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Mr. Brady: The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the burden of regulation should be lifted from businesses in his and many other constituencies. Does he believe that

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the burden on small businesses in his constituency has become greater or less during the four years that the Government have been in office?

Mr. Brown: I have spoken to many businesses, and I would say that the burden is less. My constituency can tell a success story and that is reflected in the survival period for small businesses.

Mr. Hendrick: Does not the Conservative party wish to introduce privatisation arrangements for the industrial injuries compensation benefit? That would add considerably to the costs of small businesses and industry in general, because they and not the Government would be asked to stump up the money for the cost of those arrangements.

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right and makes an important point.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office noted earlier, when Lord Falconer opened the Second Reading debate in the Lords, he said:

That is one of the Bill's key aspects. It is part of the Government's drive to reform outdated, overlapping and over-burdensome regulations on businesses and the public sector. The Bill will enable whole regulatory regimes to be reformed using a tried and tested parliamentary procedure, and that will result in clearer legislation, better targeted regulation and a climate that encourages thriving business while providing proper protection for people at work, consumers and the environment.

Mrs. Gorman: On protection at work, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that all small firms--in fact, anyone who employs anybody--have to have public liability insurance that covers people against injury at work. A small firm could not legally exist without such insurance.

Mr. Brown: That is right, but we need to consider business and the people whom business employs. Clearly, there is an onus on us all to protect employees. I am sure that the hon. Lady employs staff and that she does her utmost through her insurance to protect them. However, that is not an additional burden that has been put on business by this Government.

Mr. Ian Stewart: In response to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), my hon. Friend may have implied that insurance prevents accidents from happening, but it does not. Good regulation and good working practices--employers and employees working together and following safe practice--are what stop accidents.

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is correct.

Mr. Pike: Is it not the simple fact that without regulation, many companies would not have insurance and would have to be taken to court in pursuit of a claim? It is those regulations that benefit the worker.

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is right. He has years of experience and I am sure that he has had to tackle cases of employers who flaunt and break the law.

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The Bill is at the core of the Government's regulatory regime. It will allow them to tackle problems caused by existing regulations. Such measures can cause problems. Fire safety legislation is scattered across 120 Acts of Parliament, which makes it difficult for companies to be sure that they are complying properly with the rules. As someone who comes from an industrial background and who worked for 23 years in the chemical industry--18 of those in the explosives industry--I can say from experience that fire safety regulation is a minefield. It is extremely difficult to understand, even by major employers. Many small and medium-sized businesses find it hard to follow. If we only simplify fire safety regulations, that will be a major step forward for many businesses.

Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful and interesting point. Does he agree that there needs to be consistency between fire brigades? I see him shake his head. Does he not think that it is confusing to have a national organisation with several branches throughout the United Kingdom? Surely it would be helpful to have a consistent standard throughout the country, or at least in England and Wales, because fire brigades interpret legislation differently.

Mr. Brown: That is not what I am saying. I am concerned about 120 Acts of Parliament, not about fire and safety regulations as followed by fire and safety crews in different fire authorities.

The Bill could be used to simplify and consolidate rules by means of powerful secondary legislation. Pressure on parliamentary time means that such worthwhile reforms might not be tackled. Hon. Members voiced concern about such pressure in the run-up to a general election.

The Bill will also give Ministers the power to introduce a code of practice for enforcers if they believe that there is a problem of overzealous enforcement. The code of practice would be taken into account at subsequent hearings, although it would not be binding. The Government have had considerable success in getting local authorities to sign up to their enforcement concordat. The additional power will enable them to intervene to give added protection to business if enforcers are failing to adhere to best practice.

On the more general issue of regulatory policy, the Government have a wide range of measures in place to ensure that regulations meet the five fundamental principles of good regulation as set out by the better regulation taskforce. They are transparency, accountability, proportionality, consistency and the need for targeted regulation. Since 1998, no regulatory proposal with an impact on businesses, charities or voluntary organisations should be considered by the Government without a thorough assessment of the risks, costs and benefits, a clear analysis of who will be affected and an explanation of why non-regulatory action is insufficient. The regulatory impact assessments are usually published for consultation at an early stage so that interested parties can comment, suggest improvements and make corrections.

The Government have been accused of being more willing to add to the burden of regulation than previous Administrations. We have heard that loud and clear. In fact, the number of statutory instruments is of the same order of magnitude under this Government as it was under

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the previous Administration, ranging from 3,367 in 1995 to 3,475 in 1999. The vast majority of statutory instruments have no impact on business. The separate process of regulatory impact assessments is used to consider burdens that are imposed by regulation. The number of the assessments that show significant costs on business ranges from 180 in 1995 to 166 in 1999.

Mr. Fabricant: Although I said that we do not want too many regulations because of the amount of paperwork that they create, it is their cost that is important. The hon. Gentleman referred to the number of regulations that have been introduced. What did they cost business?

Mr. Brown: I have to admit that I cannot answer that. However, I am making the point, as did as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), that the statement that there were 3,000 additional regulations over 18 years was way off the mark. There were 3,000 a year in the past three or four years of the previous Government.

Mr. Hendrick: Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) has not said how much his Government's regulations cost business. It is bizarre of him to expect us to give such a figure when he will not.

Mr. Brown: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. He is right. I apologise to the hon. Member for Lichfield for not furnishing him with the figures, but I shall be happy to give way if he has them.

Mr. Fabricant: I was simply going to respond to the point raised by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick). Conservative legislation cost a lot less than legislation introduced by this Government because we did not lose so many jobs at a time of boom.

Mr. Brown: No doubt we shall all rush to the Library to check that statement.

We have to consider the Government's approach to regulation. They continue to strengthen systems for controlling red tape. We have established a new ministerial panel to hold Departments to account for their regulatory performance. We have heard again about the creation of the Small Business Service to ensure that the voice of small business is heard throughout Whitehall. A Minister for regulatory reform has been appointed in each Department to advance the better regulation agenda throughout Government. We have established a central unit in the Cabinet Office--the regulatory impact unit--to ensure that new regulations are necessary and meet the principles of good regulation. We have revised guidance on regulatory impact assessments, which was issued in August 2000. New regulatory proposals must satisfy the criterion of benefits justifying the cost. That is vital.

The independent better regulatory taskforce has been appointed to advise the Government on improving the quality of regulation, taking into account the needs of small businesses and ordinary people.

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