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4 Jul 2005 : Column 89

Government Regulation

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.26 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I beg to move,

In moving this motion, I am a little bemused by the Government's response. I crafted the wording of the motion myself—it is a veritable pussycat of a motion. My right hon. and hon. Friends have been too generous. They have not said, "Are you losing your touch? Where is the tiger in the tail?" It was deliberately couched in words that I thought Her Majesty's Government would welcome. I have heard many fine words from the Prime Minister; even more remarkably, I have heard sometimes similar fine words from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It appears that, at times, this is one issue on which they agree: they now wish to run a deregulatory Government. In this motion, I give them a little encouragement, assistance and advice. Its wording is surely unexceptionable—if they are as truly committed as some of the readers of their words might expect.

Our motion

Do I take it from the Government's wish to strike our motion from the Order Paper when proceedings conclude that they no longer wish to have a deregulation Bill—there was one in the Gracious Speech—or do they wish to have a deregulation Bill with nothing in it? Are we to have yet more words and no action? Are we to have deregulation in the title, but nothing actually deregulated? That is very new Labour—very fashionable circa 1997—but perhaps not in the spirit of the modern world.

In the motion, I encourage the Government

Surely they can assent to that very modest proposition. I wanted to include a list of all the regulations that we want repealed—[Hon. Members: "Go on."] Well, we might do that later, if time permits. I thought, in order to be in sympathy with the Government, "Better the sinner who repents." I thought they had realised that they passed too much regulation in their first eight years, and that they might agree to table a paper for the EU presidency containing positive proposals for deregulating the EU. But no, I see from the stony faces
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of the Government Front Benchers that there is no wish to table a paper setting out matters that can be repealed during the British Government's presidency.

My motion then suggests that the Government

I accept that such an idea would probably put me on the ultra-Blairite wing of the rather ragged Labour coalition, but surely it is just within the spectrum. We know that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are locking horns on this issue. The Prime Minister makes the occasional speech, or allows the occasional briefing to be made to the press saying that our professionals in schools and hospitals need more freedoms, hence the ideas behind the early versions of foundation hospitals and special schools. We know that the Chancellor has been sandbagging those and pulling back, but I hope that the Treasury Front-Bench Members—particularly the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who may be on the Blairite wing—may be able to tell us tonight that they need to go further in freeing the professionals who are damaged by the red tape, interference and bossiness that have characterised the eight years of this long Labour Government.

Ed Balls (Normanton) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the task of any Government is to strike the right balance between regulation on the one hand and minimum standards on the other? Over the eight years to which he referred, does he agree that the introduction of the national minimum wage was the sort of regulation that he should have supported when he was a Minister in the last Conservative Government?

Mr. Redwood: Of course Governments have to find a balance between necessary regulation and leaving individuals and businesses free enough to go about their daily lives and compete. Our charge against the Government tonight is that that is precisely the balance that the Government have struck incorrectly.

Ed Balls rose—

Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman has had his chance, and I am merely explaining our position, which is that the Government have regulated too much. That includes too much intrusive labour market regulation. As the hon. Gentleman tempts me on labour market regulation—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman really must contain himself. If he is lucky in catching Madam Deputy Speaker's eye later, he will be able to tell the whole House in a proper way exactly what he thinks about labour regulation.

The Conservative party believes that there is now too much labour regulation in total. We believe that it is vital for the Government to try to hang on to the opt-out from the working time directive. We are angry that the Government Front-Bench Members say that they want to keep the opt-out, while Members of the European Parliament elected on the Labour ticket are busily trying to undermine them and do the opposite. Perhaps if the hon. Member for Normanton (Ed Balls) makes a speech, he will explain the huge contradiction that lies at the heart of the different elected levels of Labour.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend recall that, despite being asked, former
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Labour Front Benchers not only refused to condemn the Labour MEPs who repeatedly voted to scrap our valuable opt-out from the working time directive, but urged Conservative MEPs to continue to carry on voting as they were to preserve this country's opt-out? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government are in a great muddle over that?

Mr. Redwood: That was an excellent intervention, which shows the hon. Member for Normanton how he should aspire to do better in future. My hon. Friend has put his finger on the crucial point that applies in this interesting matter.

We have before us tonight a lame Government counter-motion, which is so self-congratulatory and complacent that, even coming from this Government, it really beggars belief. On the eve of our presidency attempt to deregulate the European Union and before the Government launch their deregulation Bill, we are invited in the Government motion to praise them for all the wonderful things they have done in producing better regulation. As I hope to demonstrate to the House, the contrary is the case.

The Government have greatly burdened British business. Instead of deregulating, according to the British Chambers of Commerce, they have now added a cumulative £40,000 million of extra costs on British business. Before Labour Members say that there were many fine things in all that regulation, let me make it clear that there is one thing worse than having an unregulated job—and that is having no job at all. The danger of what the Government are doing by piling cost on cost, rule on rule, is that it is undermining our competitiveness in the world economy. The Chancellor constantly tells us that China is a great competitive threat, yet he continues to burden our businesses.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Hutton) rose—

Mr. Redwood: Before the right hon. Gentleman intervenes, he may like to remind the House that 1 million manufacturing jobs have gone since the Chancellor of the Exchequer took over in 1997. Part of the reason for that is the huge burden of regulation.

Mr. Hutton: The right hon. Gentleman talks about people having no jobs. Will he tell the House how many more new jobs there are in the UK economy since the Labour Government took office? Is it not 2 million, of which the vast majority are in the private sector?

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