desirable. None of it is ill-intentioned. Invariably, regulations are introduced for what seem to be worthy reasons at the time, but times change, and the regulations do not. A willingness by Government to listen, to be responsive, is generally a good thing, but inevitably, on almost any issue, among those people clamouring the loudest in the Government's ear—often supported by Opposition Members—are the "something must be done" brigade.

Equally, it is perfectly natural for members of the Government and their civil servants, and indeed the enforcement agencies, to want to be seen to do something about the something that must be done, so the regulation grows and multiplies.

It is because the Bill confronts that issue that it is so important. I will return to that later. Before I do so, I shall comment on some of the specific measures. They are welcome in their own right. The Bill makes a useful start. I especially welcome—in this respect, I differ from the hon. Member for Pendle—the enabling provisions that remove statutory obstacles to contracting out in central and local government. Conservative Members know very well the benefits, in terms of value for money and quality of services, that have accrued from the process of contracting out.

The hon. Member for Pendle makes several mistakes. First, he seems to assume that public ownership is somehow better than private ownership, and then he confuses public ownership with public services. That is a serious error. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) implied the same, when he said that when something stops being in the public sector, it stops being a public service and becomes somehow part of a rat race.

All hon. Members have their own favoured candidates for further deregulation. I am a consultant to S. G. Warburg Group, an investment bank in the City, and I, wearing that hat, very much hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs will re-examine the recommendations of the deregulation task force in relation to financial services.

The Financial Services Act 1986 has imposed on one of our leading international industries substantial additional costs, and it has to be said that the benefits are far from clear. I especially commend to my hon. Friend's attention page 55 of the excellent book by the deregulation task force, which deals with client money regulations. Those are extremely onerous, costly to operate, and are wholly inappropriate for the vast majority of transactions, which take place between professional investors. Will my hon. Friend reconsider that?

Just as Rome was not built in a day, so the process of demolishing the labyrinth of needless regulations will not be completed overnight. The Institute of Directors has written about clauses 1 to 4, which I have no doubt form one of the key parts of the Bill: The order-making power contained in the Bill allows Parliament to repeal or reduce legislation through a procedure which has previously been reserved solely for increasing it". That is the key point. I know that it has caused considerable consternation. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) is exercised by it, and spoke eloquently about it, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs). However, the obstructive attitude of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and other Opposition Members towards deregulation is eloquent testimony to the need for those clauses.

It is ironic that procedures used so regularly to increase the burden on business through regulation run into such difficulty when it is suggested that they be used, for the first time, to reduce the burden. That is especially strange given the additional safeguards that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has wisely incorporated into the legislation.

I fear that the Opposition's bogus constitutional arguments about clauses 1 to 4 are simply a cynical attempt to hide their rooted objection to the principle of deregulation. We have heard that objection voiced clearly by Opposition Members today. If there is a constitutional issue at stake, it centres on the fact that the Bill, for the first time, makes it almost as easy to reduce regulation as it already is to impose it. Conservative Members will certainly support that.

The Bill is important because it marks a psychological sea change in the Governments's attitude towards business. It is only a first step, and it must be vigorously pursued if our business community is to operate efficiently in highly competitive international markets. As some of my hon. Friends have said, it is on smaller businesses that the burdens of regulation bear down hardest. Therefore, as the process of deregulation continues, it is they who will benefit most.

The Bill offers hope to millions of people running smaller businesses men such as Mr. Stanley Gibson, proprietor of the Oxted gallery in my constituency, who for 20 years has run an excellent establishment making and selling oven gloves to eager customers. Mr. Gibson had not had one complaint in all that time, until the other day, when some bossy people from local government informed him that his gloves failed to meet the approved standard.

If Mr. Gibson takes that criticism seriously, the results will be obvious. His costs will rise substantially, and so will the price of his oven gloves, so he will suffer lower sales. That is the dilemma which many small businesses face when they are hit by such needlessly interfering regulations.

The Bill will be widely welcomed for what is on the face of it, but its real strength will be seen as what it promises is fulfilled.

8.13 pm
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

The hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) should consider carefully what he has said because, having praised the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), he went on to describe criticism of clauses 1 to 4 as bogus. That is a fundamental contradiction—

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Miller

No, because I have only just finished my first sentence.

Several hon. Members have asked whose regulations we are talking about and have pointed out that they were imposed by the current Administration. In view of the classic quote that I heard earlier during Prime Minister's questions, I guess that today will go on record as the day when Ministers' cry was, "Nothing has anything to do with me. "

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)

"It wasn't me guy."

Mr. Miller

That is right: "It wasn't me guy."

Regulations do become out of date, and everyone knows that there must be proper mechanisms by which they can be adjusted and corrected. Several Hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, all with far more experience than I have of the way in which this place works, have described the effective ways that already exist to ensure that regulations are kept up to date.

Hon. Members will be aware that a serious chemical fire occurred in my constituency last Tuesday. I have lost count of the number of regulations that govern the running of the plant concerned, but I know that the Minister is familiar with the site—indeed, he opened one of the plants—so I ask him to tell me in his winding-up speech how many of the current regulations governing that site he envisages wiping out. I hope that he will say none.

The President of the Board of Trade said earlier that the safety of workers and customers in the environment was an important issue. In that case, I hope that the Minister will clarify the curious anomaly mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden), and specifically set out in the research paper published by the Library: Clause 27(i) of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill allows for the revocation or repeal of the above mentioned existing enactments without direct replacement. This includes regulations made under those Acts as well as subsequent (post 1974) regulations introduced to replace the earlier ones. In other words, recent provisions could be repealed, but only if they had been introduced to replace pre-1974 legislation identified in Schedule 1 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. That needs clarification, to say the least, by the Government.

In inviting the Minister to comment on the incident in my constituency, I hope that he will agree wholeheartedly with a paragraph from the Chemical Industries Association brief sent to hon. Members yesterday: The chemical industry believes that much of the framework of existing Regulations specifically affecting the chemical industry—e.g. the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, the Environment Protection Act 1990 and the COSHH Regulations—is fundamentally sound; in many cases however there is a need for greater clarity and consistency in interpretation and implementation. The chemical industry does not want the regulations to be wiped away. The Chemical Industries Association, in its wisdom, says that what it wants is clarity and consistency of interpretation. In other words, there is nothing wrong with regulation. What this country needs is better regulation.

The President of the Board of Trade mentioned some of the rather silly regulations now on the statute book, but he had to acknowledge that the examples that he cited were regulations established by the Conservative Administration. It seems a bit odd that we should entrust that same group of people with the power of wiping legislation out left, right and centre. If they cannot be trusted to set up regulations properly, how can they be trusted to wipe legislation out unilaterally?

The most effective mechanism for dealing with the Government's lack of competence concerning regulations is for them to resign and let someone with a clearer head have a go—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, we shall see in a year or two. The Government should let someone with a clearer head have a fresh crack of the whip.

The regulations' impact on redundancies is bizarre. Again, I refer the House to the CIA, which says: In principle we consider that the part of the Section in question that deals with collective agreements ought to be retained because we believe that companies should honour such agreements, although it would be helpful if tribunals here could be encouraged to take a more flexible approach interpreting `special reasons justifying a departure' from the agreed procedure. In a recent meeting with the CIA, I pointed out that its member companies were partly responsible for the situation that needs that caveat. Those companies, along with many others in Britain, made the tribunal system more and more legalistic.

It was clear from the exchange involving my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield that the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) had little understanding of the operations of the industrial tribunal system. That is not surprising, because it was the Conservatives who made the system so incredibly legalistic and a paradise for rich lawyers, and who undermined the general principle that was established in the tribunal system in the first place—that the merits of an individual case should be taken into account. Against that background, the CIA's advice should be heeded by the Government, and the reference to clause 26 dropped forthwith.

I hope that the Government will realise the error of their ways and withdraw many of their clauses in Committee, if the Bill gets that far. Hon. Members have referred to local authorities that are concerned about markets. Those are valid arguments, I have received letters from one of the two councils in my constituency. I have also received representations on how the protection of the historic cities of this nation will be maintained if wholesale deregulation is allowed to go ahead. Do the Government really intend to allow Ministers to have powers to wipe away such regulations, which protect our ancient heritage? If so, it is a bad Bill.

Clause 20 refers to the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and an additional clause being inserted. The Government have been hoist by their own petard. In their attempt to sweep away regulation, they have drafted a clause which will require more regulation to enable it to work. I shall give a simple example. The clause refers to a series of transfers between the same parties of waste of the same description". If acid is the waste product from an industrial plant, is it really the intention that another carrier shifting the same acid, but in a more concentrated form, should be allowed the same single licence? If the House means that, it should say so, but I am sure that it does not, and to enforce the clause in the way that the Government seem to intend will require more regulation. That is another example of the inadequacies of the Government's approach.

8.23 pm
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

I am delighted that the Government have at last decided to take their part in reducing regulations. I am also pleased that they have consulted business and intend to consult business before regulations are published in future. As part of that process, as perhaps the House will know, eight task forces from the business and voluntary sector were formed to examine any of the 3,500 regulations affecting their own sectors. Seven of those task forces have reported to the Government. Their 605 proposals were published in January.

The task forces have suggested three principles which, it is argued, should guide Government Departments in reviewing existing regulations for the future. First, Make sure you start by measuring the impact on small firms of new regulations. That is fine and fair enough. Secondly, Avoid regulations that are out of proportion to benefits to be obtained. Again, that is fine and fair enough. Thirdly, Make regulations goal-based rather than over-prescriptive. That may be a wonderful aim, but it is disgustingly phrased. If regulations are to be dealt with, I trust that they will be dealt with in better English than that.

That infelicity of language seems to have flowed over into the Bill. Clause 5 deals with amendments to the Fair Trading Act 1973. In paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) one will see references to something called a monopoly situation. To my mind, we are talking about a monopoly, not a monopoly situation. I hope that that sort of language can be done away with. I hope equally that, in the spirit of plain English, we can do away with the sort of provision that we find in Clause 21(1)(b), which says: The appropriate authority may by regulations repeal, or as the case may be, revoke … (b) any provision of regulations under section 15 of the 1974 Act (health and safety regulations) which has effect in relation to a matter in relation to which a provision which was an existing statutory provision for the purposes of the Part had effect. I am sure that that is well intentioned, but it is not well expressed and I trust that in Committee something will be done about such language.

I shall now deal with some of the effects of the Bill that affect small business. The task forces were quite clear that regulators should think small and frame new regulations with the interests of small businesses in mind. Small businesses are most vulnerable to over-regulation and have to struggle hard against red tape. They cannot spread the costs of complying with regulations as easily as larger firms. We as a country cannot afford to stifle the spirit of one of the most important areas of our economy. I say that as a Member whose constituency is largely populated by people working in small businesses. To ease the burdens on small business is a fine thing to want to do.

We can be proud of the way the Government have tackled the regulations that have emerged from the European Commission and European institutions. We can also be proud of their attitude towards the approach by local government and Departments to over-regulation. I trust that under the Bill and future deregulating measures we shall ensure that European over-regulation is well filtered before it hits those whom we wish to elect us.

I shall now deal with some of the measures in the Bill, some of which I am happy to commend and some of which cause me concern. I shall not repeat the intelligent remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). Clauses 1 to 4 contain, in spirit, some welcome material, but the means by which we go about seeking to produce deregulation causes me some constitutional concern. I shall not repeat their submission, but I would add the following. Those clauses, especially clause 2, seem to provide Ministers with the ability to amend the criminal law. I suggest that it is not safe to allow Ministers to change the criminal law—albeit they may, by doing so, reduce penalties or make less burdensome some of the consequential effects of any breach of an existing regulation or Act. I merely put that down as a marker so that my hon. Friends do not dismiss—as I did, I regret to say, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth)—as bogus any constitutional objections. They are not bogus; they are well meant and sincere, and they deserve to be listened to.

I am happy to give a fair wind to clauses 21, 22 and 23, which do away with so-called ancient market rights. My constituency contains two local authorities—Harborough district council and Oadby and Wigston borough council. Oadby and Wigston council is adversely affected by the socialist city council in Leicester. Leicester city council attempts to exert market rights over the entire territory of Oadby and Wigston borough council which, sadly for that council, lies within six and two thirds miles of the centre of Leicester. People who have not been elected by the citizens of Oadby and Wigston are telling them what they can and cannot do within their own local authority boundaries. The sooner that position is done away with the better. I say that despite the fact that I have nothing particularly kind to say about the Liberal Democrat majority on Oadby and Wigston borough council. However, I suggest that the Liberal Democrats' giving support for this provision is about the best thing that they have done since being elected and I wish them success in that.

The other provision that I especially welcome is the amendment of the law relating to children's access to public houses. It is ludicrous that in this day and age—I am sorry to use a cliché, although it is not the first time that I have done so—parents should not be permitted to take children into public houses where a special room is set aside to allow them to enjoy lunch or supper, as a family, in proper surroundings. I am glad to see that amendment. introduced.

I also draw the attention of the House to clause 18 which deals with the enforcement of functions relating to slaughterhouses and knackers' yards. At the other end of my constituency—that is, outside Oadby and Wigston—my constituents are very much involved in farming. As my hon. Friend the Minister will appreciate, the grass in Harborough is second to none for the fattening of cattle. The EC regulations concerning slaughterhouses have not been greeted with much enthusiasm. I trust that clause 18, which affects the functions relating to the welfare of animals at slaughter and which amends the Slaughter of Poultry Act 1967, the Slaughterhouses Act 1974 and the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Act 1980, will allow better and more sympathetic governing of the way in which slaughterhouses run themselves, to the benefit of those who make use of them, including the farmers and butchers in my constituency.

I welcome the Bill in principle, subject to the warning points to which I adverted at the beginning of my remarks. I trust that in Committee the Bill will receive the welcome attention that it deserves and requires so that at the end of the day it will be but the first of the many deregulating measures for which our constituents—certainly my constituents—have been crying out for many years.

8.33 pm
Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)

Let me make my position clear. I am opposed to unnecessary red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy. Ther can be nothing worse than coming across a person who wears a Jobsworth hat, and who has the rules and regulations in front of him. Such people will implement them, stupid though they may be. There is unnecessary red tape, there are unnecessary regulations, and there are people who are only too willing to exploit that position.

However, the Bill is fraught with danger to consumers and workers who rely on appropriate regulations to protect them from unsavoury practices and exploitation. There is also a clear constitutional danger with the catch-all, so called Henry VIII clauses which the Government are trying to foist on the House. They are flying in the face of constitutional precedent and advice. They are laying themselves open to more charges of arrogance, despotism and worse—words that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might rule out of order, so I shall not use them.

Government motives for pushing through these dangerous and widely criticised proposals are clear. They are concerned about their business friends and their financial backers who want to reduce standards in health and safety at work, and reduced control over business practices to the detriment of the consumer and the worker. The Government must not be allowed to use the Bill to lower standards or to enable more and more standards to be attacked.

The Government's plan to increase their power in relation to the power of Parliament must be a cause for concern. It is a constitutional concern, because it is a move which will undermine Parliament, and because of the potential use and effect of measures that the Government may introduce in future on important aspects of health and safety legislation, among other legislation.

That power should be used only in exceptional circumstances, yet the Government have made increased use of that method, most notably in the various Education Acts. The fundamental point is that if a Minister wants to change legislation passed by Parliament as a whole, he should come back to Parliament and go through the normal procedures. No proper case has yet been made for the Government having such power. Until such reasons are given, the House should not approve the Bill.

If the Government really see deregulation proposals as such an important plank of their programme, Ministers should not be frightened of bringing those proposals to the House and having them subjected to proper parliamentary scrutiny. There are understandable concerns that, once the power to make deregulation orders has been passed, a whole range of legislation will come under fire.

With Departments and agencies reviewing regulations at the moment, we are being asked to pass a carte blanche measure which could allow all kinds of regulations to be repealed and weakened. There is no mention in the Bill of what the changes will be.

The Government claim that the Bill will reduce the burdens on business, but they choose to forget that what is a so-called "burden" to business is a safeguard to consumers and workers. The Government have made it clear that the views of their pals in business should come first, second and third.

There is widespread concern that the so-called Henry VIII clauses will be used at a later date to attack health and safety legislation in detail. Although no major changes are proposed in the Bill, we have only to look at the Government's attitude to health and safety to know that those clauses pose a threat to health and safety and to consumer protection legislation.

The Government have cut the funding for the Health and Safety Executive for the next two years. In 1993–94, the HSE has lost £13 million. It expects to have to cut 230 jobs just to cope with the shortfall in its budget. Nothing shows more clearly the Government's lack of commitment to health and safety.

The Government have also been busy weakening safety controls in other areas, the most notable example being coal mining. We had a system that was second to none. It was torn apart and replaced by codes of practice. The role of pit deputies has been abolished, and the safety regulations have been weakened. Those codes of practice are designed to make life easier for a privatised coal industry. Lives will be put at risk, and few in the coal mining industry doubt it.

While the Bill is supposed to be about getting rid of unnecessary red tape, it also represents a further centralisation of power, because of the power to make deregulation orders and the decision to change the common law relating to market franchise rights. It will take more power from local authorities, to the detriment of local people and local business.

The policy will have a massive impact on the economic and social well-being of people in Doncaster, and will threaten many jobs. The proposals will undermine the viability of existing markets. The loss of rental income and the likely decline in the number of traders operating in market halls and open markets will transform the character of towns such as Doncaster, which has one of the best and largest markets in the north of England.

Hundreds of families depend on that market for their livelihood. Why is the Secretary of State determined to bring more misery to Doncaster families? Is he not satisfied with the misery already caused by his pit closure programme? Markets have always been an important part of community life in Doncaster, and it seems that nobody outside Whitehall wants that to change. The Government are once again trying to impose their political dogma where it is not needed or wanted.

If, as I suspect, the abolition of market franchises has been included in the Bill in response to special pleading from one small part of the retailing sector, the Government ought to say so. The electorate will quickly realise that it is yet another part of the continuing strategy to strip valued traditional powers from local authorities.

Where is the evidence that the existing system is frustrating additional traders or consumer choice? The Secretary of State is attacking the life blood of Doncaster, the small towns of Thorne and Stainforth in my constituency, and many other towns and cities. I ask him to drop this ill-founded proposal, and save the Doncaster people from yet another vindictive policy of his failed Government. The Bill is possibly the most dangerous that the Government have introduced, and it should be resoundingly defeated.

8.43 pm
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)

I unreservedly welcome my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs, who I know is pushing ahead of all of us in considering all the regulations, and may be relied on to support the full initiative of deregulation.

We have heard a couple of especially perceptive speeches on the constitutional changes proposed in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) have dealt with the main concerns of clauses 1 to 4, which contain most of the main constitutional issues. I find it difficult, as ever, to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, since he talks so movingly and directly to the issues, but the problem goes back to the 1980s.

The House has fallen down over scrutinising the European legislation. The fact that we must bring in such measures now is an example of how little serious scrutiny has been carried out on so much legislation which has poured through on the back of the Single European Act, especially.

It is that failure to consider the detail of what was coming across the Europe which has led to the amount of abuse from which many small businesses are suffering. Therefore, it is important to understand why the Conservative party, especially, is the party of deregulation, as we wish to be known, and are known. After recent years, we are tackling deregulation specifically.

The constitutional concerns over the Bill are relevant and, in Committee, we need to consider some of the constitutional points made, especially in view of the time-limiting devices, so that we can return to the House some element of debate and scrutiny, which has already gone. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will accept that those possibilities need to be considered.

Having said all that, I welcome the Bill, because if it encompasses the ideals and ideas of one person, they are those of Chris Booker. I wish that we could rename it the Chris Booker Bill, because he has been so determined in his efforts to force the Government and all the parties to recognise what has happened in the process of excessive regulation which has not been properly scrutinised.

Although I realise that Mr. Booker would riot necessarily want to be associated directly with the Government, it is important that his part in such a move is recognised and that he continues to push us further into greater and wider areas of deregulation. The effects of the single market are the aspects which Mr. Booker has been most successful in identifying, and I hope that we take those elements on board.

About the initiative to deregulate, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said: The Government's aim is to remove unnecessary regulations which waste time, add to business costs and threaten competitiveness and jobs while protecting vital interests". Notwithstanding any possibilities of excess, that encapsulates our drive and they should be our watchwords.

It is also important to consider the comments of the Director-General of the CBI: This is the start of what must become a continuing process. Deregulation must not be a nine day wonder. Stan Mendham, chief executive of the Forum for Private Business said: Sadly, we have seen too many false starts on regulation. To understand the law, business owners need to read over 400,000 words and complying with red tape costs 3 per cent. of turnover. It is important to understand the problems that have existed for business men over the years that we have been pouring regulations on their heads; perhaps now we can start to row back and reconsider the whole role of Government. Essentially, we accept that there is a need to protect the weak and vulnerable. That goes without saying, but I am sure that it will be restated continuously in Committee.

The problem is that, through a process of events, Ministers have found themselves under pressure from pressure groups, lobby groups, colleagues and almost anybody else who has seen something wrong and has wanted to ban it, regulate it or stop it. We have all been guilty of putting that pressure on our hon. Friends.

Blaming the civil service is madness, as it is not civil servants' fault that we have passed to them stupid regulations which fail. In its excellence, the civil service has gone about making such regulations exactly what they purport to be. The trouble was that the regulations were everything to every man and woman, which resulted in a flow of regulations.

The questions we must therefore address are, why do we in the first place make such absurd Bills and, as a result, why do we need to employ so many people to ensure that every regulation is imposed? Deregulation is important because we must be aware that, while some regulations work well, events are always changing. Often, regulations give rise to a whole number of unforeseen problems. I shall not go into detail, because we see it about us all the time.

Review is constantly required, because regulations have gone too far. The crucial elements are to assess how far we meant to go and why have we extended regulations into areas in which we never intended to go. Essentially, this Bill must be about redressing the balance and pulling us back from areas in which we never intended to be, as people like Mr. Booker have pointed out time and again.

Small businesses suffer the most from regulations. I know that, at times, people say that they stand for small and medium businesses. Frankly, someone must stand for them, because they are the most crucial element of growth in the economy. Sometimes, it is most important for us to understand that the strength of an economy is measured by the number of small and medium businesses.

As has been proven time and again, and as my hon. Friends have pointed out, the response of small businesses to growth and changing circumstances is always much faster than that of bigger companies, because they have lower overheads and fewer problems with their work force. That is the most important point. In over-regulating, we have ensured that the life of small businesses has become more difficult over the same period. It is important to see whether that was unnecessary and change it.

When we examine this whole area, we must consider the position of the purpose versus the cost, leading us to the ultimate effect of what we do. One could argue that the problem is always understanding the point at which possibility for a small minority of the population becomes probability for the vast majority of the population. In other words, the likelihood of harm is now a probability, and we must regulate that.

Before we reach that point, regulation should be about information—telling people about the possibilities and allowing them to make value judgments and choices. After all, when people go to cross the road, we do not put barriers on streets across the whole of the country saying that they cannot cross here—they can cross only where we put crossings. We say that there are crossings there—if people cross there, they judge the excessive danger; if they want to, they can cross at the crossing point. That is the principle of regulation, and deregulation should get us back to that.

I welcome the Bill. While I have some concerns—as I said earlier when I referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills—about some of the powers that we are taking, on which I wish we would think again, the Government's powers should be taken in the context of the way in which we have moved over the whole draft of European legislation. It is time to think again, and this Bill provides the right opportunity to do that. I welcome it unreservedly.

8.52 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

The Bill is not really about deregulation. Indeed, it provides the Minister with a great many more order-making powers, apart from the clause 1, which provides him with special powers to remove primary legislation. That is not unprecedented: in the past, many statutory instruments have provided for powers to repeal bits of primary legislation. They are known as Henry VIII clauses because they cut off primary legislation, often at the head.

When the President of the Board of Trade introduced the Bill, he made a number of jokes about obscure language. It must be pointed out that, for the most part, statutory instruments are signed by Ministers. That gives them authority. If they want to make jokes about statutory instruments, let them do so at their own peril. They will look foolish, having quoted from instruments that they simply signed, or signed without bothering to read them, and took on trust the word of a civil servant. That is not a courageous attitude to take, especially when the self-same Ministers are claiming that they are improving the position by simplifying language—language that they did not simplify when they signed the instruments.

Time and again, the Government, through the Leader of the House, have refused to provide a Standing Order so that the report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which may report on ambiguities, the unusual and unexpected use of Ministers' powers and, especially in the context of the President's speech, badly drafted instruments, could be in front of us before we debate either a prayer or an affirmative motion. What sort of attitude is that for a Government who mock statutory instruments and say that they want to make them clearer? The machinery that the House establishes ostensibly to clarify procedures often withholds that opportunity.

I shall give the House an example. It is not simply a trivial instance. The health and safety in mines instrument was laid on 6 August 1993 when the House was not sitting. it came into operation before the House returned after the summer recess, and the debate was held before the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments made its report. The Government dare to come to the House and say that they are concerned about clarity in statutory instruments and the excessive powers of Ministers, when they deliberately brought an instrument before the House without any opportunity for debate before the powers came into operation.

It is worth examining the way in which the Government have used their powers. On average, about 2,000 statutory instruments are produced each year. No one denies that some regulation is required. because we must protect people from danger. We must improve health and safety at work, because work accidents cause changes in production and losses of production. They are costly; they produce ill feeling; there is a loss of time; and they may cause an injury or possibly a loss of life to those involved. Therefore, some regulation is accepted as necessary.

We have about 2,000 statutory instruments a year. In 1948, there were 2,858. That figure was topped by the Tories in 1962, who passed 2,877 statutory instruments. In the years of the last Labour Government, there were 2,224 in 1974, 2,251 in 1975, 2,248 in 1976, 2,202 in 1977 and 1,977 in 1978. In 1979—the year of the election—there were 1,770. According to this Government, those were the years of regulation when the Labour Government were pressing down on people's backs.

What have we had since this Minister took office? In 1991, there were 2,952 statutory instruments. In 1992, there was the all-time record in the history of Government and in the history of Parliament. No other Government have produced the number of statutory instruments that this Government produced in 1992–3,359. That is nearly 1,500 more than the last year of the Labour Government.

Incidentally, if the Government now say that it is the problem of the Common Market—which they support—I would point out that only about 20 per cent. of the regulations come from the Common Market. The bulk of the regulations derive from the Government's tentacles, which are reaching into every aspect of life. The Government are not decentralising but imposing highly centralised bureaucracy. In 1993, the Government must have made an effort, because the number was down to 3,279.

I say to the Minister that he does not need this deregulation Bill, with its excessive powers for Ministers. All he need do is go round Departments and tell them to reduce the number of statutory instruments they produce, and they can do it. For example, if a national health service trust transfers its property, that is an instrument. When the Government go through all the NHS trusts, which have been created by statutory instruments, another 50, 100 or 150 statutory instruments have been produced.

The Government are pouring out statutory instruments like confetti, and the Bill is an excuse to try to cut the number. They could at least try to approach the number there was at the time of the Labour Government. How could the Labour Government manage with just over 2,000 statutory instruments a year, when they were supposed to be oppressing the nation? Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Government to tell their Departments to have as their target the number of statutory instruments in 1978 or 1979. The number would be reduced by 1,500 a year.

Some Government Members are like renegade Trotskyists, in constant revolution with every institution of our society. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury talks about cynicism affecting our national institutions, but the Government are up-ending every national institution we have.

The Bill deals with markets, for example—a subject raised by other hon. Members. Ordinary and decent markets provide a service, and they are run by small businesses, but some of them have empty stalls. Rawson and Kirkgate are two examples—excellent markets which my wife and I frequently patronise. The markets have some empty stalls, and the people in charge say that they do not want car boot sales and suchlike, which will knock out their livelihoods and put them on the dole. Some of the people involved say that they were traditional Tory voters but, like a lot of other people, are no longer. Why should the Government hammer on their backs by creating problems?

The Government have an obsession with the free market. The Minister has it more than most, although they are all tainted with the same madness. The Government will find that there are more problems and more people on the dole, not fewer. The situation will not be improved.

I turn now to the Government's attack on health and safety. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, as everyone who has read it knows, had its own system for overhauling old regulations. The Secretary of State for Employment had the power to tell the Health and Safety Executive to overhaul its regulations. The executive would then submit its reports to the Minister, who would put them before Parliament. Has the Minister done that? Of course not. It has never been done. The Health and Safety Executive has been required to produce more regulations, with no consolidation.

There are at least 350 statutory instruments that apply to health and safety at work. They should be consolidated, and the Minister has not done so. The Bill does not simplify health and safety at work, which, goodness knows, everybody needs. Why could we not have the health and safety legislation in one document? That would help workers, employers and people who are affected by the legislation. Why do we not go down that path?

Under the current system, the Minister can repeal health and safety legislation. Will the system take into account the section of the 1974 Act which requires that all delegated powers should be used to maintain and improve existing standards of health and safety at work? That was an important component of the legislation, and I look forward to the Minister saying that it is guaranteed in the Bill.

I want to make one last point—at least one other hon. Member wants to speak—about contracting out. Clause 57 is quite extraordinary. It is an order-making power which is separate from the order-making power at the beginning of the Bill, which provides an extra Committee to see whether the Minister is doing the decent thing. That Committee will be stuffed to the gills with Tories, so it will always say yes. In any case, the Committee will be organised by the Whips. We know what happens in this place.

The clause will take away the powers of Ministers and give them to outside contractors. I ask Conservative Members—do they want another Child Support Agency? Do they want more chief executives? When an hon. Member puts down a question, the Minister says it is not for him, and adds that he has sent the letter on to Ros Hepplewhite. She is on £50,000 a year for a 36-hour week, and she is always out of the office. The hon. Member then gets a letter back from the business manager of the CSA.

There is no ministerial accountability or, at best, there is diminished ministerial accountability. Clause 57 gives powers for affirmative orders. No affirmative orders are okay, although they are better than negative procedure. The debate will usually be one and a half hours after 10 o'clock, and no changes can be made.

Only about two Acts have ever been passed winch allowed statutory instruments to be amended. The vast bulk—this Bill is no exception—do not allow amendment, so hon. Members must take it or leave it. That is difficult for the House to accept. An hon. Member might like some part of the Bill, and dislike another part—even a single clause—but one has to take it all.

That is simply not good enough when we are being asked to transfer powers out of the House, out of the ministerial box and out of Whitehall. The powers will be transferred somewhere else, which affects accountability. No Minister said during the election, "I am going to shift my job outside. I do not really want a Ministry with such a range of powers. I am going to reduce them." Of course they did not. So what they are doing is outside their brief. It is against democracy. That is why we should oppose the legislation.

9.4 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Just as the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) has great passion about what he believes in, Conservative Members have great passion about removing the red tape which has tied down our businesses for far too long. If I have any reservation about the Bill, it is that it has taken so long to reach the Chamber.

I am the vice-chairman of the Small Business Bureau. There are 3.5 million small businesses in Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) said how important small businesses were to the economy. They employ the vast bulk of the employed population. Small business men are the sort of people who work all hours. I should know, because I was a small business man once. They are the people who invest their life savings in their business. They risk everything to make sure that their business succeeds. They are the bedrock of Britain. If they fail, Britain fails. We must also pay heed to the many millions of people who are self-employed in Britain. If the self-employed are successful, they become employers.

It is the role of the Government to encourage small businesses. How can they encourage small businesses? By getting out of the hair of those small businesses. The Government create the conditions in which small businesses can grow. Today's interest rate cut will go some way to help them. The banks must pass on the interest rate cut to their businesses.

Many measures in the Bill will receive wide applause from our wealth creators. Another such measure is the rolling programme of deregulation. The Bill is a bonfire of regulations, but it is only one small bonfire. I sincerely hope that after this first bonfire many others will follow. The new rolling programme and the new task force led by Francis Maude will have plenty of work ahead of them in the years to come.

No regulation must be left unturned. If it is unnecessary, it should be scrapped. If it is complicated, it should be simplified. If it is not working, we should either repeal it or reform it. Labour Members have made accusations that we do not care about public service. That is patently not true. But we also care that our businesses should not face public strangulation.

The guidelines that are given to local authorities need to be made absolutely clear, to ensure that they are used in a way that is fair to all our business people and implemented uniformly. The same rules and regulations should be interpreted in exactly the same way throughout the country. I have heard all sorts of stories from my constituents about rules and regulations being interpreted in one way in one area of the constituency and in another way by someone else in another part of the constituency. All rules and guidelines should be cleared up.

We also need to ensure that our town hall bureaucrats are more helpful to small businesses to ensure that they can become far more profitable. I ran a small convenience store in Swansea. The environmental health officer visited me one day. He looked at the sink at the back of the shop, and said, "You wash your utensils here. Where do your staff wash their hands?" I said that they washed their hands either in the sink or in the toilet and cloakroom upstairs.

The environmental health officer said that that was not good enough and that I must tear out the sink and replace it with two sinks—one for washing the utensils and one for staff to wash their hands. I asked him to show a little common sense because we had carried on the business for many years and had never had a problem. I asked him to show just a smidgen of common sense, but he refused. In the end, the heavy hand of the town hall came down and we had to tear out the sink and put in a new one at a cost of more then £250. The staff still washed the utensils in one side and went upstairs to the cloakroom to wash their hands, as they had always done. That is an example of where I hope that the deregulation Bill will prove effective.

Several hon. Members have mentioned recent abattoir legislation. There are many abattoirs in my constituency, some of which are very small, and I have received many letters from their owners, who are burdened by the extra cost of the new European Community regulation. It is costing one abattoir an extra £20,000 a year with no perceptible benefit to the consumer. We need to clear up that problem—I hope that the Bill will do so—so that one person can inspect abattoirs and do the work of both the meat inspector and the veterinary surgeon.

I know that I do not have time to mention all the measures contained in the Bill as another hon. Member wishes to speak, but many of them will be welcomed by businesses, both small and large. We must constantly study the rules and regulations. One criticism is that we have been in power 14 years, so why have we only just started to consider them.

Mr. Illsley

Tell us about it.

Mr. Evans

As we have heard today, the Labour party loves regulations and treats them in the same way as it treats taxation and spending. Rules and regulations are the very creed and heart of the Labour party. Labour Members think that they must keep on spending, taxing and regulating and that is the difference between the Labour and Conservative parties. It is one reason why, come the next general election, people will remember what we have done about rules and regulations, how we have freed businesses from unnecessary burdens and helped small businesses to flourish and earn more profits so that they can reinvest in their businesses and grow. Profit is not a dirty word, although we might think otherwise to hear Opposition Members talk.

The Government need to consult business more widely, especially small businesses. We need a litmus test whereby we consider how beneficial a rule or regulation will be to the consumer and how much it will cost industry. If it does not measure up, will be expensive, or if the consumer will hardly notice any benefit, that rule or regulation should not be introduced. We must stop rules and regulations before the Government introduce them, and that is one of the main reasons why I welcome the Bill and will back it.

9.12 pm
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

In the few minutes left, I shall confine my remarks to that section of the Bill that relates to markets. It is clear that the deregulation task forces were made up from the private sector. There was no local authority involvement, which is probably why the Bill will not legislate for the private market sector and private markets will not be deregulated.

The Bill simply attacks local authorities that provide markets. It is also an attack on the National Association of British Market Authorities; its members have opposed, to an authority, its provisions. I took up the issue with members of the association, but, in all the replies I received, not one local authority that was a member of the association supported the Government viewpoint. Nor does the National Market Traders Federation, which views the deregulation of markets as a threat to the livelihoods of its members.

In view of their responses, it is surprising that the Government decided to press on with those clauses. The Minister is aware that many of the local authorities wrote to him to complain about them and have raised petitions, which will be presented to the House or to the Prime Minister. Those authorities are campaigning against the provisions in the Bill.

It is said that the deregulation of markets will increase competition, but it is likely to be unfair competition from private markets set up on a temporary basis, operating for a few days a year in a certain area. There will be no consumer protection, continuity or permanence as private markets spring up all over the country.

I refer the House to a letter from the Department of the Environment on the idea that the regulation of markets will frustrate commercial initiatives. I cannot read the whole text, so I shall read just the salient points: It was also made clear to the Commission that we had received very few complaints about market rights and that in 1987–88 the Government had reviewed the system. It concluded that legislation would be needed to abolish all market rights and that franchise rights, which are treated as property in English law, could not be compulsorily appropriated without compensation. Expropriation without compensation would also seem to infringe the European Convention on Human Rights which requires compensation for expropriation of a person's 'possessions'. In view of the requirements to pay compensation, the scarcity of complaints, the minimal part that markets play in U.K. trading activity and the possible damage to centuries of tradition and heritage that abolition would cause, the Government decided not to pursue the question of abolition any further. That remains the current position. That letter was written in March 1991. What has changed in the past couple of years to encourage the Department of Trade and Industry to deregulate market rights? In that time, there have been very few, if any, complaints about the operation of local authority markets.

As some of my hon. Friends have said, many markets are in town centres and have a tradition that goes back for years. Many are historical or even tourist attractions. Many towns receive a lot of income from the establishment of their markets. My town is no different. Barnsley market was established under a royal charter in the 13th century. By the mid-1960s, Barnsley was known as a market town and its market was well known throughout the north of England. That tradition is likely to be lost through deregulation as a result of the Bill.

You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Barnsley is also a former mining area. The Government are to close down all the collieries, so I use the word "former" advisedly. As a consequence, the local authority has introduced a number of initiatives to try to regenerate the town centre and replace the trade lost as a result of the income reduction in the area. Those include the business partnership scheme, about which the Minister knows because he came to my constituency to launch it, and the local authority's partnership with Costain. The local authority is also spending city challenge money to regenerate the town centre. By the same token, the deregulation of markets will jeopardise the local economy.

At present, any organisation affected by proposals concerning market rights has the opportunity of judicial review and, more recently, of complaining to the ombudsman. Local authorities therefore have a duty to act reasonably, so there is no need for regulation.

We heard earlier about the proliferation of car boot sales dealing in stolen or counterfeit goods. A car boot sale in Barnsley took place at junction 36 of the motorway every Sunday morning. The police were out at 6 am every Sunday morning because people parked not only on the slip road and hard shoulder but sometimes on the inside lane of the M1. That is the type of hazard caused by unregulated car boot markets throughout the country.

Who will compensate market traders for their losses? According to the letter to which I referred, the Government decided that they could not proceed in 1991 because of compensation. As sole traders, market traders invest a lot of money in their businesses and will be affected by private, unregulated markets springing up in competition with them.

Many market traders go from market to market within a particular area. There are not so many market traders that we can service unregulated markets the length and breadth of the country. Market traders pay substantial rents for their market facility. Those markets will be undercut by private, unregulated markets with cheaper rents.

Markets also provide a direct income to the local authority which compensates for the loss of revenue support grant over the past few years through charge capping. Many local authorities will be looking to the Government for compensation in future revenue support grant because of the loss of income that they will suffer as a result of deregulation.

Finally, we have seen report after report about the amount of money that goes into the black economy. That money is lost in taxation revenues. Unregulated markets will contain more stolen and counterfeit goods. The markets accept that they do not need deregulation. They need, if anything, further regulation against the cowboys.

9.20 pm
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

As was almost inevitable with a Bill such as this, we have had a wide-ranging debate. My hon. Friends and Conservative Members have touched on such issues as markets, hearth and safety and consumer protection. At one point, we almost drifted into discussing European monetary union.

Three of the points that were raised may have shown some common ground between the two sides of the House. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said that there were 1,500 more regulations in 1992 than there were in the last year of the Labour Government. The figure decreased slightly in 1993, but remained well above 1,300. As my hon. Friend said, it is not a one-sided business, and those Conservative Members who try to pretend that it is should know that the figures simply do riot add up, as 71 per cent. of current regulations were introduced by the present Government. It would have been helpful had a few Conservative Members recognised that and occasionally said that they were sorry if they believed that they had made mistakes. However, that word does not easily cross the lips of Conservative Members.

The second point of agreement is that virtually all hon. Members, except those who stuck slavishly to the Conservative Central Office brief, recognised that some regulation is necessary for good business standards, good consumer protection, good health and safety at work and good employee relations. Good regulation is an essential part of business. The difference is where we draw the line.

It is foolish and naive to suggest that those on one side of the argument believe that there should be no regulation and those on the other side are in favour of all regulation. There is a genuine recognition, except on the part of those too ideologically blind to see it, that some regulation is necessary to maintain good business standards.

Thirdly, it is readily recognised that regulation can be outdated. The President of the Board of Trade in introducing the Bill, gave us examples of those outdated regulations, as I am sure the Under-Secretary will when he replies to the debate. They are often amusing and there is no doubt that such regulations should and can be removed from the statute book. The difficulty is drawing the line, in terms not of outdated regulation but of regulation that is relevant, up to date and may be designed legitimately to protect certain interests.

My hon. Friends' speeches spotlighted a number of issues where the line between regulation and deregulation is not easy to draw. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) spoke of consumer protection, fire regulation and fire safety. In all those sectors it is difficult to draw the line, but I argue that the House of Commons should err on the side of safety and of the consumer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) talked about environmental protection and environmental standards. It is interesting that Conservative Members who, less than a year ago, were talking about the Government's success in terms of green policies and about the importance of such policies are now taking every opportunity to argue that environmental protection standards are a burden on business.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) raised a number of important points about health and safety and the public interest. My hon. Friend is well versed in those issues as he represents the constituency in which last week's fire took place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) will know, those of us who live in areas that have experienced substantial chemical fires realise how important it is that the House of Commons should have no intention of relaxing health and safety standards. The public interest must be paramount.

Finally in terms of the divide, I should like to draw attention to the fact that several of my hon. Friends talked about health and safety at work. We heard about what accidents cost individuals—loss of life or serious injury—and what they cost firms and society. All those bills are substantial. I should like to ask the Conservative ideologues why any reduction in standards is even being contemplated. Speech after speech showed that the new Conservative approach is to lower consumer standards, lessen environmental protection, disregard the public interest and reduce health and safety standards at work.

Let me give an example of the Government's intentions. In other parts of the Bill they say, in effect, "Believe us, trust us. We will do the right thing." Anyone who wants to examine as nasty a provision as the Bill contains should look at clause 26, which deals with redundancy. That provision breaks all traditional agreements and custom and practice in industry, yet there was no great pressure from employers for it, and there was no consultation whatsoever with employees or their organisations.

There may be an explanation. We are told regularly that good practice in industrial relations means honouring agreements, that it commits people on both sides of industry to keeping their word. I understand why the Government bob and weave, why they do not worry unduly about keeping their word. After all, it is they who said that there would be no tax increases, that there would be no increase in VAT. We have here the Government who have reneged on every promise made to the electorate in 1992. Now they are trying to inject into industrial relations the practices that have so devalued our political system. In that sense, let us keep them clear of industrial relations. We have agreed on some points, but their line on regulation and deregulation is one of contention, not of objectivity.

The key issue in the debate has been the constitutional implications of the Bill. Clauses 1 to 4 deal with the real issues—issues which should unite the House, not divide it. I wish that more Members had been present to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—as I say regularly when I have the opportunity of winding up a debate in which the hon. Gentleman has taken part. It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman's speech should have come from the Government. His was the kind of speech that every hon. Member should make and to which we should all listen. It was echoed partly by the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs). Both hon. Gentlemen were concerned about the great new powers that can be assumed under clauses 1 to 4—the further centralisation of ministerial power, the further erosion of the power of the House of Commons.

I hope that I do not do the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) an injustice in saying that he let the cat out of the bag and provided grounds for people's worries when, referring to the deregulation initiative, he quoted ex-President Reagan saying: You ain't seen nothing yet. Later, he said that the Bill is just "a down payment". Is not that what concerns us—the fact that this Trojan horse of a Bill contains miscellaneous measures, deliberately designed not to generate much public opposition while creating a general power that will enable Ministers to get rid of provisions protecting the environment, health and safety and the consumer?

Ministers are empowering themselves to repeal and amend primary and secondary legislation. In practice, the House is being offered a debate lasting an hour and a half, after 10 pm, and no ability to amend the orders that we debate. Any hon. Member who has been in the House for some years understands the way in which such procedures work: we know how much interest will be taken in those debates. That is self-criticism, in that it is criticism of the House, but it is also an argument against giving Ministers more power without adequate safeguards.

The Government say, "Do not worry. Believe us: we will provide new safeguards. The new mechanism will not be autocratic or authoritarian." Let us examine those safeguards, and the way in which they will work. There will be a new scrutiny Committee, but at this stage, we know very little about it, because we await the findings of the Committee chaired by the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). However, I suspect that we already know two things.

First, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South, the scrutiny Committee will have a Government majority: its members will be selected by Government Whips to ensure that. I can confidently say that all hon. Members who have expressed doubts about the mechanism will not find a way on to that Committee under the patronage of the Whips. Secondly, Ministers have said in the Bill that they will not be bound by the advice and recommendations of the Committee. Given a Government majority and recommendations without force, what faith can the House put in that Committee?

The Government will tell us that they will adopt a new approach—that they will consult outside interests. I simply do not believe that, after 15 years, the Government have discovered the meaning of the word "consultation". Go and ask nurses and doctors in the national health service whether they believe in consultation with the Government; go and ask teachers about education changes; go and ask the police and the Lord Chief Justice about criminal justice legislation. Every interest group feels that the Government simply do not care about consultation: the mechanism will not work in that respect.

The power taken by the Government, however, does not relate merely to this deregulation initiative; it is an indefinite power, enabling the Government—by means of the mechanism in clauses 1 to 4—to repeal tomorrow's mistakes. It is not time limited: mistakes in future legislation, primary and secondary—legislation approved by the House of Commons—can be repealed under those clauses. The definition of what constitutes a burden will be left to a junior Minister.

I read with interest the Under-Secretary's speech to the Tory party conference.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Good speech.

Mr. Fatchett

I note that it won approval. Its timing and content struck me as apposite, given the overall theme of the conference. This is the Minister who will take all the various interests into account, in a sensitive manner. He said: In fact, the Prime Minister urged me to behave like an absolute bastard. That Minister was the first member of the B team to acknowledge that openly, and that is the first occasion on which the Prime Minister has no need to urge a Minister in that regard—for he is one; he needs no urging. That Minister is responsible for the judgments on deregulation.

Constitutional issues are raised, not only clauses 1 to 4, but in part II. They will set up the Government's new world and establish the way in which they have operated for a number of years. It is a world of new quangos, new agencies and new private contracts. It would be churlish of us to suggest that there will be no beneficiaries from that process. There will, of course, be beneficiaries because there are jobs to be had on the quangos.

We know to whom those jobs go—Tory party members and supporters. One of the key criteria for selection is whether a person has paid his or her party membership. We know that sometimes, particularly in the health service, jobs go to those who have just finished their service in the House of Commons or who happen to be married to a member of the Conservative party. Those appointees include, as a director of the King's Lynn and Wisbech trust, Thomas Shephard, the husband of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and, as a director of the Addenbrooke's trust, Mary Archer, wife of Tory peer Lord Archer.

The Bill is part of the Government's sleaze philosophy. They produce jobs for themselves. The wheel turns full circle because, as part of the process, there will be contracts to be won in the private sector. Who will the Bill help but directors and consultants, including Conservative Members, whose earnings outside the House will be boosted? About 600 directorships are disclosed in the Register of Members' Interests and many of them have a direct interest in privatisation.

The Government may argue that the Bill will improve efficiency and standards in public life. Before the President of the Board of Trade advances that argument, he should consider the Child Support Agency and the way in which Group 4 has operated in our prisons. Before the Government talk about new standards in public life, they should consider Westminster city council, the Welsh Development Agency and the national health service trusts up and down the country, and then take note of the comment by the Public Accounts Committee that there has been a substantial decline in the standards of public life.

Before Conservative Members vote for the Bill, I remind them that the parts of it that deal with contracting out will further reduce the accountability of Ministers. Surely it is a basic principle of our democracy that those who spend public money should be accountable for it.

There cannot be a Member of Parliament who has not been irritated because he has tabled a parliamentary question or written a letter to a Minister, only to be told that the reply will come from the chief executive of an agency. We want proper democratic constitutional accountability. The Bill will take the process of undermining that accountability a stage further because it will mean that, in some cases, the body that will be held accountable will be not even the agency, but a private sector organisation or contractor.

The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) made an important point when he rightly argued that the role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the ombudsman, could be subject to privatisation. Does not that show the nature of the Government's proposals? We want assurances on that matter and I hope that the Minister will provide them.

The sections on contracting out are part of what Professor Peter Hennessy has called the "alibi society". When challenged about British Aerospace this afternoon, the Prime Minister said that it was not his responsibility. All the clauses in the Bill are designed to underpin the alibis. The Government are saying, "We are just the Government, we do not know what is happening in society and we do not know what is happening with public money."

One thing has been clear in much of the rhetoric of Conservative Members' speeches. While the Government have no vision of an industrial strategy for Britain, they have a view that Britain can survive and compete with a low-wage, low-security, low-skills economy. That is simply not the case in the 1990s.

The Bill is a missed opportunity. The Government should have produced an industrial strategy that allows Britain to compete in the 1990s and beyond, a strategy that invests in research and development, in skills and in the industries that will make Britain successful. Instead, we have heard a great deal of 19th century rhetoric coupled with a Bill designed to give more power to the centre. It has authoritarian and draconian implications, which is why it is a bad Bill.

I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose the Bill. I hope that, even at this late stage, some Tory Members will have that courage to stop this centralising measure and the creeping undermining of the power of the House and join us in trying to protect our democracy.

9.40 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs(Mr. Neil Hamilton)

A moment ago, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) said that the order-making powers in the Bill could be used to repeal parts of future legislation. That is not so. Evidently, he did not get very far in his reading because clause 1(5)(c) states that the Bill will apply only to Acts passed before or in the same Session as the Bill. That appears at the bottom of page 2, so I hope that he will get a little further into the Bill before the Committee stage begins.

A wise man once said—I am not going to quote from my speech at Blackpool—[Interruption.] I thank hon. Members for the advertisement. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of the book of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and sell the video. A wise man once said: Trade and commerce, if they were not made of rubber, would never manage to bounce over the obstacles which legislators are continually putting in their way. I have always believed that government had a limited capacity to do good and a virtually infinite capacity to do harm, but the Opposition have a touching faith in government and legislation as a universal cure-all and restorative. Of course, experience teaches us—I hope that I shall now carry Labour Members with me—that government is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

There is in this country today a widespread demand for deregulation. It is expressed in the columns of newspapers by luminaries such as Mr. Christopher Booker, who was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith). Every Member of Parliament's postbag has been groaning with complaints about excessive regulation. Small and large businesses—[Interruption.] Perhaps constituents do not consider it worth while to write to Labour Members, but mine certainly write to me.

Small and large businesses, charities and the voluntary sector are prone to complain. They say that regulation is intrusive, time-consuming, irritating and, more to the point, they say that it reduces our competitiveness as a nation, which was the mainspring of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade's opening speech.

Mr. Sykes

My hon. Friend mentioned Mr. Christopher Booker, who writes for The Sunday Telegraph and who made some disparaging remarks about this excellent Bill in the most recent edition of that newspaper. I am the secretary of the Back-Bench deregulation committee and I twice invited Mr. Booker to address our committee. I did not receive a reply to either invitation which must mean that Mr. Booker has been drowned under a welter of paperwork.

Mr. Hamilton

I am not prepared to criticise Christopher Booker in this instance because he has done a good job in drawing to our attention many of the absurdities of regulation. I shall, however, consider cancelling my subscription to The Sunday Telegraph and taking up Viz.

The Government resolved to do something about the burden of regulation. We put together a programme to attack the regulatory overload at every level. It has not been over-hasty or ill thought out. Indeed, we have devoted a great deal of time not only to the Bill but to all the other deregulatory measures referred to in the explanatory documents that were published at the same time as the Bill.

I warned my colleagues at the beginning of the exercise that we were in danger of producing a policy that would be popular in the country. Undeterred by this departure from normal practice, we plunged ahead with what I believe is the most comprehensive initiative the country has ever seen. The Bill deals with just one aspect of that, but a very important one—the problem of over-regulation in Acts of Parliament.

I have been subjected to much criticism, as my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) mentioned a moment ago. On the one hand, I have been criticised by Christopher Booker, who recently described the Bill as a mouse from a mountain of bureaucracy". On the other hand, I have been described in different language by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). In some respects he is a natural deregulator—I have always been impressed by his deregulated approach to English syntax—and he is, as we know, a master of understatement. He described our proposals for deregulation as unleashing the killing fields of industry. The General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union produced a very nice photograph of me in a magazine that it published recently, under the headline: Deregulation Minister Neil Hamilton: Stop this man"— with an article that, as usual, was full of unfounded alarmist scaremongering. The union does not even seem to recognise the benefits that its members could derive from a substantial programme of deregulation.

We do not have to take risks with health and safety, or any other measures involving the protection of the community at large, to make huge deregulatory gains. I am sorry that the hon. Members for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) and for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) failed to recognise that and launched into hyperboles accusing us of despotism and goodness knows what else.

Mr. Heppell

I spoke about the subjects that I did only because I have written evidence. I have received a letter from Lord Strathclyde about the legislation about foam in furniture and the legislation about children's nightwear, which were investigated by the task force. I have received letters from the Department of Transport about the review of bus drivers' hours. I spoke only about things that were documented by Government Departments.

Mr. Hamilton

Every regulation in existence is under review and will be measured against the test of cost and benefit. Where the costs are justified by the benefits, nothing will happen to the regulations. For the hon. Gentleman to take the view, however, that we should never reconsider any legislation in sectors where there is significant emotional appeal, smacks of the attitude that the Roman Catholic Church had to Galileo in the 14th or 15th century. We must ensure that all the legislation currently in force in this country is proportionate and that it does not go further than is necessary. That is not to say that we must throw the baby out with the bathwater. The trouble with people like the hon. Gentleman is that they want to throw out the baby and keep the bathwater.

I take as an example health and safety—a subject: which tugs at the heart-strings. Opposition Members have placed great emphasis on that during the debate, especially on clause 27, which the hon. Member for Leeds, Central mentioned. What that clause permits us to do is what we can do in respect of legislation that has been passed since 1974 under the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. The problem with legislation that was on the statute book before 1974 is that even when it is utterly redundant we cannot remove it because of a provision in the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 that compels us to keep it on the statute book.

I can give the hon. Gentleman several examples. I do not think that I have much time in which to do so, but let us take as an example the Agricultural Ladders Regulations, which go into great detail about the joints to be used in ladders, the distance between the rungs and the number of nails that have to be used in their construction. Today, there are British standards covering all those artefacts and a modern set of regulations is in the process of being introduced. There must, therefore, be a case for removing from the statute book useless legislation that does not contribute to people's safety. We are clearing away a clutter of redundancy.

During the investigation that was performed by the Department of Employment in respect of health and safety measures, we discovered about 30 statutory instruments, the primary legislation governing which was repealed long ago but which were still on the database and presumably still being observed by many businesses long after the statutory provisions had been repealed. We have, therefore, got rid of those—for example, the Florists Overtime Regulations 1938; the Bread, Flour, Confectionery and Sausage Manufacture (Commencement of Employment) Regulations 1939; the Glass Bottles and Jars (Overtime) Regulations 1938. All that garbage has been cleared away from the statute book. In no way does that prejudice the health and safety of people working in those industries. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is a joke."] I leave the jokes to sit on the Opposition Benches.

I am concerned to rebut the criticisms of the Bill. While Christopher Booker has accused us of unleashing a farrago of trivia, the accusations of the Opposition would give anybody cause to believe that we were indulging in the legislative equivalent of the slaughter of the first-born. There are two extremes—first Mr. Booker saying that we are not going far enough, and then the Opposition saying that we are going too far. I find myself cast in an unfamiliar role as a middle-of-the-road moderate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) urged us not to be too cautious, as did my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who has done sterling service in the cause of deregulation. Although the Bill, and the measures that will be introduced if the order-making power is granted to us, may constitute small and modest changes in themselves, when they are taken together in sum there is a great gain in prospect. Of course, there are complaints that the Bill does not go far enough, but the Bill is only one part of a wider package of deregulation.

For example, enforcement officers' decisions can cause inconsistency of interpretation in different parts of the country. The ability of environmental health officers to classify Tipp-Ex correction fluid and Brillo pads as substances hazardous to health under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988 must be examined. The European Community's generation of regulations must also be examined, as must delegated legislation currently in force, to ensure that we do:not impose unnecessary costs on businesses—that does not need the powers in the Bill. Finally, primary legislation must be examined, and that is the purpose of the Bill.

As hon. Members know, the contents of the Bill come in two forms. First, there are items of deregulation that will not be the subject of the order-making power, but stand on the face of the Bill. There are a couple of dozen such measures, including market charters and other provisions that have been mentioned during the debate. Secondly, there is a list of about 55 items illustrating how the order-making power could be applied. If hon. Members considered the way in which those two sets of proposals are put together they would discover that the order-making power is designed to be used almost entirely in wholly uncontroversial areas, where I hope that we shall have no difficulty in securing a consensus across the Floor of the House.

I do not believe that the contents of the Bill are trivial. The Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors, the Forum of Private Business, the Federation of Small Businesses and the chambers of commerce do not think that they are trivial either. Even the Consumers Association has said some nice things about the Bill, saying that the so-called King Henry VIII provisions represent a partial improvement on the current procedures for parliamentary scrutiny and secondary legislation. They could help avoid the kind of low-profile law-changing that takes place when statutory instruments are debated in the middle of the night in an empty House of Commons. That goes to the very essence of the difficulty that we are here to discuss.

Even under the much-vaunted procedures for primary legislation, legislation is often passed by the House with inadequate scrutiny. I am as committed as any Member of the House to a proper measure of scrutiny for legislation. I yield to no one, not even to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) in my attachment to parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hamilton

I am sorry, but I have only seven minutes. There will be plenty of time for me to debate with the hon. Gentleman in Committee.

Judging by the criticisms levelled against us in the debate, anyone might think that the present procedures of the House were exhaustive. They are often exhausting, but the scrutiny that we apply to legislation is still not exhaustive. I have often sat in the Chamber or in Committee when pages and pages of Government or other amendments have been introduced in the last stages of the discussion of a Bill, and the Whips are scurrying about across the Floor trying to get people to stop talking and sit down, so that we can all get home early. Vast tranches of legislation go through without any discussion. The difference between the failings of the legislative procedures that we have had hitherto and what we are proposing in the Bill is this. Whereas those failings are in respect of burdens that are imposed on the country, if there are procedural failures in respect of our proposals at least they are in areas where we are reducing the burdens that are imposed on the people.

The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) complained that these powers were introduced for the convenience of Ministers. They are being introduced for the convenience of the country and for the convenience of the businesses that generate the wealth and the jobs that Opposition Members profess to support. A large number of proposals in the Bill will protect parliamentarians against the charge that despotism is being imposed on businesses.

I believe that our proposals will receive significant scrutiny. That scrutiny will be much greater in practice than that received by the measures that we propose to repeal. We have, of course, been subjected to the usual criticisms from Opposition Members—that this is all a put-up job to line the pockets of our friends in the City, and so on—but nothing could be further from the truth. The idea that reducing costs on businesses is only of benefit to businesses is extraordinary, because those costs feed through into the wider community in the form of higher prices in the shops and, in particular, unemployment.

Opposition Members are not concerned about unemployment or they would saddle this country with the greatest single package of regulatory measures and business burdens that this country has ever seen by signing up to the social chapter and the whole package of socialist garbage that they have in their knapsacks and which they are afraid to bring out at the moment. No doubt they will be revealed towards the next general election.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) was right when in the debate on the Queen's Speech he said I welcome the legislation in that context, and I shall not be offended if its basis is the use of statutory instruments. Indeed, I find it difficult to conceive how it could be done otherwise".—[Official Report, 24 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 484.] I agree.

Deregulation is not entirely a new issue, because another Conservative Government, in 1896—nearly 100 years ago—produced a very important deregulation measure. In the Locomotives on Highways Act 1896, which hon. Members will no doubt remember, the provisions of the Locomotives Act 1865 were repealed. In particular, it said that any locomotive in motion must be preceded by not less than 60 yards by a man carrying a red flag, constantly displayed. When we repealed the "red flag" Act, we enabled the British motor industry to be set up—[Interruption.] Times have certainly changed since the Labour party was in Government, when the British motor industry was flat on its back. Today it is up and running and we will again be the biggest exporter of cars in Europe.

Opposition Members would have been opposed to getting rid of the Locomotives on Highways Act, because no doubt they would have accused us of unleashing the killing fields on the roads of this country. The environmental extremists would have opposed any change on environmental grounds, no doubt supported by the latter-day political gerbils in the Liberal party. Without that change, a modern economy could never have developed. Labour's policies would put a man with a red flag in front of British industry once again. Of course, Labour is not so keen on the red flag these days. By its opposition to the Bill, it proves that it is still the party of red tape.

The Bill will slice through red tape. It will free the businesses of this country, which generate the wealth and the jobs, from the bonds of useless and excessive regulation. That will be an extremely popular policy. Just as the Opposition, as Johnny-Come-Latelies, have had to adopt our policies in so many areas of national life, whether on taxation, ownership in industry or whatever, they will come to see the wisdom of adopting a policy of deregulation. The country knows that that is what it wants. We know what it wants. That is why we shall use this policy to get elected once again in however many years' time it is.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 283, Noes 320.

Division No. 110] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Adams, Mrs Irene Corbett, Robin
Ainger, Nick Corbyn, Jeremy
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Corston, Ms Jean
Allen, Graham Cousins, Jim
Alton, David Cox, Tom
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Cryer, Bob
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Cummings, John
Armstrong, Hilary Cunliffe, Lawrence
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Ashton, Joe Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Austin-Walker, John Dafis, Cynog
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dalyell, Tam
Barnes, Harry Darling, Alistair
Barron, Kevin Davidson, Ian
Battle, John Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bayley, Hugh Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Denham, John
Bell, Stuart Dewar, Donald
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dixon, Don
Bennett, Andrew F. Dobson, Frank
Benton, Joe Donohoe, Brian H.
Bermingham, Gerald Dowd, Jim
Berry, Dr. Roger Dunnachie, Jimmy
Betts, Clive Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Blair, Tony Eagle, Ms Angela
Blunkett, David Eastham, Ken
Boateng, Paul Enright, Derek
Boyes, Roland Etherington, Bill
Bradley, Keith Evans, John (St Helens N)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Fatchett, Derek
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Fisher, Mark
Burden, Richard Flynn, Paul
Byers, Stephen Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Caborn, Richard Foster, Don (Bath)
Callaghan, Jim Foulkes, George
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Fraser, John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Fyfe, Maria
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Galloway, George
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Gapes, Mike
Canavan, Dennis Garrett, John
Cann, Jamie George, Bruce
Chisholm, Malcolm Gerrard, Neil
Clapham, Michael Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Godsiff, Roger
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clelland, David Gordon, Mildred
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Gould, Bryan
Coffey, Ann Graham, Thomas
Cohen, Harry Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Connarty, Michael Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce Moonie, Dr Lewis
Gunnell, John Morgan, Rhodri
Hain, Peter Moriey, Elliot
Hall, Mike Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Hanson, David Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hardy, Peter Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Harman, Ms Harriet Mowlam, Marjorie
Harvey, Nick Mudie, George
Henderson, Doug Mullin, Chris
Heppell, John Murphy, Paul
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hinchliffe, David O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Hoey, Kate O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) O'Hara, Edward
Home Robertson, John Olner, William
Hood, Jimmy O'Neill, Martin
Hoon, Geoffrey Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Parry, Robert
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Patchett, Terry
Hoyle, Doug Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Pickthall, Colin
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Pike, Peter L.
Hutton, John Pope, Greg
Illsley, Eric Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Ingram, Adam Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Prescott, John
Jamieson, David Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Purchase, Ken
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Radice, Giles
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Randall, Stuart
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Raynsford, Nick
Jowell, Tessa Redmond, Martin
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Reid, Dr John
Keen, Alan Rendel, David
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Khabra, Piara S. Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Kilfoyle, Peter Rogers, Allan
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Rooker, Jeff
Kirkwood, Archy Rooney, Terry
Leighton, Ron Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Rowlands, Ted
Lewis, Terry Ruddock, Joan
Litherland, Robert Salmond, Alex
Livingstone, Ken Sedgemore, Brian
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Sheerman, Barry
Llwyd, Elfyn Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Loyden, Eddie Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Lynne, Ms Liz Short, Clare
McAllion, John Simpson, Alan
McAvoy, Thomas Skinner, Dennis
McCartney, Ian Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Macdonald, Calum Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
McFall, John Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
McKelvey, William Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mackinlay, Andrew Snape, Peter
McLeish, Henry Soley, Clive
Maclennan, Robert Spearing, Nigel
McMaster, Gordon Spellar, John
McNamara, Kevin Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
McWilliam, John Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Madden, Max Steinberg, Gerry
Maddock, Mrs Diana Stevenson, George
Mahon, Alice Stott, Roger
Mandelson, Peter Strang, Dr. Gavin
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Straw, Jack
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Martlew, Eric Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Maxton, John Tipping, Paddy
Meacher, Michael Turner, Dennis
Meale, Alan Tyler, Paul
Michael, Alun Vaz, Keith
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Wallace, James
Milburn, Alan Walley, Joan
Miller, Andrew Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Wareing, Robert N
Watson, Mike Wray, Jimmy
Welsh, Andrew Wright, Dr Tony
Wicks, Malcolm Young, David (Bolton SE)
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen) Tellers for the Ayes:
Wilson, Brian Mr. Simon Hughes and Mr. Nigel Jones.
Winnick, David
Wise, Audrey
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Aitken, Jonathan Davis, David (Boothferry)
Alexander, Richard Deva, Nirj Joseph
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Devlin, Tim
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Dickens, Geoffrey
Amess, David Dicks, Terry
Ancram, Michael Dorrell, Stephen
Arbuthnot, James Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Dover, Den
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Duncan, Alan
Ashby, David Duncan-Smith, Iain
Aspinwall, Jack Dunn, Bob
Atkins, Robert Durant, Sir Anthony
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Dykes, Hugh
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Eggar, Tim
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Elletson, Harold
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Baldry, Tony Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Bates, Michael Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Batiste, Spencer Evennett, David
Bellingham, Henry Faber, David
Bendall, Vivian Fabricant, Michael
Beresford, Sir Paul Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fenner, Dame Peggy
Blackburn, Dr John G. Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Body, Sir Richard Fishburn, Dudley
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Forman, Nigel
Booth, Hartley Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Boswell, Tim Forth, Eric
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bowden, Andrew Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bowis, John Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes French, Douglas
Brandreth, Gyles Fry, Sir Peter
Brazier, Julian Gale, Roger
Bright, Graham Gallie, Phil
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gardiner, Sir George
Browning, Mrs. Angela Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Garnier, Edward
Budgen, Nicholas Gill, Christopher
Burns, Simon Giilan, Cheryl
Burt, Alistair Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Butcher, John Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Butler, Peter Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Butterfill, John Gorst, John
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Carrington, Matthew Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Carttiss, Michael Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Cash, William Grylls, Sir Michael
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Churchill, Mr Hague, William
Clappison, James Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hampson, Dr Keith
Cos, Sebastian Hanley, Jeremy
Colvin, Michael Hannam, Sir John
Congdon, David Hargreaves, Andrew
Conway, Derek Harris, David
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Haselhurst, Alan
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hawkins, Nick
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hawksley, Warren
Cormack, Patrick Hayes, Jerry
Couchman, James Heald, Oliver
Cran, James Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hendry, Charles
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Hicks, Robert Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Norris, Steve
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Horam, John Oppenheim, Phillip
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Ottaway, Richard
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Page, Richard
Howarth, Alan (Straf'rd-on-A) Paice, James
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Patnick, Irvine
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Patten, Rt Hon John
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Pawsey, James
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hunter, Andrew Pickles, Eric
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jack, Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Jenkin, Bernard Powell, William (Corby)
Jessel, Toby Rathbone, Tim
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Richards, Rod
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Riddick, Graham
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Key, Robert Robathan, Andrew
Kilfedder, Sir James Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
King, Rt Hon Tom Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Kirkhope, Timothy Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Knapman, Roger Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Sackville, Tom
Knox, Sir David Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shaw, David (Dover)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Legg, Barry Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Leigh, Edward Shersby, Michael
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Sims, Roger
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lidington, David Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lightbown, David Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Soames, Nicholas
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham) Speed, Sir Keith
Lord, Michael Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Luff, Peter Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spink, Dr Robert
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spring, Richard
MacKay, Andrew Sproat, Iain
Maclean, David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
McLoughlin, Patrick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Steen, Anthony
Madel, Sir David Stephen, Michael
Maginnis, Ken Stern, Michael
Maitland, Lady Olga Stewart, Allan
Malone, Gerald Streeter, Gary
Mans, Keith Sumberg, David
Marland, Paul Sweeney, Walter
Marlow, Tony Sykes, John
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Mates, Michael Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Temple-Morris, Peter
Mellor, Rt Hon David Thomason, Roy
Merchant, Piers Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Mills, Iain Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Thurnham, Peter
Moate, Sir Roger Townend, John (Bridlington)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Monro, Sir Hector Tracey, Richard
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Tredinnick, David
Moss, Malcolm Trend, Michael
Needham, Richard Trimble, David
Nelson, Anthony Trotter, Neville
Neubert, Sir Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Viggers, Peter
Nicholls, Patrick Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Walden, George Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Walker, Bill (N Tayside) Wilkinson, John
Waller, Gary Willetts, David
Ward, John Wilshire, David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Wolfson, Mark
Waterson, Nigel Wood, Timothy
Watts, John Yeo, Tim
Wells, Bowen Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Whitney, Ray Tellers for the Noes:
Whittingdale, John Mr. Sydney Chapman and Mr. Michael Brown.
Widdecombe, Ann

Question accordingly negatived.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided:Ayes 319, Noes 282.

Division No.111] [10.15 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Coe, Sebastian
Aitken, Jonathan Colvin, Michael
Alexander, Richard Congdon, David
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Conway, Derek
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Amess, David Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Ancram, Michael Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Arbuthnot, James Cormack, Patrick
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Couchman, James
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Cran, James
Ashby, David Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Aspinwall, Jack Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Atkins, Robert Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Deva, Nirj Joseph
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Devlin, Tim
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Dickens, Geoffrey
Baldry, Tony Dicks, Terry
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Dorrell, Stephen
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bates, Michael Dover, Den
Batiste, Spencer Duncan, Alan
Bellingham, Henry Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bendall, Vivian Dunn, Bob
Beresford, Sir Paul Durant, Sir Anthony
Biffen, Rt Hon John Dykes, Hugh
Blackburn, Dr John G. Eggar, Tim
Body, Sir Richard Elletson, Harold
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Booth, Hartley Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Boswell, Tim Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bowden, Andrew Evennett, David
Bowis, John Faber, David
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Fabricant, Michael
Brandreth, Gyles Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Brazier, Julian Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bright, Graham Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fishburn, Dudley
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Forman, Nigel
Browning, Mrs. Angela Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Forth, Eric
Budgen, Nicholas Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Burns, Simon Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Burt, Alistair Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Butcher, John Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Butler, Peter French, Douglas
Butterfill, John Fry, Sir Peter
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Gale, Roger
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gallie, Phil
Carrington, Matthew Gardiner, Sir George
Carttiss, Michael Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Cash, William Garnier, Edward
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Gill, Christopher
Churchill, Mr Gillan, Cheryl
Clappison, James Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gorst, John Mans, Keith
Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW) Marland, Paul
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Marlow, Tony
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Grylls, Sir Michael Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mates, Michael
Hague, William Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Mellor, Rt Hon David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Merchant, Piers
Hampson, Dr Keith Mills, Iain
Hanley, Jeremy Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hannam, Sir John Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Hargreaves, Andrew Moate, Sir Roger
Harris, David Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Haselhurst, Alan Monro, Sir Hector
Hawkins, Nick Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hawksley, Warren Moss, Malcolm
Hayes, Jerry Needham, Richard
Heald, Oliver Nelson, Anthony
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Neubert, Sir Michael
Hendry, Charles Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Hicks, Robert Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Norris, Steve
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Horam, John Oppenheim, Phillip
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Ottaway, Richard
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Page, Richard
Howarth, Alan (Straf'rd-on-A) Paice, James
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Patnick, Irvine
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Patten, Rt Hon John
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Pawsey, James
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hunter, Andrew Pickles, Eric
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jack, Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Jenkin, Bernard Powell, William (Corby)
Jessel, Toby Rathbone, Tim
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Richards, Rod
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Riddick, Graham
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Key, Robert Robathan, Andrew
Kilfedder, Sir James Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
King, Rt Hon Tom Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Kirkhope, Timothy Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Knapman, Roger Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Sackville, Tom
Knox, Sir David Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shaw, David (Dover)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Legg, Barry Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Leigh, Edward Shersby, Michael
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Sims, Roger
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lidington, David Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lightbown, David Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Soames, Nicholas
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham) Speed, Sir Keith
Lord, Michael Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Luff, Peter Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spink, Dr Robert
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spring, Richard
MacKay, Andrew Sproat, Iain
Maclean, David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
McLoughlin, Patrick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Steen, Anthony
Madel, Sir David Stephen, Michael
Maginnis, Ken Stern, Michael
Maitland, Lady Olga Stewart, Allan
Malone, Gerald Streeter, Gary
Sumberg, David Walden, George
Sweeney, Walter Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Sykes, John Waller, Gary
Tapsell, Sir Peter Ward, John
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Taylor, John M. (Solihull) Waterson, Nigel
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Watts, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Wells, Bowen
Thomason, Roy Whitney, Ray
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Whittingdale, John
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Widdecombe, Ann
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Thumham, Peter Wilkinson, John
Townend, John (Bridlington) Willetts, David
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th) Wilshire, David
Tracey, Richard Wolfson, Mark
Tredinnick, David Yeo, Tim
Trend, Michael Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Trimble, David
Trotter, Neville Tellers for the Ayes:
Twinn, Dr Ian Mr. Sydney Chapman and Mr. Timothy Wood.
Viggers, Peter
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Abbott, Ms Diane Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Adams, Mrs Irene Corbett, Robin
Ainger, Nick Corbyn, Jeremy
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Corston, Ms Jean
Allen, Graham Cousins, Jim
Alton, David Cox, Tom
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Cryer, Bob
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Cummings, John
Armstrong, Hilary Cunliffe, Lawrence
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Ashton, Joe Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Austin-Walker, John Dafis, Cynog
Barnes, Harry Dalyell, Tarn
Barron, Kevin Darling, Alistair
Battle, John Davidson, Ian
Bayley, Hugh Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Bell, Stuart Denham, John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dewar, Donald
Bennett, Andrew F. Dixon, Don
Benton, Joe Dobson, Frank
Bermingham, Gerald Donohoe, Brian H.
Berry, Dr. Roger Dowd, Jim
Betts, Clive Dunnachie, Jimmy
Blair, Tony Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Blunkett, David Eagle, Ms Angela
Boateng, Paul Eastham, Ken
Boyes, Roland Enright, Derek
Bradley, Keith Etherington, Bill
Bray, Dr Jeremy Evans, John (St Helens N)
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Fatchett, Derek
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Faulds, Andrew
Burden, Richard Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Byers, Stephen Fisher, Mark
Caborn, Richard Flynn, Paul
Callaghan, Jim Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Foster, Don (Bath)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Foulkes, George
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Fraser, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Fyfe, Maria
Canavan, Dennis Galloway, George
Cann, Jamie Gapes, Mike
Chisholm, Malcolm Garrett, John
Clapham, Michael George, Bruce
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Gerrard, Neil
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Clelland, David Godsiff, Roger
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Golding, Mrs Llin
Coffey, Ann Gordon, Mildred
Cohen, Harry Graham, Thomas
Connarty, Michael Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Livingstone, Ken
Grocott, Bruce Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Gunnell, John Llwyd, Elfyn
Hain, Peter Loyden, Eddie
Hail, Mike Lynne, Ms Liz
Hanson, David McAllion, John
Hardy, Peter McAvoy, Thomas
Harman, Ms Harriet McCartney, Ian
Harvey, Nick Macdonald, Calum
Henderson, Doug McFall, John
Heppell, John McKelvey, William
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Mackinlay, Andrew
Hinchliffe, David McLeish, Henry
Hoey, Kate Maclennan, Robert
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) McMaster, Gordon
Home Robertson, John McNamara, Kevin
Hood, Jimmy McWilliam, John
Hoon, Geoffrey Madden, Max
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Maddock, Mrs Diana
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Mahon, Alice
Hoyle, Doug Mandelson, Peter
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Hughes, Simon (Southward) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Hutton, John Martlew, Eric
Illsley, Eric Maxton, John
Ingram, Adam Meacher, Michael
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Meale, Alan
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Michael, Alun
Jamieson, David Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys M ôn) Milburn, Alan
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Miller, Andrew
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Jowell, Tessa Morgan, Rhodri
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Morley, Elliot
Keen, Alan Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Khabra, Piara S. Mowlam, Marjorie
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Mudie, George
Kirkwood, Archy Mullin, Chris
Leighton, Ron Murphy, Paul
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Lewis, Terry O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Litherland, Robert O'Brien, William (Normanton)
O'Hara, Edward Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Olner, William Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
O'Neill, Martin Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Snape, Peter
Parry, Robert Soley, Clive
Patchett, Terry Spearing, Nigel
Pendry, Tom Spellar, John
Pickthall, Colin Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Pike, Peter L. Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Pope, Greg Steinberg, Gerry
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Stevenson, George
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Stott, Roger
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Strang, Dr. Gavin
Prescott, John Straw, Jack
Primarolo, Dawn Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Purchase, Ken Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Quin, Ms Joyce Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Radice, Giles Tipping, Paddy
Randall, Stuart Turner, Dennis
Raynsford, Nick Tyler, Paul
Redmond, Martin Vaz, Keith
Reid, Dr John Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Rendel, David Wallace, James
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Walley, Joan
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Roche, Mrs. Barbara Wareing, Robert N
Rogers, Allan Watson, Mike
Rooker, Jeff Welsh, Andrew
Rooney, Terry Wicks, Malcolm
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Rowlands, Ted Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Ruddock, Joan Wilson, Brian
Salmond, Alex Winnick, David
Sedgemore, Brian Wise, Audrey
Sheerman, Barry Wray, Jimmy
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wright, Dr Tony
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Young, David (Bolton SE)
Short, Clare
Simpson, Alan Tellers for the Noes:
Skinner, Dennis Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and Mr. Jon Owen Jones.
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).