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Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to the Liberal spokesman for giving way to me, but when he talks about "regulatory creep" does he have in mind all those Liberal councils that are trying to regulate us off the roads and stop motorists using their cars? That is not so much creep as complete standstill and chaos. Does the hon. Gentleman endorse that kind of madcap regulation that stops people going about their daily lives--or do we need a Bill to stop it?

Dr. Cable: I have a Liberal Democrat council in my area, which is introducing traffic-calming measures funded under a special scheme introduced by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) when he was Secretary of State for the Environment. The scheme attracted a fairly wide measure of cross-party consensus. Much of the use of business as an agent for the Government has occurred under this and the previous Government, but the trend has certainly gathered momentum.

The second issue, to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has contributed substantially, is tax complexity, which has been referred to on many occasions and of which the climate change levy is a good example. The levy's objectives--to reduce emissions, particularly carbon emissions--are perfectly desirable. They could have been achieved in simple ways but in fact the implementation has been very complex, with numerous exemptions. One example that was referred to me this

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morning will, I am sure, eventually come to the attention of Ministers. Launderettes, which have to pay VAT on energy at the full rate--as opposed to households with washing machines--now have to pay the climate change levy as well. People who use launderettes--students in particular--tend to be relatively poor. They are being penalised in a completely arbitrary way as a result of a complex piece of legislation whose consequences were not thought through.

The third way in which regulatory creep has occurred is through gold-plating. It is common and fashionable to blame the European Commission for some of this, but much of the gold-plating occurs in Whitehall. It occurs for complex reasons which I hope we will go into at some stage in the Bill's proceedings.

One of those reasons is the way in which parliamentary legislation is drafted. The whole system of parliamentary draftsmanship contributes to the complexity of regulation. Another, rather important, reason is that unlike countries such as Holland or Denmark, we do not have any common ground or consensus between employers and employees. Because there is a lack of trust and of consultation, everything has to be spelled out in enormous detail.

The working time directive serves a very admirable purpose. It is entirely desirable that workers should not be forced to work excessive hours. The difference between the British system, which I think has 75 pages of explanatory memorandum, and the Dutch system, which has one, is that in Holland it is possible for employees and employers to sit round a table and work out a modus vivendi without officials having to prescribe every detailed item of the administration.

Mr. White: Does the hon. Gentleman also accept that in Holland the people sitting around the table can understand the language that is used, which is not interfered with by parliamentary draftsmen?

Dr. Cable: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, and I do not need to elaborate on it.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) described the working time directive as admirable. Does he accept that matters to do with the regulation of working hours are pre-eminently issues with which democratically elected members of the British legislature should preoccupy themselves, and that they are most certainly not matters for supranational authority?

Dr. Cable: The hon. Gentleman and I probably disagree on the fundamental principle of whether the social chapter should be a national or transnational piece of legislation. However, that is incidental to my fundamental point, which is that, whatever the underlying authority, the British have chosen to implement the directive in an interventionist, messy and complex way.

How far is it necessary to achieve the Bill's objectives through new legislation rather than in other ways? There are many ways in which the Bill's objectives could be accomplished through administrative action. For example, a fundamental problem confronting many small companies is the enormous number of inspections that have to take place. I believe that it is possible, under various statutes, for 300 different kinds of inspection by various agencies, not just the Health and Safety

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Executive, to take place. That number has increased by about 50 per cent. over the past 20 years. Much trouble could be saved if small businesses had to deal with just one inspector at the Health and Safety Executive. Such an administrative change could be accomplished through Government agencies without new legislation.

Many of the objectives of legislation could be accomplished through voluntary legislation backed up by general statute. An obvious problem, which the Government have grappled with, so far unsuccessfully, is that of cowboy builders. Most of us have constituents who have paid several thousands of pounds to have their drive tarmacked; six months later, when a large crack appears in the drive, the constituent rings the company only to discover that it has disappeared. How should we deal with cowboy builders? The problem is not a lack of competition--there will probably be 40 names listed in "Yellow Pages". The problem is that one does not know which of those people learned their trade in the local TEC and which of them learned it in the local nick. There must be a mechanism by which standards can be upheld.

A sensible way to do that, without being over-prescriptive, would be to have the profession of builder recognised by Parliament and the detail of consumer insurance and training decided by the Federation of Master Builders or a comparable body. That could be done voluntarily, in the same way that the British Medical Association oversees the medical profession. Many of the objectives of regulation could be achieved without over-prescriptive and highly detailed legislation.

The Bill raises major constitutional issues. My colleagues in the other place tried to address those and feel that they have helped to improve the Bill, but some issues remain. One is the lack of clarity about the organisations that can claim to suffer excessive burdens. I understand that the provision can apply to the public sector as much as to the private sector. If a Department or a local council wants to be exempted from regulations, it will be able to use the Bill in the same way as a private company. That will cause all kinds of problems that are not related to deregulation in the sense that we have been encouraged to think about it. How will the Bill prevent Departments from simply obstructing or ignoring the powers that Parliament has bestowed?

The second issue is proportionality. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has already made the point that regulations give rise to issues of cost and benefit. We must ask whether the additional burdens of regulation or, in some cases, deregulation are offset by compensating benefits. How will that balance be measured? How will costs and benefits be defined in the Bill? In the other place, an attempt was made to encompass the idea of "desirability", although I am not entirely sure how that common-sense word can be used in a legal context.

The third and most important point is how we prevent large, controversial measures being introduced under cover of the Bill. Clearly, many small changes, such as the 50 listed by the Minister for the Cabinet Office may well be highly appropriate, but who will define what measures are controversial? How will a limit be set so that the Bill is not abused?

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I accept that in many cases regulation is necessary and desirable for environmental and social purposes. However, we must ask whether it is necessary, what burdens it imposes and what its costs and benefits are. If the Bill provided a workmanlike mechanism for reducing excessive legislation, I would welcome it, but I suspect that it contains hidden constitutional traps about which we need reassurance.

5.8 pm

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in the debate and I certainly support the Bill. It is an important step in enabling us to introduce more deregulation and to tackle many of the problems found by the Deregulation Committee since its inception, following the introduction of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994.

I was very disappointed by the speech of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), particularly in view of the fact that in the other place the Bill was not opposed, even at its final stage. I understand his argument that, traditionally, the Lords do not vote against Second Reading and that they try to scrutinise and improve legislation. However, having done so with some measure of success and having amended the Bill, they accepted it and sent it to this House to be debated and scrutinised in accordance with the normal procedure.

Having read the Opposition amendment, I am concerned that their view is that the Bill

That is absolute nonsense, and it fails to recognise what has happened since the passing of the 1994 Act. That failure can be traced back to our reasons for opposing the Act: we were outraged by it and said that it was Henry VIII legislation under which Parliament's ability to debate proposals made under the Bill would be bypassed. However, when the Act was implemented, we on the Deregulation Committee found that that was not the case. Indeed, everybody has found that the proposals have resulted in deregulatory measures being dealt with in such a way as to be subject to better consultation and better scrutiny. The procedure is better than tagging measures on to big Bills.

Some Departments and their officials perhaps have not made more use of the legislation because they fear that the scrutiny and treatment of proposals would be much more rigorous, and on several occasions the Committee has sent proposals back to the Home Office. I held the position of Vice-Chairman and the Chairman was Barry Field, who was the Member for Isle of Wight. We met Ministers and officials to give them a severe dressing down, because we felt that some proposals were not being dealt with in accordance with the 1994 Act.

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