|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Lansley: At the risk of repeating myself, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the powers provided by the 1994 Act were not increasingly less capable of being used by the previous Conservative Government before the election. Indeed, that is why I referred specifically to the year leading up to May 1997. I recall that 23 orders were presented in those 12 months and that the current Government presented only five in the following year. If the Government have used the power less since the election, it is because they do not have the necessary will.
Mr. Stringer: We are getting to the kernel of the issue. First, does the hon. Gentleman accept that any order that is passed must have a deregulatory element? Secondly, will he acknowledge that regulatory regimes are a burden in themselves and that the 1994 Act could not deal with the issues that they create?
Mr. Lansley: Nothing in the Bill--perhaps the Minister for the Cabinet Office will tell me otherwise when she intervenes--requires a net reduction or removal of burdens as a result of an order made under it.
Marjorie Mowlam: The hon. Gentleman suggests that every change will lead to more regulation, but some changes will decrease it. The Bill will not allow Ministers to do exactly what they want. They will have to consult the scrutiny Committees, which have a strong record of having an independent voice on deregulation. If there is any doubt, the issue can be discussed in Parliament. The hon. Gentleman tries to suggest that the Bill provides for bypassing Parliament and allows Ministers to act unilaterally; that is not the case.
Mr. Lansley: The right hon. Lady takes us to the heart of the matter. The Conservative party does not trust the Government with such a power. At the next election, we aim to remove them. After the election, I hope that we will have a Government who have the will and the way to reduce the burden of red tape on business, instead of the current Government, who are interested in imposing additional burdens.
A Bill is required, and I do not dispute that changes to the 1994 Act might be beneficial. However, they should be used for a specific deregulatory purpose, as our reasoned amendment makes clear, not for additional regulations or creating new burdens. We have the political will and a way to achieve that. A deregulation agency independent of Government should be established to make the regulatory impact assessment. The assessment should not be conducted subjectively inside Departments. The agency should have the power to block proposals rather than simply to offer Ministers advice on them, and to introduce measures on which Ministers have to act. Our Administration will be determined to impose regulatory budgets.
Mr. Lansley: I shall give way shortly, but the right hon. Lady will not distract me from explaining what business genuinely requires. It needs a Government who are committed to the progressive reduction of its total burden. Regulatory budgets are the only way to achieve that. The cumulative effect of the additional burdens that the Government have imposed damages our competitiveness, and we must remove them. That means
The Government's deathbed conversion after four years of regulatory excess will convince no one. The Conservative party has a commitment, a will and a way to achieve deregulation. Only the Conservative party would achieve that. We will not support the Government's desire to use the exceptional powers of the 1994 Act for the wider purposes of re-regulation, creating new burdens and giving the public sector advantages at the expense of the private sector.
Mr. Steen: I should be grateful for my hon. Friend's elucidation of one point. The Bill has two parts: expansion of the powers of the Select Committee on Deregulation and enforcement. As I understand it, the enlargement of the Deregulation Committee's powers, which will allow all sorts of matters to be brought before it, is really a gold-plating of the Deregulation Committee. It will give it extended powers. Does my hon. Friend see that as gold-plating?
The Bill's enforcement powers give people at local level the right of appeal to a Minister, which would bypass the legal system. If a local business was not happy with the decision of a local authority's enforcement officer, it could make an appeal directly to a Minister. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would make the Government judge and jury on such matters, and that that is another reason why the Bill is unsound?
Mr. Lansley: We consider regrettable--speeches were also made to this effect in the House of Lords--the removal of any power for Ministers to use a statutory enforcement to ensure that codes of practice are complied with, if enforcement authorities fail to abide by them. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) says that I should give way to the Minister for the Cabinet Office. I have done so several times, but as she was courteous in giving way to me, I shall give way to her again.
Marjorie Mowlam: At last we have heard from the hon. Gentleman some of the proposals that the Opposition would introduce in place of the Bill. He suggested an independent deregulatory commission. The House would be interested to know whether that would be more costly and bureaucratic than the regulatory impact assessments that we have now. He also suggested regulatory budgets. How would he prevent that provision from becoming a new layer of complex bureaucracy, leading to further delays in introducing legislation?
The hon. Gentleman also suggested sunset regulations. That is not a new idea; we have already introduced them on two Bills. However, we believe that they should not be part of any order, but assessed on a case-by-case basis. Finally, Baroness Buscombe, on the Front Bench in the House of Lords, said on Second Reading that the Conservative party would not oppose the Bill in principle. Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House why his party's view has changed between the House of Lords and the House of Commons?
Mr. Lansley: A number of points have been raised, and the right hon. Lady took advantage of that intervention to make a speech on the subjects, dictated by Millbank tower. She knows that it is the practice in the other place not to vote against legislation on Second Reading, and we did not. I pay tribute to the work of Baroness Buscombe and Lord Kingsland on the Bill in the House of Lords. It was their intention to secure substantial changes to the Bill, and some were made. However, it is our responsibility to examine the Bill as it is presented to the House of Commons, and we believe that it is, in principle, objectionable to extend the use of this power in the way that the Government propose.
On Second Reading in the House of Lords, we had some hope of positive amendment. Unfortunately--such are the habits of the House of Commons--it is now incumbent on us to oppose the Bill in principle because it is our unhappy experience that the Government are deaf to good argument in the House of Commons, and unwilling to accept our arguments of principle. There is, therefore, very little likelihood of our obtaining a positive and constructive response, however we might present our argument.
We shall oppose the Bill in principle. We shall also make it clear that, however it has been amended in the House of Lords, it remains a Bill designed to use a power intended for the specific purpose of deregulation for the wider purpose of re-regulation and the creation of new burdens. That would free up the public sector at the expense of the private sector, and do nothing to roll back the regulatory excesses of this Government. It will, therefore, fall to the Conservative party, after the next election, to introduce legislation to achieve the deregulation that business needs and desires so much.