HC Deb 26 February 1996 vol 272 cc571-2
4. Mr. Evennett

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what progress has been made in the Government's deregulation initiative. [15240]

5. Mr. Campbell-Savours

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the progress of the deregulation initiative. [15241]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Roger Freeman)

By the end of last year, we had already repealed or amended more than 500 regulations, with another 500 in process. The first deregulation orders under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 have now passed into law and there is a steady flow of new orders. We are also making useful progress in our efforts to encourage deregulation in Europe.

Mr. Evennett

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response and welcome the Government's initiatives to date on deregulation. There is, however, much more to be done. Does he share the concern of business men in my borough of Bexley that the red tape and bureaucracy emanating from Brussels need to be curtailed even more?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can confirm that, at the Internal Market Council informal meeting in Rome over the weekend, a clear majority of the member nations of the European Union agreed that greater priority should be given not only to reviewing existing European legislation but to ensuring that new regulations meet the simple test of being fewer, better and simpler. I am glad to tell the House that in Rome there was agreement to review existing legislation on machine standards, food hygiene and public procurement.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is there not a case for regulating for greater disclosure in the case of Campbell's Soups, which refuses to recognise trade unions? In the past five years, there have been six major scalding incidents in its two major factories, and one death last year. Surely such information should be made available to the great supermarket chains—for example, Tesco, Sainsbury and Safeway—which buy its products. Indeed, should not the consumer know the truth?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of health and safety legislation. I am glad to say that the Government have already agreed that 40 per cent. of existing health and safety legislation should be repealed. That is a start. There is more to be done. I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that, in relation to Campbell's Soups and every other American company that has operations in the United Kingdom, the Department of the Environment recently requested all health and safety officials to enforce the law in a more uniform, user-friendly and sensible fashion. I welcome that.

Mr. Wilkinson

Following the European Union ministerial meeting in Rome, can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that EU directives and, in particular, EU health and safety regulations, will not be used to sabotage Her Majesty's Government's opt-out from the social chapter, and that, if the European Court decides against Her Majesty's Government in regard to the working-time directive, the United Kingdom will take no notice of that adjudication?

Mr. Freeman

Yes, that is our intention.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that most of what the Select Committee on Deregulation has dealt with so far has no significant implications for this country? The implications for greyhound betting and the possibility of a £10 rather than a £4 payout on a one-armed bandit in a pub or arcade will not contribute to the well-being of the nation, even under the Tories.

Mr. Freeman

The hon. Gentleman is being unnecessarily modest. A great many draft orders are being prepared, which I expect to be of more consequence, including a proposal to save money on the circulation of used cheques between banks once they have been drawn and credited. There is much more to be done, but the process has started. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to other members of the Deregulation Committee for their hard work.

Mr. Nicholls

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a substantial contribution would be made to reregulation if the country took on itself the social chapter, recognition of trade unions, workers councils and the like? Does he agree that business men who favour deregulation should bear in mind the fact that the Labour party would throw the process into reverse by introducing those European measures?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. One reason why our unemployment rate—measured on a basis consistent with that in other European countries—is now broadly the same as Germany's, but falling, is the fact that businesses in this country need not shoulder the substantial on-costs on labour rates borne by Germany, Italy and France.