HL Deb 04 July 1985 vol 465 cc1306-8

3.16 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the terms of reference of the group of Ministers, chaired by Lord Young of Graffham, which is looking into deregulation; and what will be the scope of the White Paper which may emerge from its work this summer.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, it is not the practice to disclose details of Cabinet committees. In the areas of deregulation, the Government have two main aims: first, to follow up the recommendations of the Burdens on Business report, which was published in March by the Department of Trade and Industry and which examined the impact of administrative and legislative requirements on small firms; and, secondly, to look at ways of cutting the burdens which Government impose on business more generally. We are hoping to publish a White Paper on deregulation before the summer Recess. This will include a wide range of measures to remove obstacles to enterprise.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, although the House understands that it is not the practice to give details of Cabinet committees, since the noble Lord himself has written an article about this committee in The Times, may I ask him whether it might be reasonable to divulge its terms of reference, as in the Question? May I further ask the noble Lord whether, in pursuing deregulation, the Cabinet committee under the noble Lord's guidance will take care not to dismantle the planning system for land use? Is the noble Lord aware that England and Wales, with the exception of two city states, is the most densely populated region in the world and that our system of regulation in that respect has served us well?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, in giving this answer I am not commenting on the existence or otherwise of any committees. We are well aware of the need to maintain the balance between, on the one hand, encouraging enterprise and, on the other, protecting the environment. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said in the foreword to the Burdens on Business report: Controls are necessary in some areas to ensure that the market works humanely, fairly and efficiently. These must be maintained. But we can reduce regulatory burdens, without destroying essential protections for employees, consumers and the general public".

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the most helpful things that the Government can do for small businesses is to raise the VAT threshold considerably? Will he please suggest to his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he makes serious approaches to the Common Market so that we can raise that burden from a large number of small businesses?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the most helpful thing that this Government can do for small businesses is to carry on in our present path, which is to encourage the spirit of enterprise in the land and get to a framework where we will let enterprise go. I have said already that within two weeks, by the beginning of the Recess, we shall produce our White Paper. I am sure that in this case patience will be rewarded.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, will the future of wages councils fall within the scope of the White Paper? If so, does the noble Lord accept that deregulation in that regard should not be so extensive that some of the measures taken are reversed if the present Government lose office after the next general election? After all, the Liberal-Social Democrat Alliance might then take a hand in Government.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I suspect that it is as profitless to conjecture about what is in future White Papers as it is about future election results. Perhaps I may just say that this Government are determined to maintain the balance between liberty and licence—giving liberty to the individual to earn his income and generate the wealth that this country so sorely needs but not the licence to abuse his or her fellow men.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the paper to which he refers, Burdens on Business, contains no specific reference to the relaxation of accounting and audit requirements? In fact, in connection with that, the unprompted responses were under 1 per cent. In those circumstances, can he explain why it is necessary for the Government to issue the consultative document, Accounting and Auditing Requirements for Small Firms? Will he give the House an assurance that in this sphere the Government will proceed with great caution? Otherwise untoward results in regard to business financial disciplines might ensue.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, it seems to me that the purpose of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in issuing a consultative paper was to determine that very fact. When we get the responses, we shall find out whether the consequences feared by my friend opposite come about.