Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) rose--[Interruption.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend section 1(1) of the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990 so as to increase the age set out therein.
At the turn of the century, the life of everyone depended upon the horse. Horses pulled the plough to harrow the soil and the implements by which the seeds were sown. When it was time to harvest, the horses were there again, pulling the cutting machines and the carts of grain, straw and stubble so that people might be provided with bread, and other horses and animals upon whose existence man depended might be given sustenance.
Horses pulled buses in our streets, fire engines, milk floats, hackney carriages, refuse carts, tinkers' carts and the conveyances of city gents and their ladies, and they carted childen to schools if these were any distance from home. Doctors went round their patients on horseback. Bishops travelled their dioceses on horses, and gaiters remain the official dress of bishops. Indeed, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, who crowned our present Queen, never wore anything else when on official duty.
Members of Parliament often travelled to the House in carriages or by some other means of horse transport. No area of life was not touched, directly or indirectly, by this noble creature.
Sadly, there was plenty of terrible cruelty through neglect and wanton beatings. However, most horses were loved and thoroughly cared for by their owners. This was especially true where the owner was wise enough to realise that the cared-for horse lasted much longer and was able to work much better than the abused horse. There was manure in plenty on the streets for everyone, but even then there were those who, in the discharge of their self-appointed task of defending the environment, saw that as wanton pollution.
Then came the internal combustion engine--or, as Winston Churchill so aptly described it, "the infernal combustion engine". Growing numbers of machines have gradually seen cars, lorries and other motor vehicles replace horses in carrying people to the places to which they want to go and in trawling loads of everything, from beer to bridges for rivers and roads. Horses have become ever fewer on our roads, and a horse and cart is now a very rare sight in towns, although driven ponies and traps have returned to some country areas as a healthy, fresh-air means of transport. Nowadays, the only horses seen on our roads are those ridden by children and adults for pleasure, and police and Army horses, which do superb work. This morning, I had the pleasure of riding a 21-year-old mare called Launceston, an Army horse, in Hyde park's Rotten row, with Captain Charlie McEwen. As ever, the experience was marvellous--on a crisp, sunny morning--and I was reminded again of the need for me to do all in
Column 144my power to keep horses among us, and for the House to do the same. Horses are so civilising, yet so challenging, that their influence on society can only be good.
In 1964, as a senior housemaster at Sir William Collins school--a comprehensive for 1,100 boys at King's Cross--I was allowed by my then employer, London county council, to take 20 groups of boys each week for lessons in riding and stable management, paid for by ratepayers and taxpayers, and to observe the effects. Those were fine, tough boys, who stood no nonsense from anyone ; but they had to respect the horses to be able to ride and control them, and they had to be able to control themselves to achieve that.
My scheme spread to cover disabled children in special schools, who benefited enormously from riding. It must continue, for both ordinary and disabled children.
Horses now face such dangers on the roads that it may soon become too dangerous to ride on roads unless something is done to improve safety. In 1993, riding attracted 3.5 million people ; it seems incredible that it is not mandatory for all riders to wear hard hats on the roads.
On 29 August 1993, The Times reported that there were 32,000 admissions to casualty departments every year as a result of contact with horses--which is an accident rate of 87 men, women and children per day. According to the Daily Mail of 24 September 1993, every year 30 people are permanently paralysed and 15 lose their lives. As the department of neurosurgery at the Radcliffe infirmary pointed out in 1984, all six of the unhelmeted and improperly helmeted riders who died that year died of primary brain damage ; with proper headgear, they could have been saved.
The great danger is that horses may become extinct as their practical uses diminish and the roads become ever more dangerous. Furthermore, we are told that a county the size of Oxfordshire is disappearing under the bulldozer every 10 years : that can only mean ever more riding on roads at a time when traffic is increasing vastly every day. We must ensure that the legislation controlling riding on roads is adequate to provide enough protection for riders to be safe in traffic. Protective headgear can and will save lives.
We should bear it in mind that even the most experienced riders will fall from time to time. Recently, the country was in a state of consternation when it was learned that Her Majesty the Queen had fallen from her horse and fractured her wrist. Naturally, there was much speculation about what would have happened if the accident had been more serious, as it easily could have been.
Her Majesty could have experienced a much worse injury had she fallen on the highway, or fallen on her head with only a headscarf to protect her. The worst could have happened if the horse had been at a walk on the road-- let alone if Her Majesty had been travelling at a spanking trot, or even galloping, on a horse that bolted : that can easily happen even to the best horses.
Moreover, even the best horses can suddenly forget their manners and rear, or behave unexpectedly. The Daily Mail of 18 January 1994 stated that the Queen's accident was just one of a number of royal riding accidents, some of which had been fatal :
"William III, who succeeded James II in 1689, broke his collar bone when his horse stumbled on a mole hill at Hampton Court. He subsequently developed pleurisy and died."
Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel suffered a similar fate when he fell off a horse in Hyde park and died in agony three
Column 145days later. The leisurely ride of Bishop "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce of Winchester was interrupted when he was thrown from his horse and killed instantly. A startled Prime Minister Melbourne watched Queen Victoria stumble from her mount.
Those notable examples show that riding can be dangerous. As a spokesman for the British Horse Society put it :
"Riding is genuinely regarded as having some element of risk attached to it. It is sensible to take precautions against these risks".
Our ancestors did not have the choice, but protective headgear, in the form of hard hats and helmets, can and does save lives. At £25 and £35, that is not too high a price to pay. At present, no law requires the use of a hard hat above the age of 14, but organisers of safe-riding initiatives, including the British Horse Society, of which the Queen is patron, on whose council I have served for 21 consecutive years, and whose award of merit I am proudly wearing today, constantly recommend safe riding hats for everyone, whatever their age.
We must do our utmost to ensure that all riders are safe. We are on moral high ground. How can we let parents say to their children who are under the age of 14, "You have to put your hard hats on because we are going riding, but I do not need to wear one"?
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. Richard Spring, Mr. Sebastian Coe, Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. David Faber, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Richard Tracey, Mr. Stuart Randall, Mr. John Carlisle and Mr. Iain Mills.
Mr. Harry Greenway accordingly presented a Bill to amend section 1(1) of the Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990 so as to increase the age set out therein : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 18 February, and to be printed. [Bill 43.]
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on the subject of answers to questions. If it is in order, as I understand that it is, for the Prime Minister to answer questions about the wages of ordinary workers who are struggling to make ends meet, why is it not possible for him to answer a question about Mr. Cahill, who is to receive a £10 million pay-off after selling the British Rover company to BMW? Is not the Prime Minister responsible for such matters?
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : My point of order, Madam Speaker, arises directly from the events at today's Prime Minister's questions, which is increasingly becoming a farce--I think that viewers, of whom there are a million, would agree with that.
Was it in order that, during questions, the Prime Minister gave a detailed answer on the privatised British Telecom in response to a planted question from a Conservative Member, but that, when it came to the rather more difficult question about another privatised company, British Aerospace, he said that it was not a matter for him? We need to know which questions the Prime Minister is willing to answer and which he is not. As long as he continues to perform as he has been, he will bring this place into disrepute.
Order for Second Reading read.
Madam Speaker : I have to announce that I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). I have had to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches between the hours of 7 and 9 o'clock. I trust that other hon. Members will co-operate by voluntarily reducing the length of their speeches. 3.43 pm
I shall start by setting the Bill in the wider context of our competitiveness as a nation. There is not one item, or even one group of agenda items, that constitutes national competitiveness. There is not a given moment when that competitiveness can be measured in final or absolute terms. The essence of competitiveness is that it is a process, perhaps even a culture, which, to be effective, must be ongoing. It permeates society and affects the attitudes of the public and private sectors alike. In the private sector, it should embrace the smallest sole trader and the largest multinational corporation. In the public sector, it embraces major issues-- the management of the economy, the quality of training and the output of our schools--but it must also penetrate less familiar but contributory factors such as standards, design and, of course, the regulatory climate. The Government have announced their intention to publish a White Paper on competitiveness, exploring the strengths and weaknesses of our performance and indicating where we are ahead, how we stay ahead and, where we are behind, how we catch up. The Bill is one part of our approach to one aspect of our competitiveness--the regulatory climate.
No advanced society can manage itself outside a regulatory framework. Indeed, it is impossible to contemplate the sophisticated assumptions on which we conduct our everyday lives without the underpinning of regulation. Inevitably, regulation is about restraint. The central issue that confronts us as we manage the Government's deregulation initiative is, therefore, the balance between the legitimate entitlements of society and the damage that can flow from the over-fussy, over-prescriptive use of restrictions. Regulation can be a spur to innovation and competitiveness. Regulation can be vital to protect the safety of workers, of customers and of the environment. If the balance is tipped too far, however, there can come a point where the real costs outweigh the assumed benefits. That can be particularly true as time passes, as practices change and as new technologies emerge. Regulations that were once considered right and necessary can become burdensome. Businesses feel that they are swamped with red tape and no one should underestimate the significance of that, particularly for the smaller business.
I have been struck by the different psychologies that can be found in small, often owner-managed, businesses and the larger, often international, corporations. For the former, it is often the boss, in what time he or she has to spare, who
Column 148has to face the forms, the questions and guidance notes. Let us imagine trying to wrestle with an illuminating passage from "Home Office Guidelines on Fire Precautions (Places of Work) Regulations 1992", which states :
"Alternative escape routes should generally satisfy the following criteria : (from any point from which there is initially a single direction of escape) they are in directions apart, equal to 45 degrees plus 2.5 degrees for every metre travelled in one direction. See appendix 1."
I am extremely happy to say that it is now being rewritten.
Before the Opposition leap around with expectation, let me read from an order issued by the Excise Office in 1976 under the then Labour Government. I am sure that the Opposition will now be carefully listing the incumbents of the various offices responsible for the Excise Office in 1976. The difference is that the order was still on the statutue book when the Labour party left office, but we changed it. I was trying to be bipartisan by quoting one example of regulations passed under a Conservative Government and then one of measures passed under a Labour Government, but the Opposition cannot resist the temptation to deal with this important issue in the traditional banging about of party politics.
As the Opposition have tried to provoke me, let me be provoked and quote from the 1976 Excise Office order. It states :
"Relief in respect"--
[Interruption.] I thought that the Opposition might listen as I am quoting from an order passed under a Labour Government. It reads :
"Relief in respect of assimilated articles. The use of oil in manufacture or preparation of an assimilated article does not earn entitlement for relief from duty. But entitlement in respect of oils so used may be earned by subsequent use of the assimilated article in the manufacture or preparation of an article that is not an assimilated article."
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) rose --
Mr. Spearing : Does the President agree, first, that regulations come before Statutory Instruments Committees for clarification and authentication and, secondly, that when they are made by, one hopes, knowledgeable officials and agreed by, one hopes, well-versed Secretaries of State, the technical language can probably be understood only by the people whose everyday work is involved in carrying out and complying with those regulations? Does the President agree that it would be easy to guy any good statutory instrument on those grounds.
Mr. Heseltine : The question reveals the attitude of the Labour party. As Ministers, we are not supposed to understand ; as members of the Committee, we are not supposed to understand ; as ordinary people, we are not supposed to understand ; but there are some awfully clever people somewhere who do understand, who draft that sort of stuff.
Just try, Madam Speaker, going to those thousands of rooms at the back of hard-pressed businesses where ordinary men and women try to earn a crust and saying to them, "We have all these awfully clever people in Whitehall who understand all that stuff." The fact that business people spend hour after hour, night after night, trying to understand the regulations and we do not understand them simply puts us in the same chaotic position. It must be incumbent on us to make regulations in a language that the ordinary man and woman in the street can understand. It is no excuse for the Labour party to say that it does not matter if they do not understand it as long as clever people understand it. I am not saying that.
This afternoon we are getting a surfeit of over-regulatory zeal here, with half the parliamentary Labour party rising to its feet to try to over- regulate my speech, on which I should like to make progress, if I may.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) rose --
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) rose --
Mr. Campbell-Savours : In the case of the two quotations that he has read to the House, will the President read the explanatory memorandum on the back, which is what we normally read when we want to understand statutory instruments when we debate them?
Mr. Heseltine : The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a 10-minute limit on the time of speeches and it will be important for him to have the chance to make that important argument if he can cram it into the time that you, Madam Speaker, may or may not give him. Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Cryer rose --
Mr. Illsley rose --
Mr. Heseltine : I will not give way. The place must calm down, if I may suggest it. [Interruption.] Madam Speaker, that was not intended to be lese-majesty, if that is the right approach to your distinguished office.
I am trying to argue, patiently and at some length, that that type of officialese--garbage-speak, if I can coin a phrase--is all too characteristic of government, whether it is local or national. We all know examples of it--the sub-paragraphs, the multiple choice questions and the complications of language. They can drive people who have to fill in the forms and understand the regulations to despair. That frustration and despair are often a great deal more intense in the small business than they are in the large. The reason is not difficult to find. Larger companies are more able to afford the professional advice or the skilled staff to cope with the intrusions of the public sector. That is why
Column 150we have ensured, in our deregulatory initiative, that we take special account of small businesses when we consider the burden that that type of activity places on them.
Our deregulation initiative put in place a system to scrutinise the regulations that affect the wealth-creating process. We set out to review those regulations that were imposed by primary and secondary legislation, those regulations arising from domestic initiative and from European requirements and those regulations that were the product of administrative decision by the army of inspectors that enforced all those regulatory decisions.
We were not prepared, in the exercise, to rely on the advice of the people who had drafted the regulations in the first place. Therefore, we invited Lord Sainsbury to chair eight task forces, which were drawn largely from the private sector, as they began to work their way through the thousands of regulations that actually exist. As a result of that intense work, the business task forces have made more than 600 recommendations. We have [Interruption.] It is fascinating ; the Labour party is solemnly trying to persuade the private sector that it has at least entered the 20th century, yet the moment that the House debates the issues about which the private sector cares most, all that we hear from Labour Members are sedentary interventions about trying to recreate a class divide that the whole country, with the exception of the Labour party, knows disintegrated during the 1980s.
Mr. Cryer : The right hon. Gentleman will, of course, be aware that, year after year, the Government have set their face against providing time to debate a Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments report about poor drafting and extensive use of powers that Ministers do not have. A Committee with a majority of Conservative Members has several times asked the Leader of the House to require that the Committee's report be brought before the House before the statutory instruments are taken, yet the Government have refused time after time.
As the right hon. Gentleman is so worried about statutory instruments, may I ask him why in 1992 the Conservative Government produced almost 3,500 of them--more than at any time in the history of Parliament, and almost double the highest number produced by any Labour Government?
Mr. Heseltine : As the hon. Gentleman well knows, that has happened because we have completed the single European agenda, which has meant harmonising the entire range of such matters throughout western Europe. That has required a whole range of reforming regulations. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, and I shall deal with that subject later in my speech. Moreover, as he also knows, and as I shall explain later, our proposals for special scrutiny under the Bill go a long way towards meeting some of his objections.
Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : Arising from that point, my right hon. Friend will be aware that the measures that have given most cause for concern and anger in recent years have come under the general heading of food safety or food hygiene. They have affected hotels, restaurants and the tourist industry in general, as well as shops and all sorts of other businesses throughout the country. In the explanatory material on the Bill, I see few examples of such horrors, which Christopher Booker, among others, has exposed. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Bill will eradicate as many of those horrors as possible?
Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend makes an important point. The answer to his question is that all those issues are under review. I was about to say that, as a result of the exercise that I described, the business task forces have made more than 600 recommendations. We have announced that we have accepted about 250 of those, and 280 are still under consideration. We rejected about 70, because we felt that the public interest demanded their preservation on the statute book.
When the Bill was published, we issued a booklet called "Cutting Red Tape", which is available in the Library and the Vote Office and which shows the scale of our first response. About 440 proposals are being implemented now or are under active consideration, and we expect recommendations from the voluntary sector task force shortly. We have already identified many changes that would not remove any necessary protection and could usefully reduce burdens.
I shall give some examples of what those changes amount to. Why, for example, should not the Patent Office accept documents electronically, instead of on paper? Why is Government approval needed for parking control equipment used by local authorities to enforce traffic orders? Why should insurance companies have to submit detailed information, which is no longer needed for prudential supervision?
Those are only a few examples. If we needed to find time for primary legislation for every such change, change would take years to achieve. The first four clauses of the Bill therefore provide an order-making power to allow the amendment or repeal of outdated or unnecessarily burdensome legislation.
The order-making power could be used to replace a system of regulation with one that was less burdensome but achieved the necessary protection. We have built in considerable safeguards and constraints on the use of that power : necessary protection will not be removed ; consultation with interested parties is required ; a draft order would then be laid with an explanatory document giving the reasons for the measure, including savings in compliance costs. The nature of the deregulation order-making power is that it could cover a wide range of policy matters that may need separate consideration. I understand the sensitivity of that issue. In our view, it is therefore appropriate to provide a special and exceptional form of parliamentary scrutiny in addition to consultation. We have provided a 40- day period during which such additional scrutiny could take place. We have submitted proposals to the Procedure Committee on the form that such scrutiny might take. The key elements of our suggestions are set out in the explanatory guide to the Bill. We have suggested that a new scrutiny Committee might be set up in each House, with power to examine witnesses and seek additional information. The role of the new Committee--it might be for the consideration of both Houses where they have a joint Committee-- might be to consider whether the subject matter was appropriate to be enacted in subordinate legislation and whether the proposed order would remove any necessary protection. Such Committees could recommend whether particular proposals should proceed or whether they should proceed only if amended in some way.
The Bill provides that Ministers would have to take account of the outcome of the scrutiny and of any other
Column 152representations in finalising any order. I should make it clear that the Government will look carefully at any other option for effective scrutiny that emerges as the Bill proceeds.
"consult such organisations as appear to him to be representative of interests"
"consult such other persons as he considers appropriate"? Having described the mechanism--"Cutting Red Tape" says that the Government have identified 3,500 regulations that they may wish to remove--how on earth will that procedure not be swamped by the sheer volume of the changes that he wishes to introduce?
Mr. Heseltine : The hon. Gentleman can be assured that the process of consultation will be wide. It is obvious. Anyone who has read the explanatory memorandum will know that we are trying to give the fullest possible opportunity for people to make representations. But that is for the scrutiny committees to determine. The hon. Gentleman asked about the scale of the problem. We are fully aware as a Government that the scrutiny committees have absolute power to determine the pace at which the process can go through. Therefore, we must have regard to the workload that they can carry. We shall do that in a practical way.
Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham) : I know that my right hon. Friend has not come to this part of the Bill yet, but I am concerned, as are some of my hon. Friends, about part II and contracting out. My right hon. Friend will know that that part of the Bill concerns the powers of the Minister or an office holder to contract out.
As Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, I should like to say that the position of the Comptroller and Auditor General appears to be in some doubt under the powers of the Bill. Hitherto, and for 140 years, the position of the CAG has been in no doubt whatever ; he is a servant of the House and is not subject in any way to ministerial orders. Will my right hon. Friend therefore give the House an assurance that the measures in the Bill will allow separate rights of contracting out by office holders, not through the aegis of Ministers ? It would be quite intolerable if there were any suggestion that the CAG came in any way under the powers of a Minister, since the CAG has the power to pronounce on Government matters and he must be wholly independent of Government.
Mr. Heseltine : I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that point, which a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are in their places have also raised. I anticipated the possibility of the matter being raised, so I can give a considered reply to what my right hon. Friend said.
Our policy in drafting clause 57 was to ensure that in the functions of an office holder, it would be the office holder--he or she alone--who could give the authorisation to make use of contractors, should an order be laid by a Minister and approved by both Houses. Any order could, therefore, be enabling only. Nothing in the order could suggest compulsion if the office holder chose not to make an authorisation ; the powers are, therefore, voluntary. I am advised that clause 57(2), as drafted, gives effect to that policy. If, however, hon. Members believe that differences
Column 153in interpretation of the clause may arise, I have no hesitation in giving an undertaking to table in Committee an amendment to make the matter clear beyond doubt.
We have published a list of 55 measures that illustrate the sort of measures for which we consider the order-making provision would be appropriate. They are also listed in the publication "Cutting Red Tape", to which I have already referred. We recognise that how a regulation is implemented and enforced can be just as crucial for business as what is said in it. The task forces have helped to identify problem areas in enforcement. As a result, we have produced guidance material for enforcement authorities and business. Some 18 local business partnerships have been developed to encourage business organisations to work with their local authority to make it easier for them to comply with regulations enforced by local government. Most of the 70 enforcement agencies in central Government have now published codes of good practice.
Reducing the burden of existing regulations is only part of the process. We want to ensure that before new regulations are introduced, the implications are fully thought through. Before new regulations can be introduced, a full compliance cost assessment must be carried out. We are also strengthening the system for assessing the effects on business of EC legislation and we are persuading our EC partners to take more account of business needs. The Bill is only a part of our campaign, but it is an important part.
Chapter II of part I deals with a wide range of matters that the House will wish to explore in Committee. It includes matters as diverse as building societies, slaughterhouses, shop hours, children in pubs, market arrangements and competition law.