Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): The hon. Gentleman will know that the British Chambers of Commerce produces its burdens on business barometer each year. The most recent one is for 2005 and it shows that things are getting a lot worse: a £40 billion extra burden has been imposed on business since the Government came in. When is the improvement that he was talking about going to start?

Mr. Murphy: The British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and all sorts of other important national organisations that represent business strongly support the Bill. I know that the hon. Gentleman has heard this point before but hopefully he will never get sick of hearing it: the Labour Government make no apology for introducing important, progressive regulations such as the national minimum wage, opposed by the Conservative party, and the climate change levy, opposed still, I think, by the Conservative party—

Mr. Redwood indicated assent.

Mr. Murphy: The right hon. Gentleman nods. I am not sure what was announced this morning or last evening by his new leader but, at the moment, we assume that the Conservative party still opposes the climate change levy. It opposes all sorts of family-friendly and supportive policies to enable parents to have the opportunity to work if they so wish. We make no apology for introducing those important pieces of legislation and regulation. I welcome, as part of the repositioning of the Conservative party, any attempt by it to achieve consensus on those issues.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): My hon. Friend has been going down the track of better regulation, no burdens on business and so on. May I invite him to take a step back? I may be misreading the import of the Bill, but clause 1(1) gives a Minister power, by order, albeit on the negative resolution, to reform legislation, or to implement recommendations of one of the Law Commissions in the UK. There is also the power in the Bill for a Minister, by order, also on the negative resolution, I believe, to change the common law of this country. That seems, if I am reading the Bill correctly, far more sweeping than powers to deal with the number of weeks' notice one has to give under some statutory instrument. Can he step back and deal with that broader constitutional picture?

Mr. Murphy: I thank my hon. Friend, who as usual makes an important point. I will address the specific matter that he has asked about later in my contribution.

As I mentioned, the better regulation agenda is about not just preserving our economic prosperity, but minimising the burden on the public and voluntary sectors. I want, however, to be clear that that is not simply a deregulatory agenda. As I said, the
9 Feb 2006 : Column 1051
Government make no apology for introducing well designed regulation where it can help to enhance opportunity, improve standards in public services, reduce poverty, promote competition and protect our environment.

Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Murphy: I will make some progress first. Of course, I will give way as a matter of courtesy to the hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative Benches—and they are all gentlemen—if they so wish.

Applying better regulation principles to new regulatory proposals is crucial, but the Government must also address the stock of existing regulation if we are to ease the regulatory burden. If regulation is unnecessary, over-complicated, difficult to comply with or poorly targeted, we must do something about it. Two key aspects of the Government's better regulation programme are aimed at tackling the existing stock of regulation: the project to reduce administrative burdens and forthcoming departmental simplification plans.

The administrative burdens project will reduce the cost and burden to business of administering regulation by focusing regulatory resources on areas of greatest risk. Reducing the burden of complying with regulation for the vast majority of compliant business should result in one third fewer inspections and 25 per cent. less form-filling. The UK will be one of the first countries in the world to measure the total administrative burden on business and set ambitious targets for their reduction. In addition, all Departments will have published simplification plans by the time of this year's pre-Budget report. As well as containing proposals to meet targets for the reduction in admin burdens, those plans will include wider simplification measures to deregulate, consolidate and rationalise regulation. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Health and Safety Executive have been first to produce their simplification plans, which are now available for consultation.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The Minister mentioned DEFRA. In relation to the comments of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) about laws that could conceivably be amended or revoked by a Minister, my constituents have raised concerns about the statutes that affect the Forest of Dean, including the Dean Forest (Mines) Act 1838 and a number of common law powers. They are worried that were the Bill passed in its current form, it would give Ministers sweeping powers to make substantial changes to the law governing my constituency. Will he refer to that in his wind-up? I will write to him on the matter at a later date.

Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I know that he has tabled a written question on the matter. If I am not being too unkind to him, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter with him, but the most appropriate means of doing so might be for him to volunteer for the Standing Committee. That would be a real commitment to his constituents at the level of interest that he continues to show on the matters that he has raised.
9 Feb 2006 : Column 1052

From the initiatives, a wide range of proposals will emerge for the removal, simplification or consolidation of existing regulations.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Murphy: Let me make some progress first.

The central issue is to find the most appropriate and effective means of implementing the proposals. The current arrangements are not fit for purpose. Without the Bill, many of the proposals on which Departments are working will remain just that—proposals. Time on the Floor of the House is rightly precious, and should be reserved for the big issues of the day. Legislative changes to bring about better regulation outcomes, however, are often minor and technical in nature. Not surprisingly, Departments, which must compete for limited space in the legislative programme, find it difficult to justify Bills for such measures. When better regulation reforms are forced to compete for precious parliamentary time, this and future Governments will struggle, just as previous Governments have, to ease the burden on business and our public services.

For that reason, there was widespread support for the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. Its principles and aims were right—scarce parliamentary Bill time should not prevent Departments from bringing forward regulatory reform proposals and should not deny Parliament the opportunities to play its proper role in regulatory reform. There is also widespread agreement, however, that the way in which the Act was framed has proved inadequate for purpose.

I acknowledge that the proposed regulatory reform power in this Bill will make important changes to the way in which we pass some legislation. It is important to remember, however, that Parliament accepted the need for an alternative legislative route when it passed the 2001 Act. The order-making power in this Bill simply aims to put right the inadequacies of the 2001 Act. The Bill will not undermine the legislative rights of the House or its role in scrutinising Government proposals; on the contrary, the Government would like to see the House playing a much fuller role in pursuing the better regulation agenda and scrutinising more Government proposals to improve our regulatory landscape.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we should not undermine good legislation passed by the House. Does he agree, however, that legislation should be driven not only by finance but by the implications for the people we are deemed to protect under it?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In his four or five years in the House, he has made a significant impact on the way in which important and vulnerable workers are protected. He is right that we must not only weigh up the financial cost but the benefits, real or perceived, when identifying new regulations or seeking to remove regulations. I know that he has paid close attention to such matters, and I know from our conversations over the past few days that he continues to do so. I believe that the Regulatory Reform Committee and its equivalent in another place
9 Feb 2006 : Column 1053
provide the most effective forum in which to do that. I am determined that the proper role of Parliament should be preserved, and I have insisted that the formal preconditions on orders are retained or adapted to remove the narrow and technical concept of burdens. Indeed, those safeguards now apply comprehensively to capture all of the impacts imposed by orders. There is also a new safeguard—no order will be made where there is a better alternative to legislation.

I want to examine in more detail the inadequacies of the 2001 Act and how the new Bill will remedy those. It was always our intention to review the groundbreaking powers in the 2001 Act and to assess how well they work. Both Houses asked for that undertaking during the passage of the Act. The review, conducted with Departments and drawing on parliamentary Committee reports, was published in July last year, and highlighted some positive aspects to the RRO powers, pointing out that some worthwhile regulatory reforms had been delivered.

However, the review also identified some serious flaws in the existing RRO power. First, the concept of legal burdens, on which the regulatory reform power is based, is narrow and technically complicated. Departments have found it difficult to make many of their proposals fit those narrow requirements, no matter how beneficial the proposals would be from a better regulation perspective. For instance, the current power can remove a statutory requirement, but it cannot make a statutory requirement easier to comply with. The current power must also be related to an activity, which meant that proposals to improve personal insolvency administration orders could not be taken forward.

Secondly, technical restrictions such as the two-year rule, which prevents a regulation from being reformed until it has been in effect for two years, have blocked useful reform. The need for reform of a regulation often becomes apparent a lot sooner, and it makes no sense to hold back reform in that way.

Thirdly, the technical nature of the Act has meant that the work involved in preparing orders is not proportionate to the effect of the orders; nor is that analysis focused on the merits of the proposal as it should be. That has been both a deterrent to using the powers and a significant factor in the length of time that Departments have taken to prepare and present proposals to Parliament. It can often take longer to pass an RRO than a whole Bill. Clearly, that is disproportionate for proposals that are often minor and uncontroversial. For example, the RRO reforming business tenancies, a relatively straightforward reform, took more than two and a half years to complete.

The review left the Government in no doubt that the RRO power needed to be reformed. It led to proposals that were put out to consultation last year. That consultation drew a wide range of responses from the business community and representative groups, and demonstrated strong support for our proposals.

Next Section IndexHome Page