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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) is absolutely right. Indeed, the Regulatory Reform Committee states in its summary that the legislation is

There are clear precedents for constitutional matters being taken before a Committee of the whole House, but the present committal order, exceptionally, does not allow that to happen with this Bill. If it is not possible for the Government to withdraw the programme motion today, may we at least have an opportunity to debate the matter?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I understand what both the hon. Gentlemen have said. These are obviously serious and important matters. However, the questions raised are for the Minister to respond to. No doubt he will have heard what has been said, and he will respond as he thinks appropriate. For the time being, we can proceed only with the business on the Order Paper.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you had a request from the relevant Minister to come to the House to make a statement on the post office strike in Belfast, which is causing major disruption and even paralysis to postal deliveries and collections in the city and across Northern Ireland? This is causing real hardship for local businesses, and for people who depend on the postal service for their benefit cheques. What are the Government doing to try to help in this situation? I would be grateful to hear whether you have had any
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information on whether the Government are going to inform the House of their plan of action to bring this serious situation to an end.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The matter that the hon. Gentleman raises is clearly serious, but again it is a matter for the Minister responsible for these issues. I have had no notice, so far, that a statement is planned.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask for your guidance on what remedies exist when it is felt that a Minister might have given an incorrect answer to a parliamentary question? I believe that that is the case in respect of my question to the Department for Transport, which was answered on 30 January and affects all south Essex MPs. I was told:

Yet I discovered yesterday that the Thames Gateway South Essex Transportation Board is a committee that exists for those purposes and that Government and Go East members sit on that committee. We need transparency and open government on these important matters.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. I can only suggest that he repeat his question to the Minister, and I hope that he will get a more satisfactory answer this time.
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Orders of the Day

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

1.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In opening this debate, I would like to set out the context for the Bill. That context is the importance of the Government's better regulation agenda in maintaining our economic prosperity and continuing to improve our public services. I should then like to make the case for this alternative legislative process to deliver our better regulation objectives, before setting out the Bill's provisions in more detail.

I should like to start by thanking all those who have helped with the development of these proposals, including the business community and members of our public services. I am particularly grateful to the Regulatory Reform Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in another place. They have made a significant contribution to the Bill's development, having provided very useful insight into the operation of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 and how its defects might be addressed.

I also welcome the Regulatory Reform Committee's recently published first special report of Session 2005–06, which expresses general support for, and shows a constructive approach to, the issues raised by the Bill. We have not been able to respond to those conclusions given the short time scale, but I wish to say at this early stage of our proceedings that the recommendations deserve serious consideration as they are sensible and constructive, and we expect to draw extensively on the experience of the Committee and its members during the Bill's passage.

The Government have outlined a radical approach to better regulation and the Bill is central to delivering it. The Bill will provide a more proportionate way of delivering better regulation reforms to legislation. It will help to promote a real change in the culture of regulation and inspection and enable the implementation of valuable and non-contentious Law Commission proposals.

The introduction of the Bill is a reflection of our continuing commitment to maintain one of the best regulatory performances of any major economy.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): As the Minister knows, I am a strong supporter of the idea of deregulation. Which measures would he want to simplify, amend or remove under the wide-ranging powers that he is seeking to give himself? Why does he not simply bring those forward as substantive proposals in their own right?

Mr. Murphy: As always, it is a delight to give way to the right hon. Gentleman. I am just disappointed that I no longer face him at Cabinet Office questions every month, as he is performing another important role as one of the 90 Opposition Front-Bench spokespeople. It
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is interesting that the repositioning of the Liberal Conservative party seems to be about giving everyone a position in the party. I will, as I make some progress, come to the specific question that he has asked. Of course, out of courtesy, I will give way again at that point should he still be in his place.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I think I just heard the Minister say that the purpose of the Bill is to bring forward non-contentious Law Commission matters. Does he recognise, therefore, that some Law Commission matters will be contentious? I remember being consulted as a legal academic on whether burglars should be allowed to sue householders, whether people in fights should be allowed to sue one another, and other such questions. Those strike me as more than technical questions. They are substantive political questions.

Mr. Murphy: I welcome the one Liberal—an actual Liberal, rather than a Liberal Conservative—Back Bencher who has come along today for what is supposedly a constitutional, ground-breaking debate. The proposals before us will not allow the introduction of contentious Law Commission proposals. I will make some remarks about that later in my speech and as the debate progresses, but there is a number of non-contentious Law Commission proposals. On average, they have waited about seven and a half years to be implemented. It cannot be right to allow them to gather dust on shelves. Therefore, the legislation will enable such proposals to make progress through Parliament.

As I was saying, in the March 2005 Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out a radical programme of regulatory reform that included the Government's acceptance in full of the recommendations in Philip Hampton's report, "Reducing administrative burdens: effective inspection and enforcement" and in the Better Regulation Task Force's report, "Less is More: Reducing Burdens, Improving Outcomes". A key recommendation was to address the shortcomings of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001.

The UK is currently one of the best places in the world to do business. Independent surveys have shown that the UK economy is subject to one of the lowest levels of administrative burden of any major industrialised country. The World Bank survey published in September 2005 rated the UK as having the most straightforward employment law in the EU. The survey also ranked the UK second in the EU and ninth in the world for the best business conditions. However, there is no room to be complacent about our economic position. The global economy presents us with huge challenges, not least from the emerging major economies of India and China. We cannot risk our competitiveness by hindering British business with over-burdensome regulation and inspection. If we deliver on our better regulation objectives, the benefits will be considerable. The Better Regulation Task Force estimated that we could boost British national income in the long term by as much as 1 per cent. per year.

The better regulation agenda is about not just preserving our economic prosperity, but minimising the burden on the public and voluntary sectors.
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Unnecessary bureaucracy and burdensome inspection can hold back our public servants and voluntary workers, and divert them from their primary purpose: to continue to focus on the needs of the citizen. Better targeted regulation can and should improve the lives of our citizens as well as make life easier for UK business.

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