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Column 177sympathy for the views that we expressed. I therefore hope that, when the Under-Secretary of State sums up, he will be able to reassure me on this matter.
I regard it as an issue of constitutional importance, which has a considerable bearing on an Officer of the House and on the House itself. I shall therefore listen with even greater care than usual to what my hon. Friend says when he winds up.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood) : The day that the President of the Board of Trade published the Bill, he spoke on the "Today" programme on Radio 4, and was asked to give illustrations of the kind of burden that he meant to remove. Casting around for an example, he lighted upon school governors, and said that the governors he knew were always telling him that they were burdened with regulations. He did not pause to think where those regulations had come from. Therein is a microcosm of the story of the past 15 years. There we see the origins of the deregulation that is now being discussed.
The Government said that they were a new kind of Government, representing a new kind of Conservatism, which had nothing to do with the old kind. They intended to take up society by the roots and remake everything they could get their hands on--the health service, local government, education, the trade unions--you name it, and in they would go to legislate. Of course, the consequence is that we have never been so legislated against.
I am not sure whether I am allowed to say this, but the President of the Board of Trade was not telling the entire truth when he said, in his casual way, that Europe and the single European market alone had caused all that legislation. If one examines the figures, as I have done, and the pages and pages of Acts and statutory instruments dating from the 1980s, one finds that it was all there from the beginning.
The record shows the simple story : since 1979, the Government have issued on average 500 more pages of legislation a year than the Labour Government of the 1970s--and also on average 500 more pages a year on statutory instruments. That is the background to the issues that we are dealing with today.
Even more intriguing is the fact that, since 1985, there has been a deregulation unit inside the Department of Trade and Industry. Clearly, it has not been awfully successful, because in 1994 we apparently need a deregulation Bill.
Mr. Steen : If the hon. Gentleman says that there has been too much legislation, why does he disagree with a Bill that aims to reduce it? The fact that we got it wrong in the past surely means that he will now say that we should put it right. That is exactly what we are doing. How can he possibly oppose that?
Dr. Wright : I am grateful for that intervention, because I did not hear the President of the Board of Trade tell the story in quite that way. I did not hear him say, "Of course, we have rather screwed things up. We have got it all wrong since 1979. All those monstrous laws that we introduced were quite misguided, and we would now like to make a public apology for them. As a token of our remorse, we shall start moving in a new direction." In fact, I did not
Column 178hear much of an apology at all, despite the fact that, as we all know, all the legislation that the right hon. Gentleman talked about was derived from that period.
What happened when the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) wrote his recent pamphlet on deregulation for the Social Market Foundation? He plucked out 10 or 12 Bills to illustrate what he was talking about--and of course, they were all Bills from the past five years or so. That conveys the fundamental truth about what is happening. The larger truth, which we must also establish, is that there are good and bad regulations : sensible regulations and regulations that are not sensible. It is possible to tell the story of regulation in a way that makes it sound rather different.
For example, what about the demands from small businesses for a late payment scheme? They argue for a new kind of regulation that they would find helpful. The work of the Small Business Research Trust shows that regulations can be a spur to innovation and competitiveness. The environmental technology industry argued this week that the Government's failure to take environmental regulation seriously was holding that industry back from winning new markets. The food and drink industry was mentioned earlier, so I shall cite a recent statement by an organisation representing that industry : "Reducing the complexity of legislation through simplification and consolidation, together with ensuring that it is enforced to the same standard not only in the UK but also across the EC, would provide similar, if not greater, benefits to the industry than piecemeal changes to existing legislation."
The Government have not persuaded even those they claim are the beneficiaries of their efforts.
That is all simply a preliminary. The heart of the matter, and the issue of fundamental importance, is the manner in which the Government want to proceed. We are being offered a Bill entirely without precedent. Many Bills --a growing number in recent years--carry large order-making powers. Both the Education Act 1993 and the Child Support Act 1991 give their respective Secretaries of State more than 100 such powers. Since 1979, there have been 143 Acts relating to local government, and so on.
There is no question but that the development of order-making powers is a phenomenon associated with the present Government. However, what is new and without precedent about the Bill is that the Government are saying to the House of Commons, "We would like you to give Ministers blanket powers to make orders to repeal legislation." Anyone who knows anything about the way in which Parliament has examined such measures in the past will understand immediately why that is unacceptable.
In 1932, the Donoughmore committee said :
"The use of the so-called Henry VIII Clause', conferring power on a Minister to modify the provisions of Acts of Parliament (hitherto limited to such amendments as may appear to him to be necessary for the purpose of bringing the statute into operation) should be abandoned in all but the most exceptional cases, and should not be permitted by Parliament except upon special grounds".
Let us leap forward 60 years, because the House of Lords has taken an interest in the matter in recent times, to the House of Lords Scrutiny Committee, established in 1992. In its first report, it says :
"In sum, the case for using Henry VIII clauses for updating lists, uprating for inflation and for making consequential and transitional provisions was recognised. In any event the Government should be expected to justify the use of such clauses as being necessary : they should not be used simply for convenience."
Column 179We are being offered a Bill for the convenience of Ministers, in contravention of everything that has ever been claimed about the relationship in the matter of legislation between the House of Commons and the Executive. Either the House says that that is fine, that we do not mind being rolled over like that, or we say that there is something fundamental going on here ; and there is.
Deregulation never was much of a big idea. Indeed, it is a rather little idea. But the big idea that is going on is that Ministers can decide for themselves what to do in the matter of making orders, irrespective of normal parliamentary procedures. If hon. Members are prepared particularly Conservative Members, because it is not, or should not be, a party matter-- to accept and approve the first four clauses of the Bill, they are not, as they believe, lightening the burdens on industry and small businesses, but taking a major step towards the transfer of power permanently from the House of Commons to the Executive. That is precisely the choice.
Looking at the history of the House of Commons over the past 15 years-- heaven knows, its esteem is low enough anyway--and the way in which it has consistently failed to stand up to the Executive, the promise of the scrutiny Committees as an offsetting device against the massive transfer of power looks small and pathetic here. In the period since 1979, the Government have been defeated only seven times in the House of Commons. On two of those occasions, Members of Parliament ganged up on their pay and conditions ; at other times it was to do with dogs and Sunday trading. The idea that somehow, through party-based Committees, the House of Commons will suddenly become, as the Prime Minister might say, "muscular" in relation to the Executive is a fraud and a delusion. This is a House of Commons matter. It is a parliamentary matter. It is a constitutional matter. It is a democratic matter.
One hundred years ago, Sir James Ferguson looked across the Chamber and said that he had heard many arguments which influenced his opinion, but never one which influenced his vote. I ask Conservative Members to reflect on that, to consider the importance of what they are being asked to approve in the Bill, and to support Parliament instead.
Mr. Michael Alison (Selby) : My colleagues will be relieved to hear that I propose to make a particularly short speech, because I shall address myself to the shortest clause in the Bill--clause 17, which must be one of the shortest clauses of any legislation, by only one word overlapped into a two-line clause.
The clause totally deregulates weekday shopping. As one contemplates that tiny clause, one is bound to reflect on how great a fire may be set alight by one small spark. The scale of the total deregulation for all weekday shopping can be gleaned from the fact that it will potentially and realistically add about 22 hours--or 35 per cent.--of additional shopping time to the existing
Monday-to-Saturday shopping week.
Mr. Steen : What is wrong with that?
Mr. Alison : Perhaps I can illuminate my hon. Friend. There is an upside and a downside to the proposed change.
Column 180On the upside, there is no doubt--my hon. Friend will endorse this and add his weight and approval to it--that total deregulation of weekday shopping will add many more opportunities for shopping through the whole of the working day for many people.
Women who work normal hours in employment quite different from the retail industry will find it possible to shop with their families until 10 pm, and to do the kind of shopping in which, hitherto, on Sundays only many were forced to engage. There will be many more opportunities for shopping as a result of the deregulatory change. I warmly approve of and endorse that aspect of it.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends, including the Minister, and Opposition Members will realise the downside to the change. I hope that my colleagues will use their imagination and brood a little about this.
The unregulated or deregulated shopping hours, both on Saturdays and, largely, on Sundays, will impose a colossal strain, but particularly on small shopkeepers. If a shop is run by a husband and wife, who may face Sunday opening as well, it will be difficult for them not to enter into competitive later opening hours. The strain of additional opening hours on small shopkeepers should not be overlooked.
I hasten to add that the potential pressure on shopworkers who are not shopowners to work long hours during the working day and perhaps at weekends should not be totally ignored as one contemplates the effect of deregulation in that area. I ask all hon. Members to reflect on the general shindy, noise and other aggravating factors of the typical working day for many homes and home owners throughout the country, where disturbance as a result of shopping already occurs during the working day, but tends to subside after normal closing hours.
Many residents in such pleasant residential precincts where there are shops, in places such as South Hams, Rugby, Hampstead, Hallam or Wyre Forest--just to draw a bow at venture--will be disturbed unexpectedly after normal closing hours by the fact that the shops there will be open until all hours. Some may be open until midnight, others until 1 am.
Mr. Steen : Throughout the night.
Mr. Alison : Some shops may indeed make a profession of opening throughout the night, although I doubt whether there will be any of that sort in South Hams.
The fact remains that many areas where the local population tolerate the coming and going, the shindy and general disturbance of shoppers in their streets during normal working hours, will find that extended indefinitely into all hours, including Sundays, if deregulation is carried in the Shops (Amendment) Bill.
We are rapidly approaching the time when, in the light of this welcome aspect of deregulation, we should look again seriously and deeply at the Shops (Amendment) Bill. Perhaps we should have a view to modifying and changing the permitted hours of opening on Sunday in the light of the proposals on weekday shopping.
I ask colleagues on both sides of the House to consider changing their position on Sunday trading in the light of the Bill. I am glad to have been able to make that short and simple point. I hope that I carry many of my right hon. and hon. Friends with me in urging that we consider Sunday shopping from a quite different perspective as a result of deregulation under the Bill.
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Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : If the Bill were really about simple language and about bringing legislation up to date, as the President of the Board of Trade told us it was, we should all be on a one-line Whip. We would not be here debating a serious Bill, since we would all agree. In fact, the Bill is about democracy. As we are part of the democracy, we assume that Parliament drafts legislation in the public interest. The careful
clause--by--clause consideration in Committee and in the other place is designed to fine-tune legislation, to protect the public, to prevent the misinterpretation of legislation and to close loopholes. No Government, even one as misguided and incompetent as this one, would describe their own legislative programme as "a burden". This deregulation exercise has turned the democratic process on its head. The Government have taken provisions mainly designed to be a public safeguard out of a raft of legislation and renamed them "burdens on business". The provisions have been submitted not to public scrutiny but to the scrutiny of a task force of business interests ; incidentally, the gender balance is four out of 65. The Bill then empowers Ministers to remove or to alter any provisions in primary or secondary legislation simply by statutory instrument, which is the minimum scrutiny that Parliament can give. It is astonishing that this undemocratic process has been led and driven by the Prime Minister himself.
Mr. Steen : I have been following the hon. Lady's argument. If she would not act as we suggest and if she accepts that quite a bit of repeal is needed, how would she go about it?
Mrs. Jackson : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because in one of his contributions on the issue, he made me think how the matter should be dealt with. He bemoaned the fact that village halls have to provide public toilets if they are to receive a public entertainment licence. They also have to provide public toilets that are suitable for physically disabled people. That is done by regulation. As there is no VAT on toilets for disabled people, every community hall in the country, as the hon. Gentleman mockingly said, is now building toilets that can be used only by disabled people. That is a way in which regulations can be used for the positive benefit of everyone, which is welcome. We would use regulations in a positive way. We would not rename public safeguards "burdens on business". There are many issues about which we should be concerned, such as lorries going through London. Restrictions were imposed to protect air quality for Londoners. Clause 24 removes the need for lorries to have exemption permits to travel at night or at weekends ; instead, guidelines will be issued to lorry drivers. Can one imagine a lorry driver, driven by his time-related bonus payment, continuing the ban voluntarily? With air quality-related diseases, such as asthma, increasing rapidly, do hon. Members really think that the people of London see that safeguard as a burden?
Let us consider school bus safety. A recent example in my constituency concerned a bus operator who carried 81 children to school on a single- decker. The public's reaction in my constituency is to protect the children and not to protect the bus operator's business. Yet the Bill removes
Column 182the requirement for public service vehicle operators to renew their licence with the traffic commissioners every five years.
The Department of Trade and Industry document "Cutting Red Tape" promises to
"meet the Task Force's desire"
for the "lightest possible regulatory regime"
in waste disposal. The intention is to relax conditions, even those about pre-notifying authorities of the movement of hazardous waste. That is a further move from a statutory, enforced system towards a voluntary and self -monitored system. Do the public really want to weaken safeguards in that respect?
All the feedback that I get, especially from young people, shows that there is increasing concern about the environment and a desire to make a positive use of waste. The Select Committee on the Environment, of which I am a member, inquired into recycling and we picked up that enthusiasm. Any system of positive waste disposal, whether through heat recovery, recycling or energy recovery from landfill, requires careful management. The rubbishing of the word "regulation", which is a key element in any waste management strategy, will destroy that positive movement.
The task force recommends reducing the planning role of local authorities and the scope for planning gain. That is an amazing recommendation. The biggest planning problems that I have encountered stem from irresponsible developers and unauthorised development. Some developers know that the enforcement powers available to planning authorities are so weak and that the financial penalties are so severe if the authorities lose on appeal that they have nothing to fear.
A couple of cowboys in my constituency dumped a million tyres with no planning permission, just with a vague promise that they would buy a shredder when they had enough tyres. The pile of tyres caught light, resulting in a huge fire that threatened a vast area of community forest land and nearby communities. The penalty in court was a laughable £1,000 fine and 120 days of community service. Is it any wonder that the public are sceptical about the Government's "get tough" policies when public safety is treated so lightly? The Bill will encourage the view, whether the Government like it or not, that anything goes if it is good for business and if there is money to be made. I quote the members of the Sheffield Trades Union Council. They said that they had to emphasise to us as Members of Parliament
"the strength of feeling amongst trade union members who feel that should deregulatory legislation be placed on the statute book, then many workplaces would no longer be safe places in which to work."
Mr. Nigel Evans : The hon. Lady has gone through a catalogue of her favourite regulations. She has described the areas where she would not only not deregulate, but further regulate. Will she share with the nation the areas in which she would deregulate?
Mrs. Jackson : I believe that the public should be able to expect Parliament to regulate more strictly if public safety is at risk. There are various small regulations that are outdated and I am sure that they will be debated in Committee. I should be more than happy to deregulate in some areas. There is one matter on which I am very keen to deregulate--the ability of direct works departments of
Column 183local authorities to bid for tenders and to work for other authorities or private businesses as they like. That would do a great deal of good for local authorities.
Mr. Sykes : Will the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs. Jackson : I should like to continue. One of the difficulties is that if, as a result of public consultation, a need emerges to strengthen the regulations and the regulatory regime, the Bill prevents the Minister from taking action. Clause 1 says that the Minister can set up a regulatory system only if it is less onerous than the existing regime.
At the heart of the proposed legislation is another fundamental attack on open government and public accountability. For example, clause 9 deals with information that companies are required to give to the Office of Fair Trading. There are already provisions which require commercially sensitive information not to be open to the public, but business wants more secrecy. Can it be in the interests of the Government, given the recent business scandals, that even more is allowed to go on behind closed doors? In the end, the cost will be greater as scandals hit the headlines and Parliament and the public demand major inquiries.
In the past week, the Government have published "Charter News". Its lead story was, "Complaints--Why we should value them." That is a nice lead from the Government! Complaints depend on openness of operation so that people know their rights and have confidence in the regulations that protect them.
The Bill is riddled with more suggestions of contracting out, one of which, I was disturbed to see, relates to business statistics. I was interested in a report on business attitudes to statistical inquiries, which was placed in the Library only the week before last. It showed that if the request for information came from a private consultant, only one in four businesses said that they would offer any information, whereas only 4 per cent. of businesses would decline to give the information if the request came from a Government Department. If we are aiming for positive regulation, we shall need regulators and they will need accurate information. If the Government base their policy decisions on information collected by organisations that have only three quarters of the facts, the Government will be wrong at least 50 per cent. of the time. Perhaps that has already been proved by the Government more than we care to say.
Businesses are not always right about what is in their own interest and not always right about what is in the public interest. They look to the short term--they have to--and to the next year's profit, but it is the Government's job to see beyond, to the next century and to pass laws that will bring lasting prosperity and jobs. Regulations should be seen as a positive way in which to bring that about. Of course, we must consult businesses, but we must also consult the other organisations that represent public health, environmental protection, health and safety and local government. They also have at the root of their function the need to take a long-term view. We should be concerned that the deregulation outlined in the Bill endangers the very substance of democracy and accountability in the country.
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Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) : I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this important debate on an important Bill. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) because it would be difficult to have a greater contrast between two approaches. The hon. Lady and many of her colleagues, as somebody said about the Bourbons on the restoration of the French monarchy, have learnt nothing and have forgotten nothing. That is certainly true of the Labour party on this subject.
The Government had promised a wide-ranging, detailed and innovative Bill and have produced just that. The Bill covers a wide area and, at a glance, it covers most areas of government and public regulation. It is even more interesting to consider some of the further improvements which will occur in due course, by regulation or otherwise. In the words of President Reagan, "You ain't seen nothing yet."
As the Bill's title refers to regulation and contracting out, it reinforces our commitment to cornerstone policies which have guided us for many years. The Bill seeks to underpin the enterprise culture for business, based on a view of Government as a help to wealth creation and not a hindrance, which the attitude adopted by the hon. Member for Hillsborough showed. The view proposes that private sector business, and not Government, creates wealth and we must create, and in some cases modify, the framework in which that business wealth creation takes place.
Mr. Spearing : Both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) are dealing with the issue seriously. But why is the limitation of creation of wealth justified if that creation of immediate wealth, especially for a short period shown in the balance sheet, means the undermining of long-term public health or of the long-term interests of the whole country? Surely that should be an area for proper regulation, even if, for the short term, productivity is thereby marginally lower.
Mr. Waterson : At a stroke, the hon. Gentleman underlines the basic misunderstanding of Opposition Members of the point of the Bill and the regulations that will flow from it in due course. We are not proposing a completely unregulated free-for-all in British business. What we recognise, and what the hon. Gentleman will never recognise no matter how many times I tell him, is that Bitish business men and women do not need a mass of contradictory regulations, many of which do not serve the purposes which he rightly mentioned.
Mr. Spearing : Of course I recognise them.
I am delighted that we began with some 3,500 regulations and the task forces have published 655 proposals, 250 of which have been accepted in full and 280 of which are still under review. Much of the Bill, which underlines the point that I made to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), seeks to return common sense to some activities and to remove wholly archaic rules, some of which should have been swept away years ago. If it proposes nothing else, I would support the Bill because it seeks to remove burdens from our business and public life, which weigh down business men and administrators, increase costs for everyone, including the
Column 185consumer, and in most cases benefit nobody. Surely, it makes sense to allow shopkeepers, for example, to decide if they will close early one day a week.
We must see the Bill in its full context. As I see it, it is a down payment, just the beginning and, perhaps the first wave. It is part of the Government's rolling programme of deregulation. The second wave is set out in the document "Cutting Red Tape", in which there are another 29 measures waiting in the wings to be tackled. It will come as an enormous relief to many hon. Members that one thing proposed in that list of secondary measures is the abolition of the so-called long pull offence--the repeal of section 165 of the Licensing Act 1964, under which, amazingly, it is a criminal offence to serve somebody with more alcohol than he or she requested. I am also pleased to see the foreshadowing of the introduction of double summer time, to which the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) referred. That is a subject close to my heart, on which I introduced a ten- minute Bill and which I know would be welcomed by many. I am secretary to the Back-Bench tourism committee and I also represent an area which is perhaps the prime seaside resort in the entire nation. Along with other hon. Members, I spoke in a debate in July on tourism and deregulation. I am delighted that so many of the general principles that were set out in that debate are contained in the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary, who has been consulting other Departments as well as the Department of National Heritage, will be able to help to free one of our vital industries--tourism--from many burdensome regulations.
Mr. Steen : I understand that there were 300 or 400 proposals for tourism deregulation--I do not have the exact figure. Is not my hon. Friend a little disappointed that only one deregulation proposal is contained in the Bill?
Mr. Waterson : I would be disappointed if I were not utterly convinced that many of those matters will be addressed in what I call the second, third and subsequent waves.
I refer hon. Members to the answer given by my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for National Heritage on 27 July 1993 in which he gave an interim report on the work of his Department in examining unnecessary regulations affecting the tourism industry. At that time--presumably, things have improved even more since then--he identified more than 80 pieces of legislation and regulations affecting the industry. He covered areas such as food safety and hygiene--I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the President referred to that as a matter for continued review-- fire safety, package travel regulations, the electricity at work regulations, public entertainment licensing, tourism signposting and price display regulations. Those are all matters for ongoing review not only by the Department of Trade and Industry but by the Department of National Heritage.
I quote my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary :
"The preliminary overall conclusion of my review is that the complex proliferation of regulations is unquestionably having a damaging effect on the tourism sector. This should now cease. I intend it to do so."--[ Official Report, 27 July 1993 ; Vol. 229, c. 770. ]
I am sure that we all support him in that endeavour.
It is worth remembering that, just as it is possible to have poor regulation, it is equally possible to have poor deregulation. One example that comes to mind is the Use
Column 186Classes Order 1987, which the Department of the Environment is good enough to refer to as its contribution to deregulation. I cannot dwell on that issue at great length ; suffice to say it has caused a phenomenon in many seaside resorts around the country with a great mushroom-like growth in Department of Social Security hostels.
Mr. Sykes : Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a report before the Department of the Environment at present on a national survey that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) and I conducted on the effects of DSS hostels? We have asked the Department to look closely at changing the Use Classes Order. Apparently, ministerial advisers have said that much of our evidence is anecdotal. I can assure my hon. Friend that the evidence is not anecdotal.
In Scarborough last year, we had three murders. We are not used to murders in Scarborough, but two of those murders related strictly to DSS hostels and the activities that take place there. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have a solution to the problem in the palm of their hands by changing the Use Classes Order as soon as possible?
Mr. Waterson : I am well aware of the vigorous campaign being led by my hon. Friends the Members for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) and for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) on this issue. Suffice to say--because it is not a central issue in this debate--it is a perfect example of how poor deregulation, without being thought through at the time, has brought about a truly disgraceful result : local authorities have no control over whether hotels and guest houses convert to DSS hostels and where they are located. I look forward to that and many other matters being addressed in the second, third and subsequent waves of deregulation.
There is an irresistible tide at work here to increase the volume of deregulation as we go along. It is right--to that extent, I agree with Labour Members--that these matters should be examined carefully and closely and should be the subject of careful and detailed consultation with those who are affected and those who legitimately have a view.
I welcome what is in the Bill, as well as what is not in the Bill but is yet to come. I hope that the bonfire of regulations has been well and truly lit tonight. I know that my right hon. Friend the President and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs will keep the bonfire going. If they are ever in danger of running out of suggestions, we will continue to keep them supplied with kindling. I fear that, unfortunately, the Opposition parties will merely remain jeering on the sidelines of this great bonfire, praying for rain.
Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) : It is with some trepidation that I rise to speak in a debate where the phrase used perhaps more than any other concerns the undesirability of "burdens". I must tell the House that burdens are not always undesirable. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear".] Tory Members may disagree--I do not know. The Bill, like so many other aspects of the Government, is not really all that it seems and is not all that it is claimed to be. Of course, it comes from the team that promised low taxes and brought us massive tax rises. It is from the team that said that the national health service was safe in its
Column 187hands, but which brought us bed closures and cancelled operations. It is from the team that said that it was the party of law and order, but which has managed to preside over a massive rise in the crime rate.
The fact that the Bill is not all that it seems should not take us too much by surprise because we are getting used to it. When this team came to power in 1979, it promised an expansion of individual freedom. However, in the years that it has been in office, it has presided over the greatest centralisation of power in the hands of the Executive. That is precisely at the root of what the Bill is all about.
Ministers have said that the Bill will liberate businesses from excessive regulation. Undoubtedly, that is a legitimate description of some aspects of the Bill, but many of its provisions, and some measures hidden behind its words on the paper, have a greater implication. Rather than liberating any businesses from excessive regulation, they will remove from citizens the protection of law where that protection is vital to their interests and their quality of life. Perhaps we should not be surprised that most of the danger of the Bill is lurking behind what is written on the paper. Ministers will say that there is nothing to worry about ; they have promised us scrutiny committees. Indeed, they have established a permanent deregulation unit to examine those sectors where red tape can best be removed. Undoubtedly, they will promise that there will be a proper, independent and objective examination. I am a little sceptical about exactly how objective that permanent deregulation unit is likely to be. When we look at who heads that unit, we find the name of Mr. Francis Maude, head of the global privatisation unit of Morgan Stanley and a former Tory Minister.
Some regulations are outdated and unnecessary. As we have heard, many of those regulations were introduced by the Government. There are pointers in the Bill to what its implementation--when we get past the Committee and Report stages and Third Reading, it is operating and the Minister has the power that he is seeking--is likely to mean for citizens and their rights in Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) referred to the likely effect of the Bill on the Companies Acts. We have been told that there will no longer be a need to register the business occupation, nationality or particulars of other directorships at Companies House. We have been told that that matter is not important and it is just red tape.
Those of us who are interested in piecing together certain matters think that they are of some importance to our citizens. Those matters include how trade deals have become mixed up with overseas aid and who is involved in those deals and how certain directors of companies that manage to get an amazing amount of the Government's overseas contracts also happen to turn up as the chairs of quangos and NHS trusts. Those are matters of legitimate public interest and they should be scrutinised. Removing the requirement for companies to be honest and open and to log such information at Companies House is important and does affect open government and democracy.
Clause 19, which deals with the provision to repeal any local building regulation, is open ended, but contains nothing about the need to maintain standards. When the Bill was first mooted, there were reports in the press of the great fear that there would also be a wholesale sweeping
Column 188away of health and safety regulations. Ministers backed off rapidly at that point, saying that there was nothing to worry about and that there would be no reduction in standards.
There are some dangers contained in the words in the clause, although there are not many specific references to which health and safety regulations are to be repealed, but let us be under no illusions about what the Bill means. Ministers will tell us that all kinds of outdated and unduly complicated health and safety regulations have been replaced and updated since 1975, and indeed that has happened.
The Bill differs from previous legislation in an interesting way. All previous legislation has provided for the replacement of health and safety regulations, when replacement is deemed to be the right thing to do. Rather than replacement or reference to standards, the Bill provides only for wholesale repeal of such regulations. That is not obvious in the Bill, but it is sheltering behind the words on the page.
The Bill contains the provision that employers will be removed from the cumbersome burden of having to agree with, or even consult, their workers on how selection for redundancy can take place. Under the present legislation, an employer can argue why there should be a departure from normal practice on selection for redundancy. If the employer has good grounds for that, he can select for redundancy away from the normal procedures.