HC Deb 01 May 1996 vol 276 cc1252-73 10.15 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler)

I beg to move, That the draft Deregulation and Contracting Out (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 7th March, be approved.

The order has two clear objectives: to introduce deregulatory measures that will remove burdens on business, and to remove statutory obstacles to contracting out. In so doing, the order follows and builds on the general thrust of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. In Northern Ireland, we have already launched a programme of deregulation and contracting out. Much has been achieved and much more can be achieved. I shall later touch on that.

The Government have sought to release British business from the shackles of unnecessary rules and regulations. Our aim is to work towards fewer, better and simpler regulations—both new and existing. Small firms in particular stand to benefit from such moves. Excessive paperwork and unjustified interference burden and harm management, taking it away from running businesses. It costs managers time and money and stops them employing people. Surveys carried out in Northern Ireland by the Northern Ireland Small Business Institute have identified regulations and associated paperwork as ranking among the top four problems facing small business.

The Government's competing for quality policy is focused on improving the quality and value for money of our public services. Contracting out is a keystone of that policy, but there are some areas of Government business where the opportunity to test whether a function can be done more efficiently or effectively is being denied by some small but significant legal obstacles.

The order will bring an element of consistency between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Its measures are reasonable and sensible, and the evidence of that is the small but valuable response to our consultation exercise, which was open to all members of the public. Comments were specifically invited from 300 individuals or bodies with a particular interest in the order and 18 responses were received. Each was carefully considered and individually addressed, but no amendments were considered necessary.

I thank hon. Members for their written comments. In particular, I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) for his correspondence on the handling of Northern Ireland legislation. I trust that, from the responses that he has received from my noble Friend Baroness Denton, he appreciates that his comments have been given lengthy and careful consideration. I shall later draw attention to our stance on the use of enabling powers in the order.

The House may find it helpful if I deal with the subjects in the measure in the order in which they arise, starting with deregulation. As I said earlier, good progress is being made. Through the deregulation initiative, businesses in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom are already benefiting. For example, 500,000 of the smallest businesses no longer need to have their accounts audited.

Taxation and national insurance systems are being streamlined—one important example is that there is now a single point of registration for VAT, national insurance contributions and pay-as-you-earn. Some 30 sets of health and safety regulations have been repealed as part of a programme to cut the rulebook by 40 per cent.

I know that the deregulation policy may give rise to some misapprehensions, so I emphasise that deregulation does not mean the reduction or removal of necessary safeguards. Our priority is always the proper protection of the public interest. Building on the 13 specific deregulatory changes benefiting businesses in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the 1994 Act, the order adds a further six deregulation provisions that will be of particular benefit to Northern Ireland business.

Three articles introduce further deregulatory change to Northern Ireland legislation in line with the 1994 Act or deregulation orders made under it. Article 4 removes statutory constraints on measuring a pint of beer. The Government believe that the consumer is quite able to determine what a pint of beer is. Article 6 removes restrictions on Sunday sporting activities. Article 7 removes constraints on totaliser operators in relation to deductions from stakes. That provision follows a Great Britain order made under the 1994 Act's enabling powers.

The remaining three provisions are unique to Northern Ireland. Article 3 removes the requirement to license premises used for horticultural processing. Article 5 removes redundant controls on local auctions. Article 8 removes the requirement for taxi drivers to sit a separate driving test to obtain a taxi driver's licence, while safety continues to be assured through the good conduct and character check tests.

The other side of the matter is how the measures are to be enforced. Businesses complain that they often incur unnecessary costs to meet the demands of overzealous enforcement officers. They also suggest that they should be able to challenge enforcement officers' decisions at an early stage and that when a formal decision has been made, their rights of appeal should be clarified and the appeal procedure should be speedy and inexpensive. The Government recognise those concerns. We believe in ensuring that the manner of enforcement is as fair, transparent and consistent as possible. That is stated in article 9.

Article 10 sets out powers to introduce model appeal provisions that will provide a clear procedure to help businesses to appeal enforcement decisions.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I am listening to my right hon. Friend with considerable interest because this is a matter of great importance to Conservative Members. In England, when we dealt with appeals, several Conservative Members suggested a local mechanism using the magistrates courts, so that, if an over-zealous official, as in the Lanarkshire blue cheese case in Scotland, got it wrong, the case would not to go on and on through various appeal courts but be dealt with locally by the local magistrates. Is he aware that, although the matter was raised two years ago, it has not been resolved and that the Minister responsible in England has proposed a statutory instrument that is no more than a discussion document on whether the appeal system should be local or national? Could he assure the House that in Northern Ireland, we will not go down the same bureaucratic road where nothing happens except talk about local appeal mechanisms?

Sir John Wheeler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is something of a renowned expert in such matters and devotes a good deal of his remarkable zeal and energy in testing out such procedures and assumptions. I am not personally familiar with the Lanarkshire blue cheese case, and as far as I know, we do not have a similar problem in Northern Ireland. I think that I can assure him, however, that the procedures that I hope that we shall be pursuing in Northern Ireland will entirely fulfil his expectations of expedition and simplicity. That is perhaps one of the benefits of Northern Ireland being able to pursue its own administrative arrangements in the way that I am describing.

The other part of the order relates to contracting out. Contracting out is a major component of the Government's policy on competing for quality. The policy is set out in the White Paper "Competing for Quality", which was published in 1991 as a companion document to the citizens charter White Paper. Together, those important policy documents had a single aim: the safeguarding and improvement of our public services, for the benefit of the people who use them, at a cost which the taxpayer can afford.

The competing for quality programme has been the main driving force in delivering the very real benefits of competition within government. The evidence is clear. In just three years, from 1992 to 1995, of a total of £2.6 billion of UK activities reviewed, annual cost savings of £540 million were found. In Northern Ireland, £58 million-worth of services have been reviewed, achieving total savings of about £9 million a year. That is a substantial achievement, yet savings have not led to poorer service or lower quality—quite the reverse. Users have benefited from higher quality, backed by specific contract conditions and innovation in the way in which services are delivered. The savings produced are re-channelled, either to enhance services for the same spend or to provide more services overall.

One example of the benefits to be had from competition can be found in the contracting out of the computer bureau service that the Department of Finance and Personnel provided to Northern Ireland Departments. The value of the service was £6.25 million, and £1.77 million-worth of savings were produced a year.

Another example is the Department of Agriculture's market testing of an inspection service related to the payment of subsidies. The market test was won in-house, making savings of more than £250,000 in 1995–96 from a total service cost of £1.3 million—a saving of a little more than 22 per cent.

With so much to gain, it is important not to let the on-going process of opening up competition be obstructed by unnecessary statutory obstacles. The order does not impose contracting out, it merely allows it. It will be up to central Departments, district councils and non-departmental public bodies to choose whether to use the freedom that the order provides to enable contracting out to take place. I would welcome a move to competition, and I feel that the public bodies concerned will wish to do so in their own interest and those of the taxpayer, but the order will enable, not compel.

Measures in the order such as articles 11 and 12 are simply common-sense amendments. They enable the Official Receiver and Registrar of Companies to delegate functions to their own staff, in so far as they do not already have power to do so. They will also enable the registrar and the Official Receiver to contract out certain functions, such as the incorporation of companies, receipt of company documents and statements of affairs in cases of bankruptcy and insolvency.

The provisions in articles 13 to 15 deal with the important areas of accountability and contract conditions and make it clear that the accountability of Ministers is not diminished if a service is contracted out. Nor will contracting out affect the responsibilities of office holders or Departments in relation to services affected by the order. It is the work that is delegated, not the responsibility.

Confidentiality is also a matter about which concern has been expressed about the contracting-out process. Article 16 gives effect to schedule 4, which contains provisions modifying certain restrictions on the disclosure of information to contractors. The measures provide that restricted information may be disclosed to authorised contractors where this is necessary to enable the contract to be performed. They also ensure that contractors are subject to the same safeguards and sanctions in relation to confidentiality as is the contracting body.

Article 18 and schedule 5 of the order remove specific statutory obstacles in relation to the agricultural census and dog control services provided by district councils and the administration—but not adjudication of entitlement—to housing benefit. Most of those reforms follow the practice in Great Britain, but there are two departures in the order from the approach taken in the 1994 Act, the first on the Sunday betting provisions. Those provisions were subject to an extensive public consultation exercise, and the results showed that a substantial body of public opinion in Northern Ireland was opposed to any relaxation of the present legal position. The Government have listened, and a policy decision has been made not to include the provisions in the order.

Secondly—this is the enabling powers issue to which I referred earlier—the Government have decided not to include a general order-making power similar to the 1994 Act. We have taken into account the legislative implications and potential loss of parliamentary scrutiny. Such a general power would have enabled Northern Ireland Orders in Council to be amended by subordinate legislation without reference to Parliament, where the aim is to effect deregulatory change or to remove an obstacle to contracting out.

That situation would have been substantially at odds with that in Great Britain, where an effective system of parliamentary checks has been put in place. Again, we have listened to concerns and responded by making it the rule not to include a general order-making power. Hon Members will be right to surmise that every rule has exceptions, and article 17 is that exception. This refers to a special order-making power for social security legislation alone. Its inclusion recognises the need—out of fairness—to provide for parity of treatment for social security provision between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Not to include such a provision would delay the start of Northern Ireland businesses enjoying the benefits enjoyed by their Great Britain counterparts in an area where it is policy and practice that concurrent action is the norm. In addition, without the power, should changes be introduced under the order-making powers in the 1994 Act which impact on claimants, differential treatment for Great Britain and Northern Ireland claimants could result.

In conclusion, the Government believe the order to be sensible and reasonable. Its intention is to add to the considerable progress already made in the UK and to remove obstacles within Northern Ireland that stand in the way of the proven benefits of deregulation and contracting out. The order is entirely consistent with the Government's on-going desire to reduce the regulatory burden on business, to enable our companies to compete more effectively and to help boost economic prosperity to the benefit of all the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I commend the order to the House.

10.34 pm
Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West)

As the Minister said, large parts of the order replicate for Northern Ireland much, although by no means all, of the parallel legislation for the rest of Great Britain, the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. The objections that the Opposition raised to that legislation still apply.

When the then President of the Board of Trade, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), introduced that measure, he said: 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."—[Official Report, 8 February 1994; Vol. 237, c. 147.] We agree with that.

Furthermore, we would go on to say that regulation, of itself, is neither good nor bad. It has no intrinsic merit and it is not necessarily harmful. Regulations have to be effective and responsive. There are good and bad regulations. When it comes to the burden of regulation, the Government certainly know how to regulate, but they seem to be unable to tell the difference between good and poor regulation.

The cost of dogmatic deregulation can, most topically, be clearly seen in the case of the deregulation of the rendering and animal feed industry. That has led directly to the spread of scrapie and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, with potential consequences for human health because of the link to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, putting lives and an entire industry at risk, with who knows what cost to the taxpayer.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is not the time for the Government to be considering contracting out tuberculin testing, which has traditionally been carried out by veterinary surgeons? Does he further agree that consumer confidence throughout the United Kingdom, which must be built up, is very much dependent on tuberculin testing being carried out by qualified veterinary surgeons, not contracted out to lay persons?

Mr. Dowd

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern in large measure. We have recently seen the difficulties that the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have run into with our European partners because their yardstick of what are reasonable actions do not correspond with that of our partners. That has led to our current difficulties. That impacts on the Government's approach to many things. They approach things in a dogmatic fashion and are pulled up short only by events and experience.

As far back as June 1989, the Government's consultative committee on research into spongiform encephalopathy, the Tyrrell committee, published a report which called for a survey of the brains of cattle routinely sent for slaughter in order to monitor the incidence of unrecognised infections. Despite repeated calls from the Opposition, the Government have ignored the advice of their scientists.

The Government also rejected Labour amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 for the banning of advertisements for dangerous knives and weapons for which there is no conceivable legitimate use. They did so on the ground that the Advertising Standards Authority had power to deal with the problem.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the shadow Home Secretary, brought to the attention of the ASA some specific advertisements for horrific weapons such as the Rambo short sword and the SAS shoulder holster knife, the chairman of the ASA, Lord Rodgers, stated that the authority had no powers to ban such advertising. The Government's reliance on that secondary measure was proved to be not only ill founded but completely untrue.

The Children Act 1989 stipulated the need to ensure that all those providing out-of-school activities were registered. This impacts on what I said earlier to the hon. Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) about the Government's efforts being overtaken by events. The Government were right to introduce such a measure then and to relax the regulations covering the vetting of staff working with children in playgroups and other similar out-of-school activities would be little more than a perverts charter. Parents throughout the country would be horrified that the Government were even thinking of removing that protection from their young children. It was only the recent tragic and desperately horrific events in Dunblane that prompted that reconsideration of the Government's proposals.

The Minister mentioned removing the burden on business. In 1979, "Butterworth's Company Law", the almanac of company law, consisted of just under 500 pages. Its annexe described 80 different forms that a company may be called upon to fill in. The most recent edition of that textbook—I believe that the print size is identical—runs to more than 4,000 pages and the annexe contains 265 different forms that a company may be called upon to fill in.

To confirm the difficulties that small firms have over filling in too many forms, there is the example of a service sector firm with 25 employees which responded to the Association of British Chambers of Commerce small firms survey and said: Please can we have less paper/form filling/regulations! We have been in business since 1982 and the amount of time taken out of management time to reply to letters/forms etc. has probably quadrupled. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Conservative party has been in office throughout that firm's lifetime. The quadrupling of time and effort put into meeting regulations has taken place entirely under this Government. That helps us to learn much more about the Government's approach to deregulation. They have been responsible for much of the regulatory burden placed on small businesses.

The Department of Trade and Industry's deregulation task force identified 3,500 regulations that could do with significant amendment or abolition. More than 70 per cent. of those have been introduced since the Conservative party took office. This measure is truly a cure for a disease that is largely of the Government's making. There is a clear inability to recognise regulations that need to be lifted and those that are required, as the right hon. Member for Henley, then the President of the Board of Trade said, for our "advanced society".

The Government have made great play of how the private finance initiative will come to the aid of the public purse. The biggest potential area for partnerships between the public and private sectors is in local government. To be sure about the legality of deals with local authorities, potential private sector partners have to seek legal advice on parts IV and V of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, 17 different sets of regulations and orders dealing the local authority capital finance and local authority companies and 15 sets of regulations dealing with the detail of capital finance. It is no surprise that the private finance initiative is languishing in such a manner.

Small firms have grappled with the uniform business rating system. Many firms thought that the idea of a uniform rate was a good one, but they have been put off by the system that the Government have created. Current legislation is contained in two statutes and 140 statutory instruments, many of them amending pre-existing regulations. Steve Cherry, British Telecom's head of rating and valuation, who represents the Confederation of British Industry on the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors national committee, said: The rate demand on a property used to be easy to understand…The business community wishes to see a system which is clearer to operate. The Government have responded by blaming Brussels for the increase, certainly in recent years, in the amount of regulation going on to the statute book. In fact, fewer regulations come from Brussels than come from Whitehall.

The Internal Market Commissioner, Mr. Bangemann, has singled out the United Kingdom for being over-zealous in adopting too many national regulations to implement the single market programme. The Republic of Ireland has felt it necessary to enact only six pieces of legislation to enforce 415 European laws, while the United Kingdom has felt it necessary to enact 235 pieces of legislation. The Institute of Directors has called this process gold plating.

In March, a dairy farmer in Hampshire was forced to close because he could not afford to install new bottling equipment to meet the requirements of the 1992 European directive on dairy products. However, the Commission disclaimed all responsibility by pointing out that the law in question allowed the member state flexibility when interpreting the directive. Neither the local authority nor the Ministry of Agriculture, will take the blame.

Mr. Steen

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to question the principle of gold plating. The Government have recognised that officials, quite wrongly, have added to directives from Brussels to pander to their own interests and for convenience. The Government are now acting on that. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman something about which he will be much more concerned—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. The hon. Gentleman will have to tell the House later, as his intervention is too long.

Mr. Steen

With respect, I am just getting to the point that I want to raise.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman has passed the point.

Mr. Steen

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I had merely introduced my question with a statement. I was about to come to my question. With respect, my introduction was only three or four sentences long. I ask to be able to complete my question.

Madam Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman cannot complete his question. He obviously needs to make his point in a speech. Interventions, by their nature, should be short.

Mr. Dowd

I will not respond to the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), except to say that I believe that the Procedure Select Committee is looking at the changes that are needed in this regard. At the moment, we have the odd spectacle where the Ministry is claiming one thing but permitting an entirely different thing. Clearly, there would be worries for Northern Ireland legislation in the same way.

Mr. Steen

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problem with Europe is not so much the directives as the way that rules get around the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers? Up to 4,000 rules are coming into Britain and are being put into law without Parliament even seeing them.

Mr. Dowd

There is a problem, but, as I outlined earlier when contrasting the approach of the Government of the Republic of Ireland with our Government, Britain is developing a reputation for being the most officious in the way that it introduces many of the changes that our European partners have no difficulty in accommodating. I refer to the recent example of the change to metric weights for foodstuffs. The European regulation became more complicated than it actually was because of the way in which Whitehall interpreted it. I shall make a few more points before I—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the points of the hon. Gentleman relate to the order. He seems to be straying.

Mr. Dowd

The Minister outlined the general purpose of deregulatory legislation, and I am merely picking up on his points.

The deregulatory measures are a curious assortment of makeweights. Of the six that are mentioned by name, three were introduced by this Government; one was introduced by a previous Conservative Government in 1957; one was introduced by a Labour Government; and one was introduced in 1695—I do not know which Government were in power then.

I refer to the horticultural produce provisions that state that the Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 can safely deal with this issue. When that order was advanced in 1991, why was the relevant section of the horticultural produce provisions not repealed at the same time if it was performing the same purpose? The Weights and Measures (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 allows brewers to get their pay-off. I have seen figures that show that it would cost an additional '7p to ensure that all customers get a full pint—which is, after all, what they order. Whether we believe that or not, if it is taken at face value it suggests that the brewers are currently conning every customer in the pub out of 7p for each pint that is sold.

I draw the Minister's attention to the proposal for review of the Repeal of Auctions (Local Control) Act (Northern Ireland) 1957. He will know—especially in his capacity as a constituency Member—that Westminster in particular and, to a lesser extent, Camden have had considerable difficulties with bogus auctions in and around the Oxford street area. Members of the public, particularly tourists, are being rooked right, left and centre, and local trading standards officers believe that the current legislation is inadequate for them to protect visitors and residents.

Article 9 of the order provides for a considerable extension of powers. The Minister sought to downplay that, saying that it related merely to the enforcement regime, but article 9 extends powers not just to Ministers but to Departments. Elsewhere in the order, a Department is defined as the Head of such a Department". Powers are being transferred to civil servants as well as to Ministers.

The Minister said that the arrangements were different from the legislation in Great Britain. Legislation governing the rest of the United Kingdom provides that before any deregulation order is made, the Minister must consult such organisations as appear to him to be representative of interests substantially affected by his proposals". There is no equivalent in the order, although, as it contains deregulatory measures, I imagine that taxi drivers, for example, must have been consulted. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether those consultations will continue, or will take place if they have not yet occurred.

Article 10 explains how the provisions with respect of appeals will be prescribed. This relates to points made by other hon. Members. I seek an assurance that the provisions will not be used to undermine either employment protection or equality legislation—I shall return to that shortly. The part of the order dealing with contracting out is resented and opposed—or, at least, its implications are opposed—by many people throughout Northern Ireland. I admit that the Minister said that this was enabling legislation that would not necessarily make the arrangements compulsory, but I suspect that everyone realises that contracting out and the privatisation of many of the functions concerned will follow as night follows day.

The order also has implications for fair employment, policy appraisal and fair treatment guidelines and, in particular, women's employment. The background is significantly different from the background to regulations in Great Britain. The Minister will be aware of a report by the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland, which highlighted the disproportionately disadvantageous effect that contracting out in the health and education boards has had on female employment in particular. So disproportionate has that effect been that the commission called for the whole process of contracting out and privatisation to be suspended until the problem had been properly dealt with.

We are told: It is difficult to see how compulsory competitive tendering could have been introduced in the way it was if a PAFT"— policy appraisal and fair treatment— analysis had been made of its potential impact. PAFT offers us a way by which government departments can work together with different constituencies at community level to assess policies and ensure that they will undermine rather than compound inequalities in the labour market. Government activity is now clearly aimed at regulations, the bulk of which they have introduced themselves. That has not gone unnoticed in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere. I was intrigued to note that, at a recent dinner, Mr. Howard Hastings, the chairman of the Northern Ireland division of the Institute of Directors, slammed the contracting out of public sector services. I believe that the Minister's colleague, Baroness Denton, was present at the dinner when Mr. Hastings criticised the Department's performance, and said: Unfortunately, ministers cannot treat policies like Pepsi Cola, for changing the colour of the can will not make unworkable policies any more palatable…The public sector has been subjected to everything from Next-Steps Agencies to devolution and delayering…We have now reached the point in some agencies where the logo has become the more important than the logic.

As the Government continue their pursuit of the structure of a minimalist state, we see them repeating the "Animal Farm" mantra of "Public sector bad; private sector good". They should demonstrate an objective commitment to improving public services, not an insensitive ideological determination to undermine them, which the order represents.

10.55 pm
Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)

We come to the second order of the evening, in which we have some interest, not least because, on 21 January 1994, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir J. Molyneaux), speaking in a debate, said: We must not be stalled by those who decline to move with the times. We should not ignore the stimulus contained in this week's Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, which applies to Northern Ireland and bears the name of the Secretary of State. The powers to repeal and amend in the first four clauses could provide a solid launching pad for a campaign to open doors and gates that have remained closed for far too long."—[Official Report, 21 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 1165.]

The Bill applies to Northern Ireland, but we find ourselves, two years later, removing some obstacles to the Bill's full implementation that should surely have been noticed and dealt with in the schedules to the original Bill. I hope that the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, who is to reply to the debate, will explain why it is necessary to deal with the matters in this way, and why it has taken two full years to catch up with the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I have with me the 13 reports of the Select Committee on Deregulation, of which I am a member. I can also say for the second time this evening that I am also a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The Chairman of the Deregulation Committee, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field), has written a number of letters to various Ministers asking why Northern Ireland was not included whenever something was deregulated. There is no good reason why that should not be so. I have raised that point several times during meetings of the Committee, and I have not been given a totally satisfactory answer.

We have been told on the Floor of the House over the years that it was necessary in order to preserve the Northern Ireland statute book. We have been told that it was necessary because the Northern Ireland statute book had to be preserved intact for the day when there would be a parliamentary legislative structure in Northern Ireland.

As that dream slowly fades, the Government should step closer to the real world and recognise the changes that have overtaken the issue of a devolved administrative structure for Northern Ireland over the past 25 years. They should not be so anxious to preserve that statute book; it could simply be brought back into being if a future legislative Assembly, should it ever come into existence, wished to do so.

I believe that it is not necessary, for that reason. I believe also that the sort of delay represented by this order will be a hindrance to Northern Ireland and will keep it lagging behind Great Britain—not only in terms of the measures mentioned this evening, but in other areas also. If would often be easy to include Northern Ireland in the deregulation orders affecting the rest of the United Kingdom.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Does my hon. Friend accept that most people in Northern Ireland agree with his argument—particularly about measures that improve the quality of life? However, there are those who would question whether we should always rush along the materialistic road down which the Government have taken us at times. We want to uphold some spiritual values in Northern Ireland, rather than joining the Gadarene swine.

Mr. Ross

I accept that my hon. Friend speaks from a theological position, but I ask him to be an evangelist in this instance. We should try to export to the rest of the United Kingdom the spiritual values that we in the Province hold dear. It would not be the first time that evangelists from the island of Ireland have converted the English. We shall try our best to do so again if we are given the opportunity.

Despite my hon. Friend's comments, I am in favour of keeping Northern Ireland in line with Great Britain. We should determine a United Kingdom position, which hopefully embodies the spiritual values of Northern Ireland. I hope that that will become general practice—it will certainly save the time of the House in many instances.

We must remember that all the items being deregulated this evening were included in the legislation that created them for a very good reason. In other words, they were created in order to avoid or to prevent an evil consequence or to correct an existing evil. Whenever we consider deregulation of any sort, we should ask ourselves why the original evil that we intended to avoid is now redundant.

That is the point of the Deregulation Committee. Hon. Members from all major political parties are represented on the Committee, and they probe, ask questions, request information and examine witnesses. Before anything is deregulated, it is explored more thoroughly in that Committee than is possible in a debate such as this, when several items are being dealt with together. I hope that the Minister will take my comments on board, and examine how we can integrate our deregulation procedures with those of the United Kingdom and the House as a whole.

We are told that the Horticulture Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 was chosen for deregulation because it has been overtaken by other legislation. But surely those who framed that legislation—which is also listed—could have repealed the Act at that time. In other words, there was a slip-up, and the Act was passed over. That should not happen.

We are told that article 4, which refers to the gas in foam on beer, brings Northern Ireland into line with Great Britain. There has been a row about that in the Common Market, but we now seem to have reached a fairly sensible conclusion.

Article 5 refers to the Auctions (Local Control) Act (Northern Ireland) 1957. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd) made the point that there is a problem with auctions in some parts of London. Are we repealing a power that was not widely used because those who would transgress knew about it? If so, we should think carefully before we remove that power. Sometimes the passive existence of a power is sufficient to stop an evil, and the law accomplishes its purpose without taking people to court.

Article 6 represents a further erosion of the Sunday quiet that we have enjoyed hitherto. That takes me back to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). I believe that Northern Ireland is wrong to move towards making Sunday into just another day of commercial activity. The matter was debated in the House, but unfortunately the Government carried the legislation into practice. Although we were not in favour of it, it is now the law of the land.

I think that it was a mistake, and that, in future years, it will be seen as such and we shall have to repeal it. Such a change does not create freedom; it simply promotes a licence that is misused by many people for many different purposes.

Turning to article 7, the same general point could be made about the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Order 1985. Those matters are being dealt with in the Deregulation Committee.

In respect of article 8, I am curious as to why a taxi driver should be treated in the same way as any other driver. A taxi is a public service vehicle taking citizens and non-citizens around on their lawful business. I believe that people need the full protection of very high-quality drivers. That has been the case hitherto. It helps to keep cowboys off the streets and should not be abandoned lightly.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does that mean that the volunteers who drive people to and from hospitals are no longer required to get public service vehicle certificates, or does that requirement still exist?

Mr. Ross

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I hope the Minister will cover in his reply to the debate.

Article 9 permits Northern Ireland Departments to amend Northern Ireland legislation to include good practice procedures. We shall have to wait and see how that works out in practice.

Article 10 again permits certain changes in the Department of Economic Development, and gives it additional powers.

All those questions require answers. We cannot probe matters in the same way as the Deregulation Committee. The Minister may promise to answer our questions in writing, but that reply, with which we have become so familiar in appropriation debates, fails the test of public awareness. An answer is sent to an individual Member. It not on the record of the House or on the public record, and I hope the Minister will take that on board.

The contracting out part of the order brings Northern Ireland into line with Great Britain. There is much I could say about it, but I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I have a problem with some of its provisions. The change to the dogs order is welcome, but there is a problem with the agricultural census order, and a particular problem with the social security administration order.

As for housing benefit, in Northern Ireland many citizens would prefer certain elements of confidential information to remain in the hands of Government rather than be transferred to private organisations. The safety of some people, such as members of the Royal Irish Rangers and police reservists, is paramount, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility for information to go astray once it passes out of the public domain and into private hands. Having said that, I give way to other hon. Members who wish to speak.

11.4 pm

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I have no problem with the contracting-out part of the order, but I have problems with the deregulation provisions. I always welcome measures that promote deregulation, and it was a pleasure to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister of State introduce the order in his normal inimitable way, which has been accentuated by the fact that it is his birthday today. What better way could there be of spending one's birthday than introducing such a measure?

I speak tonight because the people of Northern Ireland need to be warned: they must not have high expectations of the order. Our experience of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 shows that little has happened since in the United Kingdom. That Act took 16 hours and 11 minutes on the Floor of the House, and another 92 hours 56 minutes in Standing Committee. One would have expected that to produce an outstanding Act of Parliament.

In fact, the Act established the Select Committee on which the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) has had the privilege and honour of serving. It has not really been much of a privilege and honour, because the Committee has sat 34 times, each time for one and a half hours, and has considered only 24 deregulation orders. That must have been a galling experience.

The orders that the hon. Gentleman has considered with the Committee are to do with greyhound racing, parking equipment, and gaming machines; there have also been the long pull order, the length of the school day order, salmon fisheries orders, special hours certificates and the gun barrel proving order. I can understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration at serving on the Select Committee. He would certainly not want the same to happen following enactment of this order.

Apart from four of the orders, the rest of them combined save business £628,000. The gun barrel proving order saves just £200, but cost £9,500 to draft. The Committee itself has created a new tier of bureaucracy. It has four full-time staff, it spends £31,000 on printing its reports, and it introduces a whole new parliamentary procedure. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want Northern Ireland to follow that example.

Deregulation in the United Kingdom is a new growth industry. It is one of the fastest growing industries we have, in fact. I congratulate the Government on privatising this new form of industry. Even The House Magazine is organising a conference on how the system of deregulation works.

On the one hand, we are repealing irrelevant regulations to do with tattooing and casinos, saving business virtually nothing; on the other, we still churn out domestic and European legislation with heavier compliance costs than all the savings made in the name of deregulation.

Another problem is that Opposition private Members use their time to introduce Bills that cost private commercial businesses a great deal of money. The new legislation on activity centres is a case in point; it will cost businesses £10 million to enforce the relevant regulations. I therefore hope that Northern Ireland will learn from our experience and not go down the same track.

Worse than all this is the rise and rise in the number of statutory instruments. Since Lord Sainsbury's task force report, which suggested repealing 605 regulations, we have passed 7,839 new statutory instruments. I hope that this order will not achieve the same in Northern Ireland. There is no point in repealing regulations if we pass more than 12 times as many new regulations at the same time.

If the Government really want to deregulate, they will have to halt the flow of new statutory instruments. Another solution—I do not know if it is included in the order—is to cut the number of officials. If we reduce their numbers by 50 per cent., they will not be able to enforce the regulations. That is probably the most effective way of dealing with deregulation.

In short, the 1994 Act has failed to help the small business man. I mentioned in my intervention—I know it was far too long, but I did my best—the model appeal system. That system was designed to help the small business man to appeal against an over-zealous official. Over-zealous officialdom is certainly one of the problems. Surely the way to deal with such officials is by way of a local procedure; and what better way than the local magistrates court?

Mr. William Ross

Surely one of the best ways to deal with over-zealous public officials is to ensure that they are liable for costs, unlike the case that he mentioned in Scotland.

Mr. Steen

Absolutely—the hon. Gentleman is right. The trouble is that, where the local authority is penalised, the individuals who in turn are penalised are council tax payers, not individual councillors. That is the problem.

We do not have a model appeal system that works, and we need one. All we have is a consultative draft statutory instrument for a model appeal system. Nothing has been done.

Deregulation is, of course, right. We all support it. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, on the Floor of the House, said to me in answer to a question on 25 May 1995 that deregulation is at the heart of our economic strategy. He was absolutely right. Unfortunately, it is not working.

There seems to be no willingness to tackle the real issues, which are health and safety legislation, fire regulations, food hygiene and employment law. No official and no Minister will take the risk of repealing any legislation involving safety, security or hygiene, in case something goes wrong.

It is understandable that officials cannot recommend to a Minister that he should repeal something that bears on hygiene, safety or security in the event that things might go wrong. An official's job would be on the line, as would the Minister's. All the way up the ministerial ranks, and all the way down Whitehall, more and more rules and regulations are being introduced on health and safety, fire controls, food hygiene and employment law. At least those involved feel safer doing that.

I am anxious that the order before us does not lead Northern Ireland on the route that I have described. I am trying to give Northern Ireland a warning that what happened in England might happen there.

I am all for deregulation—it is a tremendous idea—but it needs to work better. I hope that Members who represent Northern Ireland, who are in the Chamber in great force, will ensure that the Government do not introduce an order that they cannot implement.

11.18 pm
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) has reinforced my opposition to the consequences of the order. There is considerable and justified opposition to many of its provisions among the community in Northern Ireland. The order is at variance with the wishes of many local groupings and interests.

In introducing the order, the Minister said that he had received 18 representations. He did not say—perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong—that only four were in favour of it. The other 14 were opposed. That is a fairly strong indictment of the course of action proposed.

The consequences of this form of legislation and the continuing process of privatisation, agentisation, or what is now called, euphemistically, in Northern Ireland "externalisation", are diminutions of democratic accountability within the present system. That seems to be at variance with the exhortations of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and other Ministers that we should be trying to enhance democratic accountability. The order flies in the face of all that.

There are differences of requirement in the society of Northern Ireland when set against requirements in Great Britain. I listened to the arguments in favour of harmonisation, but there are many instances where the system does not lend itself to literal translation of GB to NI. Health and education are only two examples of that.

The introduction to the deregulation section refers to necessary protection for consumers, employers and the environment.

A most startling omission is employees. It is mainly employees who will suffer when protection is removed. It is significant that employees are not mentioned at all in the introduction, and we may therefore conclude that they are being ignored. Additionally, part of the order's purpose is to remove consumer protection at a time when such protection needs to be enhanced, especially in horticultural food processing.

The deregulation provisions are of particular interest. I am no expert on the subtext of heads on pints of beer. The only thing I can conclude is that I do know what happens when several beers produce a head, which I carefully avoid. I am also confused by the fact that a legal duty to provide good measure has been totally removed. It is left simply, shall we say, to the good graces of the innkeeper or proprietor to provide not too much gas and a much greater property of liquid. I do not know how the innkeeper will respond to that, but I suspect that he will take a close look at what is gas and what is liquid.

Sport on Sunday is a contentious issue in Northern Ireland. The provision on that seems to have been just thrown in, without much consultation with the people and parties of Northern Ireland. I will probably be sat upon at home for hinting a warning about this. The Downpatrick race club, the oldest race club in Ireland, is anxious to be able to facilitate racing on a Sunday, so perhaps I am doing that community a disservice, but, in general terms, circumscription regarding keeping Sunday a separate day is not well removed without greater consultation.

Moving on quickly to taxi drivers, I simply repeat what was said. I cannot for the life of me see why people in charge of other people's lives in a public service vehicle should not have a more meaningful and exhaustive test than is provided by the order, which removes the current requirement.

The Minister made much of the cost savings that would occur in many of the order's sectors. The model appeal mechanism has been referred to. The hon. Member for South Hams said that a bureaucracy and costing system would be created by the necessity to police, as it were, the procedures on behalf of the offended parties. I doubt whether there will be any real saving, because other sectors will have to be brought into play.

Some of the Minister's examples on the contracting-out section were selective. He referred mainly to high technology and computerisation. Certainly, it was widely known in Northern Ireland in particular that many civil servants did not have a clue how to introduce computerisation into Departments, and should have had expert advice from outside before they engaged in it, so there is bound to have been considerable saving as they did not know how to do it in the first place.

On the contracting-out section, I am surprised to find that, in relation to the incorporation of companies, I think the Minister said, and to insolvencies, the registrar of companies and the insolvency agencies could be contracted out. In any commercial terms, those are sensitive areas. Until, for instance, incorporation is complete, contracting out would be extremely dangerous. The commercial sector will be wary of the fact that the details, the capital involvement and the persons involved would all be available to a private firm and would not be within the confines of the Government's privacy provision. I am worried about the consequences of that.

I shall pass quickly over the contracting out of dog control, but not because it is not important. Northern Ireland is a rural area and a farming community, and it depends largely on an efficient service in that area. When that function was given to district councils, there was great dismay, but to be fair to the councils, they introduced a detailed and effective service, and it is working. The Government seem to be following the principle: "If it works, fix it." I do not think that any other service could be better than the present one, because no organisation could better the councils' activities in that respect.

On contracting out generally, in most instances, particularly in health and some other areas, the quality of the service has deteriorated. I do not think there is any dispute about that, and certainly the terms and conditions of employment have deteriorated considerably under privatisation. That is capable of absolute proof. Time prevents me from going into detail in many areas, but the issue that concerns me most is contracting out in relation to part 1V, article 17, and schedule 5(5), on social and other housing benefits that are currently dispensed and administered by the Housing Executive.

That is a large area of sensitive personal information. It relates to personal, financial, medical and social details, and details on special family problems. There are even personal details, and they all contribute to the making of decisions on benefit—or, indeed, housing. It is essential that that is kept secure by the Housing Executive, which has proved beyond doubt over the years that it is capable of effectively administering such matters.

Like other hon. Members, I am also greatly concerned about article 9 and the powers given to the various Departments without the necessary overriding constraints. Most of the suggestions in the order do not find great favour with me. It is the pursuit of dogma rather than of efficiency and savings.

In that context, the people I represent would certainly oppose the implementation of most of the order, because it will inevitably lead to the exportation of earnings from Northern Ireland. Consequently, there will be a rundown in some service jobs and perhaps some smaller manufacturing jobs. We could well do without that in an area of high unemployment. For those reasons, I entirely oppose the order.

11.28 pm
Sir John Wheeler

In the remaining minutes at my disposal, I shall endeavour to deal with some of the points that have been raised in the debate, to which I listened with great interest. Perhaps I should outline the purpose of the order and reiterate how the implementation of its provisions will benefit both business and administration in Northern Ireland.

The deregulation provisions will remove unnecessary restrictions on business and open up new market areas. The contracting out provisions will widen the potential for Departments, district councils and other bodies to introduce competition and further improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of public services.

To take up the point of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), contracting out is an enabling measure, not a requirement. I believe that local authorities and others will wish to use the provisions of the order because they will want to get the best possible value for their money while retaining accountability. I shall deal with his concern about accountability straight away because I know that other hon. Members have an interest in it.

In all cases where a function is contracted out, the body letting the contract remains both accountable and legally liable for the acts and omissions of contractors in the same way as it is at present for its own or its employees' acts or omissions. Of course, Ministers remain responsible for policy to the House. I assure the hon. Member for South Down that there is no change in accountability. Indeed, it could be argued that a well-drafted contract makes the obligations among the different parties and interests more precise. It certainly makes the contractor more vulnerable to claims in the county court and by other means than would otherwise be the case.

Mr. McGrady

Accountability and responsibility are important in Northern Ireland. My experience as a Member of Parliament is that if I ask questions about a sector of a Department that has been agentised, my letter is not answered by the Minister, but referred to the agent. I cannot raise in the House questions that I have hitherto been able to raise on behalf of my constituents. The Minister may say that one is administration and the other policy, but the Howard situation shows that there is a grey area in between.

Sir John Wheeler

Mr. Deputy Speaker, we are moving beyond the scope of the order, but if you will allow me a brief indulgence, I shall try to assist the hon. Gentleman, because it is in the context of accountability that he raises his question. He is right to say that, where an agency has been established, it is the responsibility of its chief executive to respond to questions raised by Members of Parliament. However, Ministers are not removed from the scene; they remain firmly responsible for the policy objectives of the agency, and, indeed, set them.

In replying to questions from hon. Members, the chief executive of the agency is delivering direct and personal accountability for the work for which he or she is responsible. I suggest that that is an improvement in accountability. Instead of the chief executive being an anonymous civil servant, he becomes a person known in his or her own right, and accountability is accordingly advanced. Of course, the agency publishes its annual report and sets out its policy objectives. All those can be examined and challenged by Members of Parliament. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that.

Mr. William Ross

The Minister has given a full explanation of how the agencies allegedly work, but does he really think that the Child Support Agency would have lasted as long as it did without major revamping if it had been directly under the control of a responsible Minister in the House?

Sir John Wheeler

Again, we go somewhat adrift of the order. However, the Child Support Agency has been the subject of detailed analysis, including that of the Social Security Select Committee. One could therefore claim that the agency's accountability to the House and its Members has been very considerable. The Secretary of State for Social Security is of course responsible for policy, and I think that I am right in saying that, on many occasions on the Floor of the House, he has had to defend the agency's policy and its work. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will therefore allow that there is still accountability. I suspect that the Minister responsible for the agency believes it to be so, even if nobody else does.

The hon. Member for South Down also referred to employees being ignored by the order. Employees are not ignored. Contractors are required to observe the requirements of equal opportunities legislation and of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, known as TUPE. Those provisions remain.

Mr. McGrady

Will the Minister gave way?

Sir John Wheeler

In fairness to other hon. Members who have spoken, I should like to make a little more progress. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I should like to catch up on one or two other points that have been made.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd) raised a number of points. He referred to forms in Northern Ireland. The importance of ensuring that forms are simplified and not too numerous is fully recognised by the Northern Ireland Departments. Indeed, a review of all forms unique to Northern Ireland and issued to business has been carried out by the Northern Ireland Departments, to ascertain whether all the forms are necessary and as user-friendly as possible. Of the 123 forms reviewed, 37 have been identified for redesign. So, work is in hand. The hon. Gentleman also asked whether there would be any significant changes in the licensing of taxi drivers. As is the norm, there would be consultation with the representatives of the organisations concerned.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West also mentioned his interest in equal opportunities and fair employment. Since I have already referred to that, I can confirm that the Government are committed to promoting and securing equality of opportunity and equity of treatment for all people in Northern Ireland in accordance with the law. The equal opportunities legislation in Northern Ireland is among the most stringent in Europe, which underscores that point. Indeed, it is sometimes criticised for being so stringent. Guidance on market testing does not stipulate particular employment policies and practices, but it is made clear to the prospective contractor that he must comply fully with the relevant equal opportunities legislation. I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman about that.

I thought that I also heard the hon. Member for Lewisham, West use the phrase "public sector bad; private sector good". I was puzzled about that, because his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) has become a convinced convert to the concept of contracting out and the best use of public money. When he spoke at the Manchester business school on 29 April, he said, among other things: The first question any government should ask about public spending is what any business manager would ask: not how much more money you should spend, but how to use existing spending better. I agree with him and welcome his remarks.

In looking at the order, I think that that means that there has to be the means of testing that very concept. How does one test whether the public sector is delivering value for money and providing quality unless one has the means of testing through contracting out and market testing? The hon. Member for South Down, who appeared to question the whole concept, should perhaps look at the remarks of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East. It is clear that, whoever forms the Government of the UK, those concepts are now a firm part of our public service thinking.

Other hon Members raised various points, and I shall pick up one or two of them. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) referred to spiritual values, and stated that they should be maintained as opposed to being deregulated. He referred in particular to the interesting part of the order that refers to a 1695 Act passed in the reign of our late sovereign William III—of blessed memory in Northern Ireland—and the intention of the order to allow participation in Sunday sport. I accept the hon. Gentleman's good intentions, but surely in this day and age it should be a matter for individual citizens—including those of Northern Ireland—to decide how to spend their time on a Sunday.

For many people, Sunday is the family day out, and deregulation of all Sunday sporting events will add to their choice. The hon. Member for South Down referred to Downpatrick race course—a facility that I have enjoyed visiting—and his dilemma as to whether the provisions of the order should apply there. If people want to go to the races on Sunday at Downpatrick, they should be allowed to do so. All hon. Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland will know that, whatever the legislation says, it is almost impossible to reach Knutt's Corner on a fine Sunday in the summer because of the volume of traffic as people go to an illegal open-air market. People are therefore participating in activities on Sundays, and it is right that the law should be modernised to reflect what people wish to do.

Rev. Martin Smyth

The Minister said that I referred to a particular Act, but I did not. I asked my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) whether he accepted that there were places that we did not want to go—especially when going down the road of materialism following the Gadarene swine. In that context, the Minister's last illustration shows that the law is not being exercised at Knutt's Corner market.

Sir John Wheeler

The hon. Gentleman should employ his undoubted skills as a preacher to inculcate moral values in the people in Northern Ireland. The civil law must reflect the customs and practice of people in our age, and one must recognise that people in Northern Ireland choose to exercise their judgment in these matters on Sunday at Knutt's Corner.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) also asked why the order does not include the general order-making powers of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. It is well established that, where policy changes are proposed and legislation is to be amended, proposals should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The general enabling powers in the Northern Ireland setting would have meant that amendments to effect deregulatory changes or remove obstacles to contracting out would have to be effected by subordinate legislation without any parliamentary consideration. The Government thought that that approach was not acceptable and so decided to employ this legislation today.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether people taking visitors to hospitals would still need PSV licences. Unfortunately, I cannot give him the answer that he sought on that, as PSV licences are not within the provisions of the order, and it will be necessary for me to make inquiries elsewhere in the Northern Ireland Departments. But when I have the answer to the hon. Gentleman, I shall write to him and give him the necessary information.

The hon. Member for South Down—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14B (Proceedings under an Act or on European Community Documents).

The House divided: Ayes 101, Noes 14.

Division No. 119] [11.45 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Alexander, Richard Hendry, Charles
Amess, David Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Hunter, Andrew
Arbuthnot, James Jack, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Jenkin, Bernard
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Kirkhope, Timothy
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Knapman, Roger
Baldry, Tony Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Bates, Michael Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Beggs, Roy Lidington, David
Biffen, Rt Hon John Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Boswell, Tim Luff, Peter
Bowis, John MacKay, Andrew
Brandreth, Gyles McLoughlin, Patrick
Brazier, Julian Maginnis, Ken
Browning, Mrs Angela Maitland, Lady Olga
Burt, Alistair Malone, Gerald
Butcher, John Merchant, Piers
Butler, Peter Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Carttiss, Michael Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James
Cash, William Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Nicholls, Patrick
Conway, Derek Norris, Steve
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Ottaway, Richard
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Paice, James
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Pickles, Eric
Gran, James Rathbone, Tim
Deva, Nirj Joseph Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Duncan, Alan Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Duncan Smith, Iain Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Elletson, Harold Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Faber, David Shaw, David (Dover)
Fabricant, Michael Sims, Roger
French, Douglas Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Gallie, Phil Smyth, The Reverend Martin
Gillan, Cheryl Spencer, Sir Derek
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Harris, David Stephen, Michael
Hawkins, Nick Streeter, Gary
Heald, Oliver Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Wells, Bowen
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th) Whittingdale, John
Twinn, Dr Ian Wood, Timothy
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Tellers for the Ayes:
Waterson, Nigel Mr. Simon Burns and
Watts, John Dr. Liam Fox.
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Pope, Greg
Dewar, Donald Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Dowd, Jim Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Godman, Dr Norman A Skinner, Dennis
Worthington, Tony
Illsley, Eric
McGrady, Eddie Tellers for the Noes:
Michael, Alun Mr. Llew Smith and
Mowlam, Marjorie Mr. Harry Barnes.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Deregulation and Contracting Out (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 7th March, be approved.