HC Deb 09 March 1994 vol 239 cc272-4
9. Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on progress in removing regulatory burdens, other than opening hours, on food retailing businesses.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

A review has been completed of controls on a number of foodstuffs covered by European Community hygiene directives. Departments are also looking at the problems caused to retailers by food temperature controls, and at the scope afforded by the EC general hygiene directive to simplify existing domestic regulations.

Mr. Nicholson

Has my hon. Friend had the opportunity to study the horrifying material in the book by Christopher Booker, a man of Somerset? Will he act on that material? If he opens the book at random, on page 145 he will see how a local government official went into a shop—not, alas, in my constituency—said, "I have the power to close businesses like this down," and then visited the shop, a bakery, three times during the following six months. Will he act to help shops in my constituency that, again at random, have come to my attention, such as those in North Curry and Kingston St. Mary?

Mr. Hamilton

As I appear in the book, I hope that my hon. Friend was not referring to me as part of the horrifying material. We should all be grateful to Mr. Christopher Booker for the publicity that he has given to some of the horrors of over-regulation and excessive zeal by some enforcement officers. I assure my hon. Friend that that is one of the items well to the fore in the deregulation initiative.

Ms Coffey

Is the Minister aware of the considerable concern in the north-west about the impact of out-of-town shopping centres on existing town centres? Will he talk to his colleagues in the Department of the Environment with a view to changing planning law to make impact on existing retail businesses a planning consideration when deciding on new applications? If he cannot do that, will he assure retail businesses in the north-west that they will not go totally out of business and lose thousands of jobs simply because of the present inadequacy of the planning laws?

Mr. Hamilton

As an act of kindness, I shall show my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the hon. Lady's question.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Will my hon. Friend congratulate the Prime Minister on his achievement at the last Edinburgh summit, which means that 75 per cent. of all EC legislation must be tested for employment measures? Will he urge the Community to take that further so that it can create more employment?

Mr. Hamilton

I shall do precisely that in Brussels tomorrow. It is vital that Europe does not continue to export jobs to other parts of the world as a result of failing to cost the impact of the regulations that it has sometimes unthinkingly issued in the past. As for the future, we shall provide a systematic mechanism for costing the impact of regulations. I hope that it will produce better regulations.

Mr. Foulkes

Is the Minister aware that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of illnesses caused by food poisoning and that it is vital that food safety is not imperilled by deregulation? Will he give us an absolute guarantee that safety in this matter is paramount?

Mr. Hamilton

I agree that there is a sensible point of view to be taken on this question. In our deregulation initiative, the costs for business will not necessarily be the deciding factor in the decision whether to allow a regulation to continue or to be introduced. It is always a question of balance. As the hon. Gentleman knows, losing one's balance can sometimes get one into trouble.

Forward to