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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord's irritation when hearing the words of his own Prime Minister being quoted to him. I cannot do better than the Prime Minister when he made his remarks and admitted that red tape was throttling British industry. Perhaps I may continue with the quotes--I know it discomforts the noble Lord, but he will have to get used to it--and I shall answer his question in time.
Perhaps the staider words of the Daily Telegraph will appeal more to the noble Lord and his noble friends. The article reiterates the point made by the Prime Minister himself. Who am I to argue with the Prime Minister? Who indeed are the noble Lords sitting on the other side of the Chamber to argue with the Prime Minister? The Daily Telegraph reported that the Prime Minister,
I have two preliminary questions to ask the Government. First, are our businesses going abroad for their sourcing--outwith the EU indeed, like Marks and Spencer--because at home our industry is being made less and less competitive by one government regulation after another? Secondly, do I take it from what the Prime Minister had to say to the Confederation of British Industry, especially the part about the need to water down the European Union's working time directive, that we actually likely to see another set of regulations in the future, further reducing the damaging impact of the original 1998 working time directive? That is the implication of what the Prime Minister said; and I presume that we are expected to believe the Prime Minister when he says something like that.
The regulations have had a damaging impact. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself has admitted it. By bringing forward this puny little set of regulations, the Minister has admitted it too, as he is toning down in a very minor way the original regulations introduced last summer. The damage is enormous. The estimated
The regulations are very complex. The original ones are, as are the ones we have before us today. I doubt whether many small businessmen in particular have the time, and the number of cold towels needed to put round the forehead, to study the regulations or indeed the guide to the regulations.
I could depress your Lordships for the rest of the evening, if many of your Lordships are not already sufficiently depressed by the dreary affair that is happening in the other place, but I probably should not do that. However, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to one other part of the guide, because I can remember once being teased mercilessly by the Opposition about a similar kind of
That is the original. I now come to an example from the draft guidance. I could read out others but I shall read out only one of them. It relates to Worker E as explained in the draft guidance. I want your Lordships to listen carefully because I shall say this only once. The guidance states:
When I was coming in on the Tube this morning I noticed a headline that must have brought joy to the spin doctors of Downing Street. It said: "Tax breaks for risk takers who show enterprise". When will we see the headline: "Red tape breaks for risk takers who show enterprise"? There is absolutely no evidence that this Government will look at--or even want--that kind of headline. But that is what British industry wants.
In so far as the regulations reduce by the tiniest fraction--that tiny fraction is a saving of some £13 million on costs of £2 billion--the burden, the uncertainty and the confusion in the Government's original regulations, they are welcome, but the Government have a long way to go before they merit even one cheer on the deregulation stakes. Action is what British business needs; not kind word from the Prime Minister at the CBI conference. Weighing down commerce and industry with regulation upon regulation is no way to run a competitive European
Lord Razzall: My Lords, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, it is manifestly clear that he is going for promotion! It will come as no surprise to noble Lords and to the Minister that on these Benches we disagree both with the tone and with the content of what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said. For those of us who follow debates on the economy and trade and industry in this House and in another place, one remarkable point is the air of significant depression that always comes from the Tory Benches. Last year I remember being told by the noble Lord and by his colleagues here and in another place that as a result of government action and the poor performance of the economy, the economy was going into deep recession. I remember being told that by the noble Lord on a number of occasions. But that did not happen.
The latest depressive canard that comes from the Tory Party is that the regulations which the Government have indicated are the cornerstone of their policy for employment will produce significant unemployment in this country. I hazard a prediction that that depressive indictment of the regulations will be no more true than was last year's depressive indictment from the Conservative Party that the economy was moving into recession. To that extent, I entirely disagree with the tone and substance of the noble Lord's remarks.
However, one aspect deserves a serious answer from the Minister. Over the past year, the Government have imposed an enormous number of procedures by means of regulations and directives on the employment structure of this country. I do not say that that is not right or that the measures were not required to regulate the employment position of many workers. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, when he says that he doubts very much whether the average director of a small or medium-sized business really understands the obligations that his or her business is now under. I have made this point many times when debating these issues. Will the Minister indicate the steps that the Government intend to take to make sure that the content of these and other regulations is disseminated with a clear explanation to small and medium-sized businesses in this country?
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