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Returning to new clause 1, it is encouraging that many organisations that represent business men support the idea of a sunset clause. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has tried to interpret and refine that concept into a power of review after five years, which is the essence of new clause 1.
I note that the British Chambers of Commerce, which recently published its manifesto, is very much in favour of the loose description of the sunset clause. The manifesto broadly states that the first priority should be simplification of the tax system, and there is a hell of a regulatory burden in that. The organisation believes that business compliance costs should be considerably reduced and that there should be regulation only when it is absolutely necessary. I should have thought that the first question that should be asked by any Government who are about to introduce regulation is whether it is absolutely necessary. The British Chambers of Commerce believes that when regulation is necessary, the lightest of touches should be used. I agree with the hon. Member for Eccles that regulation is needed in some cases, but it must be good regulation, it must be properly considered and it must not be onerous. It must fulfil the purpose and no more.
As I pointed out earlier, the British Chambers of Commerce believes that we need fully to engage with the European Union to ensure that it promotes business competitiveness. If that happens, it will take a long time. I am 60 and my mother is 91, so I hope that the EU will consider business competitiveness as a matter of urgency, rather than letting Europe become more and more uncompetitive compared with the rest of the world.
Mr. Fabricant: If when I am 60 I have a complexion like my hon. Friend's, I shall be a very happy man. Does she agree with me and, more important, with the Institute of Directors, which shares my belief, that the review mentioned in new clause 1 should not be a one-off event? In its submission, the IOD states that we should
Mrs. Winterton: The IOD is most enthusiastic about the concept of rolling reviews, but I believe that if we take the first step set out in new clause 1 and implement a review after five years, that will bring in its wake a
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): I usually agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), who is a man of great charisma and intelligence, but I believe that in this case he is wrong. Before my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) leaves that point, will she reflect on the fact that a review is needed only if there is a regulation, and that if there were no regulation in the first place, no review would be needed? The whole problem is that one needs sunset clauses to get rid of regulations only if there are too many of them. Does she agree that the purpose of new clause 1 is not to act as a sunset clause, but to ensure that we do not have so many regulations that we have to get rid of them?
Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend makes a strong case and I am sure that many hon. Members will agree with him. I have tried to say that what everyone--including the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Forum of Private Business--wants, rightly and properly, is less regulation to be introduced. My views and those of my hon. Friend marry well together.
Mr. Steen: As usual, my hon. Friend has encapsulated in a few seconds what many of us have taken hours to say. Is not the point that this country is burdened by too much bureaucracy and regulation? Is it not amazing that while Opposition Members talk about trying to reduce the amount of bureaucracy, the Government are introducing a Bill that will extend--
Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend has made a point that I have heard few make previously, which is that if the EU makes too many regulations, it will, as a trading block, become uncompetitive with the rest of the world--
Other hon. Members have touched on the important subject of agriculture. We all know the circumstances currently prevailing in the countryside, but my local farmers have been telling me for years that they have imposed on them regulation after regulation--most, if not all, of which originate in the EU, I hasten to add, but which are frequently gold-plated by the United Kingdom Government for the simple reason that we in this country have an ethos and custom of obeying regulation.
Mr. Hendrick: I speak as one who has served as a Member of the European Parliament, visited all 15 EU member states and legislated in Europe. That we obey European legislation and other countries do not is a myth that is constantly peddled by the Opposition.
Mrs. Winterton: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I consider him to be part of the problem. If he swans around Europe with his eyes closed, he will come to the House and make such ridiculous statements. Perhaps he should speak to representatives of small, medium-sized and large business and to farmers and hear what they have to say. I assure him that the views that they would express would not chime with his.
Mr. Steen: I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will not rule me out of order. It is my hon. Friend's submission that the concept embodied in new clause 1 is that, with the effluxion of time, legislation will wane and ultimately die. Is that a process that she would want to be applied to European rules and regulations that have been passed by the House?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I really do not know how the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) managed until the arrival of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), but I congratulate him on having at last focused on the right target.
I favour new clause 1 because, as I see it, it will strengthen the Bill, go some way to tackle the amount of regulation that has been discussed, and exert downward pressure on the amount of regulation that remains on the books. It would provide a good mechanism--one that might not be perfect, but which will strengthen the Bill. I shall now rest my laurels on my case. I hope that the Minister will take on board the comments made today and that he will indicate that the Government intend to accept new clause 1.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: The need for the new clause becomes stronger all the time because of the accelerating tendency in the Government to pass primary legislation that allows for secondary legislation to be made by order. To my mind, that is an unwelcome trend, which betrays
Mr. Steen: Is not my hon. Friend really saying that the whole concept of the Bill and the reason why we proposed the new clause are to prevent a system whereby the Chamber is bypassed by secondary legislation, which would extend law-making powers by extending existing rules and regulations and running them parallel to new laws passed by the Chamber?
Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend has far more experience in this field than I do--although I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. I have many years' experience in business and have suffered the imposition of regulations--many of which were unnecessary--by successive Governments. I think that the new clause is especially relevant and that my hon. Friend is right.
If there were greater precision in our legislative process, the need for secondary legislation would not be so great. That precision has been considerably blunted by the Government's tendency increasingly to rush legislation through the House without proper debate. That has been accelerated by the increasing use of Henry VIII clauses--hence the need for new clause 1. To my mind the use of such clauses is even more reprehensible than the ordinary use of secondary legislation, as they permit the alteration of primary legislation by secondary legislation without reference to the House. New clause 1, which deals with reviewing all that regulation, is therefore particularly important.
I hope that the House will accept that I have a pedigree on the subject. Several years ago, under the excellent auspices of the Industry and Parliament Trust, I was at a lunch at which I sat next to some senior Boots executives, who asked me about the role of a Member of Parliament. I said that a Member's role is to pass legislation only in extremis and, furthermore, to repeal a lot of existing legislation. The new clause will be beneficial as it will force Ministers and civil servants to look at all our legislation, particularly secondary legislation, to see whether it is still necessary or relevant.