Mr. Fabricant: I do not follow how one can have a constant review as the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) has suggested. This Government alone have introduced 3,000 regulations. How could a committee keep so many regulations constantly under review?
Mr. Stewart: The hon. Gentleman has highlighted the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White). What is at issue is the process. No single committee could do that on its own.
Mr. Fabricant: That culture patently does not exist, which is why the Government have introduced the Bill and I commend them for doing so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) pointed out, successive Governments have tried to regulate the burden on industry and, as the hon. Member for Eccles said, on other parts of our society, and we all welcome that.
Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is being extraordinarily gentle with the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart). Does he agree that the hon. Gentleman, in a thoroughly unpersuasive fashion, erected an elaborate smokescreen by talking about an on-going review, when the Government are undertaking nothing of the sort? Does my hon. Friend agree that it would at least be a credible earnest of the Government's good intentions in this matter if they were to publish an annual statement of the costs of regulation? The Government do not do so, as they told me in readiness for my ten-minute Bill on 27 April 1999.
Mr. Fabricant: The Government do not produce a cost-benefit analysis of their regulations, just as they do not want to produce one for our membership of the European Union, simply because they do not want to publish whether there is a cost or a benefit for either. As for my hon. Friend's remarks about the intervention by the hon. Member for Eccles, the process of continual review has been singularly ineffective--
Mr. Fabricant: Indeed, it has been absent. That is why the Government are trying to change the situation by introducing this Bill. It is necessary, but new clause 1 would strengthen it. I fear that, without the new clause, the Bill would simply be another paper tiger. There is no question but that the new clause is necessary.
As I tried to point out earlier, the competitiveness of British industry--I shall deal with other aspects of our social life in this country--has declined. It was in fourth place in 1997 and now it is ninth, which is a drop of five places. That is serious. To those who say that we are booming and booming, I point out that the first thing that suffers when business, and commerce in general, declines is advertising. It is always the first to go.
Capital Radio plc--an organisation with which I was intimately involved before I came to the House--has had to issue a profit warning and Scottish Radio Holdings, which may be closer to the heart of the hon. Member for Eccles, has also--
In Scotland too, commercial radio stations have had to issue profit warnings on the amount of advertising revenue that they receive. The first thing that companies do when they start to get into difficulties is to cut their advertising budgets; hence the need for new clause 1.
The hon. Gentleman was right to say that it is not merely industry per se that will be affected; other aspects of our lives will be affected, too. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) talked about fire safety and I mentioned health and safety regulations in an intervention. I greatly fear that, if new clause 1 is accepted and the Government try to conduct reviews in those areas, they will find it difficult.
It has to be said that all Governments have the gravest difficulty in handling regulations that have been introduced to produce safety mechanisms for workers and people in general. There is a ratchet effect. No one wants people to be put in harm's way, but as my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire has said, there must be a risk assessment--a new approach to the way in which we analyse the effect of regulations on businesses and individuals. However, as we have seen already in relation to the consequences of the Hatfield tragedy, that risk assessment is not easy.
A huge amount of money has been invested, quite rightly, in refurbishing our rail stock and, to some degree, the lines themselves. Given the statistics provided by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, one must consider that, post Hatfield, it is still eight times safer to travel on the railways than on the roads per passenger mile--perhaps I should say per passenger kilometre nowadays.
That is the sort of risk assessment that people have to make when considering the possibility of injury or death. If we were to say that travelling on the roads carries a greater risk, the Government would not say that we must close all our roads, because that would be a ridiculous consequence.
The point that I am making--perhaps not very well at the moment, but I shall clarify it--is that there is a risk to everything in life, whether travelling by road, by air, or even crossing a road on foot, and Governments have constantly to assess whether the risk is so great that regulations must be introduced. However, new clause 1 would go further than that. It states that there should be a review as to whether a regulation should be removed, which is a wholly different question. New clause 1 states that, if the review says that something is not worth keeping, the House can consider
If there were only a 10 per cent. risk--no, let me go further--if there were a one-in-a-million chance of someone being killed, that regulation may not be laid before the House in the first place. Post facto, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) said, would Members of Parliament have the courage to say
Mr. Bercow: At least part of the valid point that my hon. Friend makes is the fact that something with a benign name does not necessarily mean that it will have a benign content. Does he agree that we should take care not to confine ourselves to the discussion of manufacturing industry or high-tech business, or even of the impact of regulation on the public sector, but that we should be prepared to consider the impact of regulation on agriculture? May I tell him that regular reviews of the integrated pollution prevention controls would be warmly received by Mr. James King of Cowley farm, Preston Bisset, near Buckingham in my constituency, as a welcome, if belated, wedding present?
Mr. Fabricant: I can well imagine that Preston Bisset welcomes the very important remark that my hon. Friend makes. Incidentally, I wish Mr. King a very happy wedding in the hope that he might be watching on the Parliament channel--but that, of course, would be out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I shall not pursue that line further. As well giving a plug for his constituent, my hon. Friend points out that, as the hon. Member for Eccles said, the Bill and new clause 1 would apply to many areas.
We should not underestimate the inability of new clause 1, or any of the provisions in the Bill, to deal with regulations that emanate from the House under a directive from the European Union. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) has already said that many regulations come directly from EU directives. We in the House must ask ourselves two questions. First, are we gold-plating the directives? Are we making the directives so tough that they provide an imbalance--an unlevel playing field--between this country and other EU countries? Secondly, do we enforce such directives to a greater degree than those in other EU countries, so that, yet again, we have compounded the problem of the unlevel playing field? I should like my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire to say in winding up whether new clause 1, which Conservative Members support, would deal with that problem. Could we review legislation that is a direct consequence of EU directives? How could we seek to reverse such orders?
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): My hon. Friend makes some powerful and cogent points. He is dealing with whether regulations arise from our own domestic Parliament or from Europe. I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. Many of the regulations relate to agriculture, which is probably the most regulated sector in the EU. Has he any evidence that the United Kingdom tends to implement such regulations quicker than any other member state? I commend the official Conservative agriculture policy, which is now only to implement European regulations at the speed of the slowest European country. Does he think that that would encourage the Commission to issue fewer regulations?