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Mr. Redwood: That is our point about Second Reading. On Second Reading, we are allowed to discuss the wisdom of introducing the Bill. My hon. Friends and I feel that Ministers could take action today to clarify the inconsistencies and the awful muddle. We are saying not that they have to be clarified in one way rather than another, but that they must be clarified.

Ministers must go on television and explain how they are going to handle this awful crisis, and tell us which regulations apply and which do not. If many of the regulations needed to be changed, I am sure that Conservative Members would be willing to take some time today or tomorrow to change them, so that it would be done and rural businesses would know where they stood and had some chance of producing a plan for their own survival.

The haulage industry is another example of a set of businesses gravely damaged--in some cases, bankrupted or wiped out--by over-regulation, over-expensive

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licences and over-taxation. A combination of the highest diesel taxes in Europe, very expensive licence fees and a very complicated bureaucracy to regulate so many aspects of those businesses has led business to go to foreign hauliers. It has also led some British hauliers to flag out altogether and run their operations from northern France or Belgium, and it will lead other businesses into bankruptcy.

The haulage industry will undoubtedly suffer even more because of the spread of foot and mouth disease and the lack of cattle movements. That is a natural event that is extremely sad, but the Government had set the haulage industry up for bad performance long before that disaster hit. It is because the industry was so weak going into the crisis that we shall lose many more haulage businesses as a result of it.

Mr. Pike: Why did the previous Government not deregulate the road haulage industry between 1994 and 1997, and why did they introduce the fuel duty escalator?

Mr. Redwood: If we could get back to the levels of taxation and regulation that we enjoyed in 1997, the haulage industry would be cheering in the streets. I am delighted that the Conservative party is now committed to reducing the regulatory and tax burden, but this Government must answer the charge. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the burden was too high in 1997, why did he support all the measures to increase it between 1997 and today? It is absurd to say that because there were some specks of dust in someone's eye in 1997, sticking a twig into it thereafter does not matter. That is what the Government came along and did.

It was this Government's fuel escalator that did the real damage. They increased the rate of increase in the fuel escalator, and dragooned their Back Benchers into voting for the measure. It was not a Tory fuel escalator after 1997; it was a Labour fuel escalator. It was bigger and worse after 1997, and it has done much more damage as a result. Will the Minister tell us what action will be used to help the haulage industry under these deregulatory powers, if they are finally implemented? Will it not be too late? Does not the Minister realise that hauliers will be going bust now, tomorrow and for the rest of this week because the Government are over-taxing and over- regulating?

Mr. Ian Stewart: Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether his party had any plans to remove the fuel duty escalator before it lost power?

Mr. Redwood: I was very keen to stop it. I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends would have seen the wisdom of my arguments, because when one is on an escalator one reaches a point at which one wants to get off. There is no way in which a Conservative Chancellor would have increased the rate of ascent, given how high it had already gone. A Conservative Chancellor would have listened to the representations and said, "Yes, the duty is now at the same level as that of our continental competitors. It would be dangerous for the industry to raise it further."

Mr. Fabricant: My right hon. Friend has almost anticipated the point that I am going to make. Does he recall that, at the time of the implementation of the

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fuel duty escalator, our petrol prices were mid-way in the European range, whereas they are now 10 per cent. higher than the second highest petrol price in Europe?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question, I must advise right hon. and hon. Members that they are again straying from the Second Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I ask the Minister to take into account road haulage regulation, and explain to the House why this weedy Bill does not tackle that problem. Will he come back to the House with a Bill that deregulates some aspects of the road haulage industry? He must know by now what the industry wants, because the Government have been in consultation with it for many months. Costs are too high, so business is going abroad and hauliers are being driven into bankruptcy by wrong regulation.

Mr. Bercow: I hope that my right hon. Friend will not allow his natural shyness and self-effacement to cause him to understate his case. May I put it on record that on 26 September 1996, during a speech at Haddenham school in my Buckingham constituency, he advocated deregulation on a massive scale, and that there was cheering afterwards?

Mr. Redwood: I am delighted to hear that--but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be delighted to learn that I shall not regale the House with the text of my speech. Indeed, as it was made off the cuff, I do not think that I could remember all of it. Anyway, I am delighted that my hon. Friend enjoyed it, and I still believe what I believed then.

Manufacturing has also suffered badly from too much regulation under this Government. Their feeling has been that any amount of regulation can be poured into manufacturing--regulation affecting jobs, and making the industry do their work for them in regard to tax and benefits--without any trouble being caused. There have already been more than 300,000 net job losses; how many more will it take before the Government wake up to the sad truth that my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire revealed, in general terms? We are losing competitiveness. It is no longer cheap enough to make things in Britain--the Government have made it too dear to make things in Britain--so many jobs are draining away to other countries.

Even this Government must have understood the tragedy that is Corus, and the massive cuts in the steel industry. Even this Government, with Members representing practically all the major textile locations, must have noticed that the textile industry is being gravely damaged by the combination of a weak euro--allowing European competitors more of an edge--with massive increases in costs, many pushed through by too much regulation and taxation. The Opposition look for some relief for textiles, steel and the other basic manufacturing industries, but we look for that in vain in this badly drafted Bill.

The Bill is an example of cynical manipulation--typical spin. We are told that the Government need greater powers to introduce deregulation. With their majority they could introduce any deregulation they liked as primary

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legislation, and given that they shove everything through in two or three hours anyway it would not take very long to do the job. Why do they not simply present some deregulation measures in the form of primary legislation? They might even find that we would expedite the passage of such measures, and would not be as worried about being given so little time for debate as we are in the case of many of the massive regulatory measures that they regularly propose.

We are told that these are Henry VIII powers in a good cause. That does a grave injustice to the late king, who, after all, introduced all his reformation measures in the form of primary legislation, in this House of Commons. Perhaps it is because he was an early Eurosceptic that the Government are taking such exception to him, and giving the powers that name.

The power that the Bill introduces is wholly undesirable. It is the power to regulate anew, and to impose additional burdens on an already massively overburdened private sector without the normal questions being asked and without the normal processes of primary legislation. It is true that there is long-winded consultation, which the Government will undoubtedly ignore when they have decided what they want to do, and it is true that there is a statutory instrument procedure. I think it wholly undesirable, however, that the House should be bypassed--in several ways--when the Government want to impose new regulatory burdens.

It is very different from getting rid of things. People have too much government. I have more government than I want, more government than I need, and certainly more government than I can afford. I speak for many of my constituents in saying that. The Bill will create an additional power to allow more regulation, without proper scrutiny.

I am surprised that the Government think it worth bothering, given that they have developed so many other ways of avoiding proper scrutiny of their measures and regulations. We now have an almost perpetual guillotine, pushed through to ensure that there is as little debate as possible. Labour Back Benchers are asked to occupy all the time available, so that the number of critical remarks can be reduced. Often, Ministers show a contemptuous attitude to those of us who seek to ask legitimate questions about how measures will work and whether they will work.


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