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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): This has been a good debate, with a number of thoughtful contributions. However, my hon. Friends have noticed a disturbing trend among Opposition day debates. The Opposition called a debate recently on third-world aid and fair trade, demanding that we do more and spend more. They halved overseas aid and now demand the opposite. They wanted a debate on schools, demanding that we do more and spend more, but they axed 48,000 teachers during their Administration and now demand the opposite. They condemn us for our successes and offer no contrition for their failures.

Today, the Opposition have excelled themselves. They picked a subject on which their record could not be more embarrassing. In fairness, I cannot in all honesty claim that they are not the world experts on this subject—not with 51,699 regulations passed by the last Conservative Administrations. Indeed, it was in 1992 that John Major gave the verdict on all the 35,496 regulations passed by Tory Governments since Baroness Thatcher became Prime Minister. That year, as Prime Minister, he told his party conference:

He promised a bonfire of regulations and his deputy, now the noble Lord Heseltine, promised to take an axe to the red tape—keeping up his Tarzan image, no doubt. For five years, they toiled and toiled. What was the verdict on the 16,203 new regulations produced in that golden twilight of their reign? It was:

So said the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) in 1997.

What is the position in Britain today when starting a company? The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) asked me to clarify that. I can tell him that there is no more need for 28 licences and certificates. Someone can set up as a sole trader in the UK in a day and for less than £25. We have moved from having one of the poorest records, in 1992, to having one of the best in Europe now.

The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) mentioned the raft of lawyers, a point with which I have considerable sympathy. He said that he had been associated with businesses that employed many lawyers who could process regulations, but that small businesses could not afford lawyers. I say to him and the House that I do not want anyone to have to employ lawyers. I want the large corporations to be able
 
30 Jun 2004 : Column 399
 
to devote their resources to marketing, product design and the sales success that is making British business great.

It is important to acknowledge that, last year, 465,000 people started a business—the highest number in the history of the Barclay survey and up 19 per cent. on 2002. That is 465,000 new businesses. A decade ago, 422,000 jobs were wiped out in manufacturing in a single year of Tory misrule—our record of success, their record of failure.

Now, of course, the Conservatives have a new formula: the Howard nostrum and the quack cure for regulations, freshly imported from Florida—sunset clauses from the sunshine state. How many sunset clauses did they introduce? None. Sunset clauses were rejected by Baroness Thatcher as unworkable.

The Conservatives rail against gold-plating regulations. We heard a few examples during the debate, but the best is from the former leader of the Tories in Europe, Lord Plumb, who said:

They forced the closure of small abattoirs and cost thousands of jobs. That was in 1996. The culprits were his Government and their over-zealous interpretation of Brussels law.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) mentioned the tendency for Britain to use more words, reflecting a recent study from the British Chambers of Commerce. However, the BCC should listen to its sister organisation, the German chamber of commerce, which produced a report in January blaming the German Government for their lack of clarity in transposing EU directives; fewer words left companies with vague legislation and no guidance. The very copping-out of directives that was advocated by the hon. Gentleman—although no longer, I hope—was rejected by Baroness Thatcher and every Prime Minister before or after her.

Our charge is clear. The Conservatives did not learn from their mistakes, but we did. We were as horrified as industry about the burdens that the new chemical directive placed on business, so we amassed the evidence and presented it to the Commission. The Prime Minister enlisted the support of the Presidents of France and Italy. We told the EU Competitiveness Council that the directive was not on. The result was that parts of the draft directive that would have cost industry £6 billion a year were dropped.

I reject the figure of £30 billion given by the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells. The real cost of administering the regulations is only a fraction of that. We make no apology for our legislation for decent wages, paid holidays and reasonable time off for family matters.

It is only fair to look at the situation before 1997 and contrast it with what is happening now. There was no Small Business Service to fight for business; we created and funded it. There was no Small Business Europe taking the fight on regulation to Brussels; we created and funded it. We created the Better Regulation Task Force to tackle gold-plating. We created the small firms impact test and "Think Small First", and we require lawyers to focus on the impact on small businesses before drafting regulations.
 
30 Jun 2004 : Column 400
 

We set a target of 12 weeks' minimum consultation for all regulations and 12 weeks for implementation. We created a panel of 1,000 small businesses to advise Government officials drafting regulations. We took the lead in the EU's better regulation action plan. We forced the Commission to bring in impact assessments of proposed legislation. We created the regulatory reform action plan. We require regulatory impact assessments and the Prime Minister has created a Cabinet Committee on RIAs, which he chairs. Now, we have common commencement dates for key regulations, and that is welcomed by all representative bodies for industry.

The regulations that we have introduced, such as those on late payment, have helped to cut the time for settling accounts from 49 days in 1997 to 41 days, while the European average remains 50 days. Everyone accepts that the vast majority of the Government's so-called regulations have almost no impact on business red tape. Nearly four in 10 statutory instruments are on temporary road closures and similar measures.

I end by offering the House a straight choice. Do we want the business climate of 2004 with the lowest inflation for 30 years, the lowest interest rates for 40 years, the lowest mortgage rates for nearly 50 years, the lowest level of corporation tax in history, the longest period of sustained growth for more than a century, the largest number of people in work in our history and record numbers of people starting in business? We have avoided the recessions that hit the United States, Germany, Japan, France, Italy and most other industrial economies during the world downturn.

Or, do we want the climate of a decade ago—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 114, Noes 320.

Division No. 210
[6.59 pm


AYES

Amess, David
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Baron, John (Billericay)
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Bellingham, Henry
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey)
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burns, Simon
Burnside, David
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, Sir John
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Conway, Derek
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cran, James (Beverley)
Curry, rh David
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Stephen
Fallon, Michael
Flight, Howard
Forth, rh Eric
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, rh John
Hague, rh William
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Hendry, Charles
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Hogg, rh Douglas
Jack, rh Michael
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, rh Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Lilley, rh Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Mackay, rh Andrew
McLoughlin, Patrick
Maude, rh Francis
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Norman, Archie
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Portillo, rh Michael
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Redwood, rh John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Dame Marion
Shepherd, Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Soames, Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Spring, Richard
Steen, Anthony
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Viggers, Peter
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. John Randall and
Mr. David Ruffley


NOES

Adams, Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Baker, Norman
Barnes, Harry
Barron, rh Kevin
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Benn, rh Hilary
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Blunkett, rh David
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)
Breed, Colin
Brennan, Kevin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Bruce, Malcolm
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Burstow, Paul
Byers, rh Stephen
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Caborn, rh Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies (NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Chidgey, David
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Cooper, Yvette
Cotter, Brian
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, rh John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Brian H.
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Drown, Ms Julia
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Etherington, Bill
Ewing, Annabelle
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foulkes, rh George
Francis, Dr. Hywel
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gidley, Sandra
Gilroy, Linda
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grogan, John
Hain, rh Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Harvey, Nick
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Healey, John
Heath, David
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hinchliffe, David
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Holmes, Paul
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, rh Adam
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, David
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Love, Andrew
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
McAvoy, Thomas
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
MacDougall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Rosemary
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, rh Michael
Meale, Alan (Mansfield)
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Alan
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Moore, Michael
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Owen, Albert
Pearson, Ian
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr. John
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, James
Quin, rh Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Rendel, David
Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salmond, Alex
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Sarwar, Mohammad
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Short, rh Clare
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh John
Squire, Rachel
Stevenson, George
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thurso, John
Timms, Stephen
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Ward, Claire
Watts, David
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Winnick, David
Wishart, Pete
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Woodward, Shaun
Worthington, Tony
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek
Younger-Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Noes:

Margaret Moran and
Jim Fitzpatrick


Question accordingly negatived.


 
30 Jun 2004 : Column 403
 

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):—


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