“burdens resulting from legislation for businesses or other organisations or for individuals”.

In fact, it will do the opposite. It will not change the situation for those who genuinely do not pose a risk to others, but will create complete confusion for all other self-employed people.

Clause 2 removes the power of employment tribunals to make wider recommendations to employers who are found to have discriminated unlawfully. The Labour party totally opposes that clause. Before the introduction of the Equality Act 2010, a tribunal could only provide a remedy to successful claimants and could not recommend that an employer address the root causes of the discrimination. In almost three quarters of cases, the victim leaves the workplace. The tribunal was unable to ask an employer to change its policies, its practices or a culture that would be likely to lead to further discrimination.

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The Government want to repeal the provision that allows tribunals to make wider recommendations because of employers’ fears about inappropriate or excessive recommendations. However, there is no credible evidence to support that argument. In 2012, there were 19 cases in which tribunals issued wider recommendations, according to a recent study that was published in the Equality Opportunities Review. In 15 cases, the recommendation was for training on equality and diversity. In seven cases, respondents were asked to address equality issues generally or to review policies. Such recommendations are made by a tribunal judge and two lay members, including one who represents business. After considering all the evidence at the full hearing, they make proportionate and reasonable suggestions to address the serious cases of discrimination.

Clauses 61 to 64 have been discussed widely by Members on both sides of the House. They are of great concern to Labour Members. They will impose a new duty on some bodies to have regard, in exercising their regulatory functions, to the desirability of promoting economic growth. It is, of course, important that regulators do not set out to impede economic growth. However, having a statutory duty that obliges them to have regard to economic growth in the exercise of their functions, with no clarity as to how it might operate, will potentially interfere with their ability to perform their statutory duties. There is a danger that those who are regulated will attempt to use the new duty to override the actions of the regulator. For example, a business could argue that requiring a particular process to be undertaken before it conducts a certain activity would prevent it from making a profit and thus reduce its ability to grow. On the other hand, not conducting such a process could lead to an accident or to an employee becoming ill. Which of the competing duties would prevail and who would make that decision?

On education, paragraph 1 of schedule 14 removes the requirement on governing bodies in England to ensure that policies that are designed to promote good behaviour among pupils are pursued at their school. Surely it is a mistake to remove that requirement. In the past few days, the Secretary of State for Education has stated that discipline is lacking in schools, and has said what teachers, head teachers and governing bodies should do to instil more discipline. However, under the Bill, behaviour policies may be watered down or removed. Effective pupil behaviour policies are made through collaboration between the head teacher, the governors and the teaching staff. Ofsted is inspecting pupil behaviour more closely than ever before.

Paragraph 3 of schedule 14 transfers the responsibility for determining school term dates from local authorities in England to governing bodies. Teachers and parents share concerns about letting schools decide on their own terms and holidays. The National Union of Teachers commissioned YouGov to survey teachers in 2013. The vast majority of teachers—80%—said that it was important that schools maintained similar term dates. There are also concerns about the statutory guidance on staffing matters in schools.

Before I conclude, I want to mention a number of other clauses that cause me great concern. Clause 23 will remove restrictions on the provision of passenger

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rail services. Clause 26 will remove the duty to order the rehearing of marine accident investigations. Clause 59 relates to ambulatory references to international shipping instruments. I am concerned about those clauses among many others.

In Committee, consideration needs to be given to a raft of serious and detailed issues, especially safety and health. This is a mixed bag of a Bill. It is hard to support it in its present state because of the variety of deregulatory measures that it contains. Some of them are simple, but some of them are very significant.

7.26 pm

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): I rise to speak in support of the amendment that appears in my name and the names of the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I was delighted that the Minister referred to it as an amendment of the far left in this Parliament. If that is the case, I am probably nicely in the political centre in my home community of Carmarthenshire. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion spoke passionately and convincingly about the many pernicious and insidious aspects of the Bill that reflect the Government’s true intentions.

I am glad that the Joint Committee that carried out the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill criticised the enabling clause heavily. It would have allowed Ministers to scrap regulations by order, as they saw fit. That clause has been removed by the Government, or at least substantially amended. As originally conceived, it would have set a worrying precedent. It was reminiscent of the Henry VIII clause that was originally proposed in the Public Bodies Bill in 2011, which would have allowed the Government to abolish public bodies. At least the Government had the good sense to drop that proposal in the end.

Why do the Government need to do away with these regulations? The origins of the Bill are rooted in the perceived need to do away with red tape that was supposedly holding back economic growth in the dark days of 2011, 2012 and early 2013. However, what was holding back economic growth was not the bogeyman of small but important pieces of regulation and protection, but a dramatic slashing of capital investment, which had the effect of stagnating and even shrinking the economy at a time when the Government should have been stimulating the economy fiscally, rather than simply monetarily. That was the reason for the prolonged nature of the great recession, the massive drop in living standards, and the dashed hopes and dreams of millions. Unemployment rose and companies folded because of a lack of business and a lack of funds as the banks, propped up by the Government, failed to lend.

For many parts of the British state, the economy is not recovering. The Government point to UK GDP figures, but conveniently ignore the fact that growth is concentrated in London and the south-east of England. In my part of the world in west Wales, the latest gross value added statistics showed that the economy had shrunk by 4%. Although Wales as a whole is slowly beginning to turn the corner, we have been massively handicapped over the past five years by reductions in wages in real terms and decreased economic activity,

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and we have not benefited from the significant capital injection that London has seen in projects such as the Olympics and Crossrail. To suggest that red tape was holding back the Welsh economy is to tilt at windmills.

Before the Government get too carried away and announce the end of boom and bust, as the last Labour Government did, or the end of the struggle endured by ordinary people and the end of the squeeze on living standards, they should take note of the upcoming green budget 2014 by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. It warns that

“there is little reason to expect a strong recovery in living standards over the next few years…it seems highly unlikely that living standards will recover their pre-crisis levels by 2015-16.”

Desperately needing to appear to be doing something, the Government announced a deeply serious investigation to discover what was holding the economy back, pledging to cut any red tape. Finally, that allowed Ministers and the Government to hold it up and shout, “Eureka! Here is the lost formula for economic growth and business investment.” I do not need to remind Members that business investment and lending across the British state is at pathetic levels, even though the Government now rejoice in forecasts for economic growth. Business investment in the UK as a share of GDP is among the worst in the world.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion spoke about several aspects of the Bill but focused on the scrapping of environmental regulations that apply in England. Thankfully, much of the Bill will not apply in Wales, as the National Assembly for Wales is sovereign in those and other areas. However, some of the more pernicious aspects of the Bill certainly do apply to Wales. The Bill is so far-ranging and a real hotch-potch of ideas—some bad, some made and some just plain ugly—but I will focus on just some aspects, particularly those relating to health and safety, employment tribunals, civil liberties, housing and the scrapping of energy and climate change obligations.

The removal of employment tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations is insidious. It follows in the same vein as earlier plans by the Government, such as the proposal to make it easier to fire employees, as recommended by the Beecroft report, and the Chancellor’s plan to allow companies to offer shares in return for workers giving up their employment rights. It also follows the halving of the consultation period before large-scale redundancies can take place, the introduction of fees for workers bringing employment tribunal claims, and proposals for a lower cap on unfair dismissal awards.

The removal of an employment tribunal’s power to make wider recommendations typifies the Bill’s ideological nature. The Government are seeking to chip away further at workers’ rights, and the Bill reflects that attitude and those prejudices. Many Government Members are still chasing shadows, believing that they are fighting the battles of their ideological heroes of the ’70s and ’80s, but the trade unions are not the potent forces of yesteryear, because successive Governments, both Labour and Tory, have emasculated them.

I welcomed the announcement made on the Floor of the House this afternoon on clause 47, which threatened to introduce rules for secret hearings should the police wish to seize journalists’ notebooks, photographs or digital files. Applications, or “production orders”, must currently be made in open court. That change would

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have represented a worrying and sinister development in the near-continuous eroding of civil liberties under the Labour Government and the coalition.

Clause 28 represents yet another nail in the coffin of the Government’s claim to be the greenest ever. Whatever happened to “Vote blue, go green”? The removal of the requirement for the Secretary of State to set a target for microgeneration follows the fiasco over the sudden reduction in feed-in tariffs. I need not remind anyone of the Prime Minister’s recent reported comment that he wanted—I hope that you will forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker—to cut all the green C-R-A-P.

The changes to health and safety in the Bill have already been heavily criticised by the TUC, which noted that the plans to exempt the self-employed fail to take into account the fact that the fatality rate among that group is far higher. It is important that all workers are protected. Any attempt to chip away at health and safety legislation, even if just for a particular group, represents a threat to the safety of all workers.

Although plans to speed up the right to buy do not apply in Wales, I believe that the move is symptomatic of the Government’s return to the Tory and Labour boom-and-bust model of growth based on rising house prices and personal debt—the British disease, as I call it. It does nothing to address the need for housing where there is high demand and will not bring about an increase in social housing provision. How does something like that affect Wales, Members might ask, as the clause does not apply there? When the boom-and-bust model hits bust and there is another housing crash in England, that will affect the whole economy of the British state.

I look forward to questioning the Government Ministers responsible for the later stages of the Bill’s progress on the consequences and impacts of some of its other clauses and provisions.

7.34 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): For this flagship Government Bill, one wonders where all the Tories have gone. They seem rather reluctant to participate in the debate, whereas on these Benches—[Interruption.] Fine dialogue on modernising the structure of the Labour party might well be going on elsewhere. Colleagues have rightly seen that the mishmash of junk that has been presented as the Deregulation Bill is virtually worthless—so much so that it does not even warrant attendance.

The Bill should be called the Deregulation (of previous Tory laws) Bill. The Minister who opened the debate, despite being such a learned man, suggested that it was undoing the ills of previous Labour Governments, but the truth is rather different. The following clauses remove previous Tory legislation: clauses 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 36, 46, 47, 49, 50, 53, 57, 59 and 60—virtually the entire Bill. The same is true of the detail, as schedules 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 16 and 17 remove previous Tory legislation. I am therefore in favour of some of those changes—although not all—because they relate to irrelevant legislation that should never have been on the statute book in the first place. Redundant and irrelevant Tory legislation is rightly being removed, although of course, being the Tory party, they have to throw in half the legislation on health and safety.

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Neil Carmichael: I have not had time to flick through every clause in the Bill, but who was in power in 2004 when the regulations on the management of child trust funds were introduced, and who was in power in 2003—this is a choice example—when we were legislating on the provision of late-night refreshment?

John Mann: As the hon. Gentleman said, he has not had time to read the Bill, which is why I itemised, for the record, every clause and schedule that removes Tory legislation. In fact, around 80% of the legislation being removed is Tory legislation. Indeed, when the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), responds, he will doubtless wish to outline which bits he introduced in his various ministerial guises. Given his ministerial longevity, there will undoubtedly be several regulations that he was personally responsible for but now wishes to remove, and we on the Opposition Benches might wish to back him on that.

However, the Minister for Government Policy, a highly educated and learned gentleman, did not, when receiving his challenge on self-employment and safety, know what he was talking about. I cited, in relation to clause 1, what would happen with a self-employed mountain guide. He immediately jumped in to assist his hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), who was struggling, because he knew that I was right and that the clause represents an undoing of the self-employed mountain guide’s employment position. There is a critical flaw in the logic of the Bill. Mountain guides require insurance, and to get it they need to demonstrate that there is a health and safety profile, and that is relevant for those who employ self-employed mountain guides who take people out on ropes. By the way, I personally managed to negotiate, on behalf of the all-party group on mountaineering, exemption from the working at heights directive anomalies that affected that profession, demonstrating that the way the industry works meant it was not safe to put that application into place. I am not, therefore, on the side of unnecessary regulation, but the protection of the employment position of those self-employed people is fundamental.

A better-known example, the single biggest civil litigation case brought by a group of workers against a Government, demonstrates the issue more brutally. That common-law action brought by workers in the mining industry, for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Vibration White Finger, cost the Government a huge amount of money, because the people involved were employed primarily by the Government, so it was a taxpayer liability, although there were some private companies. The civil action was successful because the litigators had demonstrated that appropriate practices and procedures were not in place. If there had been proper regulation of the mining industry at the time, the cost to the health of the men forced to bring the case would have been hugely reduced, as would the financial cost to the taxpayer and other employers, which went into many billions.

That is the point of good regulation. A good health and safety procedure—for example on use of breathing equipment in a colliery or the handling of vibrating tools—would have been a mitigating factor in those processes, and a huge mitigating factor in terms of compensation. That is precisely why self-employed mountain guides require a structure within which they

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can get insurance and quantify it, to take them out of the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. What we are doing is leading to a lawyers’ paradise in which the agency that might employ people, and the individual, will be able to battle between one another over who is liable, if it can be demonstrated in court that particular procedures were not followed. A requirement of responsibility under health and safety law gives protection to that self-employed person as well as to the agency employing them.

Let me tell the House why I know that. When I ran a small business—as I did for many years—we had to deal with working at heights and a range of legislation, and I shall illustrate my point with some examples. A case was brought against us by an employee who had broken his foot. However, because of manual handling at work legislation and the fact that we had applied it, the case got nowhere. That was precisely because the legislation had created a structure with a sensible and rational procedure, which we could demonstrate and insist that the employee followed. When he did not follow that procedure, we could demonstrate that as the employer—with liability—we were not in fact liable for the accident.

It is a myth that good regulation damages small business. I lived with regulation day in, day out, and if we ask small businesses, we find that they nearly always object to two things: paperwork—that is always a nightmare—and cost. When small businesses complain—and when I did—it is about cost. If regulation costs a lot and someone is trying to make ends meet, it is difficult. However, regulations on manual handling at work, and health and safety legislation, do not involve cost other than training the work force. It is a miniscule cost. It is an absurdity when someone is handling heavy goods, as we were, not to have such regulation. Let me give a second example.

Mr Kenneth Clarke: The hon. Gentleman is making a passionate defence of the regulations under which he successfully defended a claim many years ago, but the Bill does not affect health and safety legislation as far as small employers—such as those whom he is speaking so eloquently in favour of, and such as he was—are concerned. It is an interesting illustration of the value of health and safety regulation, which I do not dispute, but what on earth has it got to do with the Government’s proposals?

John Mann: When even the Minister who is responding to the debate has not read the Bill it is a bit of a problem. Read schedule 1. Most of the employees that I had were self-employed—[Laughter.]

Mr Clarke: I am sorry; that is what fooled me.

John Mann: I do not find it amusing that the Government introducing the Bill have no idea what goes on in workplaces and of the effect that this change will have, so let me illustrate my point. In the kind of work that we were doing, such as setting up major concerts in huge halls, a variety of different people come in and work together. Who is responsible for ensuring that the ladders going up—perhaps 50, 60, 70 feet—are secure? If it is a self-employed person, without that requirement in law because of this change, that buck—that burden—can

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be shifted. One critical thing in such a situation is having an overall duty because then everyone is liable. When working in complex spaces, with people going backwards and forwards carrying huge loads of equipment, lugging it and putting it up on high, all—whether a single person, a company or a company bringing in self-employed people, as we often did—ensure that the systems and the space is properly secured because they have a responsibility without exclusion.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments. His scenario is that of several self-employed people working as contractors in an umbrella organisation, but there is nothing in the Bill or clause 1 that would absolve that umbrella organisation from any health and safety aspect that I can see. His examples just do not apply.

John Mann: As I illustrated with the mining industry, if we move away from regulation, it will lead to civil litigation, and exactly the same will happen with the clauses in this Bill. That is illustrative not of a specific measure in the Bill in relation to the mining industry, but of the principle that moving away from good regulation creates a liability. It is not a cost saving for the employer because that liability comes back. In such a situation, yes, the Bill would have an impact because there is no overriding factor—that is the point. The case of the mountain guides is a wonderful example because the person who owns the mountain is normally the general public. We cannot say, “Ah well, this private landowner is responsible for this bolt coming out and this person who has been guided up falling to their death.” That is why this form of legislation came in.

The Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe is the sole Euro-fanatic in the Tory parliamentary party these days. He is more Euro-fanatic than my good self. I note that in the past hour, UKIP has just nicked one of my Bills put to this Parliament about shifting the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to Manchester, and proclaimed it as its own.

Andrew Bridgen: Let me try and drag the hon. Gentleman back to the actual debate. With his vast business experience and knowledge, will he please explain how most of his employees were self-employed? That is a clear contradiction in terms.

John Mann: We are now dealing with the most extraordinary Conservative party. When the people being brought in are self-employed—and that is not an unusual situation—it depends what industry they are working in—[Interruption.] They are the contractors who are brought in. The hon. Gentleman may wish to make pedantic points, rather than getting to the heart of the weakness of the Bill.

Mr Letwin rose

John Mann: I will take an intervention from the Minister who got the position on mountain guides wrong.

Mr Letwin: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I would scarcely have engaged in diminishing the brilliance of his eloquence were it not for the fact that it may be

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that someone reading


would be misled into supposing that what he is talking about had any kind of rhyme or reason in it at all. Actually, if he was the employer, he would continue to be covered by health and safety legislation as before. That will always be the case for the employer, regardless of whether the people working for an employer are contracted to him as self-employed or otherwise. If he is really serious about this, he will attend to the fact that what we are doing is removing Health and Safety at Work, etc. 1974 Act provisions for those self-employed people themselves in those occupations which are not prescribed and are, therefore, without risk to other people.

John Mann: As the Minister knows, the definition of what is risk to other people is entirely subjective.

Mr Letwin: I am sorry, but it will not be in any way subjective; it will be utterly objective in the sense that the Health and Safety Executive will be publishing a list of the prescribed activities that will continue to be covered by the 1974 Act.

John Mann: We will see which are included and which are not. When the Minister talked about mountain guides, he gave the example of a regulator that does not exist for that profession. That was the example he gave to promote his Bill and demonstrate that it would be regulated. Wrong. That regulator does not exist in relation to mountain guides; it is an entirely different body with nothing whatever to do with them.

Perhaps Conservative Members would like to listen, because I have worked in this situation. For example, when working to set up a concert there will be a range of different people: some will be self-employed and some will be employed. If overall responsibility for health and safety is removed from the self-employed, that will put everybody at risk, because that responsibility will no longer be defined. That is a fundamental flaw in the Bill that the Ministers clearly have not thought through.

The Minister for Government Policy put up the wrong regulator in the example I cited. I personally negotiated with the previous Government the exemption from the working at heights directive on precise technicalities. I demonstrated that it was not safer to be included. Despite the perception, it would not have provided health and safety. In climbing, there are two ropes. The worst-case contingency training did not allow for one of those ropes snapping, so the directive was a nonsense. It was not a nonsense in terms of the principle of the law; it was a nonsense in the detail. The principle of deregulation should be that if regulation is not effective—when it is useless, when it does not work and when it is outdated—it should be removed, as has been the case for stuff going back 150 years.

David Mowat: The hon. Gentleman said that the Minister referred to the wrong regulator. May I then refer to the right regulator in his eyes: the HSE? Why does he think that the HSE supports this deregulation if it contains all the evils that he suggests?

John Mann: The HSE does not regulate training for mountain guides. As with any risk assessment, the responsibility for risk assessment, given that there is a

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health and safety duty, lies with the individual. That is the basis on which the voluntary organisations across the world and in this country that oversee health and safety standards operate. The duty to need to have that risk assessment, and that health and safety duty, is just as applicable for the self-employed as it is for those employing others, so there is no difference in that example.

Let me cite another example of how good regulation works. The Minister said that there were hundreds of pieces of European legislation that should be removed, but he could cite none of them. In our business we worked all over Europe. We had to drive lorries across Europe before good regulation came in. If we did a job in Hungary, we had to drive through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and Hungary. There was different regulation for lorries and heavy goods vehicles in each of those countries at that time, and some of the differences were huge. For example, we could not drive on certain roads in Austria. There were different speeds and different specs covering what kind of vehicle was allowed. In terms of free trade, that was a lot of regulation in many countries, and I would suggest that there is now sensible regulation.

Virtually all the regulation emanating from Europe is to do with the single market. The figure that I have read is 90%, but the Minister without Portfolio is a greater expert on this than me, so I am sure he can confirm that. A single market requires regulations so that products can be sold on an equal basis, and they are counter to import controls. Import controls and regulation do not go together; they are polar opposites. If the Conservative party is saying—it would be useful to have this clarification—that it intends to remove a lot of European legislation on the single market, which import controls would it bring back in? Many economists and others would say that import controls are a cost on business, just as civil litigation costs, as the mining industry found, are a cost on business. Good regulation, especially on health and safety, protects the position of the self-employed and the employer. It is not a burden on them, but a protection to them, as well as the worker concerned.

There is some good stuff in the Bill. The provisions on rights of way may well speed up a long drawn out process and ensure that they are brought in properly, appropriately and speedily. That may well be a very good thing, but it would have been useful also to have dealt with regulation on health and safety in graveyards. They are the perfect example: there was no regulation, and 3 million gravestones, due to what many people described as health and safety, were staked. There was no regulation for that; it was precisely the absence of regulation that led to 3 million gravestones being staked. The House may recall that I am a qualified topple tester in graveyard health and safety. What happened was due to the same problem that the mining industry faced: insurance risk. Insurers demanded action, but there was no coherent regulation that said, “Here is what the health and safety standard should be.” Faced with pressure from insurers, people did their own thing—they made it up as they went along—but that is precisely what the Bill proposes should happen in many areas. That is the principle behind what Ministers are proposing, but the Bill will shift the burden on to insurance companies and the courts, and that is not protection for the employer.

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Andrew Bridgen: Given the hon. Gentleman’s aversion to releasing the self-employed who do not pose a risk to anyone else from health and safety legislation, will he explain why countries such as France, Germany and Italy do not bring the self-employed under the terms of health and safety?

John Mann: I will not give a detailed exposition about climbing guides in France and Germany, save to say that they have a formalised responsibility for health and safety.

Mr Wallace: As a Parliamentary Private Secretary, I am sorry to break the convention of the House by rising to speak, but I am a qualified Austrian and British ski instructor, as well as an avalanche safety instructor, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman, to put him out of his misery, that a person’s qualification, by its recognition, gives them not only insurance, but cover from being sued, and that the people who grant the qualification are obliged under health and safety and other legislation to instruct people in accordance with recognised standards.

John Mann: The hon. Gentleman will therefore know that he has a legal duty, if he is taking people with him, to carry out a risk assessment, and the removal of precisely that legal duty is the danger of clause 1. That is the danger of ill-thought-through legislation—[Interruption.] Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall pause to ensure that Government Members are listening.

I can give another example of good regulation that was absent for a century but which the Government dare not include in the Bill. I am talking about safety at football stadiums. For 100 years, there was disaster after disaster—two at Ibrox; one at Bolton, Birmingham, Bradford and Hillsborough—but no effective regulation. It was a case of, “Make it up as you go along.” In 1968, a stand burned down at the stadium of the Minister without Portfolio’s local team, Nottingham Forest, but no safety regulation was brought in for football or sports stadiums. Had it been introduced, it would undoubtedly have covered wooden stands. A repeat incident took place in 1985 in a virtually identical stand, which shows the danger of not having effective regulation.

There is another contradiction with this Government. We have heard several times about the one in, two out principle, but the precise definition of “one in” is regulation under statutory instrument. The Department for Communities and Local Government has handed to local authorities regulation in disguise. Over the past year, the Government have put a range of regulatory barriers in the way of self-builders, but they have not classified it as new regulation. They have introduced the barrier of pre-planning consultation fees and extra charges on developers and new builders, and they have introduced the community infrastructure levy and applied it to self-builds, which is another form of regulation. Being a Nottinghamshire MP, the Minister will know that in Nottinghamshire self-building has come to a complete stop. The first local authority to apply the levy was Newark and Sherwood, since when there have been no self-builds. Builders are not building one or two-plot developments because of the burdens on industry.

The Government have gone further, however, and brought in the affordable housing levy for single dwellings, meaning that in Newark a builder or a couple wishing

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to build their own home have to face those barriers and pay up to £50,000 in new taxes. That is not counted as regulation, but I say it is regulation and a burden on business. In Nottinghamshire, the policy is decimating small family building companies that rely on this kind of work, which is why there are virtually no one, two or three-dwelling property starts in Nottinghamshire. Newark and Sherwood led the way, and others have followed, using new regulation—new burdens on small builders and aspiring home owners—brought in over the past 12 months.

I trust that the Minister will confirm that there will be a change and that these burdens—[Laughter.] The Minister for Government Policy laughs, but it is no laughing matter for the couple in Tuxford who are told they have to pay £64,000 in taxes before they can even start building their own property under policies introduced by this Government. I want confirmation in this debate that that burden on business will be classified as regulation. In terms of one in, two out, they can be classified as part of the in; at the moment, they are not. This is fundamental to the Government’s approach of shifting the burden on to the courts—we will see more cases going to court—and insurers under the pretext that this is all the fault of Labour regulation.

I will end on this—[Interruption.] I have never been in a debate like this, Madam Deputy Speaker, with such rudeness—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Gentleman has indicated that he is about to draw his remarks to a close after more than half an hour of a passionate and perfectly in order speech. Hon. Members should not dissuade him from so doing.

John Mann: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Had they been required, I could have given a range of other examples to demonstrate my point.

I come at this from the perspective of someone who has run a small business and who can say unequivocally that good, effective regulation is pro-business, that removing good regulation is anti-business, and that removing regulation will shift the burden to the courts and insurers, and will destroy small and medium-sized enterprises. In their ignorance of the small business sector, that is what the Government are doing.

The Government are slaves to the saying, “Red tape is bad.” Of course, red tape is bad. The Bill gets rid of much bad Tory legislation—nearly 80% of the Bill removes Tory legislation—that was contested at the time and should never have come in. Labour Members accept, I am sure, their apologies and their recompense to society shown through their being prepared to get rid of it, but alongside those measures they have thrown in a few gems introduced by Labour that protect workers and employers, and fundamentally protect the self-employed and small businesses.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister how much European legislation can be identified. It is nonsense to suggest that the Government are anti-regulation, given that, as I have demonstrated with DCLG, they are powering in taxation and burdens on small businesses in my area and elsewhere through the back door. Their disingenuous approach needs to be exposed. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that a raft of bad Tory legislation

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will be confined to the dustbin, if the Bill—in a greatly amended and improved form, I hope—reaches the statute book.

I will finish with a comment about the amendment from the Greens. Perhaps a coalition is forming—a plan for the future—although there are not very many Greens now, and there will be fewer after the next election. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), speaking for the Green party, cited the Green Building Council, but what does that do? Of course it is the glaziers promoting a specific type of window that is enforced on all house builders. There is legislation that means that for those who, like me, live in a listed building, every single window that is repaired, however minor, should by law go for individual planning consent, at great expense to the householder, but also at cost to the developer. I notice that none of that kind of thing is dealt with by this Bill. There is a lot of talk, but when it comes to the vested interest of the Green Building Council and the regulation introduced to give a competitive advantage to certain sections of industry, there is not a single word in this Bill. For those who want to see some of the red tape removed, there will be an opportunity for Members on both sides to propose amendments to the Bill to ensure that such burdens on business, which should not be there, are removed.

8.11 pm

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): We have had a series of bombshells during this debate. As became increasingly evident would be the case, no Lib Dems whatever have spoken in this Second Reading debate or even intervened, which I thought was very telling.

There were also a series of bookended bombshells. At the end of the debate we heard from the hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), who I was not aware had qualified as an Austrian ski instructor. I will certainly take that on board next time I am on the piste.

The Minister who opened the debate mentioned in his second or third sentence the fact that regulation was, to use his phrase, often sensible and necessary, which also came as a bombshell. That was welcome and—to be sensible for a moment—set the tone of the debate throughout: that we should try to have a regulatory regime that is proportionate and appropriate, but that any unnecessary legislation should be removed from the statute book. We on the Labour Benches would certainly agree with that.

The Minister also mentioned—this was the biggest bombshell of all—that Charlie Chaplin can be now be rehabilitated. Chaplin, who was seen as a communist in the United States in the 1950s, has now been fully rehabilitated into the Conservative party of the 21st century. That is welcome. The Minister said that village halls up and down the country are happy to be able to screen Chaplin. I have to ask him: has he seen “A Woman of Paris”, which highlights illicit sex encounters between an unmarried young woman and her boyfriend, who shoots himself at the end of the film? Is this the type of film that the Minister wants to deregulate, to ensure that it is available to the village halls and the spinsters of old England? I do not think it should be.

This is a somewhat ad hoc Bill. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) called it a hotch-potch, while my hon. Friend the Member for

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Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) called it a mishmash. The Minister has scouted and hawked round Whitehall for the best part of a year, asking for any ideas for a deregulatory Bill. In many respects, that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is good, as we have heard several times, to have a spring clean. However, I disagree with a lot of what the Minister said. He opened the debate by saying that health and safety legislation was “wretched stuff”. I hope he will use this opportunity to say that not all health and safety legislation is wretched.

Mr Letwin: I never said any such thing. What I was referring to was ludicrously overburdensome guidance that is verbose and unclear. That is the bit that is wretched stuff. Of course health and safety legislation is necessary and desirable; it is a question of trying to make sure that is straightforward, clear and to the point.

Mr Wright: The phrase that the Minister has just used—straightforward, clear and to the point—is very important, because I am not entirely certain that clause 1 is. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck said that it serves no purpose other than to confuse, and I have to agree with him. The Health and Safety Executive consulted on the proposals. To be fair, clause 1 was the preferred option, but the majority of those responding to the consultation opposed the idea.

As has been said several times in the debate, the Opposition are concerned that clause 1 does not really have any tangible impact, but introduces more confusion for self-employed people, who may wrongly think that they are exempt from health and safety laws. No self-employed person has ever been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution for risking only their own health. Given that only people who pose no risk to anybody will be exempt, I cannot see how there will be a practical impact on business or individuals. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which we have heard about, can already be used only in circumstances where a person puts another person at risk anyway.

We have heard about the construction sector on a number of occasions. There is an awful lot of bogus self-employment in the construction industry. Does clause 1 deal with that? I thought that the Minister was very precise, in a vague sort of way, in his use of language, because he said that by the time the Bill reached Committee, “activities” would be prescribed. Is that activities or professions and jobs? It would useful to have an idea about that, because we are extremely concerned about clause 1. We would like clarification, both this evening and in Committee, about which jobs will be excluded and reassurances that protections will be in place.

Mr Letwin: Of course I am happy to provide that clarification. When the shadow Minister sees the prescribed list, he will see that it largely concerns activities, but also certain sectors in which so many of the activities cause dangers to other people involved in them that they are completely exempted from the provision.

Mr Wright: That is helpful.

I thought the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) made a great speech, which was quite literally Churchillian in its approach. Let us not forget that the

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second Churchill Government produced the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, because Churchill recognised the importance of improved regulation and health and safety in things such as welfare and employment, especially for women and young people. In terms of domestic legislation, the Churchill Administration of 1951 to ’55 were very progressive.

The hon. Gentleman talked about first-time entrepreneurs and first-time exporters. He talked about realising dreams and achieving objectives. I have to agree with him: that is exactly what we want to see. However, there is nothing in this Bill that allows that to happen. Not one jot of what he mentioned in his rhetoric would be allowed under this Bill.

David Rutley: Has the hon. Gentleman not taken any notice at all of the debate about clause 1? There are plenty of businesses that would like overburdensome health and safety regulation removed from them, as is clear from the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce.

Mr Wright: I will come to the precise benefits for business in a moment, but I want first to refer to the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), whom I cannot see in her place at the moment. She used her knowledge from the Joint Committee and her experience in business. I have to disagree with a lot of what she said. I respect her experience in business, but she says that Government just have to get out of the way of business. I do not think that is necessarily the case in a modern, innovative economy. What we need is a Government who will work with business on a long-term vision and an industrial strategy that will enable us to pay our way in the world.

I agree with everything that the hon. Lady said about business start-ups and the need to enhance our competitiveness, but there is nothing in the Bill—no single clause or schedule—that would facilitate start-ups: if only there were such provisions. One of the things that worry us most is the fact that the United Kingdom is slipping down in the world rankings for start-ups. According to figures from the OECD, it has fallen from 18th in the world last year to 28th this year. When it comes to obtaining electricity for a business, our ranking has slipped from 64th to 74th. Surely we should be doing something about that. The Bill could have helped us to do so, but unfortunately it does not.

Several Members mentioned the Bill’s impact on business. One could be forgiven for thinking that it would facilitate an enormous start-up of entrepreneurial activity, but its provisions are so insubstantial and so insignificant to British business that they are almost meaningless. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) in her excellent opening speech, the statement of impact for the draft Bill estimated that it would save businesses £10 million over 10 years: £1 million a year.

Richard Fuller rose

Mr Wright: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who I know is very knowledgeable about business. Those savings to business would equate to a full 20p a year for each and every business in the country. Does he not think that our ambitions should be greater?

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Richard Fuller: Amen to the hon. Gentleman’s apparent call for the Government to take further action to deregulate and to reduce the burdens on business. He has told us several times how small the changes are. Will he, on behalf of the Opposition, table further deregulatory measures in Committee that will reduce the burden of regulation on business?

Mr Wright: When I speak to businesses, which I do every day, they tell me that the main factor affecting their long-term growth perspective is access to finance. Nothing in the Bill enables us to take a long-term view when it comes to where businesses can obtain the finance they need to grow.

It takes four fifths of a second for the British economy—for the hard work and effort of millions of people and enterprises—to generate that potential saving of £1 million a year. I say this to Ministers, and to other Members who have spoken today: do not insult the intelligence of Britain by describing the Bill as a substantial piece of reforming legislation. It will not really help businesses; it will certainly not give them as much help as they need. For the purposes of businesses that want extra orders or secure access to finance, or want the Government to be on their side, this Bill is sadly lacking.

Families are experiencing a cost of living crisis, and have lost £1,600 a year since the general election. Just a few days ago, the Office for National Statistics confirmed that since the Government took office in 2010, Britain has faced the largest continuous fall in real wages since records began half a century ago. However, there is absolutely nothing in the Bill to deal with that situation. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr mentioned a 4% drop in wages in his community in Wales. One would think that the Government would want to do something about that in a deregulation Bill whose aim was to free up the inspiring innovation of businesses and individuals, but not a bit of it. The net benefits to individuals as a result of the Bill will amount to 0.18p for every single man, woman or child in this country. I really do think that the Government should do better than that.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) made a characteristically intelligent speech. She observed that some regulation could be good. She also mentioned clause 21, about which I am particularly concerned. The clause reduces the eligibility criteria relating to the purchase of social housing, which will have an adverse impact on the supply of such housing. Any local authority that wants to plan for the long term will need to spend capital, and will need to borrow as a result. The reduction of the qualifying period from five years to three will make it much more difficult for authorities to borrow on the back of a sustained rental stream. We need only look at the evidence that we have already seen: in the last year 10,600 council houses have been sold, but only 1,600 starts have been made.

Let me return to the hon. Member for Macclesfield and his Churchillian “action this day” rhetoric. What Macmillan did as Churchill’s housing Minister, and what Churchill did in the Housing Repairs and Rents Act 1954, was truly inspiring. It is what the present Government should be doing, but unfortunately they are not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) conveyed the powerful message that regulation is an essential part of a functioning market

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economy, ensuring that we are sufficiently competitive. She also said that the Bill paid insufficient regard to the Government’s supposed goal to be the greenest Government ever. There is no environmental concern and no environmental impact, and in fact there is an attack on sustainable development here. This is where the Government have got it wrong. It is not mutually exclusive to think about green and growth, although Ministers often think it is. Actually, if we think about how we are going to pay our way in the world in the 21st century, we realise that the real emphasis should be on the industries of the future—those of the green economy. As the CBI and others have said, this is what the modern face of British industry should look like.

Unfortunately I cannot see the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) in the Chamber. I consider him to be part of the sensible wing of the Tory party, but his speech tonight disabused me of that idea. He served on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill Committee with me. I do not want to rehash the arguments we had in that Committee, but there was no evidence whatever for some of the stuff that was coming through in respect of Beecroft. What was said was, “I’ve met a bloke down the pub and he said ‘wouldn’t this be a good idea?’” That was the empirical evidence the Government brought forward on that Bill.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that in that legislation the Government abolished the Agricultural Wages Board without a single discussion of it on the Floor of the House or in Committee. It was brought in at such a late stage. What businesses want is certainty. Having uncertainty in terms of feed-in tariffs and other things is anti-business.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) mentioned a lack of clarity with regard to clause 23. He also mentioned individual term time dates for schools in respect of clause 37 and here I declare an interest. My youngest son attends a primary school in Hartlepool and my daughter attends a secondary school in Hartlepool. If those schools do not co-ordinate and instead have different term times, it will cause enormous hassle and pressure for our family and millions like us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) gave a knowledgeable speech and my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck made a key point: the Bill is very wide-ranging—the mishmash that he mentioned—and that variety will potentially create problems. I agree.

There is nothing really troubling about this Bill, although there are individual clauses, such as clauses 1 and 2 on the tribunal powers to make recommendations, that are concerning and we would certainly like to see clause 2 deleted in Committee. The actions in this Bill do not match the rhetoric, however. We do not want to obstruct the Bill’s progress tonight, but we do have concerns on specific issues and we will need to look closely at them in Committee. When businesses are crying out for certainty and greater access to finance in order for us to be more competitive in the world, the Government’s ambitions could have been better with regard to the Deregulation Bill.

8.27 pm

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr Kenneth Clarke): A small and select group of specialist people have taken part in this debate, but it has been a very worthwhile

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one and while it has got very heated and agitated at times, I keep being reminded of how closely we have all been forced together, and the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) therefore finished on a very welcome note. The fact is that, so far as I noticed in every contribution from the moment the debate started, we all rather accept the need for deregulation. Everybody agreed on the other hand that there is a case for sensible regulation in the modern world. Indeed, it is highly desirable, but it is essential from time to time for Governments and Parliament to ensure that what is being done is proportionate, sensible, justifiable and does not impose unnecessary burdens on individuals and branches of government, and on business and small business in particular. We have gone round and round in circles and some Members have got wildly excited about particular regulations, but the fact is we come back to agreement on that point, and I get the impression that no one is going to press any objection this evening to the vote.

Caroline Lucas: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr Clarke: The amendment is of course on the Order Paper, so I give way to the hon. Lady.

Caroline Lucas: I have been advised that it will be helpful to the House to let the right hon. and learned Gentleman know that I do not intend to press the amendment tonight.

Mr Clarke: I am very grateful to hear it because by its very nature a deregulatory Bill gives rise to many points that can be raised in Committee.

The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) raised a lot of detailed points, and said that they should be considered in Committee. He has already served on the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. It is inevitable, when the British cover such a wide variety of things in regulation, that we sometimes have to have an item-by-item vote.

I take it from the tone of the debate today that the general direction of policy set out by the Government has fairly widespread approval. I have endured the experience of opposition, albeit briefly, in my time, and I occasionally had the burden of being sent along to a debate of this kind and trying to find something to argue about. I think that that was the problem facing the two very able Front-Bench speakers representing the Opposition today.

A strange argument broke out at one point today about whether what we were doing was totally insubstantial, worthless and of no point to the outside world, or whether it was completely horrendous and, as the Green amendment, which is no longer being pressed, says,

“ripping up vital green legislation”.

It was suggested that our blood should run cold at the idea of what we were doing to everyone from those climbing mountains to those running small businesses.

The claim was also made that the last Government had somehow achieved £3 billion of savings through their strident deregulatory measures. I am not here to debate the record of the last Government, but that is quite the most startling exposition of what they achieved

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that I have ever heard. I do not recommend that any Labour spokesman should try to persuade an audience of any of the small businessmen I have ever met that that was what they were doing.

The Bill represents the most determined effort of any Government I have known to pursue the deregulatory aims to which most Governments have paid lip service for the past 20 years. We were all into deregulation in the early 1990s; then the Labour Government talked about “better regulation”. I believe that this Government can claim that the substance of what we are producing greatly exceeds anything that has been done before.

Some of the figures that have been quoted about the impact of the Bill disguise the fact that it is only one part of the red tape challenge that is being led by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy. The Bill runs alongside and is part of that challenge, and it contains the elements that require primary legislation. My right hon. Friend has mentioned the 3,000 regulations that need to be repealed or improved.

The Bill has to be big enough and long enough to deal with so many detailed areas, and it will supplement and add to that to produce a deregulatory effect for businesses—particularly small businesses—as well as individual citizens, local authorities and branches of government, all of which have better things to do than to waste money on statutory duties the reason for which no one knows, or to produce reports that nobody reads or to have obligations for things that nobody is asking them to give advice on. For example, school governors have to publish advice on discipline. Our reforms will not undermine school discipline; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has talked about the need for school discipline. Most governors do not even know they are under such an obligation, but unfortunately some do produce a statement of policy, which is not required. That regulation will now be repealed.

The key part of the Bill is the one that relates to business. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) on this. I think we will need a Bill of this kind every 10 years or so. In modern times, as a result of single-issue lobby groups and newspaper campaigns, Government Departments engage in ever-more legislative and regulatory activity, sometimes for the sake of being seen to be doing something or, in the case of the lobby groups, being seen to be demanding something new. That has an adverse effect not only on the statute book and the regulatory publications but on the administration of good government and the running of any successful business. The Bill is therefore a welcome, and drastic, attempt to change the culture and go back in the direction of common sense and proper regulation that involves a true public interest and to ensure that environmental standards and the safety of workers are maintained.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), echoed by the hon. Member for Hartlepool, got on to matters that were of concern to her. Although such things can be discussed in Committee, I have to say that an attempt was being made to make a difference of principle that was not there. For example, we had the issue of employment rights and of the tribunals dealing with claims by employees against their employer. Let me make it absolutely clear that the Bill is not remotely trying to roll back the law on unfair dismissal or to reduce the protections against discrimination in the work place.

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The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) tried to identify the party political origin of every measure in the Bill. As it happens, it was a Conservative Government who set up employment tribunals, introduced employment rights and started the whole process that we now have. The intention was to provide a sensible, accessible and low cost way of resolving disputes and awarding compensation where some breach of employment rights had taken place. Over the years, the system has become legalistic. It has become almost habitual for anybody who loses their job to bring a claim, because there is very little risk to them and a great deal of encouragement to have a go. None of that is being tackled too directly by the Bill.

Addressing the power and cost of tribunals is much overdue. The principal fundamentals of employment rights are utterly beyond dispute nowadays. For the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central to claim that this Bill is a serious threat to the real principles underlying employment rights and achieves no important benefits shows that she has not met enough employers. When we talk to small employers about the problems of running a competitive business, most will rapidly start raising the problem and cost of claims before employment tribunals. The changes we propose could be criticised for being too modest, but they are certainly heading in the right direction. They should not invite a knee-jerk reaction from the Labour party, or anybody else, that nothing should be done to deregulate in that area and to remove unnecessary cost.

Similarly, on health and safety, absolutely nobody is suggesting, in this Bill or anywhere else, that we lower standards in this country when it comes to protecting the health and safety of the work force, or anybody else. We are not short of regulation in that area. Most of it will remain intact, but what is proposed here seems to be perfectly sensible. The biggest single change is to take away the burdens of health and safety legislation from self-employed people who are not in an occupation that can pose a threat to other people, as will be specified. It is absurd. Let us take a self-employed person, not one of those self-employed contractors in the business of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, but someone writing a novel in his cottage in the countryside in Dorset. He is a self-employed person. Is Labour going to argue passionately in Committee that he should be subject to health and safety at work legislation, which he is at the moment? Of course he is not likely to be sued unless he throws a book at somebody in a moment of bad temper, but even that is probably not a breach of the health and safety at work legislation. He is subject to inspection. He may have to pay regard to the guidance. I have taken an extreme example of what should be a harmless occupation—if he is a reasonable novelist.

There is a range of other self-employed people who may have to take professional advice on what impact the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 has on their particular activities. We are proposing to clarify that health and safety legislation applies to those people who are engaged in activities that could pose a risk to people other than themselves. Clarity will come when we produce information—as soon as we can in the course of the Committee, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy has said—on the specified sectors of the economy and specified occupations. A

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statutory burden will be lifted from a wide range of self-employed people who have been covered by it by accident.

John Mann: No self-employed novelists have had health and safety inspections or a burden that they have had to consider. Is not the problem that once we say a line will be drawn and some will be covered and some will not, that creates a grey area? The grey area creates danger and damage and risk, including for the person themselves.

Mr Clarke: I deliberately chose, as the hon. Gentleman did at the other extreme, the rather way-out example with my self-employed novelist. I have not done the research on which self-employed people have found themselves subject to inspection, the recipients of guidance they do not want or feeling obliged to take inspections. I do not know whether self-employed beekeepers or all sorts of other people fall into this area, but there is no doubt that the legislative change and the clarity proposed will put the duty and burden on those who might pose a risk to others and move it from vast numbers of other people. Our independent regulatory committee has estimated the saving for the businesses of many self-employed people.

John Mann: The right hon. and learned Gentleman gives the example of a self-employed beekeeper. A beekeeper friend of mine was nearly killed when moving a hive during rain because he was not aware of the dangers during rain. If the person moving it with him had nearly been killed, there might have been a claim against him. Does that not illustrate precisely why an overarching approach is far better than additional regulation and somebody deciding who is in and who is out?

Mr Clarke: I admire the eclecticism of the hon. Gentleman. I knew that I could not engage with him on mountain climbing but I underestimated his knowledge of bees and beekeepers. I shall take considered advice on the application to beekeeping and I have no doubt that the matter will be raised in Committee if the position of beekeepers becomes a point of real contention when the list is published. The point that I am trying to make is that I think that the vast majority of self-employed people—I shall not name another esoteric profession—need not be covered by legislation, subject to the Health and Safety Executive, inspection and so on, or to take professional advice. We are rationalising and making sense of one area whereas otherwise our commitment to the health and safety at work of employees and the health and safety of the public remains undiminished.

Another measure that all Opposition Members tried to make a mainstream political point about is the growth duty we are putting on non-economic regulators. I am not a climate change denier; the Government are in favour of environmental protection, and the conservation of our habitat and essential national heritage is a perfectly important objective of the Government. It is completely over the top to describe the changes in the Bill as sometimes threatening all that. We are saying that the various non-economic regulators should have regard to the desirability of the growth of the economy while carrying out their other duties. That was described as a mad dash for casino growth and likened to our casting away of regulation on bankers, which we did not do—it

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was the previous Government who did that. I would have agreed with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw had he cited that example, as it was a good example of the importance of regulation and the pathetic inadequacy of the Financial Services Authority when the then Chancellor gave it that responsibility. In this case, all that we are doing is saying that while it remains liable to follow its existing guidance—it has been pointed out that it is supposed to regulate only where necessary and proportionate—it is supposed to have regard to the impact on individual businesses, and it should have regard to the growth of the nation. Serious conservation in a highly developed, advanced economy like ours and the protection of our natural environment have to take account of the fact that at the same time, we hope to be a growing economy and a powerful, modern, industrial nation. It is a question of balance, judgment and common sense between the Government’s economic interests and our desire to conserve what is best in our heritage. Describing the Bill as an attack on that is absurd.

That shows why the previous Government’s record was pathetic on deregulation and reducing the burdens on business. They constantly gave in to pressures that drove them in the other direction, and it requires a Government with clarity of purpose to get hold of the subject and make a detailed attempt to reduce unnecessary burdens, bureaucracy and paperwork. The printing of useless documents and general obstructions to growth and efficiency need to be removed if that is to be a success.

I welcome the fact that some things received universal approval. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) discussed what we are doing on apprenticeships, and no one gainsaid him on that. Those are important measures that will strengthen skills training in industry and help to improve young people’s prospects of employment. The measures on yarn received widespread support from those in the House who do knitwork. The measures on rights of way achieved remarkably unanimous acceptance—this is an impossibly controversial area, but the stakeholders’ group has reached agreement. The Government’s proposals have been advanced, and I am glad that they have been accepted.

There was talk of the European Union. We are going to try to secure the application of the same principles there, and Barroso has begun a deregulatory drive, which faces the same difficulty in Europe that it has always faced in Britain, because most of the regulations are supported by some lobby or other. The European regulations are the result of the single market. To stay in the single market required a mass of regulations. When the then Government pressed for the single market to be created, the British Commissioner whom we appointed—Arthur Cockfield, I think—came up with thousands of amendments, which were required in a single market if it was to have common regulation, as we heard, of consumer rights, safety standards, consumer protection, environmental protection and so on.

Our example should be followed in the rest of Europe, and it will help us to guide other member states to adopt the same approach. I believe that for all European countries, but it is Britain that particularly concerns me. If we are to regain our competitive position in the wider market and return to normality as one of the stronger

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economies in the modern world, deregulation and reducing burdens on business is part of that.

As my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (David Rutley) and for Witham (Priti Patel) said, we are not saying that this is the sole answer for our economy or for small business. It is merely a contribution to a Government policy that is wholly taken up with the plan for long-term economic growth, giving particular priority to small and medium-sized enterprises in this country as never before. We are reviewing the range of advice that the Government give to small businesses and the range of financial support available to them. We have reduced the tax burden on small employers, particularly for young employees. UK Trade & Investment is concentrating on small and medium-sized businesses that want to get into export markets. We are putting a great trade effort as a Government into supporting them. We are reforming UK export finance to make sure that it is available to those small exporters.

This Bill is far from being the entirety of what we are doing to turn Britain into a competitive nation again. It does not cover everything we are doing for the small businesses that provide much of the employment nowadays if one gets one’s economy moving again, but it makes a very important contribution. We actually have a Government who are anti-regulation, anti-bureaucracy and anti-pointless cost. I commend the Bill to the House as a very useful contribution to our efforts.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Deregulation Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Deregulation Bill:


(1) That the Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 25 March 2014.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

Deregulation Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Deregulation Bill, it is expedient to authorise:

(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided; and

(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

Deregulation Bill (Carry-Over)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 80A(1)(a)),

That if, at the conclusion of this Session of Parliament, proceedings on the Deregulation Bill have not been completed, they shall be resumed in the next Session. —(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

Business without Debate

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Relations between the European Commission and National Parliaments

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 12989/13, the 2012 Annual Report from the Commission on relations between the European Commission and national parliaments, and No. 13002/13, the Commission Annual Report on subsidiarity and proportionality; recognises the importance of the principle of subsidiarity and the value of stronger interaction between national parliaments and the EU Institutions; and welcomes the Government’s commitment to increasing the power of national parliaments in EU decision-making by strengthening and, where possible, enhancing current provisions.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Question agreed to.

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Children’s Centres (Somerset)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Gavin Barwell.)

8.52 pm

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I have asked for this debate because I have been contacted by parents and carers, contractors, staff and members of the advisory boards connected with three of the children’s centres in my part of Somerset—Cheddar, Wells and Chilcompton.

Sure Start children’s centres are there to protect and help the youngest in our communities, to support and help families, and to invest in the future by providing the very best start for all. In a bid to cut its budgets even further, Somerset county council has acted appallingly, proposing restructuring that will put the most vulnerable at risk and plunge those in rural areas into deeper isolation. It seems to be systematically working to undermine and undervalue the amazing work that children’s centre staff are doing to help and support young families in Somerset. In its flawed consultation exercise, the county council claimed that it needed to review children’s centre provision because

“some Children’s Centres are not performing as well as we would like”.

Rather than being honest and open with the people of Somerset about the fact that it wanted to cut 40% of the children’s centre budget, the council has sought to undermine public perceptions, no doubt seeking to whip the public into demanding the closure of children’s centres.

The mainstay of the county council’s argument is that children’s centres underperform according to Ofsted’s headline data. The council claims that only 37% of Somerset’s children’s centres have received an Ofsted grading of “good” or “outstanding”, whereas the national average is 69%. The council concludes that the 37% Ofsted figure gives it good evidence that children’s centres are not delivering help to the most vulnerable. That is simply not true. Before jumping to any conclusions, I ask the Minister to ask this more fundamental question: why are only 37%, supposedly, of the children’s centres in Somerset getting an Ofsted grade of “good” or “outstanding”? When one asks that question one gets a revealing answer.

Two children’s centres, in Wells and Chilcompton, have recently had an Ofsted inspection. When they received their feedback and report, they were commended on their delivery of support to vulnerable families across a wide and rural reach. Ofsted said that the critical services they delivered to the most vulnerable were deemed as “good”. However, when Ofsted scrutinised the support and data that the children’s centres received from their county council, they were deemed as “requiring improvement”. The county council has failed the children’s centres, not vice versa. The county council’s consistent failures led to an overall Ofsted grading of “needing improvement”, which failed both the children’s centres and the children of Somerset.

Wells and Chilcompton children’s centres are not alone. Shepton Mallet children’s centre had exactly the same outcome last year. Somerset county council is using its own incompetence as a cover for cutting services to the most vulnerable families.

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Virtually every improvement suggested by the improvement plan for Chilcompton and Wells children’s centres after the October 2013 Ofsted inspection requires action by the county council, and each of the four action areas for improvement has major implications for it. The first improvement needed reads:

“Sharpen the monitoring of participation rates across all services to ensure the most vulnerable and in particular potentially isolated families can access the full range of services”.

The action required states that the local authority should

“develop and disseminate tracking tools from point of access, to show outcomes and progression”.

The second improvement needed reads:

“Improve the quality of all evaluations”,

and the action required states that the local authority should

“set clear performance indicators”


“implement CAF and Signs of Safety in CC’s and agree protocols with partner agencies”.

The third improvement needed reads:

“Improve the impact of leadership”,

and the action required states that the local authority should

“provide clear, simple and concise data which is more accessible & understandable to staff, to support planning and to improve outcomes”


“develop partnership agreements where county and district boundaries exist”.

The fourth improvement needed reads:

“Improve the role that the cluster advisory board plays in the support and challenge to the cluster”,

and the action required states that the local authority should

“devise and deliver training”

and that the local authority

“demands that Advisory Board Chairs are trained to lead an AB. But as yet there is no training course available”.

Fundamentally, under the Ofsted framework, it is absolutely impossible for a Somerset county council children’s centre to get anything better than “needs improvement”, and that is not a basis for changes to the service. Somerset county council must not be allowed to blame these failures on children’s centre staff, because they are the very people who are working so hard to keep children in Somerset safe.

Under the council’s proposed structure, the village of Chilcompton will sit in a reach from Farley Hungerford to Lydford—a distance of some 30 miles from north to south—and from Shipham to Rudge, which is 35 miles from west to east, with one manager and two deputy managers. That inevitably means that some vulnerable families will fall through the net.

Generally, these are successful universal services. For example, Wells children’s centre had 539 children registered in the past three months and 332 using at least one of the services in the same period. In October alone, 195 children and 304 parents and carers came to the centre. There are eight to 10 open cases with specific interventions in place at that single children’s centre.

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There have been repeated promises since November for a new consultation. I hear repeatedly that the council has not yet made a decision about individual children’s centres, but its failure to make a decision about their future means that significant numbers of referrals are falling away. Why would an agency refer parents and carers to children’s centres, possibly for a six-month programme, when the service’s existence past 31 March is under question?

The council has moved on apace with the restructuring of children’s centre services. However, it keeps having to amend and revise its plans, because it finds that its proposals will not work. Fortunately, the council seems to have started to understand the importance of supervision and management, but that adds extra staffing costs to its model, and it cannot explain which budgets will need to be cut to meet the extra costs.

Mr Jeremy Browne (Taunton Deane) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. She is talking about cost, and I wonder whether she will momentarily engage with this thought of mine? Everybody understands that the county council needs to be as cost-efficient as possible and, on the face of it, there may be some short-term savings to be made. If, however she looks at a town such as Wiveliscombe in Taunton Deane, which has a purpose-built children’s centre, with a new doctors’ surgery being built next to it, a whole apparatus of services are available to people in that small town and the surrounding communities, of which the children’s centre is an integral part. There may be some short-term savings, but my suspicion and fear is that, overall, there will be long-term costs that are not just social, but financial, from having buildings empty and services not fully utilised.

Tessa Munt: I could not agree more. In a number of cases across Somerset, children’s centres are next to surgeries and schools. With a universal service, it is very easy for children and parents to get used to accessing the services that they need on an ongoing basis. Children get used to going into the surgery or the school, and it is an easy move for people to access everything that they might possibly need.

A county council report has revealed that, as many contracts are due to end in March, there is not enough time to investigate any alternative provision. Incompetence and a lack of planning mean that provider agencies are pulling away, and are quite rightly refusing to deliver services on a month-by-month extension. No one can be expected to work with such a level of uncertainty. I understand that the agencies are handing services back to Somerset, which means further costs, because partner agencies pay their family support workers more than the council does and such transfers mean that salary arrangements have to be honoured.

One of the main planks in the argument for change was the promise that there would be 30 more front-line family support workers. However, the proposed job description has added a new line, stating that family support workers are to work with children and young people between the ages of nought and 19. The county council had promised 30 more support workers for children between the ages of nought and four, but it is now watering down that service even further. The council promises one thing, and then once again cuts back on its promises behind closed doors.

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Mr Browne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for indulging me for a second time. On those promises, it seems extraordinary to me that elections for Somerset county council were held only just over six months ago, and I do not recall that any leaflets came through my door from the party that now runs the county council promising that if it had a majority, it would close children’s centres. That seems to have been sprung on the people of Somerset, after we had the opportunity to vote, when I assume that most people in the county thought that they were voting for a programme for four years, and we are now only six months after the election.

Tessa Munt: I have to agree again. It is fair to say that from what one can discover, the plans to cut £1.4 million from the children’s centre budget were brought forward in January or February last year, but were suppressed prior to councillors achieving re-election to the county council. It was only—very shortly—after that that the plans became evident. It seems desperately unfair on the electorate, and on the most vulnerable people who need to access the services.

Family support workers need a different skill set when they work with older children and young adults. Although I acknowledge that working with such young people is terribly important, to ask a family support worker who is gifted, skilled and qualified in working with nought to four-year-olds to work across a much larger age range dilutes their expertise and devalues their work.

It has been suggested that the decisions have already been made and that councillors have instructed officers not to work on extending the contracts because the children’s centres are likely to close. I wonder how the county council can say that it is putting £1 million into front-line services, while at the same time it is making a cut in funding of £1.4 million. Savings are being made by cutting senior service managers, children’s centre managers, day-to-day line managers and lead centre officers, as well as by reducing the number of buildings that are used. As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne) pointed out, many of those buildings were specially designed and are adjacent to schools and doctors’ surgeries so that children are familiar with where they will start their education and become used to popping into the surgery.

Not even the data quoted by the council are accurate. The council’s report states that the new Mendip east area will have 1,655 children aged nought to four. However, the data provided by the county council to the children’s centre state that there are 2,189 children of that age. Either the county council has lost 534 children in one district or the council is over-reporting the number of children in a district to the children’s centre, making it utterly impossible for the centre to reach its 80% registration target.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The hon. Lady will recall that when there was a statement about flooding in Somerset this afternoon, there were several Members who represent Somerset in the Chamber. However, now that we are debating the scandalous, treacherous cuts that are being made, there is not a single Conservative Member from Somerset in the House.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): To be fair, there is only one!

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Tessa Munt: Yes, exactly. We do have one Conservative Member in the Minister, although she is not from Somerset. I thank the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) for pointing that out.

On the 80% registration target, it seems likely that the county council is aiming to make it appear as though the children’s centres are failing and to thereby make cuts a more attractive outcome.

Questions are being raised about the proposed savings. My personal feeling is that consideration should be given to the fact that the county council is sitting on massive reserves. That is money that we pay in council tax to the county council, among other councils, for it to deliver services, not to become a bank or a savings institution.

Alongside the savings that the county council is proposing, there will be additional costs, such as mileage claims from staff who have to travel across vast rural areas, additional insurance costs and hall hire. As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane pointed out, buildings that were designed specifically to be children’s centres will also be wasted. Those elements will far outweigh the money that will be saved on the heating and lighting for 18 modern, purpose-built children’s centres. Closing those buildings is an absolute waste of taxpayers’ money. A better option, which I do not think has been pursued, might be to offset some of the costs of the children’s centre buildings by hiring out rooms to other providers, such as those who provide music lessons.

The county council considers that it can use other venues to deliver children’s centre services. We need to know whether proper risk assessments have been carried out because most community buildings are not fit for that purpose. That is why the children’s centres were built specially in the first place. Most community buildings do not have the levels of security and privacy that are needed for the sensitive work that has to be delivered.

The county council’s consultation was described by some as farcical and its independence has been questioned. The questions were not objective or fairly balanced, but were heavily loaded to make people say yes to cuts and yes to cutting rural centres in particular. There were questions such as, “Should we place resources in places where there are more children?” That will of course produce an answer that favours urban children’s centres. However, users in such areas can often walk to services or take a bus, unlike children who live in rural and isolated places in our county. The consultation was more concerned about ethnicity, sexuality and spirituality than the services delivered by children’s centres themselves. Many participants commented, but their comments have gone unanswered, and were not shown in the text of the report.

Rather than cutting funding and services, Somerset county council needs to engage actively, and to value and support the vital work that children’s services are doing in Somerset to improve the lives of young people. What has worked well locally has been early identification for families in need of universal services when access to those services has no stigma attached. Many of those services will not be available following the proposed changes. In rural areas, that will mean that many families will not have access to any services. With more family support workers and fewer managers to support the care, guidance and support given to targeted families

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with the greatest need, children could be put us at risk. With so many department leaders at the county level on temporary contracts, there is a lack of stability, the effects of which are felt at all levels.

I would like to quote from three letters I have received. One is from Hayley, who describes herself as

“a mum who’s feeling let down and helpless”.

She described the marvellous service at the Valley children’s centre in Cheddar, which was earmarked for closure by Somerset county council, and wrote:

“I went along to the informal ‘drop-in’ meeting, which I saw at least 40 families attend…When we asked the staff there what was happening, they told us they couldn’t discuss anything as they had been told by their bosses that they couldn’t get involved or share their opinions at all, which I found awful as their jobs are on the line here too…I was told that all services would be diverted to Highbridge as our area apparently ‘doesn’t have enough families in need’…As a non-driver, there is no bus from Cheddar or Axbridge to Highbridge at all. In fact, we’d have to take three buses to get there, and even that wouldn’t work as, like me, many of us need to be back by 3 pm to get our other children from school. I found the Cheddar children’s centre a lifesaver. I live in an isolated, very small town and don’t drive, so the children’s centre was, and still is, the only place I can get to within walking distance, as I cannot afford the buses.”

The second person I will quote is Victoria. She was really pleased that, after just three weeks, 400 signatures had been gathered to stop the Valley children’s centre from being closed. She said there had

“been no direct contact from Somerset County Council…nor any further information given about decision making…We have invited Councillor Nicholson”—

the lead member of the council on this—

“to a community cafe on Wednesday 5 February…but the invite has gone unanswered.”

Finally, Sue wrote:

“Children’s Centres give parents the tools for those relational building blocks and many other life changing benefits too, influencing two generations simultaneously, in a way that no other infrastructure organisation is set up to do. In Somerset I suggest that Children’s Centres are being deliberately set up to fail, or at the very least to be subsumed into the nebulous recesses of the ‘Early Help Strategy’ and disappear without trace in a couple of years’ time, without having delivered the promised improvement in services…but it is clear that wholesale reduction of numbers of Children’s Centres and their scope and influence is either planned or already taking place.

If the government is to seriously explore and address big social questions like family and community relationships, it doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel. The infrastructure is broadly there, but it needs to be understood, valued, nurtured and funded. So many people making crucial decisions at the moment really have no idea what Children’s Centres are or what they do, or the long-term cultural changes that they can bring about—but this needs time. If they are abandoned now, the waste of investment over the last 6 and more years will be absurd. They must be provided in the same way as schools, social services or health services, and accessible to all families. The inspection parameters are as stringent as any of the above!”

In Somerset, unfortunately, the county council’s child protection services’ Ofsted rating is the lowest, at inadequate, following an inspection in the middle of 2013. That is a catastrophic fall from the outstanding rating at which Ofsted inspectors judged child protection under the previous Administration in 2009. The whole closure plan is ill-conceived and, frankly, dangerous, so serious questions need to be asked of Somerset county council.

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I wish to ask the Minister about how the county council responds to the Government’s assurances on their family, children and young people webpage that finances have not been cut, and that enough funds are available to councils to maintain children’s centre services as they are. Will she intervene and satisfy herself fully that the children of Somerset are best served by the county’s obsession with cutting services and costs, and banking the savings?

9.16 pm

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) on securing this important debate. I am afraid that Somerset has been in the news rather too much recently—certainly as far as Parliament is concerned —and for all the wrong reasons. The debate ties in with today’s earlier proceedings about the neglect of our drainage systems.

The tragedy of being around for rather too long is that one sees good ideas introduced, nurtured and expanded, but eventually undermined and destroyed. Back in the ’80s, when I represented Frome as a county councillor and was leader of Somerset county council, I recall working with the then National Children’s Home to introduce one of the first children’s centres in Frome. It was a breakthrough in dealing with the huge social need that had expressed itself, particularly among vulnerable families in Frome, and I believe that the development of that essential service set a pattern for a large part of the rest of the country. However, the network that has been built up across the county is now under serious threat.

My hon. Friend is right that the consultation was, frankly, dishonest. In a way she was actually too kind to the county council. She cited the phrase

“some Children’s Centres are not performing…well”,

and said that that was not accurate, but the original consultation did not even say that—it was changed halfway through. The original consultation said, “At the moment children’s centres are not performing well”, and it was pointed out that that was simply inaccurate, wrong and prejudicial to the consultation, and the council was forced to change it. The county council consistently ignored the performance of really good children’s centres, working with outreach into the community and with vulnerable families. One of the best examples of that in my constituency is the Balsam centre in Wincanton, which has a superb range of provision, but is now under threat.

What really concerns me—my hon. Friend touched on this at the end of her comments—is that this issue is of a piece with what the county council has done across the board in its provision for children. I cannot accept that a county council should, under any circumstances, be in a situation where child protection services were outstanding four years ago, but are now so far destroyed—I can use no other word—that they require direct support from Government Ministers under special measures and, I think, will eventually have to be taken in hand by the Government. That is a dereliction of duty by the county council, and it affects the children of some of the most vulnerable families in the county. This situation is part of that same dereliction of duty.

Government policy on supporting children’s centres has been clear. It has been said time and again by Ministers of the most senior level from the Dispatch

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Box that the Government are providing funding and encouragement for children’s centres across the country, so why is it that we in Somerset have a county council that is so myopic that it cannot see that the closure programme and its proposed changes will be enormously damaging to not just the fabric of support in my county, but the reputation of the Government? It is making Ministers appear duplicitous, and I do not believe that that is the case. I believe that the Government are absolutely genuine in their support for this sector. I implore the Minister to tell her colleagues on Somerset county council where to get off, and to tell them that this is important not just to us, but to the Government, and that the council needs to change its mind.

9.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) on securing the debate. I agree with her about the vital work that professionals in children’s centres do.

Across the country, we are seeing a record number of parents and carers using children’s centres: more than 1 million last year. That shows the Government’s commitment to children’s centres and their important work. They provide crucial support for children and families: pre-natal and post-natal care, parenting classes, stay and play, and networks for parents. The Government are clear that they should be for everybody in the community, not just for some. In our guidance that we put out last year, we made it clear that local authorities have a responsibility to ensure that children’s centres are accessible to all parents.

There has been a debate on whether children’s centres should be targeted or universal. I believe that unless they are universal, we will not find the parents who need them most, and they may not come to them. It is therefore important that centres are accessible and within easy reach of parents so that all parents feel that they can use them and become part of that network. That is why, in our guidance, there is a presumption against the closure of children’s centres.

I agree, too, with my hon. Friend’s comments about integration with other services. There is clearly a lot of opportunity for better integration with health and education services in the locality. Some children’s centres—for example, one I visited recently in Watford—have a midwifery service for antenatal care. Other children’s centres provide birth registration and post-natal care. That is helpful for parents, because it provides one place for them to go to for help and advice—everybody goes through the door to register a birth, and they then become part of a parental network. That can extend to help on all kinds of issues: employment, finding a nursery place for their child and a place in local schools. All those can be accessed via children’s centres.

We are looking to councils to think of better ways to provide services that are local to parents and that integrate well with health services. With the Department of Health devolving health and wellbeing boards, there will be more opportunities for local authorities to integrate those services better, to get better value for money and to put more services on the front line, rather than spending money on bureaucracy. There is an opportunity —we have seen this across the country—for health services and children’s centres to work more as networks,

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in hub and spoke models, so that they are accessible to parents, while we gain efficiencies in management and the services they provide. Our guidance was clear that the key focus has to be on improving outcomes for children and families, and that is what the aim of children’s centres should be. However, we want them to achieve that in a universal fashion.

Tessa Munt: It is clear that the county council has not supported children’s centres in Somerset with the right data and information, and that therefore they have had catastrophic inspections results from Ofsted, but how can anyone judge how good a service is when it is downgraded because of the administration, yet the service delivered by staff is superb?

Elizabeth Truss: I want to come to the point about Ofsted. Last week, I spoke at a meeting of the all-party group on Sure Start children’s centres. At the moment, there is an issue with Ofsted inspections—not with their quality, but with how children’s centres are inspected. I am in discussions with Ofsted, but I think it would be more sensible to look at the overall early years support services provided by local councils through children’s centres, rather than at centres individually. A lot of councils are moving towards more of a network model, but the important thing is that parents and children can access centres and good services, and that centres reach as many people as possible. The current model—where statutory children’s centres, but not branch centres, are inspected by Ofsted—is probably not as effective as a council-based model, and I think that that is pertinent to my hon. Friend’s point. We are working on a slightly different inspection model for precisely the reasons she outlined.

I was asked where budgets were coming from. We have increased funding for early intervention from £2.1 billion to £2.5 billion in this Parliament, while the Department for Communities and Local Government has a fund for which local authorities can bid to reconfigure services in a way that suits local communities, although I have been told by Ministers that not many applications have been received from children’s services looking to reconfigure. This is an opportunity for forward-looking councils to think about how they can do things in a way that suits families, including though better co-location with GP surgeries, schools and local community facilities.

Mr Browne: Will the Minister clarify that point? I accept that councils across the country need to find financial efficiencies—everybody is realistic about that—but is she saying that there is no financial necessity on Somerset county council to close any children’s centres? Is she saying that, because more money is available to them, the decision to close a centre is a political decision, not a financial requirement?

Elizabeth Truss: I know that my hon. Friend is a voice of reform and that he wants councils to be as efficient as possible. The point is that we have increased investment in early intervention.

Mr Heath rose

Elizabeth Truss: I am terribly sorry, but we have heard several interventions already, and I need to proceed to my final remarks.

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I would be pleased to continue the discussion with my hon. Friends about what might be done in the specific case of Somerset. I have outlined Government funding for children’s centres and our expectation of a presumption against closure. We want services that are accessible for all families. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member

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for Wells on securing the debate and look forward to discussing the matter further.

Question put and agreed to.

9.29 pm

House adjourned.