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Mr. White: My hon. Friend is absolutely right on the latter point--the choice is between good regulation and bad regulation, and I shall give some examples of bad regulation later. As for spectrum, as one who worked in the information technology industry before the general election, I do not think that any of those companies would
The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire said that the Tory Government intended to reduce burdens. However, as those of us who were not part of that Government know, the reality was very different. There was extensive regulation. Just recently, Virgin railways has offered half fares to people travelling on the west coast main line. I see the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) nodding; he is probably one of those who has benefited from that offer, which was an excellent initiative. My constituents in Milton Keynes could not take advantage of the Virgin offer because, according to the licences and regulations issued at privatisation, the fare had to be determined by Silverlink, the local operator, which decided not to allow its customers to benefit from its rival's promotion. The Conservative Government introduced that regulation when they were privatising the industry, effectively to create a cartel.
Conservative Members' rhetoric is undermined by the previous Government's actions. They go on as if the Tory Government did nothing but deregulate but in fact that Government introduced various regulations from which people have not benefited.
Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted the regulations that applied on privatisation. Just as Virgin was, and is, free to choose the fare that it wishes to charge, so Silverlink is free to decide its fares. The hon. Gentleman has just admitted as much. It is not a matter of regulation. It just so happens that Silverlink, unlike Virgin, has chosen not to make such arrangements. Next year, Silverlink may decide to have an offer, and Virgin may not. That is what competition is all about.
Mr. White: The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. Silverlink does have offers. However, as consumers, my constituents and I are being prevented by regulations introduced by the Conservative Government from choosing Virgin's lower offer. We can take either the lower fare that Silverlink has rightly decided to offer, or Virgin's higher fare, but regulation prevents us from taking Virgin's lower fare. That is the point that I was making. As I said, the Conservative Government added to the regulatory burden. Although Conservative Members try to create the impression that the Conservative party is a great deregulator, such an impression is belied by the facts.
Conservatives keep talking about deregulation, but what they actually mean is poorer working conditions, poorer health and safety arrangements, lower pay, and the removal of parts of our disability discrimination legislation. If that is what they mean by deregulation, they will be judged at the general election and found wanting.
When the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) introduced the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, he said that he would try to reduce the number of business licences from the "absurd" number of 265. My understanding is that by 1997 that number had risen to 355, so I do not think that that was a particularly good example for the right hon. Gentleman to use.
The parliamentary procedures have already been mentioned, and I would argue that the deregulation and contracting out procedures under the Bill are much better than the present statutory instrument procedures. I serve on the Select Committee on Deregulation, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Select Committee on Public Administration, so I see the procedures from three different angles. My experience on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments leads me to believe that the procedures outlined in the Bill will be a much more effective way forward, and will also involve more consultation.
Simply focusing on the number of regulations and the need to deregulate pays no heed to the benefits that regulation can bring to business, and does not consider how regulations work. It does not consider environmental issues, either. I suspect that Conservative Members will complain about environmental regulation. They claim that the Government are not green enough, but we have achieved a lot compared with the Conservative Government. Conservative Members ought to realise that what they say now belies what they did then.
We could play a game of ping-pong about regulation all night, but that would diminish the seriousness of the Bill. As I have said, we are one of the least-regulated countries, and when we do introduce regulations we do not really debate why we are doing it, or to what categories of people and businesses they apply.
Another key aspect that we ignore is how regulations are to be enforced. Far too often, they are designed for administrative convenience, rather than from the point of view of the businesses, individuals or consumer groups that will have to use them. That criticism applies to all parties.
We need to consider the types of burden, and costs are another important element. We also need to think about how people react to regulations and the reorganisation that they require. I can remember having to rewrite computer systems and backdate them, because regulations introduced by the previous Government did not allow time for companies to make the changes.
One of the important benefits of the Bill will be pre-legislative scrutiny, which will allow such issues to be highlighted to the Deregulation Committee or its successor, and to the House. We never talk about the burden of time that regulations impose, either. That is one of the fundamental ways in which we as a Parliament ought to examine legislation.
We also ought to think about who the burdens fall on. They do not impact on the business community alone, although of course that community is important. The burden of regulation also falls on local authorities, education authorities, health authorities and so on. We need a way of ensuring that those burdens can be relieved where appropriate.
That example shows us that in a complex modern world, the way in which we introduce regulations in the House is not necessarily the best way. We need to take a fundamental look at the type of regulation that we should be implementing. We should approach the matter from a 21st-century standpoint, rather than simply carrying on with our present procedures.
One of my criticisms of the Bill is that it perpetuates the way in which Parliament enacts legislation. We should consider light-touch regulation; the Government, to their credit, have done that on a number of occasions. We should set an objective. We should ask what the objective of any particular regulation is, and then set out measures by which we can judge whether that objective has been met.
How people deliver the objective should not be the subject of the regulation; that is one of my fundamental disagreements with the Opposition. I do not think that the Bill goes far enough. We should be able to use the procedures within it to go much further and make legislation more appropriate. We should be able to use codes of practice much more, as that would simplify many of our existing regulations.
Enforcement practices are important, too. The Bill starts to go down the road towards simplifying them--but that should not be something tacked on at the end; it should be set in stone in the consultation procedures. Too often in our regulations, we add on at the end the enforcement procedures and the details of the way in which the regulations will work.
There will be 109 statutory instruments before the Joint Committee tomorrow, yet the Committee will probably spend no more than 20 minutes dealing with them. That is no way to deal with regulations--and before the Tories start crowing and saying how disgraceful that is, I have to add that the same thing happened under the Conservative Administration. What is more, by opposing the Bill, the Tories propose to remove a way in which much regulation could be scrutinised more effectively.
One of the reasons why people in Holland and other countries can sit round and talk about their regulations is that they are understandable. I was going to say that they are written in plain English, but of course they are written in those countries' own language. In some places that could be, and probably is, plain English.
Too often we introduce unnecessary complexity in our legislation. People do not understand the issues because they do not understand the language that the provisions are written in. That is what gives rise to the Opposition's comments about the need for more deregulation, when what we actually need is more understandable regulation.