Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) : The hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) should consider carefully what he has said because, having praised the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), he went on to describe criticism of clauses 1 to 4 as bogus. That is a fundamental contradiction--
Several hon. Members have asked whose regulations we are talking about and have pointed out that they were imposed by the current Administration. In view of the classic quote that I heard earlier during Prime Minister's questions, I guess that today will go on record as the day when Ministers' cry was, "Nothing has anything to do with me. "
Regulations do become out of date, and everyone knows that there must be proper mechanisms by which they can be adjusted and corrected. Several Hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, all with far more experience than I have of the way in which this place works, have described the effective ways that already exist to ensure that regulations are kept up to date.
Hon. Members will be aware that a serious chemical fire occurred in my constituency last Tuesday. I have lost count of the number of regulations that govern the running of the
Column 212plant concerned, but I know that the Minister is familiar with the site--indeed, he opened one of the plants--so I ask him to tell me in his winding-up speech how many of the current regulations governing that site he envisages wiping out. I hope that he will say none. The President of the Board of Trade said earlier that the safety of workers and customers in the environment was an important issue. In that case, I hope that the Minister will clarify the curious anomaly mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden), and specifically set out in the research paper published by the Library :
"Clause 27(i) of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill allows for the revocation or repeal of the above mentioned existing enactments without direct replacement. This includes regulations made under those Acts as well as subsequent (post 1974) regulations introduced to replace the earlier ones. In other words, recent provisions could be repealed, but only if they had been introduced to replace pre-1974 legislation identified in Schedule 1 of the Health and Safety at Work Act."
That needs clarification, to say the least, by the Government. In inviting the Minister to comment on the incident in my constituency, I hope that he will agree wholeheartedly with a paragraph from the Chemical Industries Association brief sent to hon. Members yesterday :
"The chemical industry believes that much of the framework of existing Regulations specifically affecting the chemical industry--e.g. the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, the Environment Protection Act 1990 and the COSHH Regulations--is fundamentally sound ; in many cases however there is a need for greater clarity and consistency in interpretation and implementation."
The chemical industry does not want the regulations to be wiped away. The Chemical Industries Association, in its wisdom, says that what it wants is clarity and consistency of interpretation. In other words, there is nothing wrong with regulation. What this country needs is better regulation.
The President of the Board of Trade mentioned some of the rather silly regulations now on the statute book, but he had to acknowledge that the examples that he cited were regulations established by the Conservative Administration. It seems a bit odd that we should entrust that same group of people with the power of wiping legislation out left, right and centre. If they cannot be trusted to set up regulations properly, how can they be trusted to wipe legislation out unilaterally?
The most effective mechanism for dealing with the Government's lack of competence concerning regulations is for them to resign and let someone with a clearer head have a go-- [Hon. Members :-- "No."] Well, we shall see in a year or two. The Government should let someone with a clearer head have a fresh crack of the whip.
The regulations' impact on redundancies is bizarre. Again, I refer the House to the CIA, which says :
"In principle we consider that the part of the Section in question that deals with collective agreements ought to be retained because we believe that companies should honour such agreements, although it would be helpful if tribunals here could be encouraged to take a more flexible approach interpreting special reasons justifying a departure' from the agreed procedure."
In a recent meeting with the CIA, I pointed out that its member companies were partly responsible for the situation that needs that caveat. Those companies, along with many others in Britain, made the tribunal system more and more legalistic.
It was clear from the exchange involving my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield that the hon. Member for
Column 213Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) had little understanding of the operations of the industrial tribunal system. That is not surprising, because it was the Conservatives who made the system so incredibly legalistic and a paradise for rich lawyers, and who undermined the general principle that was established in the tribunal system in the first place--that the merits of an individual case should be taken into account. Against that background, the CIA's advice should be heeded by the Government, and the reference to clause 26 dropped forthwith. I hope that the Government will realise the error of their ways and withdraw many of their clauses in Committee, if the Bill gets that far. Hon. Members have referred to local authorities that are concerned about markets. Those are valid arguments, I have received letters from one of the two councils in my constituency. I have also received representations on how the protection of the historic cities of this nation will be maintained if wholesale deregulation is allowed to go ahead. Do the Government really intend to allow Ministers to have powers to wipe away such regulations, which protect our ancient heritage? If so, it is a bad Bill.
Clause 20 refers to the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and an additional clause being inserted. The Government have been hoist by their own petard. In their attempt to sweep away regulation, they have drafted a clause which will require more regulation to enable it to work. I shall give a simple example. The clause refers to "a series of transfers between the same parties of waste of the same description".
If acid is the waste product from an industrial plant, is it really the intention that another carrier shifting the same acid, but in a more concentrated form, should be allowed the same single licence? If the House means that, it should say so, but I am sure that it does not, and to enforce the clause in the way that the Government seem to intend will require more regulation. That is another example of the inadequacies of the Government's approach.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) : I am delighted that the Government have at last decided to take their part in reducing regulations. I am also pleased that they have consulted business and intend to consult business before regulations are published in future. As part of that process, as perhaps the House will know, eight task forces from the business and voluntary sector were formed to examine any of the 3,500 regulations affecting their own sectors. Seven of those task forces have reported to the Government. Their 605 proposals were published in January.
The task forces have suggested three principles which, it is argued, should guide Government Departments in reviewing existing regulations for the future. First,
"Make sure you start by measuring the impact on small firms of new regulations."
That is fine and fair enough. Secondly,
"Avoid regulations that are out of proportion to benefits to be obtained."
Again, that is fine and fair enough. Thirdly,
"Make regulations goal-based rather than over-prescriptive." That may be a wonderful aim, but it is disgustingly phrased. If regulations are to be dealt with, I trust that they will be dealt with in better English than that.
That infelicity of language seems to have flowed over into the Bill. Clause 5 deals with amendments to the Fair Trading Act 1973. In paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) one will see references to something called a monopoly situation.
Column 214To my mind, we are talking about a monopoly, not a monopoly situation. I hope that that sort of language can be done away with. I hope equally that, in the spirit of plain English, we can do away with the sort of provision that we find in Clause 21(1)(b), which says :
"The appropriate authority may by regulations repeal, or as the case may be, revoke
(b) any provision of regulations under section 15 of the 1974 Act (health and safety regulations) which has effect in relation to a matter in relation to which a provision which was an existing statutory provision for the purposes of the Part had effect." I am sure that that is well intentioned, but it is not well expressed and I trust that in Committee something will be done about such language.
I shall now deal with some of the effects of the Bill that affect small business. The task forces were quite clear that regulators should think small and frame new regulations with the interests of small businesses in mind. Small businesses are most vulnerable to over-regulation and have to struggle hard against red tape. They cannot spread the costs of complying with regulations as easily as larger firms. We as a country cannot afford to stifle the spirit of one of the most important areas of our economy. I say that as a Member whose constituency is largely populated by people working in small businesses. To ease the burdens on small business is a fine thing to want to do.
We can be proud of the way the Government have tackled the regulations that have emerged from the European Commission and European institutions. We can also be proud of their attitude towards the approach by local government and Departments to over-regulation. I trust that under the Bill and future deregulating measures we shall ensure that European over-regulation is well filtered before it hits those whom we wish to elect us.
I shall now deal with some of the measures in the Bill, some of which I am happy to commend and some of which cause me concern. I shall not repeat the intelligent remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). Clauses 1 to 4 contain, in spirit, some welcome material, but the means by which we go about seeking to produce deregulation causes me some constitutional concern. I shall not repeat their submission, but I would add the following. Those clauses, especially clause 2, seem to provide Ministers with the ability to amend the criminal law. I suggest that it is not safe to allow Ministers to change the criminal law--albeit they may, by doing so, reduce penalties or make less burdensome some of the consequential effects of any breach of an existing regulation or Act. I merely put that down as a marker so that my hon. Friends do not dismiss--as I did, I regret to say, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth)--as bogus any constitutional objections. They are not bogus ; they are well meant and sincere, and they deserve to be listened to.
I am happy to give a fair wind to clauses 21, 22 and 23, which do away with so-called ancient market rights. My constituency contains two local authorities--Harborough district council and Oadby and Wigston borough council. Oadby and Wigston council is adversely affected by the socialist city council in Leicester. Leicester city council attempts to exert market rights over the entire territory of Oadby and Wigston borough council which, sadly for that council, lies within six and two thirds miles of the centre of Leicester. People who have not been elected by the citizens of Oadby and Wigston are telling them what they can and cannot do within their own local authority
Column 215boundaries. The sooner that position is done away with the better. I say that despite the fact that I have nothing particularly kind to say about the Liberal Democrat majority on Oadby and Wigston borough council. However, I suggest that the Liberal Democrats' giving support for this provision is about the best thing that they have done since being elected and I wish them success in that. The other provision that I especially welcome is the amendment of the law relating to children's access to public houses. It is ludicrous that in this day and age--I am sorry to use a cliche , although it is not the first time that I have done so--parents should not be permitted to take children into public houses where a special room is set aside to allow them to enjoy lunch or supper, as a family, in proper surroundings. I am glad to see that amendment introduced. I also draw the attention of the House to clause 18 which deals with the enforcement of functions relating to slaughterhouses and knackers' yards. At the other end of my constituency--that is, outside Oadby and Wigston--my constituents are very much involved in farming. As my hon. Friend the Minister will appreciate, the grass in Harborough is second to none for the fattening of cattle. The EC regulations concerning slaughterhouses have not been greeted with much enthusiasm. I trust that clause 18, which affects the functions relating to the welfare of animals at slaughter and which amends the Slaughter of Poultry Act 1967, the Slaughterhouses Act 1974 and the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Act 1980, will allow better and more sympathetic governing of the way in which slaughterhouses run themselves, to the benefit of those who make use of them, including the farmers and butchers in my constituency.
I welcome the Bill in principle, subject to the warning points to which I adverted at the beginning of my remarks. I trust that in Committee the Bill will receive the welcome attention that it deserves and requires so that at the end of the day it will be but the first of the many deregulating measures for which our constituents--certainly my constituents--have been crying out for many years.
Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North) : Let me make my position clear. I am opposed to unnecessary red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy. Ther can be nothing worse than coming across a person who wears a Jobsworth hat, and who has the rules and regulations in front of him. Such people will implement them, stupid though they may be. There is unnecessary red tape, there are unnecessary regulations, and there are people who are only too willing to exploit that position.
However, the Bill is fraught with danger to consumers and workers who rely on appropriate regulations to protect them from unsavoury practices and exploitation. There is also a clear constitutional danger with the catch- all, so called Henry VIII clauses which the Government are trying to foist on the House. They are flying in the face of constitutional precedent and advice. They are laying themselves open to more charges of arrogance, despotism and worse--words that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might rule out of order, so I shall not use them.
Column 216Government motives for pushing through these dangerous and widely criticised proposals are clear. They are concerned about their business friends and their financial backers who want to reduce standards in health and safety at work, and reduced control over business practices to the detriment of the consumer and the worker. The Government must not be allowed to use the Bill to lower standards or to enable more and more standards to be attacked.
The Government's plan to increase their power in relation to the power of Parliament must be a cause for concern. It is a constitutional concern, because it is a move which will undermine Parliament, and because of the potential use and effect of measures that the Government may introduce in future on important aspects of health and safety legislation, among other legislation.
That power should be used only in exceptional circumstances, yet the Government have made increased use of that method, most notably in the various Education Acts. The fundamental point is that if a Minister wants to change legislation passed by Parliament as a whole, he should come back to Parliament and go through the normal procedures. No proper case has yet been made for the Government having such power. Until such reasons are given, the House should not approve the Bill.
If the Government really see deregulation proposals as such an important plank of their programme, Ministers should not be frightened of bringing those proposals to the House and having them subjected to proper parliamentary scrutiny. There are understandable concerns that, once the power to make deregulation orders has been passed, a whole range of legislation will come under fire. With Departments and agencies reviewing regulations at the moment, we are being asked to pass a carte blanche measure which could allow all kinds of regulations to be repealed and weakened. There is no mention in the Bill of what the changes will be.
The Government claim that the Bill will reduce the burdens on business, but they choose to forget that what is a so-called "burden" to business is a safeguard to consumers and workers. The Government have made it clear that the views of their pals in business should come first, second and third.
There is widespread concern that the so-called Henry VIII clauses will be used at a later date to attack health and safety legislation in detail. Although no major changes are proposed in the Bill, we have only to look at the Government's attitude to health and safety to know that those clauses pose a threat to health and safety and to consumer protection legislation.
The Government have cut the funding for the Health and Safety Executive for the next two years. In 1993-94, the HSE has lost £13 million. It expects to have to cut 230 jobs just to cope with the shortfall in its budget. Nothing shows more clearly the Government's lack of commitment to health and safety.
The Government have also been busy weakening safety controls in other areas, the most notable example being coal mining. We had a system that was second to none. It was torn apart and replaced by codes of practice. The role of pit deputies has been abolished, and the safety regulations have been weakened. Those codes of practice are designed to make life easier for a privatised coal industry. Lives will be put at risk, and few in the coal mining industry doubt it.
Column 217While the Bill is supposed to be about getting rid of unnecessary red tape, it also represents a further centralisation of power, because of the power to make deregulation orders and the decision to change the common law relating to market franchise rights. It will take more power from local authorities, to the detriment of local people and local business.
The policy will have a massive impact on the economic and social well-being of people in Doncaster, and will threaten many jobs. The proposals will undermine the viability of existing markets. The loss of rental income and the likely decline in the number of traders operating in market halls and open markets will transform the character of towns such as Doncaster, which has one of the best and largest markets in the north of England.
Hundreds of families depend on that market for their livelihood. Why is the Secretary of State determined to bring more misery to Doncaster families? Is he not satisfied with the misery already caused by his pit closure programme? Markets have always been an important part of community life in Doncaster, and it seems that nobody outside Whitehall wants that to change. The Government are once again trying to impose their political dogma where it is not needed or wanted.
If, as I suspect, the abolition of market franchises has been included in the Bill in response to special pleading from one small part of the retailing sector, the Government ought to say so. The electorate will quickly realise that it is yet another part of the continuing strategy to strip valued traditional powers from local authorities.
Where is the evidence that the existing system is frustrating additional traders or consumer choice? The Secretary of State is attacking the life blood of Doncaster, the small towns of Thorne and Stainforth in my constituency, and many other towns and cities. I ask him to drop this ill- founded proposal, and save the Doncaster people from yet another vindictive policy of his failed Government. The Bill is possibly the most dangerous that the Government have introduced, and it should be resoundingly defeated.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : I unreservedly welcome my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs, who I know is pushing ahead of all of us in considering all the regulations, and may be relied on to support the full initiative of deregulation.
We have heard a couple of especially perceptive speeches on the constitutional changes proposed in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) have dealt with the main concerns of clauses 1 to 4, which contain most of the main constitutional issues. I find it difficult, as ever, to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills, since he talks so movingly and directly to the issues, but the problem goes back to the 1980s. The House has fallen down over scrutinising the European legislation. The fact that we must bring in such measures now is an example of how little serious scrutiny has been carried out on so much legislation which has poured through on the back of the Single European Act, especially.
Column 218It is that failure to consider the detail of what was coming across the Europe which has led to the amount of abuse from which many small businesses are suffering. Therefore, it is important to understand why the Conservative party, especially, is the party of deregulation, as we wish to be known, and are known. After recent years, we are tackling deregulation specifically.
The constitutional concerns over the Bill are relevant and, in Committee, we need to consider some of the constitutional points made, especially in view of the time-limiting devices, so that we can return to the House some element of debate and scrutiny, which has already gone. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will accept that those possibilities need to be considered.
Having said all that, I welcome the Bill, because if it encompasses the ideals and ideas of one person, they are those of Chris Booker. I wish that we could rename it the Chris Booker Bill, because he has been so determined in his efforts to force the Government and all the parties to recognise what has happened in the process of excessive regulation which has not been properly scrutinised.
Although I realise that Mr. Booker would not necessarily want to be associated directly with the Government, it is important that his part in such a move is recognised and that he continues to push us further into greater and wider areas of deregulation. The effects of the single market are the aspects which Mr. Booker has been most successful in identifying, and I hope that we take those elements on board.
About the initiative to deregulate, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said :
"The Government's aim is to remove unnecessary regulations which waste time, add to business costs and threaten competitiveness and jobs while protecting vital interests".
Notwithstanding any possibilities of excess, that encapsulates our drive and they should be our watchwords.
It is also important to consider the comments of the
Director-General of the CBI :
"This is the start of what must become a continuing process. Deregulation must not be a nine day wonder."
Stan Mendham, chief executive of the Forum for Private Business said :
"Sadly, we have seen too many false starts on regulation. To understand the law, business owners need to read over 400,000 words and complying with red tape costs 3 per cent. of turnover." It is important to understand the problems that have existed for business men over the years that we have been pouring regulations on their heads ; perhaps now we can start to row back and reconsider the whole role of Government. Essentially, we accept that there is a need to protect the weak and vulnerable. That goes without saying, but I am sure that it will be restated continuously in Committee. The problem is that, through a process of events, Ministers have found themselves under pressure from pressure groups, lobby groups, colleagues and almost anybody else who has seen something wrong and has wanted to ban it, regulate it or stop it. We have all been guilty of putting that pressure on our hon. Friends.
Blaming the civil service is madness, as it is not civil servants' fault that we have passed to them stupid regulations which fail. In its excellence, the civil service has gone about making such regulations exactly what they purport to be. The trouble was that the regulations were everything to every man and woman, which resulted in a flow of regulations.
Column 219The questions we must therefore address are, why do we in the first place make such absurd Bills and, as a result, why do we need to employ so many people to ensure that every regulation is imposed? Deregulation is important because we must be aware that, while some regulations work well, events are always changing. Often, regulations give rise to a whole number of unforeseen problems. I shall not go into detail, because we see it about us all the time.
Review is constantly required, because regulations have gone too far. The crucial elements are to assess how far we meant to go and why have we extended regulations into areas in which we never intended to go. Essentially, this Bill must be about redressing the balance and pulling us back from areas in which we never intended to be, as people like Mr. Booker have pointed out time and again. Small businesses suffer the most from regulations. I know that, at times, people say that they stand for small and medium businesses. Frankly, someone must stand for them, because they are the most crucial element of growth in the economy. Sometimes, it is most important for us to understand that the strength of an economy is measured by the number of small and medium businesses.
As has been proven time and again, and as my hon. Friends have pointed out, the response of small businesses to growth and changing circumstances is always much faster than that of bigger companies, because they have lower overheads and fewer problems with their work force. That is the most important point. In over-regulating, we have ensured that the life of small businesses has become more difficult over the same period. It is important to see whether that was unnecessary and change it.
When we examine this whole area, we must consider the position of the purpose versus the cost, leading us to the ultimate effect of what we do. One could argue that the problem is always understanding the point at which possibility for a small minority of the population becomes probability for the vast majority of the population. In other words, the likelihood of harm is now a probability, and we must regulate that.
Before we reach that point, regulation should be about information--telling people about the possibilities and allowing them to make value judgments and choices. After all, when people go to cross the road, we do not put barriers on streets across the whole of the country saying that they cannot cross here--they can cross only where we put crossings. We say that there are crossings there--if people cross there, they judge the excessive danger ; if they want to, they can cross at the crossing point. That is the principle of regulation, and deregulation should get us back to that.
I welcome the Bill. While I have some concerns--as I said earlier when I referred to my hon. Friend the Member for
Aldridge-Brownhills--about some of the powers that we are taking, on which I wish we would think again, the Government's powers should be taken in the context of the way in which we have moved over the whole draft of European legislation. It is time to think again, and this Bill provides the right opportunity to do that. I welcome it unreservedly.
Column 220clause 1, which provides him with special powers to remove primary legislation. That is not unprecedented : in the past, many statutory instruments have provided for powers to repeal bits of primary legislation. They are known as Henry VIII clauses because they cut off primary legislation, often at the head.
When the President of the Board of Trade introduced the Bill, he made a number of jokes about obscure language. It must be pointed out that, for the most part, statutory instruments are signed by Ministers. That gives them authority. If they want to make jokes about statutory instruments, let them do so at their own peril. They will look foolish, having quoted from instruments that they simply signed, or signed without bothering to read them, and took on trust the word of a civil servant. That is not a courageous attitude to take, especially when the self-same Ministers are claiming that they are improving the position by simplifying language-- language that they did not simplify when they signed the instruments.
Time and again, the Government, through the Leader of the House, have refused to provide a Standing Order so that the report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which may report on ambiguities, the unusual and unexpected use of Ministers' powers and, especially in the context of the President's speech, badly drafted instruments, could be in front of us before we debate either a prayer or an affirmative motion. What sort of attitude is that for a Government who mock statutory instruments and say that they want to make them clearer? The machinery that the House establishes ostensibly to clarify procedures often withholds that opportunity. I shall give the House an example. It is not simply a trivial instance. The health and safety in mines instrument was laid on 6 August 1993 when the House was not sitting. it came into operation before the House returned after the summer recess, and the debate was held before the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments made its report. The Government dare to come to the House and say that they are concerned about clarity in statutory instruments and the excessive powers of Ministers, when they deliberately brought an instrument before the House without any opportunity for debate before the powers came into operation.
It is worth examining the way in which the Government have used their powers. On average, about 2,000 statutory instruments are produced each year. No one denies that some regulation is required. because we must protect people from danger. We must improve health and safety at work, because work accidents cause changes in production and losses of production. They are costly ; they produce ill feeling ; there is a loss of time ; and they may cause an injury or possibly a loss of life to those involved. Therefore, some regulation is accepted as necessary.
We have about 2,000 statutory instruments a year. In 1948, there were 2,858. That figure was topped by the Tories in 1962, who passed 2,877 statutory instruments. In the years of the last Labour Government, there were 2,224 in 1974, 2,251 in 1975, 2,248 in 1976, 2,202 in 1977 and 1,977 in 1978. In 1979--the year of the election--there were 1,770. According to this Government, those were the years of regulation when the Labour Government were pressing down on people's backs.
What have we had since this Minister took office? In 1991, there were 2,952 statutory instruments. In 1992, there was the all-time record in the history of Government and in the history of Parliament. No other Government
Column 221have produced the number of statutory instruments that this Government produced in 1992--3,359. That is nearly 1,500 more than the last year of the Labour Government.
Incidentally, if the Government now say that it is the problem of the Common Market--which they support--I would point out that only about 20 per cent. of the regulations come from the Common Market. The bulk of the regulations derive from the Government's tentacles, which are reaching into every aspect of life. The Government are not decentralising but imposing highly centralised bureaucracy. In 1993, the Government must have made an effort, because the number was down to 3,279.
I say to the Minister that he does not need this deregulation Bill, with its excessive powers for Ministers. All he need do is go round Departments and tell them to reduce the number of statutory instruments they produce, and they can do it. For example, if a national health service trust transfers its property, that is an instrument. When the Government go through all the NHS trusts, which have been created by statutory instruments, another 50, 100 or 150 statutory instruments have been produced.
The Government are pouring out statutory instruments like confetti, and the Bill is an excuse to try to cut the number. They could at least try to approach the number there was at the time of the Labour Government. How could the Labour Government manage with just over 2, 000 statutory instruments a year, when they were supposed to be oppressing the nation? Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Government to tell their Departments to have as their target the number of statutory instruments in 1978 or 1979. The number would be reduced by 1,500 a year.
Some Government Members are like renegade Trotskyists, in constant revolution with every institution of our society. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury talks about cynicism affecting our national institutions, but the Government are up-ending every national institution we have.
The Bill deals with markets, for example--a subject raised by other hon. Members. Ordinary and decent markets provide a service, and they are run by small businesses, but some of them have empty stalls. Rawson and Kirkgate are two examples--excellent markets which my wife and I frequently patronise. The markets have some empty stalls, and the people in charge say that they do not want car boot sales and suchlike, which will knock out their livelihoods and put them on the dole. Some of the people involved say that they were traditional Tory voters but, like a lot of other people, are no longer. Why should the Government hammer on their backs by creating problems ?
The Government have an obsession with the free market. The Minister has it more than most, although they are all tainted with the same madness. The Government will find that there are more problems and more people on the dole, not fewer. The situation will not be improved.
I turn now to the Government's attack on health and safety. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, as everyone who has read it knows, had its own system for overhauling old regulations. The Secretary of State for Employment had the power to tell the Health and Safety Executive to overhaul its regulations. The executive would then submit its reports to the Minister, who would put them before Parliament. Has the Minister done that ? Of course
Column 222not. It has never been done. The Health and Safety Executive has been required to produce more regulations, with no consolidation. There are at least 350 statutory instruments that apply to health and safety at work. They should be consolidated, and the Minister has not done so. The Bill does not simplify health and safety at work, which, goodness knows, everybody needs. Why could we not have the health and safety legislation in one document ? That would help workers, employers and people who are affected by the legislation. Why do we not go down that path ?
Under the current system, the Minister can repeal health and safety legislation. Will the system take into account the section of the 1974 Act which requires that all delegated powers should be used to maintain and improve existing standards of health and safety at work ? That was an important component of the legislation, and I look forward to the Minister saying that it is guaranteed in the Bill. I want to make one last point--at least one other hon. Member wants to speak--about contracting out. Clause 57 is quite extraordinary. It is an order-making power which is separate from the order-making power at the beginning of the Bill, which provides an extra Committee to see whether the Minister is doing the decent thing. That Committee will be stuffed to the gills with Tories, so it will always say yes. In any case, the Committee will be organised by the Whips. We know what happens in this place.
The clause will take away the powers of Ministers and give them to outside contractors. I ask Conservative Members--do they want another Child Support Agency? Do they want more chief executives? When an hon. Member puts down a question, the Minister says it is not for him, and adds that he has sent the letter on to Ros Hepplewhite. She is on £50,000 a year for a 36- hour week, and she is always out of the office. The hon. Member then gets a letter back from the business manager of the CSA.
There is no ministerial accountability or, at best, there is diminished ministerial accountability. Clause 57 gives powers for affirmative orders. No affirmative orders are okay, although they are better than negative procedure. The debate will usually be one and a half hours after 10 o'clock, and no changes can be made.
Only about two Acts have ever been passed which allowed statutory instruments to be amended. The vast bulk--this Bill is no exception--do not allow amendment, so hon. Members must take it or leave it. That is difficult for the House to accept. An hon. Member might like some part of the Bill, and dislike another part--even a single clause--but one has to take it all.
That is simply not good enough when we are being asked to transfer powers out of the House, out of the ministerial box and out of Whitehall. The powers will be transferred somewhere else, which affects accountability. No Minister said during the election, "I am going to shift my job outside. I do not really want a Ministry with such a range of powers. I am going to reduce them." Of course they did not. So what they are doing is outside their brief. It is against democracy. That is why we should oppose the legislation.