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Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that much of what the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said was typical Conservative hot air? Does my right hon. Friend know that, on 2 December, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the then shadow Chancellor, promised me "a very long list" of regulations that a Conservative Government would do away with? He also told me subsequently that the right hon. Member for Wokingham, as shadow Deregulation Minister, would produce that list in January. I am not aware as of tonight that we have seen even a scintilla of that list. We are still waiting for the very long list. It is hot air.

Mr. Hutton: There was a lot of hot air from the right hon. Member for Wokingham. I have seen the list of proposals that he made for the general election, and we know the outcome of that contest. I want to refer to some of the arguments that he made. He rehearsed some of them tonight, particularly his interesting suggestion that we withdraw from the common fisheries policy. I understand that he wants us to pull out of the social chapter as well, and I want to come to the difficulties that any future Conservative Government would have in delivering such a policy.

Mr. Redwood: The Minister is generous, but I should like to take him up on the four allegations that he made. Does he accept that the United States has consistently out-grown this country over the past eight years because it is less tightly regulated and has a lower tax regime? Is he not aware that we are getting closer and closer to the poor performance of the heavily regulated and higher tax regimes on the continent and that we will not hit the Chancellor's forecasts this year?

Mr. Hutton: No, I certainly do not accept the assertion in the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I accept that there are lessons that this country should learn from other systems and regulatory approaches. Of course we are willing to learn, but I want to come to the wider point because, fundamentally, his speech served a useful purpose in highlighting our different approaches to this issue. I want to explore those differences in a second, if I can get on to them.

The right hon. Gentleman's central argument related to the health of the British economy and its international competitiveness under this Labour Government. Anyone listening to his remarks would have been left with the impression that our economy was in recession, that Britain was an unattractive place to set up a new business and that a vast army of bureaucrats—to use an expression used by the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark)—were out and about strangling enterprise and innovation. But this is 2005, not the 1980s, when millions of people lost their jobs because of Tory boom-and-bust policies. It is not the early 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes because of yet another Tory-inspired recession. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman was a key architect of all those failed policies.

Mr. Redwood indicated dissent.

Mr. Hutton: That is the history. The right hon. Gentleman indicates that he was not one of the key
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architects. Of course, he was in the Cabinet until 1995, and until then, he would be prepared to accept that collective responsibility—

Mr. Redwood indicated dissent.

Mr. Hutton: Oh, the right hon. Gentleman is not even prepared to accept that any more. We have a new constitutional innovation taking form in front of us.

Mr. Redwood: The big decision to join the exchange rate mechanism—which was Labour economic policy, as well as that of the Conservatives—was a mistake. We have said that it was. I was not in the Cabinet when that decision was taken, and the Minister may remember that I resigned from the Government because I did not like the policy being followed.

Mr. Hutton: I accept that that is historical fact, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot escape his wider responsibilities for the failed economic agenda pursued by successive Conservative Governments in which he was a Minister and, as all of us who have had the great privilege to serve in government know, that is a collective responsibility that we must all shoulder. We cannot shake off that responsibility quite as easily as he has tried to do this evening.

My argument tonight is that, thanks to the policies that we have pursued since we took office, the British economy has enjoyed one of the best climates for business since records began, with sustained economic growth and stability covering the entire period during which we have been in office.

Mr. Walker: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hutton: No, I am going to make progress. The hon. Gentleman has had a good old go. Perhaps I will give way to him in a second—or not, as the case may be.

Employment is at a record high; unemployment is at its lowest levels for 30 years; UK unemployment rates are half those for France and Germany; inflation is low; interest rates are at their lowest for 50 years; 4,000 new businesses start up every week; and Britain is the No. 1 country for inward investment into the European Union. Last year saw nearly 40,000 new jobs and a record number of inward investment projects.

From the picture painted by the right hon. Gentleman, one could be forgiven for thinking that he had been living on a different planet. Many people believe that he does live on a different planet, but I do not want to use that gag. Clearly it will not get me much of a laugh tonight. Sadly for him, his views on the British economy are not even shared by other members of the shadow Cabinet. The Leader of the Opposition said of the British economy only recently:

The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said last summer:

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The views of the right hon. Member for Wokingham are not even shared by business leaders in Britain. The director general of the CBI said in March this year:

We have made it clear—this is one area where the right hon. Gentleman and I might agree—that if the progress is to be sustained and if British companies are to remain globally competitive, helping to create new jobs and prosperity here in the UK, Government must, of course, accept their responsibility to strip away the burden of unnecessary regulation on business. I hope that we can agree on that at least. However, I think that there is a huge difference between his approach, which would, for example, compromise standards in the workplace, and the approach that we intend to take.      The measures that he put forward at the election to slash public expenditure through axing support for businesses, such as the scrapping of the Small Business Service, would hurt and not help businesses.

Consistency in politics is a good thing. To give him credit, the right hon. Gentleman has consistently talked a good fight on this issue, but has he actually delivered? I think not, and I am going to talk about his record in government. He was a very busy body indeed as a Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry. In fact, I have here just some of his handiwork in the 1980s. Here it is—213 separate pages of new statutory burdens all applying to business.

There are many people who would argue that the regulatory burden actually increased under the previous Conservative Government. Sadly for the right hon. Gentleman, some of them are leading Conservatives. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), referred to the subject of deregulation in The Daily Telegraph shortly after leaving office. I notice that all these reminiscences and insights occur only when Conservatives leave office. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:

in deregulating. Mr. Michael Portillo, another leading Conservative and a former Treasury Minister, said when he left office that

Clearly, the right hon. Member for Wokingham comes from the "Do as I say and not as I do" school of political leadership. That is perhaps another reason why he is sitting on the Opposition Benches, but perhaps his biggest difficulty tonight comes in the form of the international evidence:

Those are not my words, but those of the OECD. The UK is frequently shown as at or near the top of countries for the quality of regulation and ease of doing business. A survey by the World Bank published this year placed the UK at the top of the league of major countries in
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terms of regulatory quality. This year's Heritage Foundation index of economic freedom—something I am fairly sure the right hon. Gentleman normally attaches a great deal of weight to— praised the UK and said that

It is clear that this Government's approach to regulatory reform has contributed to the success of the British economy and not undermined it as he claimed.

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