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House of Commons

Monday 29 January 1996

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Mike O'Brien: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what analysis his office has made of the number of regulations approved by the Government since 1979 which affect businesses; and how many of these regulations he has removed. [9978]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Roger Freeman): In 1994, there were 1,467 statutory instruments, excluding road closures and local transitional and commencement orders, of which two thirds either were specifically intended to help business or had no impact on business. I do not have comparable figures for earlier years. We are now monitoring all statutory instruments on a monthly basis to ensure that they are necessary and that the benefits exceed the cost.

Mr. O'Brien: I do not know who the Minister thinks he is kidding if he thinks that the Government have a record for deregulation, because he is certainly not kidding business men in my constituency. Is it not the case that this Government have created more regulations than any Government in British history and that they are in the process of creating an administrative bungle, on the scale of that in the Child Support Agency, with their introduction of self-assessment for the self-employed and for businesses, which will create an enormous burden on business in my constituency and across the country because it is being rushed in?

Mr. Freeman: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman about self-assessment, which is due to be introduced in the next financial year. It will be a success and its introduction is being carefully monitored. Labour opposed the 1994 Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill on Second Reading and at all other stages. That is an example, once again, of Labour saying one thing but doing another.

Sir Sydney Chapman: How many of those statutory instruments and other regulations affecting business have been brought on us through EU directives? Is my right hon. Friend confident that he has the powers to deregulate those regulators or the mechanisms and proposals to put before the intergovernmental conference later this year? [Interruption.]

Mr. Freeman: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to an important subject, which the

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deputy Leader of the Opposition seems to find funny. The number of directives likely to be passed by the Council of Ministers in the coming year is likely to be substantially down on the past few years. Yes, we have the mechanism to deregulate existing European law, where it is sensible so to do.

Cabinet Committees

2. Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how often each Cabinet Committee which he chairs meets. [9979]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Michael Heseltine): When Government business demands it.

Mr. Griffiths: We can hardly call that an illuminating reply. Let us see if the Deputy Prime Minister can have a stab at this question: as the Minister responsible for the presentation of Government business--he chairs the Committee on the Co-ordination and Presentation of Government Policy--what would the Prime Minister--

Mr. MacShane: Not yet.

Mr. Griffiths: I was a couple of months ahead of myself. What would the Deputy Prime Minister have to say to a group of politicians who promised to cut taxes year on year and then raised them by the largest amount in peacetime history?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I would tell them that we had protected those least able to protect themselves in the aftermath of one of the worst recessions since the war and that, as we had done that and created one of the most successful economies in western Europe, we are now back on a tax-cutting agenda. If they wanted to watch taxes go up, they should just put a Labour Government in power.

Mr. Yeo: When my right hon. Friend next chairs the relevant Cabinet Committee, will he say whether he agrees that a political party that opposed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Public Order Act 1986, successive Criminal Justice Acts, the Prison Security Act 1992 and even the modest measure that banned joy-riding is soft on crime and the causes of crime, and merely sheds its crocodile tears for the victims of crime to conceal its real sympathy for the criminals?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary pointed out most eloquently this morning, people who are now in prison for crimes that they committed would not be in prison had the Labour party had its way in resisting our changes.

Mr. Prescott: Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that he is responsible for the presentation of Government policies on crime and that, since 1979, burglary has increased by 160 per cent., theft from vehicles by nearly 200 per cent. and violent crime by 400 per cent? That is the real Tory record. Is that not why he resorted to abuse, innuendo and slurs over the weekend, to hide the real truth about crime? Will he now take this opportunity to apologise to the Opposition for the untruths that he told yesterday, and to the British public for his Government's record on crime?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is fully aware that spending on law and order has more than doubled in real terms since 1978-79, police manpower has increased by 32,000, or 22 per cent., and recorded crime has shown the largest fall over a two-year period. That is in contrast with what the Labour party voted against: raising the maximum sentences for serious crime, giving the Attorney-General the right of appeal against lenient sentences, strengthening police powers to stop and search criminals, giving the police more powers to deal with disorder on the streets and making parents more responsible for their children's actions. It is another classic example of Labour saying one thing and doing another. It is a classic example of hypocrisy in this critical field.


3. Mr. Nigel Evans: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what measures he is taking to accelerate progress on the deregulation initiative. [9981]

Mr. Freeman: By the end of 1995, we had already dealt with more than 500 of the 1,000 or so regulations identified by Government for repeal or amendment and we shall tackle the remainder over the coming months. The first deregulation orders under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 have now passed into law and there is a steady flow of new orders. We shall continue to seek support from the European Commission and member states for our deregulation initiatives.

Mr. Evans: Small businesses are important economically to this country, especially small rural businesses, which breathe economic life into areas that might not experience it, if not for their existence. Will my right hon. Friend therefore encourage his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and other Departments to look at fresh and imaginative ways to lift bureaucracy and regulations from the shoulders of those small rural businesses?

Mr. Freeman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is extremely important to monitor properly the impact of regulations, whether they come from Brussels or Whitehall, on small and medium-sized enterprises. That is why I have written recently to all Ministers reminding them of the need carefully to monitor the impact of any proposed regulations, particularly from Europe, on small and medium-sized enterprises.

Mr. Foulkes: If a group of politicians had promised to abolish 1,000 regulations and instead brought in 200 extra regulations, would the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster call them hypocrites or liars?

Mr. Freeman: I would call them extremely successful.

Mr. Wilkinson: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his determination to rescind, if necessary, directives emanating from the European Union that have an adverse effect on British business. Will he put the electro-magnetic compatibility directive at No. 1 in that category? It is particularly harmful to small businesses, whose owners may be penalised to the extent of three

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months' imprisonment or a £5,000 fine if they do not comply with the directive. That is quite excessive and it bears heavily on small businesses.

Mr. Freeman: I agree with my hon. Friend that a number of directives, including the one to which he refers, need either amendment or repeal, and I have tabled eight suggestions for the Commission to examine. I note that last week some of his hon. Friends published a pamphlet entitled "Dire Directives". I think that the pamphlet's thrust is correct and I have invited the members of that group, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), to attend an early meeting.

Government Policy

4. Mr. MacShane: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what new proposals he is making to enhance the co-ordination of the presentation of Government policy; and if he will make a statement. [9982]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service (Mr. David Willetts): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest and can assure him we are constantly seeking to enhance the co-ordination of the presentation of Government policy. We seek every opportunity to explain how only this Government's policies can ensure economic success combined with constitutional stability.

Mr. MacShane: I am grateful to the intellectual wing of the Department for that reply. Can the Minister explain why, in presenting Government policy at the weekend, the Deputy Prime Minister launched an election campaign--that is, he launched his campaign to succeed the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) by proving that he is as big a right-wing villain as anyone else in the Cabinet? How do the Minister and his colleagues justify the immense expenditure of taxpayers' money on what is now nothing more than a Tory party Ministry of lies? Would they not be better off returning to Tory central office where their gutter politics will be more appreciated?

Mr. Willetts: I think that we are getting our message across rather well, as the events of the past 10 days have shown.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: Will my hon. Friend take an early opportunity to publish a paper about the Government's approach to hypocrisy in public life so that Labour Members may benefit from an accelerated learning curve?

Mr. Willetts: It would certainly be a long paper as it would cover Opposition policies on crime, education, the economy and housing. I look forward to such a publication.

Mr. Beith: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that a number of Conservative policies on law and order that were presented at Conservative party conferences have been quietly dropped? I refer, for example, to compulsory identity cards or the Home Secretary's very expensive plan to ensure that all prisoners serve their entire sentences without remission. Does that not illustrate that

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many of these law and order policies are political gimmicks with no practical crime-cutting benefit? Has he become the villain's friend?

Mr. Willetts: The Government have published a consultation document on the identity card scheme and responses to it are being considered now. As to the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary at the party conference, he has a fine record of implementing the measures that he announces at party conferences.

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