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Mr. Hayes: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way to me a second time. He did not really answer my question on agriculture and horticulture, so I shall let him have a go at fishing. By implication, he defended the common fisheries policy when he scorned my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). When he and his colleagues go to Europe, will they tackle the common fisheries policy, which has bizarrely and strangely led to a situation in which we have fewer fish and fishermen than when it was invented? What will he do for Britain's ailing fishing industry and how will he extricate us from the common fisheries policy, which has done so much damage?
I do not doubt that the common fisheries policy, like the common agricultural policy, could benefit from reform, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been successfully taking that forward. However, the right hon. Member for Wokingham talked about pulling out of the common fisheries policy, which could be done only by holding up one, if not two, fingers to the rest of the European Union. [Interruption.] Conservative Members are nodding because they want to do that, although those who have any sense will not be nodding because this is all about pulling out of the European Union. I think that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) is nodding, so he clearly wants us to come out, although no doubt other Conservative Members will now sit on their hands because they are
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not sure whether they should be going down that slippery slope. There are not many sensible Conservative Members left, but if the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe were in the Chamber, I am sure that he would be putting the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings to rights much better than I could. That policy is preposterous and daft. It was conjured up to appeal to the populist right-wing media in the run-in to the election, but it once again bombed spectacularly for the Conservatives. I wonder whether they will ever wake up to the fact that their policy agenda of pulling Britain out of the European Unionit barely dares speak its name, but it comes out in these debates every now and againis a recipe for complete economic and financial disaster.
Delivering such changes will require a culture change across the institutions of Europe and it will take time to fully embed such better regulatory principles. However, by the time that we hand over to Austria at the end of this year, we intend to ensure that real progress has been made that will bring demonstrable benefits to European business and citizens.
The better regulation agenda is by no means confined to the impact of regulations on the private sector. I shall let the Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Murphy), deal in his winding-up speech with the points made about the public sector because it is now time for me to sit down. However, it is a travesty to traduce the facts and our policies by suggesting that the public services are now also drowning in a sea of red tape. Public service delivery is improving and the performance of schools and hospitals is getting better. The Government have a proud record of trying to strike the right balance between the things that they must do at the centre and the freedom and responsibility of professionals at the front line. It is worth reflecting on the fact that the first party to introduce central targets in the national health service was none other than our dear old friend the Conservative Government.
It is clear that this Government are delivering on their pledge to the people to create a competitive and dynamic enterprise economy and world-class public services of which individuals, communities and our country can be proud. All that has not been achieved by compromising health and safety standards, which the proposals of the right hon. Member for Wokingham would do, or by denying working people the right to a minimum wage, as some Conservative Members wish to do. We are trying to get the balance right.
I recognise that more can always be done to make our regulatory systems more effective. We are trying to do that. I have set out an ambitious programme of regulatory reform for this Parliament. It will better equip us to meet the challenges of the future. It is the right direction for our country to take. That is why I strongly invite my hon. Friends to support the amendment and reject the Opposition motion.
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Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): There is a contradiction at the heart of the Minister's speech. He spent most of the time talking about the Government's excellent record on regulation and then went on to suggest that they were about to embark on the "most radical reform programme" to deregulate. Proposing such a programme is a tacit admission that there is something wrong.
The motion is something of a scatter-gun in its approach, ranging from a call to the Government for proposals that free professionals in schools and hospitals, to the case for cutting controls over local government, and to measures that will allow business to compete with rivals in Asia and the US. I can just about see a common thread, and I accept that the motion raises serious issues. The sentiments it expresses are broadly shared by the Liberal Democrats, so we will support it.
The Government amendment smacks of complacency and endorses an approach by which schools, hospitals and councils have to win freedom from the control of central Government. We reject that approach. We will never break the dependency culture of an overcentralised state in that way. Their approach says, "You do precisely what we in central Government want you to do, and we will then give you strictly controlled limited freedoms." That earned autonomy is not localism as we understand it. We want a much greater, more genuine decentralisation of power.
On business regulation, it is worth reminding ourselves that a modern, well-functioning market economy depends for its success on the rule of law. The new democracies in eastern Europe, many of which have built remarkably successful economies, had to develop those rules quickly as they escaped from the clutches of communism. Rules are necessary in particular to safeguard and protect employees from unacceptable exploitation. It is worth remembering that Conservative Governments as well as Labour Governments have legislated to outlaw discrimination in the workplace.
Rob Marris : The hon. Gentleman will know from his background what I am talking about. Did he find it extraordinary, as I did, that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said that there was only one thing worse than having a regulated job and that was having no job at all? In fact, the worst thing of all is to be dead from work because there is no occupational health and safety legislation.
The hon. Gentleman reinforces the point that some regulation is necessary to safeguard employees. It was the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague)a former leader of the Conservative partywho took the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 through Parliament. It imposes a considerable additional regulatory burden on business. In my former life as an employment lawyer, I received plenty of money from businesses seeking advice on how to implement that Conservative legislation, which increased the burden on business. But surely we are not arguing that the framework of that legislationthe protection that it gave to disabled peopleis wrong. It may well be possible to simplify the rules for the
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benefit of both the citizen and the employer, but the case for regulation in that sphere is surely not seriously challenged.
Philip Davies : The hon. Gentleman knows that the 1995 Act asked businesses to make reasonable adjustments, thereby ensuring that small businesses were not disadvantaged by a huge regulatory burden. Does he accept that an awful lot of the regulations that come from the Government apply equally to small and large businesses? Small businesses create the vast majority of employment wealth in the country and are most disadvantaged by all the regulation. It is the small businesses that struggle. The Minister is obsessed with business leaders and dazed by big business all the time.
Norman Lamb: The hon. Gentleman is right to address the concern that small businesses can be heavily burdened by regulation from the Government, but we must remember that an employee's safety is as important if they work for a small business as it is if they work for a large business. Again, it is a matter of striking the right balance. I accept that the "reasonable adjustments" enabled the size and scope of the business to be taken into account, but the extent of guidance provided with the 1995 Act effectively imposed a massive additional burden on businesses of all sizes. I was simply giving an example of a Conservative Government increasing the regulatory burden to give protection to disabled people, which we should all support.
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