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Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): The national minimum wage is a great point of principle. I would have thought that the Conservative party, rather than arguing about whether it supported a particular rate of pay, would accept that this is the first time in the industrial history of this country that a large number of low-paid women have been taken out of poverty wages. The House should be proud of that.
Marjorie Mowlam: I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution; the minimum wage helped poor women, but Conservative Members keep trying to use the figures to inflate the cost of regulation. They and their supporters have quoted figures amounting to anything from £5 billion to £13 billion, but those figures include the administrative costs and the actual costs of the policies. Including the cost of paying the national minimum wage and the working families tax credit, and of administering other policy changes, boosts the costs of bureaucracy in a gross, unfair and misleading way. The real cost of administering Government policies is a fraction of what the Conservatives have suggested.
As so often in politics, it is essential to strike the right balance. No one wants unnecessary, over-complicated and burdensome regulation. We have taken active steps to ensure that what regulations are introduced are necessary, simple, and easy to understand and implement. I chair a panel on regulatory accountability whose key task is to scrutinise Departments' regulatory proposals and ensure that they meet that high standard. I call Ministers to come to the panel and justify their proposals if the panel thinks that they do not meet its criteria.
In the Cabinet Office, the regulatory impact unit operates across government to ensure that Departments make a thorough appraisal of the costs and benefits of any new proposals or regulations, and to suggest changes and improvements wherever it can. Departments now have to produce regulatory impact assessments across the board. The Government are aided in that by two powerful advocates at the heart of government. The Small Business Service, set up in April last year, is headed by David Irwin
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Since the Government came to power, there have been more than 300,000 net job losses in manufacturing. The textile industry is one of the sectors that has been savaged by the Government's policies. Is the right hon. Lady seriously asking us to believe that all the Government's efforts to raise its costs have had nothing to do with the job losses? Does she not see that some people have gone from low pay to no pay, partly as a result of massive over-regulation?
Marjorie Mowlam: I was focusing on the 1 million extra jobs that have been created. That is the important point for people who have no employment, and now many more people have jobs. When people have been out of work, getting a job makes all the difference.
The Bill is another tool to help the Government simplify and improve the quality of regulation. I welcome the support given to the Bill from all parties in the other place. We are grateful for the contributions made in debates there by many noble Lords and for their constructive approach to amending the Bill. I think that their contributions have improved it.
I hope that a similar constructive engagement will be possible during the Bill's passage through this House. It is, after all, designed to build on and improve the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, passed by the previous Government.
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): If the Government's intention is to build on the 1994 Act, will the right hon. Lady tell us what efforts the Government have made to use it? How many deregulation and contracting out orders were made in the year prior to the May 1997 general election, and how many have the Government made in the past year?
Marjorie Mowlam: My recollection is that we have used the legislation about 10 times. That is not an excessive number, but it shows that there is a need to reform the 1994 Act, to extend its powers and to make it clear, so that it can be used more often.
Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in giving evidence to the Select Committee on Public Administration, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said that the hype regarding the 1994 Act was overblown?
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A moment ago, an Opposition Front Bencher asked a question of the Minister, and we did not have the answer. I can give it: there were 37 orders up until 1997.
The important point is that the Bill is based on the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, which was passed by the previous Government. I am waiting to see whether Opposition Members will point out that we voted against that Act.
Marjorie Mowlam: Good. I will be waiting for that point, because my answer is that we needed to change the 1994 Act to make it workable. We are using it as a basis for the Bill. We need to update the Act because, among other things, its powers are limited to pre-1994 legislation; it cannot remove burdens from the public sector; it does not allow subsequent amendment of deregulation orders, which limits its scope; and it defines regulatory burdens too narrowly.
I shall give the House an example. The Government want school governing bodies to be able to offer after-school child care, which they can do at present only if they provide education at the same time. The Act does not allow positive change to address such problems. It is simply common sense that it should be possible to change the law to allow people to do things, just as it is possible to change the law to stop them doing things. In updating and improving the 1994 Act, we recognise the importance of maintaining tough, clear safeguards. The Bill itself is an example of how we want to proceed.
Mr. Lansley: Perhaps now I will make the intervention that the right hon. Lady anticipated, because the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) did indeed oppose the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill on Second Reading, on the basis that the powers that were to be taken were exceptional and excessive. If the Government believe that those powers are no longer exceptional and excessive, will she accept that they were introduced for a specific purpose--that of deregulation? Will she admit to the House that the purpose of this Bill is not deregulatory but re-regulatory?
Mr. Steen: I shall help the right hon. Lady by telling her why the Bill is needed. Up to 1997, 37 orders were repealed; in 1998, the figure was only five; in 1999, it was four; in 2000, it was one, and in 2001 only one
Marjorie Mowlam: I should like to hear from Conservative Members what changes they think necessary. I have outlined our changes, which stem from the work that we have done. We have provided the Library with a list of 50 measures--
Marjorie Mowlam: We changed the number to 50. All those measures could be taken under the new Bill. In addition, we have today issued five consultation documents on orders that will be made possible by the Bill and, between them, bring benefits of almost £40 million. The estimated compliance cost for those orders is nil.
Mr. Lansley: If this is to be the last time that the right hon. Lady gives way, she ought now to provide us with the killer fact. If the benefit that she seeks to achieve through the Bill is a reduction of £40 million in the regulatory burden, will she remind the House what has been the cumulative impact of additional regulation introduced by the Government since May 1997? The latest calculation by the British Chambers of Commerce is that the amount is more than £10 billion. Will she put the two figures side by side and tell us whether or not this is a regulatory Government?