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Column 48senior staff and, through its poor personnel management, hired a man with convictions for fraud as its marketing director. The Public Accounts Committee also found that West Midlands regional health authority agreed that the director of regionally managed services should be sacked, but in fact he was made redundant and got a lump sum of £81,000 and a pension. The regional health authority was found to have wasted £10 million in huge pay-outs to failed business consultants and officials at the expense of patient care. All that information is in the PAC report. The authority's chairman, Sir James Ackers, who resigned, was nevertheless given a £10,000 golden handshake by the Secretary of State for Health. Wessex regional health authority squandered £20 million on an information system and there were serious conflicts of interest between it and the consultants who had recommended the system. The training and enterprise councils' Field system computer cost £48 million, but it was not assessed properly and proved to be a waste of money. The TECs spent a further £11 million on consultants hired in what the report describes as a haphazard manner.
Many of those examples are known to the House and new ones occur almost daily. I shall cite one or two more. The Midlands development corporation, which is packed full of estate agents and developers, was criticised last month for scheduling land owned by friends for development. The £30,000-a-year chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales, Mr. Glyn Davies, was forced to stand down a week ago when the PAC found that 20 per cent. of tenants were granted homes according to rules that were not made public, that homes had secretly been allocated to the board's housing officer and his ex-wife and that irregular payments had been made to directors under a car leasing scheme.
In addition, there is an almost daily stream of appointments scandals. Last week, two former Tory Members of Parliament were appointed to the Government's deregulation panel, even though the Bill is still before the House. A little before that, a Tory businessman was appointed to run the Schools Funding Agency--and so on and so forth.
There is widespread revulsion at the explosion of croneyism and patronage. There is also a widespread feeling that quangos, having initially been sold as a spur to efficiency and a check on public bureaucracy, are layers of unwanted bureaucracy themselves in many cases. Developers now want to be close to the community and do not want a quango in the way. I am aware of one example in the east Thames corridor--the North Kent Forum now brings together the Department of the Environment, local councils and the Groundwork Trust with industry representatives. Such forums and partnerships are springing up in many places. They are local and they are funded by a balance between all the participants.
In contrast, quangos are another bureaucratic structure, which must be serviced and often costs too much, even in the absence of fraud and corruption. That is why we tabled the new clause, as a short-term measure to enable such burdens to be removed more readily. I would be the first to accept that it is a very limited measure. Our long-term strategy goes a great deal further. As they are constituted, quangos are virtually impervious to democratic influence. By nature, they are secretive and they are packed with Tory nomenclatures, like a one-party state.
Column 495.15 pm
Where quangos have usurped powers that should be exercised only by elected bodies, we shall abolish them and restore their functions to elected regional or unitary authorities. In all other cases, if they are retained, we shall subject them to supervision by the ombudsman and to the same surcharge disciplines as local authorities. We shall provide them with a more balanced membership and require an open-government culture and freedom of information in all their dealings.
In the short term, and in the context of the Bill, our new clause would minimise the more extreme and flagrant abuses, so I commend it to the House.
Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough) : I shall speak to new clause 14, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith). Its object is to provide a speedy and effective means of challenging orders and decisions made by public officials, which are perceived to be disproportionate or unreasonable, could harm business and are not justified by any imminent danger to life or health.
The clause is the device that would continue and amplify deregulation. It is the device that would firmly establish the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, so that it rests on two pillars of strength. The first is the parliamentary pillar by which we in Westminster dispose of overburdensome regulations--the so-called Henry VIII clause. The second pillar is my new clause, whereby we in Westminster would give back a little power--a little subsidiarity perhaps--to the ordinary man in the street by allowing him to appeal to a magistrate to overturn an unfair order.
I call this clause or second pillar the Henry VII clause--he was the father of Henry VIII and the king who established the widespread use of administrative magistrates as a means of achieving justice and peace throughout his realm. Such a mechanism would be entirely in keeping with the Department of Trade and Industry report commissioned by the President of the Board of Trade and sent to the Prime Minister last year. The report stated :
"There needs to be an ombudsman who could act as a point of contact for traders and investigate cases of over-zealous enforcement."
Mrs. Helen Jackson : I read the new clause carefully and I have a question for the hon. Gentleman. If a local authority in his constituency decided that hotels used for bed-and-breakfast clients had to comply with stricter fire and safety regulations, and one of the owners said, "I am sorry but that will restrict my business, it is far too expensive for me to implement, I shall appeal to the Government because it is a burden," which side would the hon. Gentleman be on ?
Mr. Sykes : I am grateful to the hon. Lady for asking me that question. One can always rely on her to open her mouth wide enough to put both feet in it. She was not present for the debate that we had on this subject in Standing Committee F on Thursday 28 April--she was in South Africa--but before that she had spent months and months complaining about over-zealous regulation. I beg her to listen to this debate with her ears, not with her mouth. I said right at the beginning that we are concerned here with over-zealous enforcement of regulations only.
Mrs. Jackson rose
Over-zealous enforcement of regulations is all I ask the House to concern itself with this afternoon. Let us consider the almost unlimited powers enjoyed by public officials, some of them fresh out of college. There are vast regiments of them. They have a right of entry to our premises and each of them is armed to the teeth with 1, 000 different regulations, each regulation bristling with 1,000 dire and prohibitive consequences of the non-compliance with the will of the enforcer.
Consider the case of the Regal rest home in North Marine road, Scarborough. On 3 February this year, Ian Dewar, the proprietor, received a letter from S. Peacock, principal officer of the social services registration and inspection unit. Writing on behalf of North Yorkshire county council, S. Peacock called for two full-time members of staff to be present during the day, and one at night, together with a competent person to be on call in the building. The letter concluded ominously :
"All homes not meeting the staffing standards will be required to do so".
Mr. Dewar sent me a letter as follows :
"As owners of this care home, we are properly registered in accordance with current social services guidelines . . . Although we are registered for eight residents, we only have six because social services disapprove of double rooms. Now we are told by social services that we must have two staff on 24 hours a day, including waking night staff.
Under current social services policy, residents who become physically dependent are moved into nursing homes or hospitals. Therefore, this care home cannot have physically dependent residents. We have six residents who are not physically dependent and I seriously question this imposition. To implement these staffing levels would inflict a wages bill that would be financially impossible for us to meet. It would bankrupt us within six months. We would lose everything we own in the process. We would end up homeless and left with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt that we would not be able to pay back in our lifetime . . . In addition, there would be no home for our residents to go to."
Mr. Dewar says that his staff would be made redundant because the business would be unsaleable and concludes :
"As one of the many small homes who care for the elderly of this county, I am asking for your help in this matter."
Help was at hand, in the shape of the hon. Member for Scarborough. North Yorkshire county council has now promised to reconsider the matter in the light of my representations. It should not, however, be for the Member of Parliament to deal with such things.
It was therefore with some astonishment that I began to read Labour's new clause 4, entitled "Burdens imposed on public bodies". At first, I thought that the road to Damascus had been widened ; redemption was at hand--the little Johnny-come-latelys had finally come out of the closet. Could it be that Labour had tabled a new clause that would actually help the Regal rest home in my constituency--a capitalist institution ? I studied the names on the amendment paper to see whether I could identify a leadership challenge. Certainly, there were some guns there--not howitzer league, but big guns nevertheless. They were the same guns, coincidentally, as sat in Room 9 every Tuesday and Thursday in our Standing Committee.
Those big guns were flanked by the pea-shooters among their Back Benchers. Week in, week out they shot off whatever meagre ammunition they had received from Walworth road--they were against this, they were against that, they were against the other. They agreed with us on
Column 51one thing--they were against over-zealous regulators, and that was progress indeed. So Conservatives looked forward to hearing how Labour would deal with them.
We waited and waited, and then we waited some more. When we had become bored with waiting, we felt that the Opposition must be embarrassed. So we thought of putting a suggestion box in the Committee Corridor. Finally, however, the grim truth emerged. Among Opposition Members, cluelessness had scaled new heights. There was not an idea between them--until, that is, I read the first few lines of new clause 4, which establishes an appeal procedure. Wonderful, I thought, although not perfect. Labour's clause allows an appeal only to a Minister of the Crown. I could not quite see D.P.Barry and Company, tripe manufacturers, ringing up the Secretary of State just because some nosey environmental health officer would not allow the company to boil pigs' trotters in a particular pan.
I want an appeal procedure via the magistrates courts because they are more user-friendly, more widely understood and not even slightly intimidating. In the name of consensus and of progress, however, I did not want to quarrel with the big guns who tabled the new clause--until I reached subsection (6) where, to my despair, I found that Labour's big guns had spiked their own new clause. How ? The subsection provides that anything done by a local authority is excluded from the appeals process.
Why ? Was this because the Opposition fondly imagined that their municipal cousins in Labour-controlled authorities were genetically incapable of taking unreasonable decisions ? Perhaps they have never heard of Manchester, which owes nearly as much as does El Salvador. Perhaps they prefer to overlook Birmingham which, in 10 years, has accumulated a debt three times the size of that of Albania, and which sent two officers to Belgium to buy six fig trees at a cost of £50, 000. That same council sent two officers from technical services to Amsterdam, not for tulips or fig trees, but to watch people walking through revolving doors. Of course, Opposition Members know all about revolving doors--if they do not now, then by the time they have had to vote for a new leader, they will all be experts.
Perhaps the less said about Sheffield, the better--a city with the dubious distinction of being a training ground for Labour Members of Parliament. That city held the most expensive school sports day in history, the student games. It managed to frighten away Hamley, the famous toy shop, because the rates in Sheffield were higher than they were in Regent street. The list of examples is as unending as the shame that should attach itself to those Labour Members who have perversely sought to shield the very worst practitioners of the over-zealous application of regulations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and I therefore felt compelled to table new clause 14 which, unlike Labour's, does not masquerade as something it is not--the socialist extending the hand of friendship to the business community, accompanied as it is by a smile resembling the silver plate on a coffin. The fact is that 97 per cent. of all businesses in this country employ fewer than 20 people. Our clause is for them.
It is for the Minister, whom many regard as the spark plug of our deregulation initiative, to talk to the President of the Board of Trade, whom many regard as the vital
Column 52piston in the deregulatory engine. For it lies within the power of the President to come to the rescue, to stand shoulder to shoulder with shopkeepers, farmers and small businessmen. He must make an appeal mechanism a component of the Bill, and he does not need the permission of Jacques Delors to do so. He could do it tomorrow, or, even better, tonight.
What I propose does not require detailed negotiations with our Community partners, upon whom it has suddenly dawned that Britain's deregulatory approach has been the right one all along.
Mr. Steen : Has my hon. Friend found a device to enable small firms or people who are aggrieved by an over-zealous attitude to regulations to go somewhere local for an immediate conclusion to their dispute ? Is it really that simple ?
Mr. Sykes : A good question. The beauty of my new clause is that it is simplicity itself. It is user-friendly and everyone understands it. Unlike so many appeals procedures, this is not one of byzantine complexity. It is a simple measure that the world and, I hope, the Minister and the President of the Board of Trade will understand. The debate takes place during a week when competitiveness in business has been given its rightful prominence. New clause 14 will underpin a new British competitive age by making the over-zealous official a thing of the past. It will be a regulation to regulate the regulator. The new clause is needed because an unjustified administrative order is a substantial wrong committed by the Crown against the subject. It is needed because justice has been common to our way of life for centuries. We ask only that the Government extend that principle to arm the small man against the over-zealous regulator.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood) : I always try to enjoy speeches by the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) but I am finding it increasingly difficult to do so. Close contact with the hon. Gentleman over a long time has not helped matters a great deal. I had not intended to speak about his new clause, but I should like to make one comment on it. The hon. Gentleman was quite wrong to say that at no point in Committee did any of us suggest practical ideas to help the small business men of whom he spoke. I suggested a precise and practical idea--a small business support agency deliberately designed to meet the needs of small business men. The idea came from a small business man in my constituency who said to me, "If the Government can set up a huge Child Support Agency at vast expense, why can they not set up a small business support agency to help me find the late payers who are crippling my business ? I have neither the resources nor the mechanism to do that, but the problem affects every business in the land". Such an agency could carry out many other tasks, such as those to which the hon. Gentleman referred. It could have investigatory and ombudsman functions for the small business sector.
I put that idea to the Minsiter in Committee, but he did not welcome it. I subsequently wrote to him, extending the idea, and although he said that it was "interesting" he felt that the Government did not want to set up a new agency for that purpose. That was a practical idea and a serious opportunity for the Government to help solve the kind of
Column 53problems that small businesses have identified. I hope that in his winding-up speech the Minister will say that he has thought again about that practical proposal. It would bring joy to all the small business people in my constituency if he would announce his support for such a proposal.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) for giving the House an opportunity to explore the whole question of the growth of unelected, non-accountable public bodies--the issue that is highlighted in our new clause. The Government returned to office promising to curb the growth of quangoland, regarding the whole excrescence as a product of the kind of corporatism which distinguished government in the 1970s. But the extraordinary reality is that there are now three times as many such bodies as there were in 1979, representing about £46 billion of public money--equivalent to a third of total public spending. I am glad to have been associated with the report mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, which documents in fine detail the growth of the unelected state. The most extraordinary feature of that development is that it has been presided over by the very people who used to tell us that the centre of their political credo was the attack on centralisation and over- extended government, and that their mission was to haul it back and constitutionalise it. That that has not happened is dramatically and momentously apparent. I am happy to explore with the Government all kinds of devices to run government and the public services in new ways. I am prepared to explore agencies and contracting out. I am even prepared to explore the notion of the most senior civil servants being appointed in new ways. But if government is to be fragmented in that way it must always be accompanied by the extension and strengthening of democracy and accountability. If that is not done, a huge democratic and accountability deficit will open up. That is precisely what has happened, and the deficit has given rise to the extraordinary and scandalous events to which the Public Accounts Committee has had to draw attention in an unprecedented way. We have arrived at a moment very like that of 140 or 150 years ago, when the great Victorians had in their sights the corruption of the old patronage state and decided to bring it into the democratic era.
Dr. Wright : I shall, of course, try to be helpful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that I was speaking to new clause 4, which is about public bodies and their relationship to the need for the kind of controls that we debated earlier. I introduced my remarks by referring to the interesting other new clause which attempts to help small businesses. That was the context of my speech ; I am sorry if it was not sufficiently clear.
The attempt by new clause 4 to bring public bodies--the new patronage state --under the umbrella of control and
Column 54regulation will be seen as the historic equivalent of the attempt 150 years ago to constitutionalise the old patronage state. Interestingly, there has been only one serious study of patronage in Britain. It was written 30 years ago by an academic at the University of Reading and it is a rather meticulous, dry and scholarly book. It contains a comment at the end which may interest the House : the author said that the only danger that he could see on the horizon was that if one party exercised power for a prolonged period it could seek to use the patronage system in a partisan way to further its own interests. Precisely that danger has come to pass and makes most urgent the attempts at control and regulation that are being suggested.
I should like to relate the new clause to the Bill because the two are directly parallel. There has been an extraordinary growth in unaccountable, non-elected public bodies, representing the extension of state power in a quite new way that Parliament has failed to control. It was a great challenge to Parliament to provide that control and an indictment of Parliament that it has not done so. The key feature of the Bill is that it will enable Ministers to make orders to rescind primary legislation. The two elements are, first, the growth of ministerial patronage and the appointed state and, secondly, the Government's claiming to repeal primary legislation at will through orders--and the two sit together.
Will this Parliament allow that to happen ? That is not a trivial question. It is rather important, and the answer will test Parliament itself. I must say to Conservative Members that it is striking that a political tradition which, historically, has attached itself to the importance of local government and of protections against a centralised state and has embraced the little platoons throughout society should have become the instrument of the most monstrous centralisation. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West for highlighting that in his new clause. I hope that the House will understand what the new clause is trying to say.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : New clause 14 stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes), and, in spirit at least, we have with us my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva), who somehow slipped between the earlier amendment and the new clause. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough has powerfully said--I will not back track over his arguments--new clause 14 is about giving the right of redress to a business that faces having to undertake large changes as a result of a decision by an official. Under the new clause, they may appeal through a magistrates court. We stand by that idea, which we proposed in Standing Committee, because we believe that it still provides the best mechanism for an impartial and judicial response to what is likely to be the imposition of an unfair decision.
The purpose of the Bill has always been deregulation. Yet it seemed to us that the one thing that was missing was a mechanism by which the ordinary business man or woman trying to go about his or her daily work has a right to challenge an unfair decision by an official. There is no such mechanism in the Bill as it currently stands. We urge and hope that the Government will think carefully about that.
I shall give only one example, although I could have given 100, which seems to enshrine so many of the problems faced by business men and women throughout
Column 55the land. It is the case of a dairy farmer, Mr. Downey, who was recently told that, under a new EC regulation, he would face criminal prosecution unless he makes regular returns of the exact quantities of milk that he uses on his farm to feed his stock. After all the mechanisms of going through and checking how he did that--by weighing them and everything else--he was told that he had to calculate the weight of the milk.
Mr. Downey also has a cafe where he serves his unpasteurised milk, and an environmental health officer told him that he could serve it only if he put up notices to say that it contained organisms that were harmful to health, and submitted it four times a year for special test. That was at a cost of more than £240. Mr. Downey thought that that was altogether far too much and now serves UHT milk instead. But the irony is that his milk had already been checked by the Agricultural Development Advisory Service and local environmental health officers, because his main activity was in making cheese. Why could not they get their act together instead of double regulating that poor individual, who was trying to go about his business ? He was compensated eventually by a cheque for £199. That was after he had lost thousands of pounds worth of business as a result of having to close the cheese-producing end of his business and being left with only the rump of his business.
After all that, Mr. Downey was served a notice by the local environmental health office advising him that there were 22 illegalities on the farm under the hygiene regulations, which would cost him thousands of pounds to change, or a fine of £2,000 if he failed to comply. After making a huge fuss and having a row with them, they eventually checked and discovered that only two of the regulations were statutorily required. They dropped the whole lot. The new clause would have given him, and others, a chance to challenge that imposition, which would have cost him a lot of money. We all know the reasons for the regulations and we have been around them endlessly. They are threefold : first, the single market has produced some 200 to 300 different directives, which have poured out as a result of that harmonisation mechanism ; secondly, the continuing business in Europe of the common agricultural policy and the ghastly common fisheries policy ; and, thirdly, the problem here at home of the attitude of our Ministers and their officials. On seeing that a new regulation is required, the smiles light up on their faces. They reach into the rag-bag of things that they wanted to do over the past 10 or 15 years, heave them out and throw them at the particular regulation and say, "There it is. Let us add that on the back, because it tidies it all up." They do not even concern themselves about how much it will cost or what effect it will have. That problem has not gone away. A mass of legislation pours out of the House in response to every single aspect, worry, concern or pressure group. The salmonella scare over the chickens and the eggs ended up closing vast numbers of businesses. After thousands of people had got into deep trouble--some 5,000 egg producers were put out of business--the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food abandoned the policy, because, as it discovered, the incidence of salmonella continued to rise after all those
Column 56impositions, and it did not get to the root of the problem by closing the businesses. The costs were absurd and they nearly destroyed too many businesses.
The problem is that bureaucracy will continue to grow, and at a pace, unless we do something positive to check it and turn it around. That essentially is what the new clause is about. It will give the opportunity to somebody affected by that over-burdening, overweening bureaucracy to cry, "Stop. Check for a moment. They want to close me down, and I think that I have a chance to stay in business."
Mr. Miller : The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting and powerful case, and an attack on his own Front Bench. Does he agree that some 70 per cent. of the regulations about which he is referring were brought in by his Government ? Is not that really the problem ?
Mr. Duncan Smith : Governments of all persuasions are the problem, because at the end of the day they are invited down this road by hon. Members, such as the hon. Gentleman, who listen to the pressure groups and say, "My God, we have to go--panic, panic. Let us get this done." We all jump up. We have wonderful cross-party consensus. We all say, "Great stuff. Wonderful. Let us get this regulation on thestatute book." Then in six months or a year, business men cry out to us, "It is killing us." We must start rowing back in the other direction, which is what the Bill is about.
Mr. Sykes : Does my hon. Friend think it odd to be lectured by a Member of Parliament who voted for the social chapter, which would heap a new raft of regulations on trade and industry in this country ? Will my hon. Friend ask him whether he will vote with us in the Lobby tonight on the Bill ?
Mr. Duncan Smith : As ever, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is galling to hear lectures from Labour Members. I certainly did not vote for the social chapter--I also did not vote for an awful lot of other stuff that came out of Maastricht, but that is neither here nor there. I resist lectures from Labour Members on the matter. The reality is that it is not, as I said in the Standing Committee, about saying that every official out there is wrong and that every official is out to kill business. It is about saying that those on the extremes are the ones who are causing the problems, and we have to make them stop and think and check. It seems to me that only a mention of the words "health and safety" is enough to make everybody jump up and say, "My God, we must do something. Close that business down, because it is a real problem." Yet we find that we are way beyond the point at which there is a balance between cost and reasonableness.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we were talking about powers given to the police to deal with criminal matters, instead of those that are given for purely civil matters to the various bodies, all of what my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) calls "That lot opposite" would be up shrieking about civil liberties ?
Column 57I hope that, in 20 years' time, people will look back on the Bill and see it as the point at which the Government grabbed the nettle of the over-imposition of regulation. Our new clause is the way through which individuals can fight back for their businesses and livelihoods, and people will wonder why that did not happen a long time before. They will also wonder why the Opposition were not up and down on their feet supporting every single word of it. The new clause does not affect safety. It will not mean that many more people will be involved in accidents. It will not mean extra difficulties for those working on the shop floor, but simply that the long-held principle of a British citizen's right to a fair hearing, to be innocent until proven guilty, and to go about his or her lawful business without unnecessary hindrance is at stake.
I urge the Government to bear with us. I urge them not to allow pressure groups and officials to tell them, "No, no, Minister, we must not do this" ; they should say, "Let us do it, because it is right. It is the only thing to do." That is what our people outside want to hear.
Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East) : I had not intended to speak on new clause 14. It was first presented to me on the basis that we should try to secure some cross-party consensus. The hon. Members for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) and for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) should consult some of the literature on how to win friends and influence people : insulting hon. Members across the Floor of the House is not likely to produce such consensus. It is amusing to watch the Morecambe and Wise act performed by the hon. Gentlemen, but they should try to get their timing right--or, if they cannot do that, try to get the balance right. All the matters that we are discussing are questions of balance.
The hon. Member for Chingford keeps talking about the individual. Amazingly, all the individuals involved happen to be business men. The hon. Gentleman never talks about individuals who are workers or consumers ; he never talks about any individuals except business men.
Mr. Heppell : I agree. I do not want businesses to be closed down ; I want to encourage them as much as possible, and to ensure that unnecessary burdens are not placed on them. We must be careful, however, about what we deem necessary and what we deem unnecessary. I really wanted to speak about new clause 4, which strikes me as being much more important than new clause 14. Its aim is to rein in the power of some of the unelected bureaucracies that are in control at present. The passage of the Bill so far has shown just how dangerous quangos can be ; it has also shown how the Government operate. It has involved the establishment of a network of quangos--seven task forces, all containing appointees. The majority of those appointees are business men.
That reflects what is happening throughout the country. Bodies are set up with no democratic accountability ; their members are hand-picked because of their views. They consult in secret and keep the results of that consultation secret. They make decisions on rules and regulations behind closed doors--decisions that are not released until the last moment. Last week, at the end of the process, we found that the Secretary of State had already set up a new
Column 58deregulation panel composed of placemen to deal with the legislation : before it has passed through either House, a new quango is already in existence.
I maintain that, without that kind of democratic deficit, we would not have seen many of the examples given by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). The district auditors would not have been investigating the health authority in Nottingham in connection with the Nottingham clinic ; we would not have had one of our nurseries closed and then been told about the possibility of building new nurseries--but only if we were prepared to sell NHS land so that Sainsbury could build a supermarket ; and other NHS land would not be, in effect, given away to private health operators.
The tragedy of all this is that the Government and the Conservative party do not accept that they are doing anything wrong : they think that there is nothing wrong with all these quangos. The personnel involved in the task forces, however, reflect the composition of quangos in general. Twelve of the companies represented on the committees concerned have made a total of 88 donations, worth £2.8 million : I suspect that that is one of the reasons for their membership of the quango. Another reason, I suspect, is the fact that 55 other donations have been made to four key Tory organisations, totalling nearly £700,000.
Mr. Heppell : I think I can remember, but I am not sure that it is particularly relevant. My point is this : it would be just as wrong for me to fill a quango with trade unionists as it is for the Government to fill one with business men. We should do away with quangos altogether.
Four out of the seven task forces contain representatives of companies that have employed seven Tory Members, or ex-Members ; four of the seven chairmen come from companies that have given large donations to the Tory party. Mr. Christopher Chope, who lost his Southampton seat, serves on the transport task force.
It does not matter if a Tory Member or candidate loses in an election ; if he does not get into Parliament, he will still be able to make decisions in unelected quangos, having been placed there by the Government. That is what I object to.
The Minister is not listening, but I shall continue none the less. Last week I talked to the chief executive of my local training and enterprise council. I told him, "I cannot accept the fact that there is no democracy in the way in which you make decisions, or in the placing of people on the TEC." In fact, members of the TEC pick their own successors : if someone leaves, the TEC chooses that person's replacement. The chief executive replied, "Yes, but these are all honourable men with the good of the community at heart."
In the main, I can accept that ; but I cannot accept the idea that I should be willing to be ruled by business men. I cannot accept the "Lady Bountiful" attitude that business men know what decisions should be made better than I do. I believe that business has a part to play, and should be included in our deliberations, but business men should not make these decisions in isolation. They do not represent
Column 59the whole community. The only way in which to ensure that the community is represented is to establish public bodies that are accountable to the public.
People used not even to be able to vote unless they were landowners or had a business. We stopped that, because it was not democratic. Until just before the war, business men were allowed an extra vote simply because they were business men. We stopped that, too, because it was not democratic. I hope that hon. Members will support the new clause, because it attempts to restrict what is happening at present--the appointment of business men and Tory placemen--and to return us to proper, accountable democracy.
Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth) : In Committee, I was privileged to join my hon. Friends the Members for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) and for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) in tabling new clause 14, which I consider very important. I note a sense of anxiety in the House about time ; as Henry VIII would have said to his many wives, "I shall not detain you for too long."
Henry VIII, in fact, was much cited in Committee in recent months, but I support the new clause on the ground that it is a Henry VII clause. That good king enabled his people to use the courts to right the wrongs perpetrated by officialdom many years ago. It is important to consider the conditions in which our industrial and manufacturing sectors and small businesses operate. Small businesses create jobs more efficiently than any other sector in this country. Between 1980 and 1988, the Conservative Government created 1 million new jobs, some of which have vanished because of the recession, predominantly in the small business sector, which is an efficient generator of jobs.
The Labour party talks incessantly about manufacturing industry. Manufacturing industry is not some great monolith, but is supported by small contractors. Small businesses support large enterprises. If the Labour party is saying that it is not willing to support the small business man, it is talking through the other side of its head.
The Labour party talks incessantly about the consumer interest. The consumer must be given good value for money, for which there must be competition and efficient production. How will that be achieved if small businesses cannot compete against each other ?
A more important consideration is the climate in which our country competes against what are now fashionably called the emerging markets. The western economies, particularly the United States, have invested £1,000 billion in setting up manufacturing institutions and industries throughout the Pacific rim, China, India and south Asia. Those countries produce the same goods as we can, but they do so much more cheaply. Do those countries have over-zealous regulation ? Do they have the officialdom to which we are subjected in this country ? Do people shut down businesses because the letter and spirit of the law has not been followed ?
Why are we discussing this very important Bill in total isolation, as though the rest of the world does not exist ?
Column 60We debate health, protection, over-zealous regulation and deregulation as though we are on another planet. That is why I ask my ministerial colleagues to agree to our new clause. The new clause follows the spirit of remarks made by the Prime Minister, the President of the Board of Trade and other people who are much more senior and more erudite than I in the Department of Trade and Industry.
The DTI's "Guide to Good Regulation", which was published this year, states :
"The emphasis should be on compliance rather than on over-zealous enforcement."
In their efficiency scrutiny, the Government said :
"We believe a culture of mistrust has developed over a number of years : openness and transparency in enforcement action seem to be the key to addressing this problem. We believe that a safety net of an independent appeals mechanism would provide justice for all, and impose sufficient discipline on enforcers to curb any excesses." Our new clause addresses that problem. It would enable hard-working business men and small traders-- the lifeblood of our country--to ask a magistrate for a stay of execution against a decision of an over-zealous official. That would concentrate the mind of the man imposing the regulation because he would have to make his case to a third party--a magistrate. With such a mechanism in place, businesses would expand, jobs would be created and our economy would grow.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : Ancient Greece provides a cautionary tale for the Minister, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), the Law Commission and perhaps the House. When the rulers of ancient Greece considered a new law proposed by a member of the public, they would ask the proposer to stand on a platform. If they liked the law, they took away the noose ; if they did not, they took away the platform.
The House should consider the vast amount of expenditure that is imposed on small businesses and business. Day in and day out, we impose duties on the British people which cost money. The money is not necessarily available, so there is a tremendous squeeze, with the Chief Secretary having to negotiate on how to reduce the PSBR from £50 billion to reasonable levels, or having to decide whether we should increase taxation to meet the difference.
We should take a more radical view of the duties that the House imposes and reduce them to a level that is reasonably practicable. Forty-three Members signed an amendment that I tabled, which I understand could not be selected for this debate. Unless we are prepared to reduce the level of regulation to which our businesses our subjected, unless we are prepared to say that, irrespective of the amount of money available, there will not be an absolute duty to meet regulations, enforceable by judicial review, which places a burden on quangos, small businesses or the British people, and unless we are prepared to accept that there is another route--to go only so far as is reasonably practicable, rather than to impose blanket mindless obligations that cannot be met because money is not available--we shall find ourselves in a pit of unpopularity, and that difficulty may be combined with an inability to pay.
Only last weekend, I visited a retail complex in my constituency which contained a number of businesses. I encountered the most amazing state of affairs. Six 1992 regulations have been introduced, purportedly under health and safety requirements, but actually under European