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Lord McNally: My Lords, would a greater deterrent to over-regulation be if Parliament had better scrutiny of regulation, not least in secondary legislation? So much of the over-regulation comes from Ministers using powers long after Parliament has passed the original Act. For example, the Licensing Bill that we passed for 24-hour licensing, has just had 198 pages of guidance notes published by the Home Office. Some of that guidance should have been closely scrutinised by Parliament, and there should be a reform that allows Parliament to look at secondary legislation much more thoroughly before Ministers use their powers under it.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I agree that Parliament is the place where regulations should be closely examined. Your Lordships' House does a fine job in that, through the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. The Commons already has a regulatory reform committee. Your Lordships' House debates and considers in great detail those statutory instruments and orders that
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, if the noble Lord was really satisfied with his Answer to my noble friend, I suggest that he has no grounds for it at all. It was about the most casual brush-off to an important Question that I have heard for a long time. My noble friend seeks to know whether the Government have any idea at all about the cost to themselves of their regulatory exercises, and, even more difficult, but more important, the cost to those who are obliged to obey and observe some of these absurd rules.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the whole purpose of the regulatory impact assessment process is to measure costs and benefits. It is not an easy task to quantify in the way in which the noble Lord suggests. In some ways, the British Chambers of Commerce report tells us that. Things that report sees as costs are actually, in some senses, savings, for example, the working time regulations, which the BCC report claims cost £11.1 billion. In fact, the assessment is that those regulations probably saved businesses somewhere in the region of £13 million. This business of costs and benefits is perhaps much more complex than the noble Lord would like to think.
Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, if, as the Minister said, these regulations are regularly scrutinised, can he say how many regulations have not been taken forward as a result of an adverse regulatory impact assessment?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I can give some examples of regulations that have not been taken forward as a consequence of an impact assessment. The United Kingdom was successful in convincing the European Commission to drop the proposal on emissions limits for vehicles following an RIA; after a consultation, the Government's powers to take control of financial markets following a terrorist attack were considered unworkable and would have undermined London's competitive advantage, and that regulation was dropped; and the recent changes to transfer pricing rules were heavily influenced by the regulatory impact assessment. Following a consultation on analysis and costs, it was considered that they would be disproportionate for small businesses and, as a result, small and medium-sized businesses were exempted. Those are three examples I can cite to the noble Lord.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that many regulations today lay down not what people should or should not do, but the standards which a society such as ours should try to live up to?
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, given that some of the individual regulations may be desirable, does the Minister acknowledge that it is the cumulative weight of all the coststhe cost of taxation as well as the cost of regulationthat crushes small businesses? It is that cumulative weight that the Minister has refused to try even to evaluate in response to my noble friend's original Question.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is perhaps worth taking a longer view on these matters. If you look at some of the independent evaluations of the regulatory regime in the United Kingdom you will discover that they believe Britain is the place in which to invest. The World Bank's Doing Business in 2004 publication named the United Kingdom among the top 10 countries, out of 130 countries, with the least regulation. That is a powerful endorsement from a major institution. While understandably concerned about regulation, I believe that noble Lords opposite too often forget its benefits.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, complete eradication of bovine TB is not likely to be achieved within the next 10 years using current control methods. The current public consultation on a revised TB strategy for Great Britain looks at what might be achieved in this timescale, potential control methods and the role of government and key stakeholders. Our priority in the shorter term is to prevent further spread of the disease.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, does the Minister agree that bovine TB has reached the stage where it has now become virtually impossible to contain? Is he aware that the estimated cost of compensation for infected animals is in excess of £50 million per year and that the disease is increasing by 19 per cent per annum? Does he agree with his right honourable friend Mr Nick Brown, the former Minister of Agriculture, who now believes that the disease must be eradicated? I speak as a sponsor of the original badger protection Bill. Does the Minister agree that badgers and cattle should now be treated equally and that
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct to say that this is a very difficult animal diseaseit is the largest threat facing us at the moment. In fact, help in containment of the disease and compensation for it cost £74 million last year. It is possible to slow down and, it is to be hoped, reverse the spread of the disease. There were severe setbacks during the foot and mouth epidemic but the backlog has since been overcome and the measures are at least containing the spread somewhat. Nevertheless, it is a very difficult situation.
There are clearly a number of viewpoints in regard to badgers and we are currently still conducting scientific experiments to assess the effects of various forms of culling badgers in particular areas. We are about to receive the results of a review of that process which will inform future strategy.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, has there been any progress in the search for an effective vaccine against bovine TB? Has there been any improvement in the situation that, I fear, existed when I was responsible for these matters, where every new incoming Minister was told that a vaccine was a decade away?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, we have expended some considerable effort on research into a vaccine, both for cattle and for badgers. The position is that there are various vaccines which would be appropriate for cattle but which would have side effects. However, even though there are more promising possibilities within that area, it will be a number of yearsprobably less than 10, but nevertheless a number of yearsbefore we will have a general cattle vaccine. However, even though we may have an effective badger vaccine, the means of distributing it are a little hit and miss at the moment.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, is not the Minister slightly concerned about the vast increase in numbers? For example, the incidence of bovine TB in herds in the south-west of England has risen from more than 11,000 in 1994 to more than 19,000. The number of new herds infected has multiplied by three times and the total number of new incidents has multiplied by four times. I urge the Minister to push ahead because nothing is happening. What has been the response to the Central Science Laboratory's collection of badger carcasses? The project has been running since 1 June 2002: how many carcasses have been collected and how many were found to be infective?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Baroness is wrong to say that nothing is proving effective because the spread has slowed down; the backlog has been eliminated in terms of testing; and, at any given time over the past year, only 5.7 per cent of herds within the UK were affected by TB restrictions. Although there has been some spread of the disease, that indicates that
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