HC Deb 15 December 1999 vol 341 cc260-1
5. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)

If she will make a statement on the work of the regulatory impact unit. [101546]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Graham Stringer)

My right hon. Friend recently set out a whole new approach to cutting Government red tape. The unit has an important role in making sure that new regulations are really necessary, do not overlap and are as comprehensible as possible.

The unit also looks at existing regulations and asks the basic question, "Is there an alternative to regulation?"

Mr. Chapman

Given the police's views, reported earlier this week, that their administrative burden was so great that it hampered them in their duties, and, in particular, hindered them from doing front-line work, what plans have the Government to reduce the burden of red tape, especially in the public sector, so that people can spend more time doing their jobs and less time on administration?

Mr. Stringer

My hon. Friend is right; the police spend up to six hours completing initial paperwork for a simple arrest. We are worried about that, and, consequently, one of my first tasks in the new year will be to visit a police station—voluntarily—to examine the paperwork involved. We are committed to ensuring that the public sector—schools, hospitals and the police—is not overburdened with red tape. We will try to find ways in which our teachers can spend more time in the classroom, our police can spend more time dealing with crime and our health workers can spend more time improving people's health.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Will the unit have any responsibility for regulating the speed with which Cabinet Ministers write their memoirs after leaving office? The going rate is £350,000.

Mr. Stringer

Cabinet Ministers' memoirs are already covered by rules, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does my hon. Friend believe that the work of the unit, which is operating under yet another new name, will mean that, next year, new measures will come before the Select Committee on Deregulation?

Mr. Stringer

As my hon. Friend knows, next year we shall introduce a regulatory reform Bill, which will ensure that his Committee has plenty of work.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

The Minister refers to the announcement on 15 November as "a whole new approach". Why, only three days later, did the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), sign an inadequate regulatory impact assessment of the Representation of the People Bill? What will the regulatory impact unit do about such an assessment, which appears to ignore the credit industry's view that clause 9 of that Bill would cost industry £800 million in the first year and £600 million thereafter. Marie Curie Cancer Care told me that clause 9 would cost it between £100,000 and £150,000 a year. The regulatory impact assessment does not reflect that.

Mr. Stringer

The matter is under review and a full regulatory impact assessment will be finalised.