The fact is that there has been a problem. We need to preserve the system of rights of way as that is an enormously important part of our countryside, but it has been difficult to make sensible adjustments because of the ground rules against which inspectors are making decisions. The stakeholders working group looked at this very intensively over a very long period and took a very balanced view. The upshot is clause 13 and the

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surrounding clauses, and I am delighted to say that I have agreed with my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary that it should be accompanied by guidance that will specifically ask the inspectors to give real weight to the fact that a particular path goes through someone’s garden. That will help enormously to achieve a more sensible balance. That is now being looked at in detail by the SWG, which I hope will approve the new guidance in very short order.

Bill Wiggin: I am very grateful for what my right hon. Friend says about that because it can take up to 12 years in my constituency just to get a tiny little movement on such rights of way.

Mr Letwin: I very well know the phenomenon. In fact in the case I was talking about, I think it has taken about 25 years, so I know what my hon. Friend is talking about.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Will that guidance also refer to the issue of green lanes which has come up among my constituents in north Yorkshire? I would be interested to know whether my right hon. Friend has been lobbied or representations have been made by those involved in that campaign.

Mr Letwin: Well, to say that I have been lobbied about these matters is mild understatement. I think it would be sensible for my hon. Friend and me to have a detailed discussion of clauses 14, 16 and 17. I will just mention clause 17 for a moment, which authorises the construction of gates on public ways. If my hon. Friend pauses to consider the materiality of that change, he will understand just how important this is.

Clause 29 is one of the favourites of the Communities Secretary. It decriminalises the penalties for misfeasance with household waste. It turns them into civil penalties rather than criminal penalties, which is long overdue.

Clause 33 is the result of lobbying by Members on both sides of the House. It will fulfil a commitment by the Chancellor by enabling child trust funds to be converted into junior ISAs. That is another excellent move.

Finally, clause 43 sums up the whole Bill, in my view. It deals with the exhibition of films in village halls. I am talking not about movies involving ghastly violence and huge amounts of sexual activity, which are classed as X-rated. As we can see from the clause, film certificates will continue to apply. At the moment, however, if someone wants to show a Charlie Chaplin film, they have to obtain a licence. That is astonishing, and there is not the slightest reason for it. I know that Opposition Members have no concern with village halls or village life, but perhaps they will recognise that this is also happening in community halls throughout the urban centres of our country. It would be nice if people could show films in those places without a licence, and I am glad to say that liberty will reign in this respect and that clause 43 will enable that to happen.

I hope that I have demonstrated that, while the Bill represents only a tiny fraction of this Government’s vast and enormously successful efforts to have a period of a Parliament for the first time in this country’s

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history in which we have reduced rather than increased the burden of domestic regulation, it is nevertheless a significant step forward. I am sure that it will be widely welcomed in all parts of the House, except among those on the far left who want to see this country being further and further regulated.

4.46 pm

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): Rarely have we debated a Bill that is so long and so broad and yet so ineffectual, given what it purportedly seeks to achieve. In true “Yes Minister” style, when faced with the important and necessary challenge of deregulation, the Government have decided to deal with the difficult bit in the Bill’s title and do very little about it in the text.

Mr Letwin: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, and I assure her that I shall not seek to intervene on her on a regular basis. If the task of deregulation is so necessary—a proposition I fully agree with—why were no such steps taken during the many years of the Labour Government?

Chi Onwurah: I find it hard to believe that the Minister has intervened to make a point for which he has so little evidence. During the last Labour Government, we deregulated to bring benefits to business of £3 billion a year. This Government’s record is in no way comparable with that.

Mr Prisk: The hon. Lady might wish to reconsider those remarks. When we checked with the House of Commons Library, we found that, during the last Parliament under the Labour Government, the equivalent of six new regulations were introduced every working day. Does she deny that?

Chi Onwurah: The figures that I gave were accurate. Speaking of the regulations that we brought in, was the hon. Gentleman against the minimum wage? I know that he voted against it. Was he against every aspect of the legislation that we brought in?

Mr Prisk: No; what I am against is Opposition spokesmen standing at the Dispatch Box pretending that they somehow helped business when in fact they hindered it, day in and day out.

Chi Onwurah: The hon. Gentleman would be pleased if his Government had our record on growth and business starts.

We now know where the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has been hiding for the past year. He has been off with the Minister for Government Policy tackling big issues such as deregulating the sale of knitting yarn, freeing our children to buy their own chocolate liqueurs and decriminalising household waste. When the Prime Minister told people suffering from high energy bills to put on a jumper, the Minister sprang into action by making it easier for them to knit their own.

Alok Sharma rose—

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Chi Onwurah: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has something to say about knitting yarn.

Alok Sharma: My right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy made the point that there is a lot of regulation that we can do nothing about because of EU regulation. If the hon. Lady cares so much about regulation, why will she not support the European Union (Referendum) Bill?

Chi Onwurah: I know that the Government face a real challenge in keeping their Members off the subject of Europe, but perhaps in this debate on deregulation, they will understand that we are not here to discuss the potential of a referendum. I will come on later to talk about the relevance of Europe to the matter under discussion. Europe is not the issue that confronts my constituents today. My constituents are being hit by the cost of living crisis and the measures that this Government, not Europe, have brought in to ensure that their wages do not rise at the same rate as prices.

It is nice to know that when the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government spoke eloquently about every Englishman’s right to have the remnants of their tikka masala collected promptly, the Minister boldly made sure that they would not face prosecution if they placed it in the wrong receptacle. It is all in this Bill—farriers, road humps and late-night takeaways. This is the Christmas tree Bill to end all Christmas tree Bills. In fact, Christmas trees are one of the few things that are not covered by this Bill.

Alok Sharma rose

Chi Onwurah: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has something to say about that.

Alok Sharma: It appears that the hon. Lady is going to oppose every measure in this Bill. Is that the case?

Chi Onwurah: There are some measures in this rag, tag hotch-potch of a Bill that are welcome and that we do not oppose. What we oppose is the approach of this Government to a cost of living crisis, which is to attack the rights of ordinary working people.

By my count, the 69 clauses and 17 schedules cover at least 12 Whitehall Departments. As I have said, although there are many parts of the Bill that we support or do not oppose, there are some very disturbing proposals hidden beneath the knitting yarn, which we will vigorously oppose. There are fresh attacks on employment rights, with the removal of yet more powers from employment tribunals. Those are measures that the Government’s own impact assessment claims will have a negligible effect on businesses or even cost them money. We will not support any new attacks on working people.

Julian Smith: Does the hon. Lady not agree that the cumulative effect of the Government’s reforms of small business red tape and regulation have made it easier for those businesses to create jobs and growth and provide the results that we all want, which is our constituents in work?

Chi Onwurah: We all know that small businesses need a cut in business rates, as we have proposed, and then a freeze. We will also freeze their energy bills, which will save an average of £1,800 a year. At the same time, we

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would change the economy so that it delivers secure employment, which would benefit businesses large and small.

We want this Government to acknowledge, once and for all, that it was not working people’s job security that caused the global financial crash and that preventing employers from discriminating against pregnant women is not the root cause of the cost of living crisis. This Government are so out of touch that they not only do not understand the challenge they face—the need for an economy that works for all, delivering good, well-paid jobs—but fail to understand the real solutions to the problems that they do see.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): The hon. Lady talks about preventing mythical attacks on working people. Does she concede that under the policies of this Government more than 1 million more people are in work in this country?

Chi Onwurah: I know that almost 1 million young people are unemployed and that 1.3 million people in part-time work are seeking full-time work. I also know, because I speak to these people in my constituency, that some people who are supposedly in jobs with zero-hours contracts are getting no work, cannot make any plans and cannot go out and spend money. That is the working environment that this Government support and that the next Labour Government will change.

Let us turn to the first, and most worrying, part of the Bill—the general measures affecting business. Exempting self-employed people in certain industries will create confusion about who is covered and who is not. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, the chartered body of health and safety practitioners and the world’s largest health and safety professional membership organisation, is opposed to that, calling it

“a very short-sighted and misleading move”,

and saying that

“it won’t actually help anyone; it won’t support business; but it will cause general confusion.”

Even the Federation of Small Businesses, which supports the change in principle, says that the implications are not well understood and it is particularly concerned about the unintended consequences for insurance, which will need to be considered further in Committee if the Bill gets there.

The Bill will also remove employment tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations to employers who have been judged to have discriminated against someone unlawfully. Such recommendations are only advisory—they are not mandatory and they promote good working practice. Why are the Government trying to prescribe the ability of tribunals to make observations? What are they afraid of? The Prime Minister says that we are in a global race, but that race cannot be won by attacking employment rights at every opportunity. The Opposition will not support a race to the bottom.

The House of Commons Library considered the impact assessment for that measure and found that despite the Minister labelling it deregulatory and counting it as an out under the Government’s arbitrary one in, two out system, business will incur a cost as a result of the removal of the power. Only this Government could propose a supposedly deregulatory measure that

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costs business money. Those on the Front Bench look slightly puzzled; this is work by the House of Commons Library.

Alok Sharma: I am not sure how often the hon. Lady talks to business, but perhaps she saw the submission from the British Chambers of Commerce, which said:

“The BCC supports the thrust of this Bill. The BCC welcomes measures to reduce unnecessary health and safety regulations on the self-employed”.

She should talk to business more before she comes to this House.

Chi Onwurah: I have just quoted the FSB, which stands for the Federation of Small Businesses—I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware of that. I talk to business regularly and if he disagrees with the FSB, we would be pleased to hear the evidence on which that is based.

The Government sacked hundreds of staff at great expense several years ago, and they are now seeking to re-employ them through a recruitment firm, hiring at least half of them. I have seen the job advert, and apparently they will work on the Government’s red tape challenge and deregulation programme. [Interruption.] Well, it is certainly true that the Government need all the help that they can get, but I hope that they will succeed—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Mr Maynard, I do not need comments like that. We are listening to a debate. I know that it is not normal for everyone to agree with every word, but we have had enough of comments being shouted across the Chamber.

Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I made the comments; I would not like my colleague to be accused.

Madam Deputy Speaker: It is very gallant of the hon. Gentleman to offer that information. I will say to him as well that, although his hon. Friend has also been making comments across the Floor of the House, I hope that it will stop now.

Chi Onwurah: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I hope that the new employees will succeed in making the Minister understand that we do not build an economy that works for working people by attacking their rights.

Julian Smith: Does the hon. Lady welcome the shared parental leave that the Government have introduced as part of trying to make things easier for couples who want to work and share parental leave during the course of their professional life?

Chi Onwurah: The Labour Government did more to support working families and working parents than any Government before, and of course we support that measure.

I shall try to make progress and speak to my experience with business. Before entering the House, I worked for many years in telecoms in the private sector in the

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United States, the United Kingdom, France, Nigeria and many other countries around the world; I worked in companies large and small. I then worked for the industry regulator in this country, Ofcom, for six years, so I have seen regulation from many different viewpoints, and I am familiar with the impact that it can have on businesses of all sizes. I recognise the burden that it can represent, particularly on small businesses.

The Opposition believe that Government must seek to reduce unnecessary regulation at every opportunity, but unfortunately, this Government’s debate on regulation is stale and simplistic. Smart regulation underpins fair markets, and can level the playing field for small firms and new entrants—the very people and businesses that create new jobs and prosperity. Smart regulation saves lives. It is a matter of great pride for all of us, I hope, that the 2012 Olympic infrastructure was built without the loss of one life. We can certainly be sure that regulation played a part in that. The men and women working on those construction sites know the value of having clear health and safety laws in place, and I only wish that were the case for Government Members.

Smart regulation can help to drive innovation and growth. Labour’s zero carbon policy helped to make this country a world leader in low-carbon technology and architecture. Yes, regulation—

Andrew Bridgen rose—

Chi Onwurah: I am going to make progress, as many Members wish to speak.

Regulation is a concern for some businesses, but business people understand that rules are needed to protect people’s safety and rights, promote competition and prevent employers from being undercut by those who do not play by the rules. As the Federation of Small Businesses has noted, the concerns of business are often about how regulations are developed and introduced, how they are enforced, and the duplication and overlapping rules that waste their time. The Government’s rather crude “one in, two out” approach fails to recognise that sensible and proportionate regulation introduced and implemented properly can promote healthy, competitive markets. The issue is more complex than the number of rules coming in and out.

We believe it is essential to take a fresh look at existing regulation, how it is implemented, and how—in response to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood)—it is translated from European directives. Regulation protects consumers’ and employees’ rights, ensures that our industries play their part in moving to a green and sustainable future, and keeps citizens safe; it has saved many lives. It is important that it is effective and enforceable. Challenges arise when ill-thought-through regulation has unforeseen consequences or is interpreted bureaucratically and inflexibly. Some regulation can certainly represent an unnecessary burden on businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises that may not have access to legal advice to interpret regulation accurately or the resources to implement it fully.

When in power, Labour sought to reduce regulation by introducing the Better Regulation Commission and the ongoing better regulation programme, and made a number of legislative changes to reduce the cost of regulation. Our programmes for simplifying regulation delivered—[Interruption.] Our programmes delivered—

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I would have thought this figure would be of some interest to Government Members—£3 billion of savings to business per year. In contrast, the impact statement for the draft Bill—Ministers have not dared to produce a comprehensive summary for the current Bill—estimated that it would save business and civil society £10 million over 10 years. So we have savings of £10 million or £3 billion; I think the Minister can do the maths. The figures underline that while we all agree unnecessary regulation can be a burden on business, a sensible approach to deregulation is about more than repealing statutes.

In government, we introduced legislative reform orders to help Ministers to get unnecessary burdens on business off the statute book. However, as the Regulatory Reform Committee has noted, instead of using those 11 procedures already available to Government for deregulating, Ministers chose to invent a new one. We also set up the primary authority scheme and the Regulatory Policy Committee, as well as a Cabinet Sub-Committee to focus minds at the very top of Government. That was our record in government.

Building on Labour’s progress in government, the Bill seeks to introduce a growth duty on regulators, as the Minister explained. This duty will compel them to have regard to the promotion of economic growth when carrying out their functions and to carry them out in a necessary and proportionate way. We support the aims behind the duty and, clearly, the principle that regulators should go about their business in a proportionate way, but we must ensure that the duty does not inhibit or contradict the primary function of any regulator.

The crude proposals in the Bill do not fit into an overall strategy or vision for this country. They show no recognition of why growth is important to deliver good, sustainable jobs, to help people’s incomes rise faster than costs, and to ensure that we become richer as a nation. They do not mention long-term or sustainable growth—they refer simply to growth—and they fail to recognise that good regulation is necessary to protect jobs and growth. Is it right that a housing bubble or a casino-capitalism-fuelled, short-term growth spurt should be a primary consideration for the Office for Nuclear Regulation? I hope we all recognise that markets need to be regulated in order to protect growth and jobs, or are the Government suggesting that the underlying cause of the global financial crisis was too much regulation?

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr Kenneth Clarke): I am sorry to put the hon. Lady out of her stride, but I have slightly lost her point; I will be replying to this debate, so I just want to follow her argument. She has said that she is in favour of regulators paying regard to the aim of getting growth in the economy and of their regulations being proportionate to the risks they guard against, but now she appears to be speaking against that. I do not follow her argument: is she proposing to vote against the regulators being asked to have regard to the growth of the economy and against their regulations being proportionate? If so, I have not followed her logic. How on earth would our proposed measures produce a casino-like growth bubble? We are simply proposing a sensible constraint on regulators to make sure that they remain proportionate and do not do out-of-proportion economic damage.

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Chi Onwurah: I thank the Minister for his intervention, which, I regret to say, illustrates that this Government still do not understand the driving forces behind the global financial crisis.

Although we want regulators to have regard to the impact of their regulations, we do not agree that one of their primary objectives should be to support or promote short-term growth. There is a list of regulators. Should short-term growth be a priority for the human rights regulator? Either the Bill should be amended or the impact of the proposals should be clarified, so as to ensure that we do not find ourselves in a situation whereby all the regulators seek to promote short-term growth spurts, regardless of the consequences elsewhere. I hope that explanation has offered clarification, at least to a certain extent, and that Government Members will find it easy to discuss.

We have concerns about other parts of the Bill. Housing is a critical part of the cost of living crisis for families up and down the country, so should there not be a coherent, long-term approach, rather than ad hoc tinkering? Will not reducing the right-to-buy qualifying time hamper the ability of councils to build more homes at a time when they are needed more than ever? We will certainly seek proof that that will not happen. We will also seek clarification and reassurances on some of the measures affecting transport, licensing and local authorities, among others.

The decriminalisation of waste will, apparently, reduce the regulatory burden on households, but it should be remembered that in 1991 a then Tory Minister said something similar about the decriminalisation of parking offences. I doubt that many car owners feel that parking is less of a burden as a result, but it is certainly the case that it opened up new avenues of revenue for hard-pressed councils.

The proposals on justice are interesting. I imagine that the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), approached the Lord Chancellor, who had just taken his job, and asked him what regulations he would like to get rid of, and that he came back with the idea of stripping away safeguards on the seizure of evidence from journalists, although we hear that that was not the intention, and a proposal to remove parliamentary scrutiny when he wants to close prisons. In answer to one of my parliamentary questions, the Ministry of Justice has revealed that, since 2010, it has yet to repeal any regulations, but has introduced eight. If those are the sorts of ideas that it has come up with, perhaps it is a good thing that we have been spared any deregulation by the Ministry of Justice during the past three and a half years.

Some measures in the Bill are welcome. Although those affecting businesses will have only a small impact on a small number of them, they are welcome, as are those on child trust funds. The measures on rights of way are also good news, provided that the full package agreed with the stakeholder working group is passed.

I pay tribute to the hard work of the Joint Committee on the draft Deregulation Bill, chaired by my noble Friend Lord Rooker. Although it was not given the time it felt appropriate, thanks to the Joint Committee the Bill is in a slightly better state than it was last July, but it is fair to say that the Government have not responded to many of its criticisms.

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It is also fair to say that the overall reaction to the Bill has been underwhelming—lukewarm at best. Ministers are delighted with it, but reading the Bill, I realised that that is because it seems to be about removing burdens as much on Ministers as on business. By my count, half the proposals in the Bill will take away burdens from Ministers and the Government, while less than half will remove them from business. This is more doublespeak: deregulation is apparently about deregulating Whitehall, not small business. For some reason, that reminds me of the Localism Act 2011, which has somehow resulted in hundreds of powers being localised in Whitehall.

That explains why the expected impact of the Bill is rather low, and underlines why it is a rather simplistic tool for a multifaceted challenge. All Governments say that they want to reduce regulation—I am sure that every Byzantine emperor came to power on the promise of reduced regulation—but getting regulation right is much more about working behind the scenes with business and interested parties than about bluster and press releases.

Julian Smith: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Chi Onwurah: I am just finishing.

Once again, this Government’s rhetoric extends far beyond their reach. The Opposition will seek to remove or amend the iniquitous clauses if the Bill is committed, and we believe that the remaining clauses will have a very limited, if welcome, impact.

5.18 pm

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I rise to give my full support to the Bill, which represents another important clear-out of unnecessary barriers to economic growth and will help to clear a path to the creation of more jobs. It also tackles the worrying “something must be done” culture of believing in legislation as the cure to all problems. Too often, legislation and heavy-handed regulation makes things worse, not better.

We need more first-time entrepreneurs to step forward without being put off by the fog of regulation, and we need more such people to take another step by becoming first-time employers. I therefore welcome provisions in the Bill to simplify apprenticeships, just as I welcomed measures in the Finance Act 2013 to reduce the burden of employer’s national insurance contributions— the jobs tax—which the Labour party has sought to increase.

We need not only first-time entrepreneurs and first-time employers, but first-time exporters. We must continue to help more first-time home owners within our property-holding democracy, so I welcome clause 21, which will reduce barriers to the right to buy—[Interruption.] The receipts will be used to build more social housing, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) has indicated from a sedentary position.

By pulling down barriers to action, we are sending the clear message that Britain is open to people giving it a try, realising dreams and achieving ambitions, regardless of whether they are the first in their family ever to do so. We are saying that there is hope and opportunity. As the

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Prime Minister said to the Federation of Small Businesses at its conference last week, there are areas where the Government need to

“get out of the way of small business success.”

That means introducing a programme of ongoing tax reductions, continuing to drive down the barriers of regulation and letting businesses steer their own course to success. The new employment allowance is a rebate of £2,000 on the national insurance contributions of every business in the country.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): We cut Labour’s jobs tax.

David Rutley: Absolutely.

The duty to pay employer’s national insurance contributions for people under 21 will be abolished completely. Last year’s autumn statement included a cap on the increase in business rates and a rolling programme of small business rate relief that will enable a £1,000 reduction in business rates for shops and retail premises, which will help to safeguard our high streets.

The Bill is an integral part of the Government’s long-term approach on deregulation. As the Minister said, the red tape challenge has highlighted just how much regulation there is and demonstrated the Government’s willingness—their desire even—to drain the swamp of existing regulation. The Minister kindly referred to that as a lake, but I think that it is more of a swamp.

Julian Smith: I fully support my hon. Friend’s comments. Does he agree that the Minister for Government Policy, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and several other Government Members have worked hard for many years on this specialist subject to ensure that we reduce regulation on business?

David Rutley: I agree with my hon. Friend completely. There has been great determination not only to reduce the deficit, but to build a plan for growth. Deregulation is a fundamental part of that plan, so I praise the work of the Minister for Government Policy and other Ministers who have made invaluable contributions.

The Government have turned their attention to not only the stock of regulations, but the flow of new regulations—the river that is running into the swamp that we are looking to drain. Their progress has been so good that their one in, one out approach has become a one in, two out rule. Ministers must remove twice the cost of any new regulation that they introduce. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), who also made an invaluable contribution in this area as a Minister, that is a culture change that will keep us on the path to more jobs and increased growth.

I welcome the fact that hundreds of regulations have been improved, modified or removed by the Government, and that they are being more ambitious still in the Bill by aiming to improve or sweep away thousands more. As the Prime Minister said, this will be

“the first government in modern history that at the end of its parliamentary term has less regulation in place than there was at the beginning.”

That must be an important priority. With the eurozone in a sluggish period of economic growth and an in/out referendum on the cards in the UK following a Conservative

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victory at the next election, the Bill will hopefully not only help the UK to tackle its own challenges, but provide the impetus for serious deregulatory reform in Europe.

John Mann: As co-chair of the all-party group on mountaineering, what is the hon. Gentleman’s view of how clause 1 will apply to mountain guides and those who take people climbing? As he well knows, all mountain guides in this country are self-employed, even though many of them work within organisations and agencies such as the Plas y Brenin centre in north Wales. How will removing the general health and safety responsibility from self-employed mountain guides affect health and safety in that industry?

David Rutley: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, and I am sure that he and I will wish to debate it outside the Chamber—

Mr Letwin rose

David Rutley: I will try to respond to that point before I hand over to the Minister. Surely the purpose of clause 1 is to ensure that those who are self-employed in industries in which there is no risk to the lives of others can get on with their work. I do not know the exact details regarding mountain guides, so I will hand over to the Minister, who I am sure will give a much better-informed answer.

Mr Letwin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because this is a beautiful illustration of the problem. Mountaineering, like many such activities, is covered by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority, so those who are self-employed in that terrain are already regulated. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) illustrates beautifully the kind of problem that arises owing to multiple duplications of regulation. There are clear reasons why health and safety regulations apply in certain dangerous disciplines, but not when they are already regulated.

David Rutley: I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure that the hon. Member—and friend—for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and I will enjoy further conversations about that subject outside the Chamber.

The Bill will help to provide further impetus for change in not only the UK, but Europe. Fortunately, there is increasing evidence that, in contrast to the abject failure of the French socialist approach under President Hollande, the UK’s plan A can only help to bolster the pragmatic supply-side reform movement that has been spurred on by the Government and by the Prime Minister’s business taskforce. It has already been embodied by Open Europe and the Fresh Start group, which I and other Government Members support. Indeed, I was honoured to help to host a round-table discussion on better regulation only last month with delegates from across the EU. The Bill will do a good deal to deregulate in the UK, but if we are also to increase the EU’s competitiveness, we need to spread the lessons of our approach across the European economy.

Julian Smith: I think that my hon. Friend was on the trip to Brussels when we asked the Commission whether it had removed any regulatory burdens from small

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businesses. The lady we were speaking to looked absolutely startled and could not remember any rule that ever been removed from business.

David Rutley: My hon. Friend makes an important point that further highlights something I said earlier: 72% of the cost of all regulation—that is tens of billions of pounds—that has been put on UK businesses has come from the EU. That has to change.

Churchill once said:

“If you have ten thousand regulations, you destroy all respect for the law.”

Those words from the wise are worth listening to. Of course, 10,000 regulations also destroy competitiveness, so there is an urgent need to make targeted reductions in the swathes of regulatory burdens that are preventing British citizens from getting back to work.

Andrew Bridgen: My hon. Friend knows, as I do, that large businesses rather welcome a heavily regulated environment, especially in mature markets. Such an environment is anti-competitive, because it creates huge barriers to entry for small firms and cuts competition.

David Rutley: Absolutely. Providing for a more level playing field and enabling small and medium-sized enterprises to compete fully in the marketplace is at the heart of what the Government are trying to do, and that has to happen.

To secure the sort of reform that we are pushing for, we need to continue to inspire our EU neighbours with ambitious reforms such as the Bill. In that way, we can build alliances in Europe with politicians, citizens and businesses that also want a competitive EU—a single market, not a single over-regulated state. That is what we are working for. The EU institutions, especially the red tape-loving European Parliament, have become divorced from the economic reality of Europe and its people, including those in the UK. In the end, however, reality does bite, and the fantasy that it is a public good to have ever more legislation in ever more areas of life is fundamentally exposed. Barriers that hinder innovation, and the overall competitiveness of our entrepreneurs, employers and exporters, must be addressed at EU level as they are tackled in the UK.

In October, the Prime Minister’s taskforce showed what could be done with its “Compete” principles for better regulation and more than 30 recommendations for reducing the bureaucratic burden. The public outcry, especially in the UK, that led to rules on discards being swept away from fisheries policy shows that even Brussels, with enough pressure, will respond to the agenda for change. With the work that is being pushed forward and the alliances we are building in Europe, it is good that latent EU reformists have been enabled and even emboldened to get on to the front foot in arguing for a better Europe.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): Most of the hon. Gentleman’s speech seems to have been concentrated on the European Union. Is it aimed at Tory voters who may be considering voting for the UK Independence party?

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David Rutley: I am not sure that that contribution particularly advances the debate. I refer the hon. Lady to the comment I made earlier: 72% of regulation comes from the EU. We must address that situation, but Labour Members appear to have no appetite to do so. The issue was ducked for 13 years under the previous Government, but we are getting serious about it.

I will return to the Bill in a minute, but it is important to consider this issue in context. The German Finance Minister, Mr Schäuble, has warned against endless regulation and went as far as to state that among the

“worst news I got as Finance Minister two years ago was that a big bio-chemistry companies was shifting all its research from Europe to the US because of regulations coming from Brussels.”

The Bill helps to show that better news is possible with sufficient political will, not just in Germany, but in Holland and Sweden, where others are beginning to recognise the need for reform. One key thing we must demand is the implementation of the services directive across the EU. That must be a priority to ensure that consumers across the EU benefit, and that UK service companies—and, for that matter, those from other EU countries—can compete effectively.

If the EU adopted steps similar to those taken in the UK, such as the one in, one out requirement, which is moving to one in, two out, and the Government’s three-year moratorium on new regulation for small businesses, that would show that it, too, was open for business. There are signs that the EU is beginning to listen, and hopefully in the light of the Bill and the other work the Government are taking forward, it will show even more interest.

No one knows the precise direction of our economic journey over the next decade and beyond, but it will be easier if the Government continue to turn off the many red lights and deal with the road blocks faced by smaller businesses. As the Minister said, it is good that clauses 61, 62 and beyond deal with the idea that non-economic regulators must have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth, which is an important step forward.

It is also important to present better regulation proposals as a cause of optimism and positivity, rather than allowing the scurrilous left and the Labour party to pretend that it is all too difficult, or to insult the self-employed by suggesting that they do not have proper jobs, when of course they do. The Bill will empower people to achieve the things they want in their careers and businesses, and we must implement such measures to ensure that inflexible labour markets are swept away.

Deregulation does not take rights away; the Bill seeks only better to define them. Clause 1, for example, exempts from health and safety law self-employed people whose work activities pose no risk of harm to others, which is a measure supported by the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses. Clause 2 frees employers from the threat of wider recommendations from employment tribunals, thus de-risking the employment process and making jobs more likely to be created in the first place. If we can spread the Bill’s positive vision of deregulatory reform to our neighbours in Europe and the global economy, we will be pulling down barriers to people’s dreams and clearing road blocks to our constituents’ ambitions, and it is because of that that I support the Bill.

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5.35 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I beg to move,

That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Deregulation Bill because, whilst acknowledging that removing unnecessary burdens on small businesses is welcome, the Bill fails to recognise the social, economic and environmental benefits of effective regulation and contains a number of extremely damaging proposals including: the watering down of safety protections for employees that will leave workers at greater risk of injury, ill-health and abuse; the erosion of protection of journalistic sources and against police seizure of journalistic material, which threatens the basis of the free press; and the imposition of a growth duty on non-economic regulators such as Natural England and the Health and Safety Executive, which is irresponsible and risks undermining their core roles; further considers that this Bill is another illustration of a Government which is embarking on a deregulatory path without due consideration of warnings, including from businesses, that effective regulation is essential to create jobs and innovation and that ripping up vital green legislation risks locking the UK into polluting industrial processes for decades to come, jeopardising future competitiveness, damaging the UK’s attractiveness for green investment, and undermining new industries; and further believes that this Bill represents a race to the bottom and an obsession with GDP growth at any cost which is not in the public interest.

I tabled this reasoned amendment because I believe that the Bill should not be given a Second Reading. I listened to the Minister characterising those of us who have signed the amendment as somehow being of the far left. If that is the case, that category would have to include groups such as the UK Green Building Council, the Aldersgate Group and many other business groups right across the spectrum that have deep concerns about the Bill’s direction of travel.

I did not table this reasoned amendment without giving consideration to those parts of the Bill that are welcome and uncontroversial. Certainly, some parts of the Bill are completely fine. For example, it is cold homes week and many MPs and charities are working hard to highlight fuel poverty in cold homes. Scarves are a symbol of the campaign and people have been knitting away in the past few weeks to draw attention to the need to tackle fuel poverty. I am sure that nobody would object to the clauses in the Bill that would remove restrictions on the selling of knitting yarn. They will allow small and large businesses engaged in the selling of yarn better to meet their customers’ needs. Other provisions are similarly sensible, such as those that would facilitate the recording of public rights of way, and I give them my full support. Removing genuinely defunct legislation from the statute book also makes sense.

My worry is that the basis of the Bill is incredibly simplistic and crude: in the Government’s mind more regulation is bad and less regulation is good, without ever questioning the kind of regulation. Is it smart regulation? What is the purpose of the regulation? Will it actually generate more development? Will it incentivise industry? Will it provide industry with the level playing ground it often asks for? Instead of this nuanced approach, we have a complete knee-jerk reaction that says, “Regulation is bad, deregulation is good” and proceeds in a simple way.

I will make comments on three areas of the Bill. First, I want to cover some specific provisions—I will outline just a few. Secondly, I want to talk about the fundamentally flawed premise on which the Bill is based:

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it fails to recognise that some regulation can be good for business and job creation, as well as for consumers. Thirdly, I will say a few words about the new growth duty on non-economic regulators, which I fear will interfere with, and impinge on, their ability independently to carry out crucial roles, including: the Care Quality Commission protecting public health; Natural England protecting our environment; the Health and Safety Executive protecting employees and others from harm at work; or the Equality and Human Rights Commission challenging discrimination and protecting human rights. This growth duty is just the latest manifestation of an obsession with short-term GDP growth at any cost, and that is simply not in the public interest.

First, I will focus on just a few of the harmful provisions that I think Ministers are trying to ram through in the name of deregulation. The Bill narrows the application of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, following the 2011 Löfstedt review. The Bill effectively exempts self-employed people from health and safety law where their activities do not put another person at risk. On the surface, one could ask what could be wrong with that. The problem is that the changes in the Bill are completely unnecessary, because the only time the 1974 Act can be used is when a person does put another person at risk. No self-employed person has ever been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution for risking just their own health. Right now, the law is straightforward and it works. The Bill will create not only confusion, but complacency.

Let us not forget that the fatality, injury and ill-health rate for the self-employed is already much higher than that for other sectors. Some of the more dangerous industries, such as agriculture and construction, have a high proportion of self-employed people working in them. There is an obvious risk that people who control the workplace where self-employed people work may think, wrongly, that they do not need to be as concerned about fulfilling their duty of care to the self-employed. The TUC has made this point clear, as have the majority of respondents to the HSE consultation, who rejected the very option we now have put before us. The health and safety professional body, the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, warns:

“This is a very short-sighted and misleading move, it won’t actually help anyone; it won’t support business; but it will cause general confusion.”

As well as health and safety protections, it is also reasonable to ensure that employees do not face discrimination in the workplace, yet the Government are trying to take a massive backward step in the fight against discrimination, too, by removing the powers of employment tribunals to issue wider recommendations on gender, race or other forms of discrimination in the workplace.

Yasmin Qureshi: As the hon. Lady will be aware, employment tribunals made these recommendations only 19 times in 2012, and in fact employers often welcome them because they help to resolve many underlying issues that often lead to discrimination claims being made in the first place.

Caroline Lucas: That is a clear example of where the status quo is not causing a problem. The Government are looking for problems to solve where there are no problems, and instead are creating a whole lot more.

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Affordable housing could be another casualty of this obsession with deregulation. Reducing the eligibility period for the right to buy could seriously undermine housing associations’ ability to provide affordable housing and make it more, not less, difficult for housing associations to do business, contrary to the Government’s own apparent aims. It would be interesting to hear what assessment the Minister has made of the impact on the Government’s ambition to deliver 165,000 affordable homes over the Parliament. Why did they not consult housing associations on the impact of the measure before bringing it forward?

On the environment, in May 2010 in the coalition agreement, the Government committed to encouraging community-owned renewable energy schemes, and that is being delivered with the launch of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s community energy strategy. However, the reduction of energy and climate change duties, set out in clause 28, appears specifically to contradict that commitment and undermine the recent statements supporting community energy made by Ministers.

On public participation in decision making, the Bill weakens the Government’s overall consultation duties by removing specified statutory duties to consult. The majority of the consultation requirements to be removed by the Bill relate to the environment and greatly reduce the participation rights of affected people, including regulators such as Natural England. Consultation is a core element of democratic government and serves as one of the main ways the Government can be held to account for their actions. It also contributes to increasing public trust in government and is essential for developing policy and legislation, because it provides access to wider sources of information, opinions, and potential issues and solutions. The Government risk undermining their legitimacy and triggering a public outcry by removing statutory consultation requirements. The statement in schedule 15 that the Government consider these statutory requirements to consult as unnecessary is neither satisfactory nor sufficient to justify that removal.

More specifically, the UK is a signatory to the Aarhus convention, which binds the UK to provide the public with, among other things, a right to participate in decision making in any proposed activity that might have a significant effect on the environment and/or during the preparation of plans and programmes relating to the environment. The removal of the requirement to consult on the exercise of various powers relating to the environment directly conflicts with the requirements of the Aarhus convention, which stems from principle 10 of the Rio declaration, which opens with the declaration:

“Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level.”

The Government should justify the removal of each of the consultation requirements and confirm how the UK’s public participation obligation, pursuant to the convention, will be discharged.

We have already heard quite a bit about clause 47. I was going to say that hidden in the Bill was a provision seeking to repeal some of the journalistic protections in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that currently ensure proper and fair judicial scrutiny before police applications to obtain journalistic material are granted. I am grateful for the fact that the Minister is attempting to reassure his own Back Benchers on this issue, but it worries me that only at the last moment, when the Bill

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has got to this stage, is he proposing further consultation on this important part of the Bill. That strikes me as odd, as many organisations have been extremely vocal in raising this issue over several months. The Newspaper Society,

The Guardian

and many others have warned about the impact of closed material proceedings and so on.

I am grateful that, at the last minute, the Government are looking again at this matter and saying they will consult again, but that raises questions about how many other parts of the Bill will have unintended consequences.

Mr Letwin: The hon. Lady is making a serious speech; I hope I can correct just one misapprehension on her part. Although it is perfectly true that the Newspaper Society and others raised this issue, from memory it was on Wednesday or Thursday last week. They had not done so when the Joint Committee was scrutinising the Bill, nor did they do so when the Bill left the Joint Committee and we responded to it; they did so only last Wednesday or Thursday. That is why I have said that some further consultation would make sense, in case anyone else out there has views who has not come forward during the whole six months or so of exposure of the draft.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the Minister for that clarification. That is not as I understood it, but I am pleased to be corrected if that is the case. Certainly the lobby that I have been aware of—which is perhaps looking at broader issues than the question we are currently discussing—has been going on for a long time, but I thank the Minister for his clarification.

My second main objection to the Bill is that, in a sense, it just feels like the latest manifestation of a Government embarking on an evidence-free deregulatory path without due consideration of warnings, including from business. Those warnings say that effective regulation is essential to create jobs and innovation, and that ripping up vital green legislation risks locking the UK into polluting industrial processes for decades to come, jeopardising future competitiveness, damaging the UK’s attractiveness for green investment and undermining new industries. Let us take, for example, the UK Green Building Council, which works daily with more than 400 companies and organisations, from the largest to the smallest, across the built environment industry. In response to the Prime Minister’s comment last week about deregulation, Paul King, its chief executive, said:

“The Prime Minister’s boasts of ‘slashing 80,000 pages’ of environmental guidance is utterly reprehensible. It is the same poisonous political rhetoric from Number 10, devaluing environmental regulation in a slash and burn manner. These words are not only damaging and irresponsible, but misrepresent the wishes of so many modern businesses, both large and small.”

Andrew Bridgen: Apart from that one, rather spurious example, can the hon. Lady give the names of other business organisations that are demanding more regulation in the UK?

Caroline Lucas: I certainly can. I could talk about the Aldersgate Group as one or the Prince of Wales business trust as another. There are plenty of business organisations

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out there that make it clear that appropriate regulation is helpful to them. What they want is clarity, which is the very opposite of what they have had from this Government, under whom rules have been changed almost overnight. I am thinking, for example, of the feed-in tariff change, when suddenly the rules were changed retrospectively, more or less overnight, causing huge confusion and complication for many companies.

What those companies want is a level playing field, and clarity and certainty into the future. They are happy to have clear, sensible regulation that applies to all; what they do not want is a Government who simply come out with more and more rhetoric and introduce rules retrospectively or at the last moment. Many businesses in my constituency are tearing their hair out about not being able to plan for the future, because they do not know what the Government’s latest response will be to the UK Independence party or whoever else they are trying to close off.

Andrew Bridgen: I ran a business for 22 years, and what small businesses knew under the last Labour Government was that, on average, every working day we would get six more regulations affecting our businesses. Does the hon. Lady think that was very welcome?

Caroline Lucas: I am not a spokesperson for the Labour party, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to ask that question of those on the Labour Front Bench, he is very welcome to do so. What I am talking about is my knowledge of small businesses, with which I spend a lot of time in my constituency. What they would love to see is a reduction in VAT or an extension of the threshold, so that more small businesses are caught by the business rate relief. There are all kinds of things that they would like to see, but they are not necessarily telling me about a huge burden of regulation of the kind that the Government think they are trying to solve.

An example of the positive role of regulation is the 2016 zero-carbon target. This set a destination in advance and precipitated a huge amount of innovation from businesses figuring out how to get there—new jobs, new industries and new export markets for UK businesses. Customers are increasingly interested in energy efficiency, and a new home will probably save them £800 on their annual energy bills. Builders have responded to a clear stepwise trajectory towards zero-carbon homes, with uplifts in regulations in 2006 and 2010, and again this year, en route to 2016, from when all new homes are meant to be zero-carbon. The costs of building low-carbon, efficient homes have tumbled—by half in the last two years alone, according to forthcoming research. That example highlights the fact that Government regulation, not deregulation, can be incredibly successful in driving innovation, keeping energy bills down, creating jobs and cutting carbon emissions.

Environmental regulation to manage building in flood-prone areas will protect people from the nightmares that we have witnessed on our TV screens, if not in our own living rooms, over recent weeks. There are plenty of examples of disastrous deregulation, too. The US car industry lobbied and funded both Democrats and Republicans to reduce regulation. The result was that it drove itself to bankruptcy, because it was out-competed by overseas manufacturers that developed more efficient cars to meet tougher regulations elsewhere.

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The Government seem to be ignoring business representatives speaking out in favour of strong regulation. I have mentioned the Aldersgate Group a couple of times. In 2011, it warned that the drive to cut regulations on business could threaten the economic recovery. In a report launched here in the House of Commons, it stated that Government initiatives such as the red tape challenge that threaten “to rip up” vital green legislation would lock in polluting industrial processes for decades to come, jeopardise future competitiveness, and damage the UK’s attractiveness to green investors. It questioned whether measures such as one in, one out rule made sense, and would address pressing environmental challenges such as climate change. That is just one example of a market failure that requires more, not less, regulation to safeguard the environment and drive development in new industries.

The Aldersgate Group also highlighted the negative impact of putting sensible environmental regulations at risk with a consequent loss of business confidence. Peter Young, the group’s chairman, said:

“It is a myth that all businesses want less regulation. Effective green laws create a level playing field which drives efficiency, early action and the innovation in UK companies that will be the engine for future growth and jobs.

A crude deregulation drive risks damaging competitiveness and severely threatens the Prime Minister’s commitment to a green industrial revolution. The regulatory framework should encourage a rapid shift to a sustainable economy rather than being held back by vested interests or the lowest common denominator.

The Government’s ‘war on red tape' must not become a crusade that threatens regulatory outcomes such as protecting the environment. Even the threat of deregulation on the Climate Change Act and renewable energy support is massively eroding investment and making growth more difficult.”

There you have it, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is not just the Green party speaking; some of the captains of some of the biggest industries in the country are saying, very clearly, that the idea that all businesses hate all regulation is a myth and a travesty.

Richard Fuller: What does the hon. Lady think is the impact of deregulation on the interests of small business, as opposed to large business? She has talked about large businesses, but does she not think that deregulation particularly helps small businesses?

Caroline Lucas: I certainly think that some deregulation can help small businesses, and I also think that small businesses find it harder to deal with. What I object to is the fact that we are talking in vast generalisations. Let us instead talk about specific regulations. By and large—apart from, for instance, the clause about knitting yarn—the Bill contains none of the measures that small businesses in my constituency are crying out for. As I have said, what they would love to see are changes in the whole economic environment, such as the introduction of a higher threshold before business rate relief comes in. That would make a huge difference to them.

Let me now say something about the growth duty. I fear that it will interfere with, and impinge on, the ability of organisations to play crucial roles. The idea that growth must come before everything is a mantra and an ideological obsession, and it seems to me that an obsession with short-term GDP growth at any cost is simply not in the public interest. The Government’s justification for the growth duty has been inconsistent

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and incoherent. Regulators are already subject to a statutory duty to regulate proportionately, to be transparent and accountable, and to target activities only when that is necessary. That legislation is already there.

Ministers give assurances that the independence and effectiveness of organisations in carrying out their duties will not be undermined. A Government consultation paper states:

“Supporting growth and stripping back burdens are not sufficiently prioritised.”

However, it also states that

“the regulators would need to be able to demonstrate that they have considered the economic impact of their actions when making decisions”,

and that

“the duty is intended to be complementary to, and not override… existing duties.”

I do not understand why the new growth duty is necessary. As the consultation paper makes clear, regulations already exist, and we already know that the bodies concerned must take into account the impact of their proposals on the wider economy.

It seems to me that what we have here is yet another knee-jerk reaction. Growth must come before everything else—protecting workers’ rights, public health, equality, fair treatment, and the environment—and that, in my view, is a very negative approach.

5.54 pm

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): I am very happy to be contributing to the debate. It is a particular pleasure for me because I served on the Joint Committee, and, during that process, welcomed the contributions of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister without Portfolio.

I especially welcome the Bill’s proposal for a duty for growth. I think it fair to say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has transformed Britain so that it is once more a nation that prides itself on trade, growth and entrepreneurship. Exports are up again, and businesses are growing and benefiting from the fiscal and regulatory changes on which the Government have rightly focused. It is about time that we repealed legislation that is no longer of any practical use, and started to recreate an even playing field for competition, business start-ups and entrepreneurship. That is why the Bill is so important.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) and the Ministers have pointed out, the Bill is one part of the Government’s ongoing deregulation agenda. It sits alongside the red tape challenge and what was formerly known as the one in, one out rule, which is well known in Government circles. I want to highlight some key aspects of the Bill, particularly those relating to business.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill will drive future jobs and growth, will be welcomed by small and medium-sized enterprises, supports apprenticeships, and will particularly help entrepreneurs and the self-employed?

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As he has so succinctly put it, creating jobs and giving people employment are central to our long-term economic

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plan, and to a sustainable strengthening of our future economy. The Bill will not only help those who are employed, but will help people to secure employment, which is why deregulation is so essential.

Richard Fuller: I know that my hon. Friend is keen to move on to specific aspects of the Bill, but may I ask her a question before she does so? Those of us who believe in free markets and the power of entrepreneurs to achieve great change want the Government to do as much as they possibly can to get unnecessary regulation out of the way. Given her experience on the Committee that considered the draft legislation, can she assure the House that the Government have gone as far as they possibly could in this Bill to get rid of such regulation?

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is right to ask that question. The Government have, of course, gone incredibly far. They inherited an appalling number of regulations from the last Government, and they are now doing exactly the right thing. They are making good progress, and setting the right direction of travel. We need to support them in that, because British business in particular depends on the changes that we are making in order to create the even playing field that will enhance our competitiveness in the world.

David Rutley: My hon. Friend is making a passionate appeal for common sense and entrepreneurial values. As someone who was a member of the Joint Committee, will she comment on the quality and strength of the proposals that were advanced by Opposition Members? Did they help the debate?

Priti Patel: I think that there is a correlation between what we have heard so far today and some of the Committee’s debates. The Committee was particularly well informed, because the draft Bill had been published some time earlier, and because we received many submissions, about which I shall say more shortly. What we have heard from Opposition Members this afternoon in decrying this Bill is a reminder to the House and the nation of their illiterate economic approach and why so much in the past has gone wrong in relation to regulation and lack of support for businesses in particular.

My support for this Bill is absolutely fundamental. It is about jobs, growth and deregulation. Over 80% of my constituents are employed by SMEs. These SMEs are the backbone not just of my local economy in Witham but obviously of Essex and the eastern region, which is a very sizeable net contributor to Her Majesty’s Treasury.

Those SMEs and my constituents who are employed by them welcome this Deregulation Bill because they know that it will transform the landscape for them when it comes to doing business, removing so many of the obstacles and burdens of red tape that have stifled them. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) talked about the swamp of regulation. That is exactly it. We have to move on; we have to drain the swamp and get rid of the burden of regulation across every level that affects SMEs, whether that involves local authorities, county councils or health and safety bodies. These are the barriers we have to remove to enable businesses not just to thrive and grow, but to have that even playing field.

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Guy Opperman: My hon. Friend is making a good point, which is that it is not just the businesses and small entrepreneur employers and the self-employed who will benefit from this Bill, but so too will public sector organisations, that will be freed up from deregulation they do not need so that they also can use the taxpayers’ money in a better way.

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is about how we can transform the way public bodies, including Whitehall, function. Our new growth duty is an important step in changing that mindset. This is a real message going out saying, “The status quo is not enough any more.” For us to be competitive as a country, we have to change our mindset across Government and Whitehall and also across all aspects of decision making, to help our businesses thrive.

Richard Fuller: I would like to bring my hon. Friend back to the general principles and look at the bodies that regulate. The last Government were so keen on establishing regulatory authorities, increasing the burden on business, and that did nothing to stop the increase in youth unemployment and nothing to stop this country racking up massive amounts of debt and the stagnation in wages. Is she sure that under this Government we can really get deregulating? Have we done enough to get rid of some of the bodies the last Government put in place, that stopped us growing as an economy and did not do anything to tackle some of the problems we inherited?

Priti Patel: I thank my hon. Friend for his point on public bodies in particular. In the public bodies legislation we went a long way to reshaping that landscape. I am sure there is more to do, however, and this Deregulation Bill is a highly positive and a very welcome start. I commend our colleagues on the Front Bench on everything they have done to champion this. As and when the Bill passes through the Bill Committee, we can do more to strengthen and enhance the ability to deregulate across Whitehall, too.

I mentioned that a vast number of my constituents are employed by SMEs. Interestingly, there is a diverse range of businesses in my constituency. Many of them come under the category of self-employment, but they too come across aspects of health and safety regulation in particular. Many of the businesses in my constituency are hugely supportive of scrapping the rules for self-employed workers, whose activities pose no harm, and of changing the landscape in that regard. They are being liberated now, so they are no longer saddled with this burden and are able to grow and move their businesses on.

David Rutley: Important points are being made in this debate. In Macclesfield we are very proud of our level of self-employment, particularly among women. Is it my hon. Friend’s experience that female entrepreneurs and small businesses run by women have expressed the same sentiments that she has been talking about, and that that cuts across the board for both male and female entrepreneurs? This makes a big difference in helping people to be empowered about deciding how they want to take their careers forward.

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those of us who have worked in business are very aware that at the end of the day we want an even playing field.

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I hope Members will forgive me for saying again that Essex is the county of entrepreneurs; we lead the way. My hon. Friend is right that this is about the empowerment of the individual, and Government getting out of their way so that we liberalise enough to liberate them to move on and do the right thing.

I mentioned the improvements to health and safety regulations. This will show that less regulation does something very important, which makes for better regulation. We have to get rid of all the redundant stuff—the stuff that is causing the problems and the barriers—and have more effective regulation.

It is wrong for those who are opposed to changes in this area just to assume that we are making a change that is going to leave people vulnerable. This is about better and more sensible regulation. There are many measures in this Bill that seek to achieve that.

I mentioned the work the Government are doing through the red tape challenge. That is already making a big difference to businesses. It is saving in excess of £30 million per annum and it is expected to lead to more savings. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield spoke about forums he has been involved in. I have spoken in many business forums over the past three years. For small businesses in particular one fact sticks out: under the last Government small businesses were saddled with red tape and regulation the burden of which was equivalent to £17 billion per annum. That is the cost of Crossrail. These are the types of costs and burdens we have to lift from small businesses, and this Government are going further than any British Government have gone in reducing the burden of regulation and cutting red tape. This is all about boosting business confidence and job creation in particular.

Guy Opperman: In terms of job creation, does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill specifically addresses young people and the need to have improved and more flexible apprenticeships? The proposals of the Richard review, which are implemented in this Bill, will offer a clear direction of travel that will produce greater skills and more jobs in the future.

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is right. There is rightly a focus on young people, but I come back to my point about small businesses: they are the first port of call for young people in the jobs market. Our schemes for apprenticeships are about making that connection and that link—about supporting both parties to come together in the right way and create jobs and prosperity. Clearly we want sustainable jobs that will benefit our local communities and economies.

I want to touch briefly on an emotive group of clauses: clauses 13 to 19 on the use of land. This topic came up when my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy opened the debate, and specifically the question of rights of way. This is a very sensitive area. It is right that this Bill provides a mechanism to allow landowners to extinguish redundant rights of way on their land where it is appropriate to do so. I have to say we received a great deal of evidence on this issue—that may even be an understatement, as we really did receive a lot of evidence. A lot of work is still taking place and dialogue is going on with the stakeholder working group. There is a long history here, with so many examples where local authorities and landowners have not been able to find the right kind of outcomes and

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resolutions. The Bill reduces the burdens on local authorities that arise from their having to consider many detailed applications for modifications. There are so many sensitivities and so many people and communities to please in different ways. This Bill has thus far approached this issue in the right way.

Clause 37 relates to education. We have spoken extensively today about business, jobs, growth and young people. Our young people start off in schools, and the clause rightly acknowledges that head teachers are the best placed to know what is right for their schools. We are empowering them not only to improve standards but to do the right thing in relation to teaching, to discipline and to having control of their budgets. We need to get rid of many of the over-zealous regulatory burdens that have hindered them in the past. Our schools are there for all the right reasons, to provide the necessary educational standards for our young people to leave school with good qualifications that will enable them to enter the employment market.

Serving on the Joint Committee was an education for me. It gave me great insight into the extent of the existing regulation in Whitehall, and into how easy it has been to create it. There has undoubtedly been a culture in which creating regulations and burdens seemed like the right thing to do, but this Government are now doing the right thing by deregulating in order to create more jobs and get more people into employment, which will build a stronger and more competitive economy.

6.11 pm

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Having sat on the Joint Committee on the draft Deregulation Bill, the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) has far more experience than me. The Bill proposes the abolition of many regulations, and it is important that the House should take a close look at all the evidence given to the Committee.

My stance is that sound regulation is essential for a well-functioning market economy, and that deregulation also has a place in those arrangements. I have no time for dinosaur-like regulations that have finished doing their job. For example, I am happy to see that clause 9 will get rid of regulations relating to the sale of knitting yarn. There are many more detailed regulations that should no longer be on the statute book, because they are not helping business or providing the level playing field that it needs. I do not want to see costly or unnecessary burdens on businesses. It is in all our interests to have regulations that are fit for purpose, that are properly enforced and that are properly understood by the general public and by those responsible for complying with them.

We also have to recognise, however, that regulation can be for the public good. The Bill contains a great deal of detail that needs to be understood. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has raised the matter of clause 8 with me, pointing out that if a consolidated list of authorised fuels is to be published, those fuels need to be registered under their original names rather than their brand names. That is one example of the detailed points that need to be examined, and I have no objection to that happening.

Many regulations have come about as a result of lengthy campaigns to get them on to the statute book, often by people who have been involved in some kind of

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dreadful catastrophe. Those people simply wanted to prevent what happened to them or their loved ones from happening to anyone else. Those regulations can involve important aspects of health and safety and of well-being. Clause 26 deals with the removal of the duty to order the re-hearing of marine accident investigations. The Government are proposing that the Secretary of State should simply have a discretionary power in this regard. They might think that that will be sufficient, but I ask them to consider the case of the MV Derbyshire. We should not forget how many years of campaigning it took for the hearing of that case to be reopened. We need to be careful before we press the delete button for certain regulations; we need to be very clear about what we are doing.

We need a coherent, long-term approach to regulation —in which some deregulation has a place—as a tool to frame policy that is consistent with our international commitments, but this Bill has insufficient regard to the Government’s avowed intention to be the “greenest Government ever”. The Cabinet Office is meant to be the all-knowing, all-seeing hub of joined-up, cross-cutting government, but there is no sense that it used an informed, evidence-based approach in building this latest bonfire of red tape. I say that with particular reference to the proposals for a duty to achieve economic growth.

My biggest objection to the Bill is the duty to achieve economic growth as set out in clauses 61 to 64. I was interested to hear what the Minister for Government Policy said earlier about that. He did not give the House any clear examples of any environmental appraisals that had taken place during the drafting of the Bill. The clauses appear to be a blatant attack on sustainable development, and they have nothing to do with deregulation. They are about something completely different.

I find it extraordinary that little weight has been given to the evidence that the Wildlife and Countryside Link group, and others, gave to the Joint Committee on which the hon. Member for Witham served. Insufficient regard seems to have been given to environmental appraisal throughout the clauses, and I wonder how the Government can square clause 61 with guidance from their own Natural Capital Committee. Did the Joint Committee take any evidence on that?

At the very least, an amendment should be tabled to the effect that the person exercising a regulatory function should consider the depreciation of natural and other forms of capital. The Bill should also replace the duty to achieve economic growth with a duty to achieve sustainable development. I am conscious of the fact that, when the Government got rid of the Sustainable Development Commission, they appointed the Cabinet Office as the hub for all the different green initiatives and charged it with responsibility for all those policies. I cannot see where that sits in relation to the Bill.

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), who is also a Minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, told the Joint Committee:

“I want to stick to growth, pure and simple”.

Sustainable development is seen by the Government as a drag on growth and a regulatory burden. In the light of that analysis, I appreciate that anyone advocating the retention of an overall sustainable development

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duty by the Government could be regarded as persona non grata, but I want to explain why retaining such a duty is not a retrograde step and should be included in the Bill.

This nation signed up to Rio and to Agenda 21. After last year’s Rio conference on sustainable development, it signed up to the Rio principles. Indeed, our own Prime Minister is responsible for implementing the millennium development goals in a way that incorporates the sustainable development goals. That is an international commitment, and it was made in the cause of the betterment of future generations. It is universal and should be retained by any UK Government, and I believe that it should be referred to in the Bill.

Sustainable development is not an impediment to growth. It is an expression of a much richer and deeper growth; an affirmation of well-being, of social justice and of living within planetary guidelines for the sake of our children and their children. It is in line with powerful and persuasive advocates of placing human betterment and ecological resilience at the core of our human values and endeavours.

Despite what the coalition Government say, they cannot advocate sustainable development if they go ahead with pure economic growth without any reference to it. Sustainable development is a force for good, proclaiming values and outcomes for which people yearn. It reminds us of our place alongside nature so that we cannot inadvertently step on nature’s toes in the pursuit of immediate growth, leading to longer-term, costly and possibly irreparable ecological degradation.

A sustainable development duty would give light to such considerations. It would require us to consider the longer-term implications, for our offspring and for the effective nurturing of our planet, of what we are doing in the name of growth. There is no incompatibility between sensible and reliable growth and sustainable growth. Integration should be recognised as it encompasses social betterment as well as a sound ecological basis for all future growth.

I have two other points to make outside of clauses 61 and 65. The Bill proposes to remove the commitment to promote sustainable communities from general local government responsibilities and to reduce the requirement to consult generally over local government initiatives. We have already heard from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about the importance of consultation and the links with the Aarhus convention. The measure could lead to any proposal from local government being about only economic growth, ignoring environmental and social considerations. We agree to that at our peril, and I hope that it will be examined closely in Committee. The misfit in relation to sustainable development also appears in the proposal to lower or even to remove any obligation on local governments to cut down on carbon-based energy use and to reduce or to remove the scope of micro-generation. Those are valuable planks in the shoring up of the low-carbon future for local living, striking at the heart of the recent advice of the Committee on Climate Change.

The Environmental Audit Committee, in its report on carbon budgets, found that the Government’s voluntary approach to securing local emissions reductions was insufficient. We recommended that local authorities should set emissions reductions targets with progress reports to Ministers each year. Not surprisingly, the

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Government disagreed with that, but they did commission the Committee on Climate Change to provide advice. The CCC’s advice was to strengthen incentives for local authorities to act. It recommended that a statutory duty be placed on them to draw up low-carbon plans to include a high level of ambition for emissions reductions and increased funding to go with it. That advice has not been recognised.

In conclusion, the Government should reconsider their position on sustainable development in Committee. They should consider how, as it currently stands, the Bill will undermine regulators such as Natural England, and they should think again about how local councils can be supported to build sustainable commitments and reduce carbon emissions. I will leave it at that as my voice is just about to give way.

6.24 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee of which I am a member. It is a great pleasure to operate under her chairmanship. None the less, I take issue with some of her comments about regulation, because of the issue of enforcement, which applies, for example, to our report on wildlife crime. It is a question not of more regulations but of better-quality regulations, which usually means fewer regulations. That is an area that we can continue to discuss in Committee.

This is a great Bill, so I will not support the reasoned amendment. If the Bill is successful, it will send out a signal that we will not tolerate regulation in excess. The Bill is important in the context of some of the other measures that the coalition has successfully passed. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy is right when he says that it is not the only thing that we have done. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 deals well with regulatory change, because it reduces it in the main, and we can celebrate that. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) will agree with me on that.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that European legislation comes into Whitehall and is embellished and made even more vigorous, adding to the red tape? Though a combination of going back to the European legislation in the first place, and abolishing much of the embellishment, we can free up our businesses to work in a more competitive manner.

Neil Carmichael: My hon. Friend makes a good point. He puts his finger on one of the big problems that we have had for generations—since we joined the European Union—which is gold-plating. We must be bold enough to admit that and rigorous enough to remove it where it is inappropriate. People often misunderstand regulations from the European Union. We should be thinking about the spirit of them and not necessarily the precise detail.

The Bill proposes measures on purely domestic matters, which is not surprising because a huge amount of unnecessary legislation has stacked up over the years, as we can see if we look through the various clauses of the Bill. Before my hon. Friend intervened, I was trying to set out the case that the coalition Government have achieved a lot. I was going to move on to the abolition of quangos and so forth, because they too bear a huge

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burden of responsibility when it comes to excessive interference and regulation. We must not overlook that fact. I compliment the Government on the actions they have taken thus far to reduce the number and scope of quangos.

My second point relates to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel). On one matter she was precisely wrong: of course, Essex is not the only place where small businesses thrive. Gloucestershire is another place—more precisely Stroud valleys and vale. Wherever I go in my constituency, small businesses are concerned about the perceived or actual burden of regulation, so they need that succour that encourages them to think that there is a way through and a way forward. Many of the specific issues that I discuss with small and medium-sized businesses crop up in this Bill. I am not surprised that matters such as employment, health and safety and so forth are covered. I will say a few words about specific clauses shortly.

Of course we want to remove regulation where it should be removed, and we need to refine it where it should be refined; but some regulation is necessary and we must accept that. Anyone who looks at the disastrous decisions of the previous Government leading up to the banking crisis will know that good regulation of financial services is necessary. We should say so, and we should ensure that such regulations are effective and transparent and can evolve through time. Changing circumstances demand that, and that is another theme that runs through the Bill.

Let us take as an example a regulation that I have just discovered, which hampers the Secretary of State’s approval of the use of fuels for domestic burning. At a time when we are looking for more sources of energy and worrying about our supply of it, it is absurd to have such an unnecessary hurdle in the way of new technologies, however small. It seems to me that the first test of regulation should be that it can reflect changing technology and new innovations. The regulations on fuel and fireplaces need to be ripped up and I am glad that is part of the Bill. They illustrate an important point about regulations, which is that they can become far too restrictive.

I also came across another regulation that I had no idea existed. If someone wants to be a driving instructor and happens to be disabled, they have to go through a separate licensing system. There are two big problems with that. First, it is discriminatory, and, secondly, it is simply monstrously unnecessary. Why should that be a regulation? Obviously, it should not and it is absolutely right that the Bill will remove it.

Another classic has to be the regulation that prevents railway companies from extending rail beyond 25 miles. When was that regulation introduced? In the Transport Act 1968. Things have changed and we need to start to recognise that changes such as those we have seen in the rail industry must be dealt with commensurately through the removal of unnecessary regulations.

Another great regulation that is to be removed concerns the role of the Secretary of State for Education and the office of the chief executive of skills funding. It is quite right that that office should be removed because it is effectively an unnecessary quango that removes the transparency and accountability that there should be around the decisions of and issues to do with the Skills Funding Agency. It is right that we give more power to the Secretary of State and not have such a structure standing in the way of effective progress.

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In my constituency I always talk about promoting apprenticeships, which MPs of all political complexions want to do. I have been asked how reimbursement takes place and have had meetings with businesses through colleges. One thing they want to know is whether their cash-flow situation will be eased if appropriate, so I certainly welcome the changes to apprenticeship schemes.

I will not go through all the regulations covered by the Bill, but I particularly salute the change to the growth duty. It makes huge sense to encourage all regulators—in fact, all agencies involved in government—to think hard about how their measures relate to economic growth, because that is our central requirement right now. Economic growth is coming along and various sectors, including manufacturing, are doing quite well but they do not want to be hampered by unnecessary interference and regulation. We need instead to have confidence in the people involved in such industries. If one theme runs through the Bill, it is that we should trust people. That is emblematic of various measures passed by the Government since 2010, and the Bill brings all that work together.

In conclusion, let me reinforce the point that the Bill is part of a wider story of our deregulating and improving delivery in government, often by standing back from various sectors. It is also about trusting people and ensuring that we give them a sense of accountability and transparency. We must do all that with a clear mind about what we want to achieve: a free economy that can thrive and develop while taking account of and benefiting from changes in technology, modern ways of doing things and so on. We cannot rely on the Transport Act 1968 and such measures indefinitely.

I welcome the Bill. This exercise is a little like cleaning out the attic every now and again; it should be done frequently, as we get clutter. It seems to me that such an exercise would be a good thing to do virtually every Parliament.

6.35 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): And so we move on from “Cash in the Attic”. I apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as although I was present for the beginning of the Minister’s introductory statement, I had to leave the Chamber to attend a sitting of a statutory instrument Committee, which went on for a fair period of time. I was going to speak about the point raised by the National Union of Journalists about the security of sources, but I believe it has been said that that will be reviewed by the Government, so it is clear that I am more effective out of the Chamber than I am in it. I wholeheartedly support my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) in her expressions of concern about the overall nature of the Bill and how deregulation in a range of areas will impact on key policies to which the Government have signed up, but from which they now seem to be resiling, especially regarding environmental protection and tackling climate change.

Let me run through the clauses that will require further clarification as the Bill makes progress and express some of my concerns. Clause 23 removes restrictions on the provision of passenger rail services by amending the Transport Act 1968, which was mentioned by the

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hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), and permits the passenger transport executives, or PTEs, to carry rail passengers. That is a major step forward in devolving regional rail franchises, but there is a lack of clarity about the consequences for PTEs. Will they remain as local economic regulators or will they be equipped with sufficient funds to provide rail passenger services? It would be useful to receive clarity from the Department for Transport about how it views the future role of PTEs, as the clause calls that role into question.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) talked about the removal under clause 26 of the duty to order a rehearing of a marine accident investigation. The Merchant Shipping Act 1995 placed a duty on the Secretary of State to reopen marine accident investigations in the light of new evidence, but that duty will be abolished. My hon. Friend spoke about the MV Derbyshire tragedy in 1980, which led to a campaign being waged by many people, including families and trade unions across the piece—the National Union of Seamen, as it was at the time, Nautilus and the International Transport Workers Federation. It was a significant victory when then Secretary of State exercised his power to enable an investigation of that case to take place. It would therefore be a real concern if that power were removed from the Secretary of State, because the function is legitimate—

Mr Letwin: Just to correct the hon. Gentleman, nobody is removing a power; what is being removed is a duty. The fact that the Secretary of State has the power to order such inquiries is absolutely fine; the problem is that he has a duty to do so even in a case when he and everybody else knows perfectly well that there is absolutely nothing we can do as a result of the new evidence. The simple existence of new evidence will force an inquiry that costs millions of pounds, and that is all that we are trying to end.

John McDonnell: I welcome that clarification, but it would be helpful and reassuring if there were guidance about how the power will be exercised in the future. There is a concern that removing the duty will mean that the power will not necessarily be exercised without our again having to mobilise long-winded campaigns.

Mr Letwin: I will certainly talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and we will find some means of ensuring that how the power will be used in the future is clear.

John McDonnell: I find that extremely helpful. I chair the RMT parliamentary group, and it would be really useful in discussions with the Department for Transport about this matter if there was full consultation with the unions concerned—the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, and Nautilus International—as well as the UK Chamber of Shipping and others, and especially some of those groups that have campaigned on investigations over the years. It is important that we assure people that if there is an accident—we all hope that there is not—there will be a proper investigation.

Clause 59 deals with ambulatory references to international shipping instruments. It amends the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 to enable the Government to update international shipping conventions without having to

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introduce secondary legislation. The Joint Committee expressed concern that that will undermine and bypass full parliamentary scrutiny. For example, there is concern in the shipping industry—it has been expressed by the UK Chamber of Shipping, as well as the Nautilus UK and RMT unions—regarding the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships, under which changes to the sulphur emissions regime in Europe are due to come into effect in January 2015, with progressive measures continuing to the end of the decade. It would be unfortunate if something that had a major impact on the shipping industry did not receive full parliamentary scrutiny, as might be the case under the new procedures.

I share concerns that have been expressed about the provisions on the exercise of regulatory functions, and I say that on behalf of many people who work in the transport sector. We are told that consultations will take place over the coming months on which bodies will be covered, particularly regarding the Office of Rail Regulation, which was not included in the original list of bodies. Bodies that are included in relation to transport include the Office of Rail Regulation, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and traffic commissioners. There was a period in which market forces and economic concerns overrode safety concerns as a result of the early privatisation regimes, but we would not want to go back to the days when those economic concerns undermined safety, especially in industries such as rail and shipping. As the consultation is rolled out, I would welcome the Government ensuring that there is full consultation with all relevant bodies, particularly the unions, with experience of the period when safety was undermined, especially in the rail sector, so that that can inform the introduction of this aspect of the Bill. I hope that the Government will think again about the drafting of the proposal, because there are serious concerns about the conflicts that it will bring about between considerations of safety and of economic costs.

The Government should approach a number of the Bill’s proposals on education with trepidation, especially the devolution of school dates to individual schools. There is an understanding that parents want some certainty about school hours and holidays. With the devolution of such measures, near chaos could break out as individual schools determine their own dates and holidays. I caution the Government that parents may become anxious as the wider community becomes aware of these measures.

There are concerns—certainly among teachers—about schedule 14, which sets out proposals to reduce burdens on schools, including the removal of the obligation on employers of teachers in English maintained schools to have regard to statutory guidance relating to staffing matters such as the appointment, suspension, discipline and dismissal of teachers. There is concern that that may lead to the removal of the obligation on the Secretary of State to provide guidance on staffing matters, which might ultimately be a threat to school staffing regulations. If that is the case, schools will be concerned that they will have to take individual legal advice on staffing matters rather than adhering to what is relatively clear staff guidance and regulations from central Government. The Government must look at the consequences of such a broad-brush legislative proposal.

I am anxious about the removal of home-school agreements, which are good and are working on the ground. They were welcomed by the educational

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establishment and have general support, so I do not understand why the Government have provided in schedule 14 to remove the requirement on governing bodies to adopt such an a agreement.

As others have said, we all welcome the ability to remove unnecessary or archaic regulations, but the Bill is littered with proposals to remove regulations that are relevant, and their removal could have consequences beyond those calculated by the Government, including an impact on safety, which is the major concern that I have tried to express this evening.

6.46 pm

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): May I begin by welcoming the Bill and commending my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (David Rutley), for Witham (Priti Patel), and for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) for their excellent contributions to the debate? I believe that the Bill will act as another lever to encourage economic growth, and it builds on this Government’s record of scrapping obsolete legislation.

I have said before in the Chamber—and I will say it again—that the business of business is business, and the business of government is creating an environment in which business feels confident to grow, thrive and create jobs to create wealth and pay taxes that support our whole economy. The Bill is part of that.

Since the Government took office, some 800 regulations have been scrapped or improved, giving business a welcome lift, including, if you will excuse the pun, Mr Deputy Speaker, changes to working at height legislation. Indeed, there are 2,200 regulations in the Government’s sights for abolition or reform. It is estimated that when this work is completed—if it is ever completed, because regulation needs to be looked at all the time—these measures will save business £850 million a year, underlining the Government’s support for enterprise, entrepreneurs and job creators.

I should like to turn specifically to some of the economic growth clauses that have provoked the most interest, debate and discussion, including in the Chamber today, beginning with clause 1, which aims to take those who are self-employed and who pose no risk to others out of the scope of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. That could remove the unnecessary burden of health and safety regulations from 800,000 self-employed people.

Mr Letwin: To give my hon. Friend some good news, we think that the figure is rather more like 2 million.

Andrew Bridgen: I thank my right hon. Friend for moving the goalposts in the right direction.

David Rutley: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does he share my view that deregulatory steps such as this will give more people the confidence to want to become entrepreneurs, and to take on their first employees. Those are the aspirations that we need to support. Does he think that the Bill will help us to move in that direction?

Andrew Bridgen: I certainly do. Having been a business owner under the previous Government, and representing businesses as a regional chairman for the Institute of

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Directors, I know that the thought of ever more regulation is in the psyche of business people. The Bill is totemic—in fact what the Government are doing is totemic—not only in stemming the tide of regulation but in giving a commitment to reduce the burden of regulation over the term of this Parliament. That will take a lot of believing by the business community, and we need to reinforce that message. It will give confidence not only to people who have businesses but people who would not even consider starting up a business. There is no doubt that when people who work in a business see the pressure that the regulatory burden places on those who run it, they are dissuaded from going it alone and starting their own business. We want to reverse that situation.

Recommending the removal of the self-employed from health and safety law originated under the review ably chaired by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, on which I served as a member of the advisory panel with the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), Sir John Armitt, Dr Adam Marshall of the British Chambers of Commerce, and Sarah Veale, who was later replaced by Liz Snape, representing the TUC. The proposed change is based on the approach taken in a number of other European Union member states, including Germany, where legislation on health and safety at work applies only to employed workers; France, where, as a general rule, the provisions do not apply to the self-employed or to employers themselves, except when they are directly carrying out an activity on a site; and Italy, where the health and safety at work regulations do not apply at all to the self-employed. Clause 1 is nothing new in a Europe-wide sense as regards health and safety.

When the clause was scrutinised by the Joint Committee, on which I also served, with my hon. Friend the Member for Witham, a number of stakeholders raised concerns that the recommendation might lead to the self-employed in risky occupations such as construction being taken outside health and safety law. I can assure the House that Professor Löfstedt has made it clear that that was never, and is not, the intention of the proposal. The clause has the support of the Federation of Small Businesses, which believes that it will help with the perception of health and safety law. I fundamentally disagree with the groups who are arguing that this change will cause confusion, because asking the self-employed, “Does your work activity pose potential risk of harm to others?”, is not too taxing a question. As I said, major economies in the European Union seem to manage perfectly well without this unnecessary regulation. It is also worth noting that it could well save small businesses not only an enormous amount of time but an estimated £300,000 a year.

Clause 2 curtails an employment tribunal’s powers to make wider recommendations. This is another needless regulation. Its discontinuation is supported by business groups, as best summed up by the British Chambers of Commerce, which stated that the measure currently in place extends tribunals’ jurisdiction beyond the

“time, information and expertise of the panel”.

I fully agree with that view. The regulation is unnecessary because it serves only to create fears among employers about inappropriate or excessive recommendations. I therefore welcome this move to abolish it.

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Clauses 58 and 59 imposes on regulators the economic growth duty—a new duty that requires them to have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth when exercising their regulatory function. This is a welcome move, as all sectors that are in a position to do so should do what they can to contribute to and complement economic growth. The clauses have received a positive reaction from business groups and many of the regulators themselves, with the British Chambers of Commerce stating that the duty could

“help establish more constructive relationships between business and regulators”.

The Institute of Directors said that it could be helpful in serving as a catalyst for regulators to consider the costs and the benefits when developing new policies. I believe that there needs to be a new and dynamic—a symbiotic—relationship between business and the regulator rather than the historical one that has too often tended to be adversarial, and these clauses will help to achieve that. It is also encouraging that the measure is being positively embraced by many regulators such as the Security Industry Authority, which stated that it recognises the importance of economic growth and supports efforts to encourage it. These regulators are funded to the tune of £4 billion a year, and they need to make their contribution to economic growth if we are to compete on an international level against countries with far fewer regulations and regulators than the UK.

I recognise that the measure has not been universally welcomed, with opposition from, among others, the TUC, which described the duty as “a very odd concept”—but then it often appears that the TUC and its paid mouthpiece the Labour party view free market capitalism as a very odd concept, as underlined by some recent policy announcements. I find that view rather disappointing.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): More for the sake of accuracy than anything else, may I point out that the TUC is not affiliated to the Labour party? Individual unions, some of which are so affiliated, do indeed politically and financially support the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman should be accurate in his abuse.

Andrew Bridgen: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I always try to be accurate in my abuse, as he well knows.

Business is always looking for help to comply rather than pure enforcement from regulators, and giving regulators a complementary economic duty should not undermine their primary regulating function. A number of regulators, such as Ofsted, have made it clear to the Minister that without a duty to consider growth, it is not something they would consider. I hope that the new head of Ofsted, when appointed, will embrace that concept. This demonstrates the importance of getting the duty on to the statue book to empower our regulators. I believe that it will lead to less burdensome and better regulation for business in future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witham mentioned the use-of-land provisions in clauses 13 to 19. This aspect of the Bill has received a lot of attention, particularly in relation to rights of way and proposed changes to the designation of public footpaths. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will be aware of how emotive and protracted disputes over rights of way and public footpaths can be. Definitive maps and statements setting out recorded public rights of way have never been

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completed despite work on this being done for well over 50 years. The changes proposed in the Bill will harness and streamline expertise by devolving decisions on public rights of way to a local level. I understand that there have been positive responses to the proposal, with the chief executive of Ramblers, Benedict Southworth, commenting:

“The proposed legislation has been carefully put together by representatives from landowners, paths users and local government—including ourselves and the NFU—who have worked together for over three years to simplify the law around rights of way for the benefit of everyone.”

We should all applaud that. This proposal will have a positive economic impact, as it will cut the time for recording a right of way by several years and save, it is hoped, almost £20 million a year by cutting needless bureaucracy. It is also worth noting that visitors to England’s outdoors spent £21 billion last year—a significant contribution to our economy—including in my constituency, where we have many well-used public footpaths as well as the heart of the new national forest.

Overall, the Bill builds on this Government’s achievements in cutting through needless red tape that has been allowed to build up on the statue book over many years. The previous Government used regulation as a first response rather than a last resort. As we have heard, they presided over the creation of 1,500 new working regulations a year for each of their 13 years in office, or six new regulations every working day. That was a burden that fell on and hindered individuals and businesses. By contrast, this Government have committed to freeing British business of the needless bureaucracy that damages our international economic competiveness, hinders millions of individuals in their daily lives, and reduces the efficiency of our public bodies and services. This Government are committed to reducing the regulatory burden on business by 2015, compared with the target of 2010 that we inherited, and this Bill is another important part of the delivery of that pledge.

6.58 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words in this debate. It is obviously right for Governments periodically to review regulation, not just once a Parliament, as the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) said, but on a continuing basis. Having served for a number of years on the Regulatory Reform Committee during the Labour Government’s period in office, I know that we did a lot to try to simplify regulations in many ways.

Certainly, there is no objection in principle to the idea of a Bill that, every now and then, seeks to remove the regulatory burdens that can build up. One of the criticisms of this Bill is that many of the proposed measures are so minimal in their impact that one wonders why they could not have been brought forward years ago. I find it hard to believe that it has taken the great minds of the Department almost four years under a Conservative Government to work on the measure relating to the sale of yarn and other similar, relatively minor measures. One would think that this Government, who are so stated in their commitment to abolishing unnecessary regulation, could have done that at an earlier stage, even though such measures are welcome.

Some measures are to be welcomed. The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) has mentioned the measure relating to rights of way. They

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do not apply to my constituents—it is a devolved issue—but from what he has said it sounds like a sensible measure that should be enacted, as I am sure it will be.

The Bill also proposes to repeal those sections of the Digital Economy Act 2010 that allow courts the power to order internet service providers to block access to websites that infringe copyright. I understand that those sections have never been used. Many Members made very strong arguments against them at the time, because they felt they were unnecessary, but we were told they were important. I confess that I was one of the Back Benchers who rebelled against the measures and did not support them, and now, four years later, we find out that they were not necessary in the first place. Clearly, it is right to repeal them and perhaps that highlights the need closely and thoroughly to scrutinise Bills.

That highlights one of the problems with the way in which the Government have described this Bill, because those measures have never been used and are, therefore, not a burden on business. Business is not having to spend lots of money to address the measures, because they have never been applied to anyone. That is also true of other measures in the Bill. I accept, however, that the possibility of a measure being taken against a business might jeopardise its activities, so it is a good thing to address that.

Questions have to be asked about other measures and I hope the Minister will address them either when he replies to the debate or at a later stage. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) raise the issue—I had not appreciated this fully—of the proposals relating to international marine agreements. I have served on the Environmental Audit Committee for some time and we have had a few major discussions about the international marine and maritime agreements, some of which are very important. As my hon. Friend said, both the trade unions and the shipping industry have concerns about the effect some of the measures will have on shipping interests, so it is important that we scrutinise them properly. I may have misunderstood the full import of those provisions; if so, but I have no doubt that the Minister will clarify them.

Mr Letwin: In the light of the comments made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), which made me look again at clause 59 to see whether my memory was in any way mistaken, I think it would be helpful to give some clarification. Neither the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) nor the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is correctly informed: the Bill does not in any way diminish the ability of Parliament to scrutinise the measures. It enables the Minister to make ambulatory references to international law through a statutory instrument. It would then be perfectly open to Parliament to debate that statutory instrument and come to the view that it should be drafted otherwise.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that helpful clarification.

Another question arises from a letter sent by the Law Society of Scotland to every Scottish MP. Perhaps the Minister will address its two particular concerns either now or in Committee. First, on clauses 10 to 12, it is

“concerned about partial authorisation of insolvency practitioners.”

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It points out that, in Scotland,

“significant parts of the corporate insolvency”


“are linked to bankruptcy legislation”,

and its view is that the proposed regime of

“partial authorisation as an insolvency practitioner will not be effective in Scotland because of the linkage between company insolvency and bankruptcy law.”

I have no doubt that that point can be pursued in future.

Secondly, the Law Society of Scotland is concerned about clause 44 on the repeal of the duty of the senior president of tribunals to report on the standards of decision making. This is another measure where it is hard to see how it can be a major burden on business. The only burden is the duty on the senior president to make a report, which a Minister can then presumably choose to act on.

I note with some concern, given my own involvement in it, the provisions that would repeal certain sections of the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006, which, the Minister may recall, I promoted as a private Member’s Bill. Indeed, he and I co-operated on many aspects of it. Perhaps I should at this point declare an interest as an unpaid board member of the Edinburgh community energy co-operative. The Act has a number of measures to promote sustainable and renewable energy and action on and awareness of climate change. I fully accept that many of the Act’s measures have been taken on board elsewhere since it was enacted, including by the Climate Change Act 2008. However, not all of the 2006 Act’s provisions have been taken on board elsewhere, so I would be concerned to see them removed to the extent proposed by the Bill.

My final comments relate to the implications of the duty in clauses 61 to 64 to take account of the

“desirability of promoting economic growth.”

As Opposition Members have said, we support the general desirability of promoting economic growth. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) pointed out, regulators are already expected to take such concerns into account. They do not usually produce regulations without any wider consultation or discussions. They have processes whereby they seek comments from business, among others, and we can be pretty certain that, when business feels that a regulation is damaging economic growth, it will say so. I find it hard to understand how this proposal will have anything other than damaging consequences.

Mr Letwin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making a characteristically thoughtful contribution. It seems to me that his structural argument—and, indeed, that of other Opposition Members, including the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, who have made serious contributions on the subject of clause 61—ignores the fact that, at the moment, regulators do not have that duty, and the result is that they would be failing in their duties if they were to pay specific attention to economic growth, even in the way the clause requires, which is as a balance to their other duties. For example, the Environment Agency, which always has to attend to environmental considerations, is positively not allowed to pay attention to growth duties.

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Mark Lazarowicz: The Minister makes a constructive point and perhaps it can be pursued and tightened up in Committee. My concern is that the real purpose of the clause is to say that economic objectives should trump other objectives and that they should take precedence over sustainable development objectives and, as my hon. Friend the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee has said, health and safety objectives and, indeed, equality objectives. The proposal is also of concern to other Members and is at variance with our cross-party commitments to prioritise sustainable development and recognise the requirement of public bodies—this had cross-party agreement just a few months ago—to have an equality duty.

Joan Walley: Will my hon. Friend tempt the Minister to respond to him again to put the whole issue of sustainable development on the record? If there was a duty for sustainable development, that would balance the economic, the social and the environmental, and there would be no need for the new duty for economic growth.

Mark Lazarowicz: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and if the Minister wishes to intervene to clarify the issue, I am happy to let him do so.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. May I help a little? If we are to have interventions, could they be a little shorter, because some of them are almost turning into speeches?

Mr Letwin: I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker. I accept this is a slightly odd way to conduct a debate, but it seems to me to be productive, so bear with us.

There could of course be a general duty to have regard to sustainable development instead of all the duties on all the regulators—we could say that we do not need any other duties—but all the other regulators have lots of other duties, and by introducing economic growth not as an override but as a balancing consideration, that precisely induces them to consider the totality, namely sustainable development.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am grateful to the Minister for his comments, and I welcome his commitment to a balancing duty, with all duties being taken into account in decision making. I am not sure whether the Bill will have such an effect if it becomes law, but that point can no doubt be pursued through amendments in Committee and on Report, if necessary.

It is important not to forget or lose sight of the fact that although it is important to take into account the economic growth imperative, the other concerns that I and my colleagues have raised must also be kept in the balance. Notwithstanding the Minister’s assurances, which I am sure are genuine, I remain concerned that the effect of the Bill, as now proposed, will be to put other objectives lower in the pecking order of decision making than the requirement to consider the needs of economic growth, and I certainly hope that those points can be teased out and clarified at a later stage in the Bill’s progress.

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7.11 pm

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I was on the Joint—or pre-legislative scrutiny—Committee, and it was quite evident that there has been a lack of consultation with the people who will be involved in the Bill’s multitude of changes to regulations.

The Committee wondered whether there would be much opposition to the Bill as a whole and whether it would go through Parliament without any difficulties. When we look at the variety and the wide range of what the clauses are about, we can see that the Bill may contain problems. It moves from health and safety to driving instructors, and from sellers of knitting yarn—nearly every speaker has mentioned them—to child trust fund transfers. It is a mishmash of clauses about regulations, but the reality is that each one is important to somebody: each of these pieces of legislation is there for some reason.

The Minister for Government Policy made light of the Bill, which I am not sure is right, because it embodies plenty of important issues. The Bill is a package of measures, so for it to get the consent of the House, there need to be big changes. He mentioned Charlie Chaplin and children’s liqueur chocolates, for example, but we have concerns about safety and health, and others that I will come on to. I have grave concerns about clause 1 on “Health and safety at work: general duty of self-employed persons”, and clause 2 on the “Removal of employment tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations”, as well as clauses 61 to 64 on the “Exercise of regulatory functions”.

Clause 1 is a particular concern, because it serves no purpose other than to confuse. The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) said quite the opposite, but we are entitled to take different views. That is the sort of thing that the Bill will invoke. The clause will take those self-employed who pose no risk to others out of the scope of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 by restricting its coverage to a self-employed person

“who conducts an undertaking of a prescribed description”.

At this point, we are not even sure what the prescribed descriptions will be. They will be determined by the Secretary of State in regulations. The clause is therefore problematic because we are not sure what the regulations will say or mean.

Mr Letwin: Just to clarify, we have almost completed discussing that matter, and by the time the Bill is considered in Committee, we will have brought forward the full descriptions of the activities that are exempt.

Ian Lavery: It is good news that, at least in Committee, people will have a much clearer understanding of the descriptions.

It is not fair to say that there is no problem in relation to the safety and health of self-employed people. Fatality rates among self-employed people are 1.1 per 100,000, as opposed to 0.4 per 100,000 for employees. It is important to recognise and listen to what experts are saying. In opposing the clause, Richard Jones, the head of public affairs and policy at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health—it is hardly a revolutionary organisation —said:

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“IOSH fully supports the simplification of legislation and guidance, but is against lowering of standards that could lead to more accidents and deaths. As we have made clear to Government, we think it would be unhelpful, unnecessary and unwise to exempt certain self-employed from health and safety law, as the Government is proposing—causing more of a hindrance than a help. Health and safety is often misunderstood and wrongly labelled as a barrier to business—whereas in fact, it sustains business growth and success. The Government needs to promote this message, provide health and safety support for SMEs and debunk the misperceptions.”

The Prime Minister has made it clear to bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses that he will continue to champion deregulation as a public service to small businesses. However, if clause 1 is agreed to, it might exempt 1 million people from health and safety law. Health and safety failures in the UK cost billions per year.

At present, the self-employed have a legal duty to ensure that they protect others from harm resulting from their work activity. There is no confusion: everyone is very clear that no one, even the self-employed, can take risks with the safety or health of others. That is the situation as it stands. At present, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act can be used only when a person puts another person at risk. If someone is injured through their work, regardless of what they previously believed, the Act will apply. No self-employed person has ever been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution for risking only their own health. However, the Act means that the Health and Safety Executive has been able to give them guidance on how they can protect their own safety. Despite the Bill, every self-employed person will still have to do risk assessments to see whether their work poses a risk to others. If there is no risk, there is not a problem, which is just the same as it is now.

That situation will not change, but what will change is the confusion and complacency that the Bill will introduce. Self-employed people will be unsure whether they are covered, or they may assume that they are not covered if they are not on the list of prescribed occupations or sectors, even assuming that they are fully aware of the list. Worse still, people who control workplaces for the self-employed will wrongly think that they do not have a duty of care to them. Self-employed people who employ others may interpret the provision to mean that they are exempt from the law. Given that the most dangerous industries—agriculture and construction, for example—contain a high proportion of self-employed people, anything that confuses the situation is a recipe for disaster. The Bill states that it will reduce the