HC Deb 21 March 2001 vol 365 cc328-30
4. Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

If she will make a statement on her role in interdepartmental co-ordination of Government policy on regulation. [153303]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam)

I chair the panel for regulatory accountability that looks at new regulations in the pipeline. We have also appointed a regulatory reform Minister in each Department; and on Monday, the Regulatory Reform Bill, which was introduced in December, had its Second Reading in the House.

Mr. Fabricant

I thank the right hon. Lady for her answer. In her role as the regulator of Departments, is she aware that this morning—on top of everything else—the Foreign Secretary admitted that he had leaked documents to a BBC journalist, even though he had previously denied that? Is she further aware that, less than four years after being elected, the Government are characterised by hype, no delivery—and now sleaze?

Marjorie Mowlam

I am not sure that that has anything to do with the nature of the questions being asked today, and it shows how panicked the Conservative party is by the prospect of an election. It is trying to hide the previous Government's record of sleaze.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

In the co-ordination to which she has referred, will my right hon. Friend make it an absolute responsibility of all Departments to ensure that the public know that the Government are committed to better regulation, whereas the Conservative party is committed to deregulation, particularly if it erodes conditions for working people?

Marjorie Mowlam

That is a central aim of the Government, but we will not achieve it in the unbalanced way the Conservatives did. The Regulatory Reform Bill is an example of balance in legislation. It aims to ensure that basic rights—unlike the Tories, we will not apologise for them or portray them as excessive and costly—are upheld. I am not going to apologise for the minimum wage, for improving maternity leave, for bringing in parental leave, for giving millions of employees the right to paid holiday for the first time, or for tackling discrimination against the disabled. We will be proud of those changes, but we will not forget the needs of business and never have done. This morning, five draft Bills were published which will make 51 improvements and save business £40 million. The Regulatory Reform Bill is balanced to protect workers' rights and to help business.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

In the course of her discussions on regulation with colleagues, what did the right hon. Lady discuss with the Foreign Secretary in relation to the Stockholm summit this weekend? What attitude will the Government take to the proposal from UNICE—the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe—and Eurochambres for introducing a rigorous programme of business impact assessments?

Marjorie Mowlam

We are working not only across Departments but with the Commission, the European Parliament and other member states to improve and simplify the European regulatory environment. As part of that we participate in the Mandelkern group on better regulation, which has produced a very good report on specific, practical recommendations. Last week, I talked to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office before his departure for Stockholm, and he addressed issues relating to the summit report. The development of a system in the Commission to assess the costs and benefits of all proposed European legislation is one of the key elements that we are working towards.

Mr. Lansley

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that reply, but I am afraid that I was looking for something more specific. Can she say that it will be the intention of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary at the Stockholm summit this weekend to secure a Council agreement requiring the Commission to undertake immediate discussions with business organisations on introducing an business impact assessment system, and to commit the Commission to do so within a maximum of 18 months?

Marjorie Mowlam


Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)

Given that the usual Tory reaction of approving a Bill in the other place and opposing it here was evident on Monday night when we debated the Regulatory Reform Bill, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that she will continue to make proposals that will deal with inconsistencies and anomalies in a whole raft of regulations in different areas, rather than the individual cases that can be dealt with under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994?

Marjorie Mowlam

I was as surprised and disappointed as my hon. Friend by Conservative Members' reaction to the Bill, given that the Opposition in another place supported it in principle. The Conservative party has a very poor record of regulatory reform in government, having introduced no fewer than 13 times as many regulations as were repealed under the deregulation initiative between 1994 and 1997. Conservative Members are now opposing legislation that could bring £40 million in benefits to business and the community in just five early reforms.