HC Deb 20 July 2004 vol 424 cc152-3
22. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)(Lab/Co-op)

What civil service resources he estimates will be needed to advance the Government's better regulation agenda in the next two years. [184909]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Alexander)

All Government Departments have a role to play in taking forward the Government's better regulation agenda. Allocation of specific resources to this agenda is the responsibility of individual Departments.

David Taylor

Last week's comprehensive spending review proposed to cut 150 jobs in the Cabinet Office, including in the regulatory impact unit. Does the Minister believe that such cuts might curtail his Department's consultancy capacity in crucial areas such as employee relations and communications? That is especially important, given that the recent performance of Departments and agencies for which his ministerial colleagues have responsibility—such as the Department for Work and Pensions and the Office for National Statistics—has been so woeful in that respect.

Mr. Alexander

In the year to April 2004, the number of people on the Cabinet Office payroll fell rather than rose. As I indicated in my earlier answer, strong evidence is emerging that the scale of our investment in new technology and IT in particular means that there is scope for exactly the sort of efficiencies set out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the comprehensive spending review.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)

If the Minister is sincere about the better regulation agenda, why does he not look at the problem of regulatory impact assessments? Even he would acknowledge that they are often published far too late, and that hindsight often proves them to be wildly inaccurate. Is not there a compelling case for looking again at a system that allows officials to assess their own legislation without having to publish any details of their calculations? As a result of that, the regulatory impact assessments carry scant credibility, in the House or outside it.

Mr. Alexander

I simply disagree with that assessment of the importance of regulatory impact assessments across government. The fact that they are valuable tools, informing policy makers in the process of formulating policy, is evidenced by the fact that the EU is looking at the RIA process as one that might meet some of its own specific challenges. However, I draw attention to the work being done by the National Audit Office, whose report noted that sanctions are available to the Better Regulation Task Force. It is clear also, from the recent comments made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that RIAs remain an important part of our ongoing work to ensure better regulation across government.