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Mrs. Gorman: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Fabricant: I shall make another point before giving way to my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Preston lists the number of regulations introduced by the Conservative Government during the past 18 years, but he does not list the cost of those burdens on business. I should prefer 10,000 regulations that cost my company £1 than one regulation that cost it £20,000. He is singularly silent and looks into the middle distance.

Mr. Hendrick rose--

Mr. Fabricant: I have challenged him, so I shall give way.

Mr. Hendrick: The hon. Gentleman says that he agrees with the minimum wage, but he obviously does not because he calls it a burden on, not a benefit to, the workers. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that crocodile tears are shed over the figures quoted? Does he also accept that the figures from the Institute of Directors differ greatly from those given by the chambers of commerce?

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has already eloquently told us what Ruth Lea, director of research and policy at the Institute of Directors, has said, so I need not repeat it. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on asking two or three questions where another colleague would merely ask one, but he did not answer my challenge and say what was the cost to business of Conservative legislation and burdens on business. All he did was quote the number of regulations. That is a key point.

Mr. Ian Stewart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fabricant: I promised to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman).

Mrs. Gorman: Is my hon. Friend aware that the local schools in my constituency are unable to undertake the

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repairs now available to them under Government funds for education because of the dearth of small building firms? When I investigated the problem, I found that the Health and Safety Executive now demands contracts that measure something like an inch thick and specify the safety requirements for each individual at every point in a job. The business man--who is a small builder, not a form filler--has to complete a form for each employee at every point in the job. All that legislation has been introduced under the HSE, and it is making it impossible for people to repair schools and hospitals in my constituency.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. The Minister for the Cabinet Office said in her introduction that it is important to achieve a balance. That was echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), but no hon. Member, least of all my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay, would argue for the repeal of health and safety legislation. There needs to be protection for employees. Similarly, I do not oppose the minimum wage. I shed no crocodile tears, as the hon. Member for Preston put it, but the balance must be right.

Many Labour Members, especially those who sit below the Gangway, were very disappointed when the minimum wage was set at £3.20--I believe that it is now £3.70--given that before the election the Labour party promised to set it at least at £5 an hour. The hon. Member for Preston shakes his head, but if he were to look at the documents that his party produced, he would see that they clearly stated that the minimum wage would be between £5 and £5.50 an hour. I am being generous to the Labour party by using the £5 figure. Nevertheless, the Government were right not to set the minimum wage at £5 an hour. If they had done so, our predictions of 1 million unemployed would have come true.

Is it not appalling that the Minister for the Cabinet Office twists that argument? She said that we were wrong to argue against the minimum wage and suggest that it would create 1 million unemployed people, but it has not done so because the Government showed some sense of reality when they came to office and set the minimum wage at a more reasonable rate. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham is right to say that there must be a balance and that we must ensure that legislation is not so burdensome as to mean that no one is employed at all because firms go out of business.

Mrs. Gorman: Is my hon. Friend aware that the care homes industry, which is very extensive, has said that care homes will have to be closed because the minimum wage has increased, but there has been no increase in the payments that they receive for taking care of elderly people? The elderly people will be shunted around like packages, looking for somewhere that can squeeze enough care from the system. This Government will be responsible for that problem.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which involves not just the minimum wage. The Minister for the Cabinet Office will know that in every constituency--Labour as well as Conservative--private care homes are closing because a minimum bedroom size has been specified. That has meant that homes that

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previously accommodated 20 people will have to be altered at high cost and may be able to accommodate only 15 people.

Mr. Ian Stewart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fabricant: I shall give way in a moment.

If the minimum specification means that a firm goes out of business or has to increase its rates so much that people cannot afford to keep their elderly parents there, will the Government be proud of that? I hope that the hon. Member for Eccles has a helpful suggestion.

Mr. Stewart: The hon. Gentleman's information is plain wrong. The regulations to which he refers will not, in the main, come into force until 2002, and some of them will come in even later. He cannot possibly argue that they are causing economic problems for companies.

Mr. Fabricant: I said that companies are having to close--and they are. I challenge the hon. Gentleman: if this debate is being watched in Eccles on the Parliament Channel, I bet you anything you like, Mr. Deputy Speaker--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not the correct parliamentary language. It is not appropriate to refer to people outside the Chamber who might be watching the debate.

Mr. Fabricant: You are right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but probably no one is watching us.

Firms are having to make decisions now about what will come into force in 2002. I remind the hon. Member for Eccles that we are already in 2001, so we are talking about next year.

The hon. Gentleman has a long and respected background in the trade union movement, but I was in business and I know that businesses have to plan more than a year ahead. If I owned a care home and I could see a brick wall less than 12 months ahead of me that meant that my firm would go bust unless I did something now, I would have to do something now. Therefore, the regulations are causing problems. I declare an interest: I have a 90-year-old mum, so I am very conscious of this issue.

I had hoped that I could have said that I support the Bill unequivocally. Unfortunately, I cannot say that because it is such a loose Bill. We have witnessed an admission from the Minister for the Cabinet Office that has identified her as the £10 billion up, £40 million back Mo, but I suppose that is a little bit nicer than the 10p up, 1p down Chancellor.

European Union regulations, which have so damaged legislation in this country, have already affected many industries, creating 300,000 unemployed.

Mr. Hendrick: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fabricant: I have given way to the hon. Gentleman three times, but he never asks a short question. He always asks two, three or four questions in one, so I will not give way. I am reaching the end of my speech because other hon. Members on both sides wish to speak.

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Instead of making faces at me, I hope that he will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and make his own useful contribution.

Mrs. Gorman: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Fabricant: No, I will not give way because I am concluding my speech.

The Bill is condemned by virtue of the fact that it is ineffectual. I repeat one more time that the CBI has said that 3,000 new regulations have been introduced since the Government came into office and the British Chambers of Commerce has identified £9.62 billion worth of legislation that is damaging business. The real proof of the pudding is that, since the Government into power at a time of world economic prosperity, we have lost 300,000 jobs in manufacturing. If the Government are re-elected, the sad thing is that many more than 300,000 jobs will be lost over the next few years.

7.44 pm

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). I am sure that my contribution will not be as exciting as the one that we have just heard.

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman made comments similar to those of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). They both talked about a cut-and-run Government, but I was interested by the final comments of the hon. Gentleman. It is not a question of if another Labour Government will be returned, but merely of when. The contribution of the right hon. Member for Wokingham was perhaps nothing more than a pre-emptive strike in a leadership bid.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak because I recognise the Bill's importance for two reasons. First, like some of the other hon. Members who have spoken, I am a member of the Deregulation Committee--albeit for just over a year. The general consensus on the Committee is that this Bill has been needed for a considerable time to simplify the current system. Secondly, I represent a rural constituency that is like many others in that it is dependent on small and medium-sized businesses. That fact has come into sharp focus in the past couple of weeks because of the foot and mouth outbreak. My area has been badly affected and we have seen the impact on the local economy. Therefore, it is right that we should try to remove the burdens on small and medium-sized businesses.

A lot has been achieved in my area thanks to the work of Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway, which has done much to sustain small businesses over many years. That success can easily be measured by the survival period of many new businesses.


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