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1.44 pm

Mr. Stunell: The debate has been well-informed and penetrating. I very much appreciate the time that Members have given to make points and express their concerns. I hope that the House will not take it amiss if I begin by responding to some of the points made by the Minister, as I intend to come back to some of the other points later.

In fact, I can tell the House that, during the debate, I have been contacted again by Mr. Hodge, from Greater Manchester police, who tells me that the score so far on the second estate is two break-ins and that the defective patio window is still being installed, so that is a practical working example of one of the things that my Bill is designed to tackle.

I very much appreciate the Minister's words in regard to clauses 1, 2 and 3, and some of the things that he has said about the Government's acceptance of the reporting obligation that would be placed upon them. If I have sown any confusion about the cost of that measure as the result of some sloppy speech earlier, I

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certainly apologise to the House for so doing. We need to remember that building regulations have saved more lives than doctors have in the past 150 years. The requirements for sewerage, clean water, and dry and warm homes are far more effective than doctors at saving lives—if any doctor is in the House, I apologise. Building inspectors are useful and so are building regulations.

The Minister quite properly pointed out what I tried to point out not very adequately earlier: the need to produce some enabling powers. Of course that is why there is no regulatory impact assessment. Until we see what is being enabled or what is proposed to be enabled, there is nothing to assess. So the lack of such an assessment is not a defect in my proposal; it is intrinsic to a Bill that only introduces primary legislative enabling powers.

Mr. Randall: I have heard many hon. Members who sit on the Liberal Democrat and the Conservative Front Benches express great concern about enabling legislation when it is proposed by the Government. I wonder whether there has been a change of policy.

Mr. Stunell: Fortunately, circumstances alter cases, do they not? Let me move on quickly. The important thing is to ensure that the powers are proportionate and appropriate and that the regulatory follow-through happens. The Minister has rightly emphasised the great length of time and care taken in that respect. Some hon. Members are frustrated that such things sometimes take so long, but the process will never even begin without such powers to start it, so I very much appreciate what the Minister has said on that point.

Not just the Minister, but a number of other hon. Members have pointed the evil finger at clauses 7 and 8 and some subsections in clause 5. I certainly give an undertaking to the Minister that, if the Bill gets to Committee, I will take very clearly into account what he has said about the acceptability of clauses 7 and 8. I wish to make it clear that I want at least half a loaf, not no bread at all, and I absolutely give him the undertaking that he sought in that regard. I shall certainly bear in mind what was said about the later provisions in clause 5, although I noticed that the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman seemed to be strongly in favour of them, so that may be a matter on which further discussion is required.

I hope to have some early discussions with officials, so that we can find out how some of the other points that the Minister drew to my attention might best be dealt with in the Bill. It is for the benefit of the Government and the House that the legislation should be as comprehensive as possible, and I hope that he and his officials will be open to considering how we can do that.

I wish to turn briefly to some of the points made by other hon. Members, but I do not intend to detain the House. I thank the hon. Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart) very much indeed for his strongly supportive words. As he will have heard other hon. Members say, matters of detail remain to be worked out, and I am sure that we can do that. The hon. Gentleman said

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that regulations governing fire safety and crime safety should be built in, simultaneously, from the beginning. That is absolutely vital, but we cannot do so at the moment because there is no opportunity to produce matching regulations in relation to crime reduction. That opportunity exists for fire regulations, as the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) said. I want to reassure the hon. Member for Eccles that that is exactly what I aim to do.

The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) made a wide-ranging speech, but it would not be appropriate for me to pick up on all his points at this time. I want to draw attention to his hope that the insurance industry would come to the rescue when it came to the installation of otherwise unaffordable security equipment and devices. The current record of the insurance industry does not fill me with any real confidence that that would be the case. In fact, I had cause to draw to the attention of a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry the impact on small businesses of rising insurance premiums, which affected my constituency. There is a clearly a big gap between what the insurance industry considers to be affordable and what those who need insurance believe to be affordable.

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I have already dealt with the point made by the hon. Member for Hendon about fire regulations, but he made several other points. The Minister partly responded to them—I certainly attempted to do that—so I hope that he is much more reassured that we have addressed his concerns. If not, I look forward to seeing him in Committee. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) for his support for parts of the Bill, at least. I understand that he shares several worries that have been expressed by other hon. Members, but let us iron those things out in Committee rather than standing in the way of what is an essential and useful Bill.

When the debate started much earlier today, I said that the Bill was modest, and it is obviously going to be even more modest when it comes out of Committee. I am sorry about that, but it will nevertheless be important: important for crime reduction, important for sustainability, and important for holding the Government to account. It will prove to be proportionate and appropriate, so it should have the support of the House on Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).

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Performance of Companies and Government Departments (Reporting) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

1.52 pm

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In recent years the growing size, influence and power of large corporations has led many people to realise that they can have serious effects on the environment and communities. Many leading companies have recognised that and have run environmental and community schemes. On the other hand, the public have also realised it, often because of negative impacts on them and their communities. In fact, one could say that the agenda has been driven by a mix of disaster and inspiration. Companies such as Nestlé and Cadbury have faced great criticism of their policies and actions. In my constituency, local people have been extremely concerned by RMC's desire to burn tyres as an alternative fuel. The company insists on continuing with that plan despite the enormous concerns about health issues raised by the people of Rugby and Kenilworth. Companies that have implemented positive schemes have fostered a growing realisation that they can be a force for good. For example, the Co-operative bank continues to thrive and is widely admired for its ethical screening of investments.

Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab): Is not one of the problems that the media do not pick up on such good stories? They are happy to report the bad stories, but they should concentrate on good stories because they would promote what is happening in our communities.

Andy King: I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome intervention and agree wholeheartedly with him.

Companies have effects that reach further than their shareholders. I believe that it is the role of Parliament to set laws that encourage and allow companies to appreciate fully the repercussions of their actions. There is an important point to make here. When failures in company law have affected the richest and most powerful in society, we have always acted. Post-Enron and post-BCCI, there was a clamour for rules and regulations to protect investors who lost out. I applaud such regulations and believe that they represent a correct use of the powers of Parliament, but we must act with equal determination on behalf of those who are less well off.

That is recognised by the many organisations that back the Bill—Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, Save the Children, and even the women's institute, to name just a few. Support is growing by the day. Major unions have come on board, including, I am pleased to say, my own union, Unison, in addition to the Transport and General Workers Union and Amicus. I was delighted to receive a letter today from Brendan Barber of the TUC, who wished the Bill well. More development agencies have added their support, such as CAFOD and the World Development Movement. The need for the debate is recognised by business, too. Traidcraft, B & Q and the Co-op bank have all joined in calls for the Bill to go to Committee so that the matters can be debated further.

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It is against this background that I speak to the Bill. It would require large companies to report every year on their impacts on the environment and on the communities in which they operate. It would also place a duty on directors to minimise such impacts while continuing to ensure the success of the company. Because there has not been an adequate response from companies to the voluntary approach, I believe the time has come for that to become mandatory.

In October 2000 in his speech to the CBI, the Prime Minister challenged the top 350 companies to publish such reports by the end of 2001. Only about a quarter of those companies met his challenge. Although more companies have done so since, about half the companies still do not report on their social and environmental impacts.

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