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Marjorie Mowlam: I wish the hon. Gentleman would stay in the real world. We have not exaggerated benefits. We have independent business people working alongside us on the regulatory impact assessments and in the taskforce. If, like the hon. Gentleman, they felt that we had done such a terrible job and had failed, they would tell us. As I acknowledged earlier, Chris Haskins criticised one or two measures. Overall, however, our work has been welcomed.

Rather than criticise us using figures with which I do not agree, the hon. Gentleman would do much better to do what we have been doing in Europe--try to work with other member states to make sure that there is not an additional burden from Europe. We are working with other European countries, both bilaterally and in the

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Mandelkern group, to make sure that, by the time we get to Stockholm, we have a level playing field on European regulation. That is much more important than the hyperbole that we have just heard.

Mr. Lansley: There is no hyperbole here, just simple facts. The right hon. Lady has come to the House to introduce a Bill designed, she says, to build on the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. I have demonstrated that the Government have no interest in deregulation; frankly, Labour Members had no interest in the 1994 Act. Before the election, large numbers of orders were made and the pace was increasing. Since the election, however, the pace has diminished to the point at which virtually no deregulation and contracting-out orders are being made.

The Government blame the lack of candidates for such orders. The reality is that there is a lack of will; the Government have no will on deregulation.

Mr. Steen: I am sorry to stop my hon. Friend in mid-flow, as he is making rather a good speech, but does he intend to come on to the Bill itself? We are listening for that. I want to ask him some questions about it, and I did not want him to sit down without my having had that opportunity.

Mr. Lansley: Clearly, I gave my hon. Friend the impression that I was engaged in a peroration. There may be those who wish it, but I was not. I was simply seeking to demonstrate that we cannot trust the Government on the subject of deregulation and regulation. They wear deregulatory clothes while engaging in a regulatory objective.

The Bill is intended by the Government, in the dog days of this Parliament, by their lights, to persuade the business community that they have a deregulatory purpose in mind, whereas the business community knows, from its unhappy experience, that regulation is what the Government intend, sometimes to the point at which the utilities, for example, are experiencing nationalisation in a different format.

The Bill is a transparent example of such activity. It is about regulation, perhaps as the new Labour alternative to nationalisation, whereby the Government can get control of businesses without having to pay the price for doing so.

Marjorie Mowlam rose--

Mr. Lansley: I have given way many times. I shall make progress as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes wants to hear some views about the Bill, and I shall be happy to supply him with some.

We oppose the Bill and we have tabled a reasoned amendment. I shall tell the House why. The Bill is not a deregulatory Bill. It is designed to create new burdens. It is designed to allow the public sector to reduce its burdens, while it imposes burdens on the private sector. It is designed to allow the public sector to undertake additional expenditure in legislative form, without the usual scrutiny that is applied to legislation for that purpose.

The Bill lacks provision for the necessary external consultation. Most of the important information on proposals would be presented only at the point that they

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went before the Deregulation Committee, but that information would not necessarily be given to the business community and all those who would be affected, who ought to be the principal participants in a consultation process before deregulation committees sit.

Mr. Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend agree that the acid test of the Bill is whether, if it had been enacted, it would have prevented the Government from wasting £628 million of public money on the millennium dome?

Mr. Lansley: I am sure that the answer to my hon. Friend's question is no, the Bill would not have prevented that. However, I believe that the acid test is: if the Bill had been enacted and the Government had had the benefit of it, what would have been the practical result?

Mr. Redwood: More regulation.

Mr. Lansley: I hear the answer from my right hon. Friend from a sedentary position. The Bill would have resulted in more regulation. Moreover, the Government found that in the previous Session they had a crowded legislative programme. They found it difficult to introduce primary legislation to suit their legislative purpose, so not only have they resorted, as we know, to the routine guillotining of Bills and the constriction of parliamentary debate, but now they have found a new mechanism that allows them to amend primary legislation, bring in new regulations and take on new responsibilities for the public sector, all by means of a statutory instrument that amends primary legislation without all the scrutiny that should be the product of our parliamentary process.

The right hon. Lady thought that I would intervene on the subject of the Labour party's attitude to the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill during its passage through the House. The right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) spoke on Second Reading about the power that was to be taken in that Act. He said:

That is an exceptional power. It is a Henry VIII power. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman described the 1994 Act as a Henry VIII Act. The power is exceptional and should be used only for the specific purpose of limiting the burden that the public sector and the Executive impose on businesses and private persons at the risk of crushing them under an increased weight of regulation. It is vital that the specific and exceptional power to remove the role of the Executive in respect of burdens on private persons should not be perverted and turned into a power that imposes on private persons an additional series of burdens without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr. White: I am confused by the hon. Gentleman. A few minutes ago, he argued that the Government had not used the powers enough, but he is now saying that we are using them too much. Which argument is he advancing? Does he believe that use of the 1994 Act should be limited, or that we should be using it far more than we are currently?

Mr. Lansley: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I have confused him. My proposition is straightforward.

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The 1994 Act established an exceptional power to amend large amounts of primary legislation by introducing secondary legislation, but it did so for the specific purpose of deregulation. The current Government have not used that power, although they should have done, and are now seeking to extend it not to deregulate but to impose new burdens and to give the public sector far wider powers.

Mr. Pike rose--

Mr. Kilfoyle rose--

Mr. Lansley: If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) will forgive me, I shall give way first to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Deregulation.

Mr. Pike: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in the previous Parliament, the then Opposition recognised that the procedure worked positively and accepted that it did not have the effect that we feared during debate on the legislation? Does he further accept that there was unanimity on all 37 repealed orders, and that we did not disagree on a single one?

Mr. Lansley: The hon. Gentleman is correct. I have no problem with that, which is why I did not suggest to the Minister for the Cabinet Office that the Labour party had executed a U-turn since the 1994 Act took effect. The point is, however, that the Act conferred a power for a deregulatory purpose. In the Opposition's view, the power should be confined to that purpose and used to achieve it as effectively as possible. It should not be extended to the wider aim of rewriting primary legislation to suit the Government, who may use it to introduce more regulation.

Mr. Kilfoyle: The hon. Gentleman makes much of the paucity of orders under the current Administration, but does he accept that in the early days of the 1994 Act the easier targets were obviously those that went before the relevant deregulation committees? One of the lessons learned was that it became progressively more difficult under that legislation to deal with many more outstanding orders than were already being dealt with. Thus, a Bill was needed to regularise the procedure. Does he accept that that is one of the driving purposes of the Bill before us?

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