HC Deb 12 July 2000 vol 353 cc856-7
4. Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)

If she will make a statement on the work of the better regulation taskforce. [128647]

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

The independent better regulation taskforce was established in 1997. Since then, it has reported 18 times. Some of those have been annual reports, and others have been intermediate reports. Later this year, the taskforce plans to report on alternatives to state regulation and on regulation as it affects vulnerable people. The future work programme has yet to be finalised—although, as part of the Government's action plan for farming, which was announced in March, the taskforce has started a review of environmental regulations, with particular reference to farmers.

Mrs. Lait

When I was an active member of the Select Committee on Deregulation, I was very impressed by Lord Haskins's commitment to better regulation. In the light of his taskforce's recent stinging criticism of the increasing regulatory burden imposed by this Government, can the Minister tell us whether he even listened to the poor man—or are the Government all mouth and no delivery?

Mr. Stringer

I agree that Lord Haskins is doing an extremely good job, but otherwise the hon. Lady completely misrepresents the position. If she looks back over reports in which recommendations were made, she will see that the Government have responded to them within the 60 days stated and have agreed to implement the vast majority of those recommendations. If she looks in detail at the report she has cited about the impact of regulation on the hotel and restaurant industry, where one in seven new jobs is created, she will find that Lord Haskins, while recommending changes in some areas of regulation, says that that sector experiences no competitive disadvantages compared with other countries. That contradicts the previous research done by McKinsey.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)

Does my hon. Friend accept that although we have a system to assess the effect of regulation and compliance costs on the private sector, we have no equivalent system for the public sector? However, much of what we do bears heavily on the public sector and carries substantial compliance costs. Could we have a system equivalent to that for the private sector which will assess the compliance costs for the public sector of legislation that we introduce?

Mr. Stringer

My hon. Friend makes a good point, as ever, and he is 95 per cent. right. The 5 per cent., on which there has been some progress, is within the regulatory impact unit. A public sector team has been set up to consider the impact of regulations on the delivery of public services. Its first report was published in March and it concentrated on the bureaucracy and red tape surrounding the police. Its recommendations led to a reduction of 1.2 million in the number of police forms used across the United Kingdom.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

It is good to see the Minister for the Cabinet Office in her place. We missed her during the debate last week. Does the Parliamentary Secretary recognise that the better regulation taskforce said in April that policy makers are ignoring the needs of small businesses when drafting regulations? Does he understand that it is not only the character of regulation but also the quantity that matters to small businesses?

Let us look at the substance, not the spin. In the three months after the right hon. Lady took office as Minister, how much legislation was introduced that required a regulatory impact assessment and how many deregulation orders were published?

Mr. Stringer

There is no doubt that regulation impacts disproportionately on small businesses. That has been recognised by the Government and by Lord Haskins in his report, and the Government are considering his recommendations. Over the past three months, no deregulation orders have been passed and that is one of the reasons why we are considering a regulatory reform Bill. I remind the hon. Gentleman that when Neil Hamilton and the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) were considering regulation, they promised to burn piles of red tape, but in the three years after the passing of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 they passed only 30-odd deregulation orders. That implies that the process dealt with some regulations that could be improved, but not with the vast majority, which is why we need a regulatory reform Bill.

Mr. Lansley

We got half an answer—that there were no deregulation orders in the three months in question—but we did not get the other half, which is that there were 59 items of legislation introducing additional costs on business—or one per working day—in that period. Does the Minister understand that 3,000 additional regulations under this Government, costing business £10 billion, are an enormous quantity? The better regulation taskforce has said that it is the "cumulative effect" of all regulations that should be the subject of Government strategy. There is no such strategy, so will the Minister endorse our proposal to cut the burden of regulations as a whole?

Mr. Stringer

If the hon. Gentleman were to examine the previous Government's record, he would find that, year by year, the previous Government passed 3,000 statutory instruments, which is almost exactly the same number as the present Government have passed. In fact, it is almost invariant. The Government will not apologise for introducing the minimum wage and protection for workers and others who need environmental protection. We need to achieve a balance between the cost of regulations and protecting people.