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We do people a disservice when it comes to understanding and, indeed, implementing regulations. I used to be a systems analyst, and had to interpret the previous Government's legislation. I once programmed changes to a computer system, having got the regulation back to front, simply because I did not understand that a "not" was in the wrong place. I had programmed the system according to what I had read and believed was right, when it should have been the exact opposite. That could have cost my company a lot of money; luckily, the mistake was spotted before the system went live. Such complexity does the country a disservice.
Simply to talk about the deregulation, as the Tories do, is not to address the issue. That is why the better regulation taskforce is such a good initiative, as is the Small Business Service, which looks at regulations. It is not only small businesses that should be looking at them, however: public bodies, trade unions, voluntary groups and the community as a whole should all be asking what regulations are trying to achieve.
I regret the concession given to the Conservatives in the House of Lords, which made the first objective, deregulation, the primary objective of the Bill, when in fact there are places where we could change the nature of the regulatory burden, helping to simplify the legislation and ensure better understanding of it. That is where I fundamentally disagree with the Opposition.
Mr. Lansley: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting argument, but I think that he is missing the point. The comparison with continental systems is essentially to do with the nature of those countries' legal systems. For simple, purposive legislation and regulation of the kind that the hon. Gentleman is looking for, one needs a wholly different legal construction. In the United Kingdom, we are essentially free to do what we like unless the law specifically provides that we shall not, so deregulation is of the essence in achieving a reduced regulatory burden in this country. Under the codes systems in European countries, people are not able to do things unless the code allows them to, so the purposive form of codes often makes it easier to have regulations in that form.
Mr. White: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about Europe, but I was not arguing from a European perspective. I was arguing for what I believe is right for this country. The way in which we enact laws acts against
Our parliamentary process should also change. I do not think that we have the best system of parliamentary scrutiny of regulation. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has a very good Clerk and very good legal support, which its members find tremendously helpful. However, I do not think that the Committee's work represents the best scrutiny of regulations. We have not used the Select Committee on Deregulation and the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee in the other place in the most effective way. I do not see the point of many of the statutory instrument committees; there is a lot of talk but not many changes. The system for holding Ministers to account regarding regulations should change.
The Bill deals with preliminary consultation, but a lot more could be done. The Deregulation Committee should do a lot more proactive work, and I think that the proposed changes to its Standing Orders will allow that to happen.
Removing politically controversial regulations will diminish the role of the Bill. There is so much more that the Bill could do. The successful measures in the 1994 Act would, along with these provisions, enable us to go a lot further and deal with issues such as deferred voting.
A number of changes were made to the Bill in the Lords. It is typical that the Conservatives agreed those changes in the other place and then oppose them here; I suppose that that sums up the modern Tory party. The original four objectives are now one objective and three aspirations. It is important to recognise the change in clause 1(3). It undermines everything that the Conservative party has said, because it makes deregulation the key part of any proposal. I regret it, but in terms of reaching a consensus, it is probably the best way. It is a major step forward, but there will still be anomalies, inconsistencies and inappropriate legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) made a number of points that I was going to make about subordinate provision and the changes that have been made. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office has committed himself to reviewing the Bill. I would like to see it reviewed annually. I hope that in his winding-up speech my hon. Friend will give the commitment that Parliament will review the legislation on a regular basis and that when there is an adverse report from the Committee, the current convention that it should not proceed will continue.
This timely Bill will take us a step forward. However, we should be looking for much more radical reform. We need appropriate regulations, appropriate processes and an open and understandable regulatory system. People need to be able to understand the laws of this country, what the burden of regulation is and why they have to comply.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I think that the Bill is designed for a general election: it is not designed ever to become law. This is a Bill in the subjunctive--for example, clause 9(1)(b) refers to "ought". However, the best bit is in the explanatory notes:
Talking about spin, we have heard that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the 10p up, 1p down Chancellor. The Minister for the Cabinet Office said that the Bill will ensure that £40 million is returned to businesses. That makes her "£10,000 million up, £40 million back" Mo. We have already heard from the British Chambers of Commerce that some £10 billion of extra burdens have been placed on business. Although I would welcome just £1 back, when one considers that £40 million in the context of £10 billion, one gets an idea of the size of the problem that we face. I remind the House that the £10 billion of burdens have been imposed on businesses by this Government since 1997.
I began by mentioning spin, and I want to ensure that the Government do not try to spin my speech to make it sound as if I said that we should abolish the national minimum wage. I make it plain, as I have in the past, that I have never personally opposed a minimum wage. However, as the Minister for the Cabinet Office said, it must be set at a balanced rate. She said in her opening speech that at the last election the Conservative party claimed that the minimum wage would create 1 million unemployed. That was based on the rate of £5 an hour which the Labour party was talking about at the time. As it is, the Government initially set the rate at £3.20 an hour, and it is now about £3.70 an hour, which is very different from the figure on which we based our unemployment predictions.
Mr. Lansley: My hon. Friend rightly referred to the British Chambers of Commerce. The last publication of its burdens barometer showed that the total cost of additional burdens had reached £9.62 billion. It made it clear that that did not include the recurring cost of the national minimum wage, so the consequent increase in wages as distinct from the administrative cost was left out.
Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, which is directly concerned with the nature of the Bill. Members of all parties are concerned about the impact that the minimum wage may have on the national health service. We must recognise that while all working people deserve a decent basic minimum wage, the rate at which it is set will affect the rates of those higher up the scale--those are the famous differentials that we heard so much about in the 1980s and 1990s. A change to the minimum wage affects workers all the way up the scale, and unless there is a consequential increase in the money given to the NHS, there will be insufficient funding for hospitals and all the other services that people need.
Mr. Fabricant: I do not believe that that is correct. We questioned the British Chambers of Commerce on that very issue, and it disagreed with the Government's assumption. It argued that the total consists of direct costs imposed on its members. When we questioned the organisation further, it said, "Hang on a minute. We're the ones who did the calculation and we based it directly on additional costs." I note that the right hon. Lady is indicating dissent. I accept what she has said, but I hope that she will accept what I am saying when I simply report that the British Chambers of Commerce, which produced the document and did the calculation, says that the Government are wrong. Those burdens have indeed been placed on its members.
I would add that those members are the very companies that employ a majority of people in the United Kingdom. Many of them are manufacturing companies, so should we be surprised that jobs have been lost? The world economy is expanding and Britain, on the whole, is enjoying a healthy economic climate, not because of actions taken by the Government but because the United States economy is so strong. We have the largest overseas direct investment in the United States, and vice versa. When the United States catches a cold, we sneeze, and vice versa. The economy is doing reasonably well at the moment, except in manufacturing. Unlike the United States, or even Germany, the United Kingdom has lost 300,000 jobs because of administrative burdens. [Interruption.] I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) wants to intervene.