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Marjorie Mowlam: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that this country has one of the lowest levels of regulation in Europe. During my visit to Brussels, I worked to achieve a clear level playing field on regulation--that is what is important in Europe--and I have done so since. Our businesses suffer because others treat regulation differently.
Mr. Bercow: I am not unsympathetic to the principle of a level playing field, although my main concern is that our regulatory burden should be as low as is consistent with safety, decency and propriety.
The right hon. Lady makes the point, as did a number of Labour Members, that the regulatory burden in this country is lower than that in most EU member states. A degree of speculation is involved because the empirical evidence is by no means clear, but in so far as that is true, it is not least because, for many years, deregulatory Thatcherite policies were applied in this country when burdensome regulatory and socialistic policies were being implemented in those member states. I am prepared to concede, though I do not know for certain, that the burden might be lower here than in those countries.
Many European Union member states might face more statutory regulation than we do. They tend more readily to sign up to high-falutin' declarations and statutory commitments, but the right hon. Lady must concede, because she effectively did so in her intervention, that there is frequently a chasm between what the European Union says in statute and what it does in practice. She really must note that central point. We sign up to a proposition and zealously enforce it; our European partners frequently sign up to what would be burdensome impositions--
In two treaties, there is an over-arching power from which this country stands to suffer. I refer first to article 3b of the treaty of Maastricht, so I am making a non-partisan point--[Interruption.] I emphasise to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East that I am making a non-party-partisan point. Article 3b of the treaty was about subsidiarity. It was designed to reassure those of us who were concerned that the overweening power of the European Union was stifling and circumscribing this country's capacity for national self-government. Article 3b states--
In the circumstances that I outlined, it is not credible for the Minister for the Cabinet Office to pretend that we are protected from the burden of regulation and from the increasingly omnipotent power of the European Union.
Notwithstanding the arcane and circumlocutory language of article 3b of the treaty of Maastricht and of the protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality in the treaty of Amsterdam, they are potentially and directly relevant to whether we can deregulate, and if so, how and to what extent. The answer is, "Not enough."
The burden of regulation is greater. The Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 was a good measure from which real benefits flowed. The Government have contrived a feeble excuse--at the last knockings of this Parliament--to introduce an alternative measure, having wholly failed to make proper use of that which was already on the statute book.
My right hon. and hon. Friends propose an altogether better course--an ambitious, robust and deregulatory course that will commend itself to business. We intend to persist with that course, and I commend that proposition to the House.
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): After that tour de force from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), what more is there to say? He said it all in a marvellous speech. I very nearly could not stand up because I was so spellbound by the content and force of his delivery and contribution. In the 10 minutes available to me in this debate, I want to say that it is not fair to those in the Public Gallery to hear such esoteric debates. I feel that one of my jobs as a modest and senior Back Bencher is to help those in the Public Gallery, and those hon. Members who have not the intelligence to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, to understand what the debate is all about.
I want to make one or two comments for the benefit of those hon. Members who have not had the advantage of listening to all the debate. I have been involved in deregulation for many years. I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, and spoke in the debate on Second Reading. I used to be chairman of the Conservative party's deregulation committee.
I want to make this simple. As I understand it, the Bill has two aspects, the first of which really tells us that the Select Committee on Deregulation, of which I am a member, has run out of material to deal with. We have
Instead of deregulating, the Deregulation Committee will be given an increased portfolio of existing rules and regulations that it can amplify. That interesting concept will involve not getting rid of regulations, but gold-plating existing ones and adding to them. That is what the new Select Committee on Deregulation will deal with, but because of the danger of doing so without some controls, the Government have included the so-called five tests--it is like the 10 plagues in the Old Testament. The five tests are extraordinary, and I do not know how they will work. First, there is the necessary protection test; then the reasonable expectations test; then the proportionality test; then the fair balance test; and, finally, the desirability test.
Given how long such matters take, how will the Select Committee work out the balance involved in, for example, the reasonable expectations test, which was recommended by the Deregulation Committee? The test demands that the Minister making the order must be of the opinion that it will not prevent an individual from continuing to exercise any right or freedom that he might reasonably expect to continue to exercise.
Under the proportionality test, the imposition of any new or increased burden must be proportionate to the benefit that is expected to result. Under the fair balance test, in the case of the imposition of new or increased burdens, the Minister must be of the opinion that the provisions of an order, taken as a whole, strike a fair balance between the public interest and the rights of the individual.