HC Deb 28 November 2001 vol 375 cc951-2
1. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

What action is planned to reduce expenditure by way of deregulation. [15969]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has asked me to apologise to you and to the House for his absence today. Deputising for the Prime Minister, he is undertaking a series of international meetings on a number of matters, including the coalition against terrorism and climate change.

The Government's programme of regulatory reform seeks to reduce burdens and costs for both the public sector and the business community. For example, by reducing the burden of paperwork and form-filling in schools, the Government have saved more than 2.5 million teacher hours in primary schools this year.

Paul Flynn

The Transport Research Laboratory has claimed that changing just one regulation would reduce casualties, avoiding the deaths of 140 people a year and 520 serious injuries. The Policy Studies Institute also claims that there would be immense benefits for the tourist trade and the elderly if we adopted European standard time and dumped the absurd practice of changing our times twice a year. Does my hon. Friend, who is in the infancy of what I am sure will be a brilliant career, do his best to bring more light to the nation and ensure that our waking hours more precisely match our working hours?

Mr. Leslie

I am not sure whether that is a compliment. There are pros and cons on both sides of the argument about keeping British summer time. One advantage would be lighter afternoons, and I suppose that the disadvantage would be darker mornings. I understand that an experiment took place in the late 1960s to retain summer time—that was definitely before my time.

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester)

Does the Minister believe that yesterday's Budget statement will lead to less bureaucracy and red tape for business, or more? Can he give a commitment that the Cabinet Office will undertake a regulatory review and assessment on that Budget?

Mr. Leslie

The answer is yes. The Government are always making sure that we reduce red tape and burdensome bureaucracy wherever possible. Conservative Members object to measures such as the minimum wage, family leave and working time protection. They regard them as over-burdensome pieces of bureaucracy—I regard them as essential pieces of social reform.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

The Minister will recall that none of the initial orders under the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 that were subject to consultation implied any decrease in Government expenditure. However, one would have meant an increase—the vaccine damage payment scheme consultation. Can the Minister tell the House when that order is expected to be introduced to the House?

Mr. Leslie

I am afraid that I do not have that information to hand, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman about it. The programme of regulatory reform orders is beginning within Government so that we can use that tool as a mechanism for removing over-burdensome regulations wherever possible. I shall try and find out more information on that for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

If it is the case, as the Minister claims, that the Government are deregulating and relieving burdens on business—I pay tribute to him for being able to say that with a straight face—why did the Director General of the CBI complain recently that last year more regulations had been passed than in any previous year in history?

Mr. Leslie

We have heard this story before. I think that the hon. Gentleman is talking about statutory instruments, 95 per cent. of which have no burdensome impact on business. He needs to distinguish between measures that introduce support and help for ordinary working people in this country. He regards those as unnecessary costs, whereas the mass of working people think that they are essential.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

How many regulations have been abolished since the Government came into office in May 1997?

Mr. Leslie

A number of changes are made all the time in terms of reducing regulation. We are genuinely engaged in an earnest effort to reduce those regulations that are burdensome. If the hon. Gentleman has specific suggestions to make to the House and the Select Committee on Deregulation and Regulatory Reform, many Members will he willing and able to listen to them.