HC Deb 04 December 1996 vol 286 cc1027-8
4. Mr. Kevin Hughes

To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many items of legislation relating to his Department have been repealed since the beginning of the deregulation initiative in January 1994; and how many statutory instruments were introduced over the same period. [5783]

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Energy (Mr. Richard Page)

Since 1 January 1994, my Department has revoked 93 regulations and over the same period introduced 315 statutory instruments.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister agree with the 19 Conservative Back Benchers who recently signed an early-day motion pointing out that the Government have, in fact, introduced 13 times as many statutory instruments as they have issued deregulation orders? Is that not another example of the Tory Government saying one thing and doing another?

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman does not quite grasp the whole principle of the deregulation that is taking place. We live in an increasingly complex world, but I have to point out that, although he might try to take comfort from the 315 statutory instruments, 65 were deregulative, and so reduced the burdens, and 26 were fee orders. I hope that when, in the fulness of time, we come to legislation, we can give the parliamentary draftsmen the ability to give authority to the Secretaries of State to increase fees—say, in line with inflation—within tight regulative limits.

The other side of the measures is that they are methods of consumer protection. Would the hon. Gentleman want the removal of those regulations that give protection against babies' dummies containing carcinogenic materials or of those that protect consumers from unsafe electrical and gas appliances? There is a great deal of consumer protection in those regulations.

Mrs. Roche

Small businesses up and down the country would have been longing for the Minister to sit down, not because they were not interested in hearing him, but because they wanted him to be put out of his misery.

Given that the Minister does not agree with the 19 of his Back Benchers and a former Minister for Trade who have views on deregulation that differ from the Government's, what has he to say to the Institute of Directors which, in its recently published and well-received report, said that the problem with regulation and burdens on small business is that there are too many regulations, the rules are too complicated and they are not enforced in a fair or consistent way? Given the Government's record, does that not show why small businesses all over the country are saying that enough is enough with this Government?

Mr. Page

As the small business Minister, I am more than aware of the effect that regulations have on small business. The hon. Lady conveniently puts to one side the initiatives taken by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. In fact, more than 750 regulations have already been repealed or amended—more than 400 in the past 12 months. We expect the total to rise by 1,000 at the end of this year.

I look the hon. Lady straight in the eye as I tell her that we have put in place a system of regulation to make sure that anything coming forward is looked at to make sure that it has a cost in relationship to benefit, that a risk analysis has taken place and that there is no gold-plating. In addition, of course, we consult with appropriate bodies.

Even our representations in Europe are having some effect. Mr. Jacques Santer has said that he wants to see fewer and better regulations coming forward, and that is exactly what is happening. The Government are looking after small business.