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Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend makes the point that new clause 1 will apply prospectively to all new regulations. Most legislation is prospective. On the Erhard principle, does he believe that the new clause should also be retrospective and apply to all existing regulations?

Mr. Bercow: I certainly do. I am glad that my hon. Friend and I have a symbiotic relationship. He correctly anticipates a point on which I intend to dilate. There is good reason to do that, simply in the terms that the late Dr. Erhard articulated. I do not want to take his name in vain because he is not a Member of Parliament; he is sadly no longer with us and therefore in no position to speak for himself. However, it is legitimate to refer to the historical record. As a student of history, my hon. Friend will know that Dr. Erhard talked of the urgent need for "a bonfire of controls". He will know also, as you will testify, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with the full majesty and authority of the Chair, that it is difficult--indeed, thus far I think that it would have been considered impossible--to apply a bonfire to things that do not yet exist. It is eminently impossible, of course, to apply a bonfire to things that exist but of which one wishes to be rid.

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I would like to argue--I have taken note of your earlier strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker--that new clause 1, relating as it does to regulatory reform orders and the review thereof, has the potential to apply to a number of the burdens that are now on the statute book and that are costing British businesses dearly, of which more anon. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes is becoming itchy.

4.30 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We are dealing with new clause 1. We are not having a stand part debate. The hon. Gentleman's remarks must be directed to the new clause. The debate has continued for almost three hours, and there is a danger that repetition will creep in. My ear will be ever more attuned to it.

Mr. Bercow: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have noted that guidance and I assure you that I will be bound by it. I do not want to suffer a grisly fate.

Mr. Steen: I do not want to suffer a grisly fate either, but I want to get to the bottom of a matter that troubles me, as it should the whole House. How does my hon. Friend think that the new clause would work with European regulations that are passed by the House? They comprise more than 50 per cent. of the rules and regulations that apply in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Bercow: That is an important point, to which I want to turn. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me and not regard it as impolite if I do not do so immediately. There is a reason for it, which is that there is an attempted chronology to my speech. There is a sequence of events and arguments through which I want to take the House. I have not yet reached his point but I promise that I shall make my best endeavours to do so. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends would not, through their interventions, seek to prevent me from adumbrating the three inspirations for the new clause.

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I have mentioned Dr. Erhard, and I need to say no more about him. However, it is legitimate in this context to say that one of the people to inspire new clause 1 was Walter Lippmann, who was a regular commentator on this subject. It was he who said that in a free society the state does not administer the affairs of men, it administers justice among men who conduct their own affairs. He should, of course, have referred also to women, but the gravamen--to quote my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold--of his argument was sound. That is to say, as Lord Lawson of Blaby has regularly said, that the business of government is not the government of business. The new clause derives inspiration from those two individuals and from Baroness Thatcher.

I turn to the Government's stance. The Bill is of great importance and the new clause, which seeks to improve it, is of inestimable value. In these circumstances--I say this with no disrespect to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office--it is disappointing that we are not graced with the presence of the Secretary of State for Scotland, whose responsibilities include such matters. She has a deep background in the Department of Trade and Industry. She sidled into the Chamber in ghostly fashion earlier but has now left it. That is a pity, but I will say no more about it.

There is a basic difference--it informs the entirety of our debate so far--between the Government's attitude to the new clause and the attitude that has been set out by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire. It is a divide which legitimately, but from the opposite point of view, the hon. Member for Eccles picked up. It was dwelt upon also by my parliamentary next door neighbour, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White). They are saying that Conservative Members are somehow guilty of failing properly to distinguish between the process of regulation on the one hand and its content on the other.

Indeed, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East accused me personally of being guilty of that confusion. I explained clearly, so as to brook of no contradiction, that I was not in any way confused and that I am critical both of the Government's process and procedure in relation to regulation and of much, though not all, of the content of the regulations that they have rammed through the House since 1 May 1997.

The hon. Member for Eccles was keen to argue that all that was necessary was to look from time to time at the procedure whereby a regulatory reform order had been implemented. I fundamentally disagree, and I shall explain why. However, I shall not do so before I have heard the pearls of wisdom of my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only the process and content of legislation but its enforcement that determines how hard it bites on the individual or on industry? For example, if the regulatory authority goes looking for people who transgress, that is much more rigorous enforcement than merely waiting for transgression to occur.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I see no connection between that point and new clause 1. I insist that the hon. Gentleman sticks strictly to new clause 1, otherwise I may have to resort to the Standing Orders.

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Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will not be tempted down the wrong path. I shall stick to new clause 1.

It is not a question only of process, but of content. It is precisely because we believe that Parliament can periodically review--and take a different view--on the merits of regulation that we argue for new clause 1. It is a direct response on our part to the position that was explained by Lord Falconer of Thoroton in the other place. I can succinctly encapsulate the difference between us and the Government on the new clause.

Lord Falconer is on record in the 10th report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, in relation to the Bill, on page 6 at paragraph 1, as saying:

that is the report that he is saying should be published every three years--

In fairness to Lord Falconer, he does not leave the matter there--this is the root of our dissatisfaction with him--but explains:

I think that he is completely wrong about that. If a Government have an idea--perhaps in relation to matters of regulation--they may issue a Green Paper or a White Paper and there may be a wide-ranging debate, with perhaps exchanges on the Floor of the House. Eventually the Government of the day may decide to introduce legislation of a regulatory character. Some of it will be introduced as secondary legislation, possibly even involving the negative procedure to which my right hon. and hon. Friends and I so strenuously object.

Lord Falconer's view is that once that is done, the only issue left to consider is whether the procedural requirements of the initial statute that we passed have been complied with in full. I do not accept that. Of course it is right that we should consider whether the procedural requirements and the spirit of Parliament in the initial enactment have been honoured. However, we should be prepared to do more than that, otherwise we are in a sense--I do not want to make a Second Reading point--flouting the very principle of parliamentary sovereignty, which is that Parliament should have an opportunity from time to time to return to a point. In relation to new clause 1--on which I am very focused, Mr. Deputy Speaker--the Government are guilty of an ostrich-like mentality. They are burying their head in the sand, and failing adequately, if at all, to listen to the legitimate voices of criticism of their policies. That is disappointing.

We should not need new clause 1, but we do. Why do I say that we should not need it? This is directly relevant to the potential of, as well as the need for, the new clause. In April 1997, in "Equipping Britain for the Future", Labour's business manifesto, the then shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), said:

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Nineteen months later, on 25 November 1998, in one of his final shots as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) said to the House:

The problem with that, Mr. Deputy Speaker--as you, with your acuity will readily discern--is that there is a massive contrast between the rhetoric and the reality. If that initial pledge had been honoured, we would not be debating this Bill this afternoon. We would probably be doing something else. For certain, we would not be debating the merits or otherwise of new clause 1.

The position that the Government take is not commended by, or even acceptable to, the representatives of business. You know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because you are an exceptionally experienced parliamentarian, that it is popular sport for Members of Parliament of all political parties to invoke third-party support to back up their arguments. My right hon. and hon. Friends do it, and Labour right hon. and hon. Members do it. I find it irritating and irksome, but it is not uncommon for members of the Government to quote business spokesmen in support of their economic and industrial policies.

In relation to new clause 1, I think that I am entitled to quote some support. I have already referred to the distinguished commercial lineage of my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire. At least as pertinent for the purposes of our debate is the stance of the current leadership of the British Chambers of Commerce. I have what might be described as news hot off the press for the purposes of our exchanges today. I had a conversation with the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce on this matter on the Sunday before last. It was at 7 am and we were in the green room in readiness for interviews on "The Sunday Programme" with Mr. Alastair Stewart.

I said to the director general, Mr. Chris Humphries, whom I hold in high regard, "It is good to meet you. You are probably aware that we will soon debate the review mechanism for regulatory reform orders, and our advocacy of new clause 1. You might also be aware that, on 8 March last year, in a debate on the regulatory business, I prayed you in aid." I am not apologetic about that, because what he said--among other things that he has said since--was that despite their rhetoric, the Government had dramatically increased the regulatory burdens that threaten small businesses' competitiveness.

Mr. Humphries made that statement on 20 January last year. More than 14 months on, there has been no material improvement; if anything, there has been a regression. Further regulations have been introduced; further statutory instruments have been rammed through the House; and further businesses have either gone bust as a consequence of regulation--

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