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Mrs. Ann Winterton: My hon. Friend has given the House a list of orders and regulations subject to regulatory impact assessment. Do most of them emanate from the UK Parliament, or from the EU? Does not he believe that sunset clauses or a five-year review should apply equally to regulations emanating from Europe? Unlike Britain, other countries in Europe do not even try to implement regulations that inflict tremendous on-costs on our business.
Mr. Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government must show a determination to achieve deregulation in British legislation, and demonstrate a willingness to impose the sunset clause structure on UK regulation. Otherwise, they could not argue in good conscience, to the European Commission and the European Council, that a similar structure should be imposed on European legislation. It is vital that we do that, because many of the measures to which I referred emanate from European legislation.
I should clarify to my hon. Friend that I was not quoting from the Cabinet Office report. I was referring to regulatory impact assessments that apparently were made in the relevant period but which did not appear in that report. Some of the regulations and orders stem from domestic legislation, but others, such as the one dealing with changed emission standards for passenger and light commercial vehicles, are made domestically in response to European directives. The RIA in that case found the costs involved to be very large, and the relevant regulations arose from European directive 98/69/EC. The measure was therefore not so much UK-inspired as EU-inspired.
Mr. Bercow: I am relieved that my hon. Friend agrees with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), that the principle of the Bill should also apply to European directives and regulations. Does he agree that, when it eventually does so, it should be capable of retrospective effect? Unless that were the case, the House could not address the legitimate concerns of business organisations about the Part-time Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000. I am sure that my hon. Friend is intimately familiar with every line of them.
Mr. Lansley: I may be, but then again, I may not. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, although I must confess that I am not often tempted by retrospection. One of the objectives of regulation is to provide certainty and clarity. The greatest uncertainty that one can create for businesses is to make them believe legislation is one thing only for them to find that it has been changed, so I am not tempted to say that we should pursue retrospection. Indeed, sunset clauses are not designed for that purpose but to enable a review of what has occurred to be undertaken so that the necessary changes can be made to achieve a deregulatory effect.
Certainly, if the objective--to which I know my hon. Friend subscribes--is to reduce the burden of regulation systematically and progressively, no doubt he will look to the proposals that my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has made to apply a regulatory budget to Government Departments. That would have to include the impact of EU measures on the UK. To return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) rightly made, the necessity of taking such measures in new clause 1 and applying them to European legislation should be borne in mind. If we do not do that, we shall have no way of preventing those burdens from being imposed on us by Europe.
In conclusion, it will be apparent to the House that the objective is a measured one. It is not to disapply regulatory reform orders willy-nilly, but to provide for a review process. Business organisations clearly subscribe to the idea of a systematic process of review, as was illustrated on Second Reading by Ministers and Labour Members who claimed to attach importance to the views of business organisations in relation to the Bill. I hope that they accept that those organisations believe that the structure of the legislation would be much improved by a built-in sunset provision. The need for review is clear because--I hope--the volume of regulatory reform orders and their importance will be such that we should not allow legislation to be made without Parliament being aware of its effects.
I hope that the Bill will have a beneficial impact on Whitehall in ensuring that the statements in documents laid before Parliament when regulatory reform orders are first made are as rigorous and justifiable as possible, because Ministers and officials will know that they will be subject to detailed scrutiny against subsequent experience. New clause 1 will therefore help to position the Bill in the structure of the new deregulatory intention that the Conservatives will achieve when we are in government after the general election.
Mr. White: The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) began by making a fairly good case in relation to the review, but the longer he continued his argument, the more it revealed the true nature of his intentions. If we are serious about having a review, we should address the way in which the House reviews regulations and the myriad Committees involved. They include the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, the Deregulation Committee and various European Standing Committees. New clause 1 does not even attempt to do that.
Mr. Bercow: It is always a pleasure to joust with one of my parliamentary neighbours. The hon. Gentleman may disagree with me, and frankly I should be considerably alarmed if he did not, but he is quite wrong to accuse me of being confused as between content and application. I am not in any way confused about this important matter. I strongly deprecate the content of much of the regulation that is foisted on British and Buckinghamshire business and I strongly object to the manner of its implementation.
Mr. White: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not confused and that he is indeed opposed to the content of certain regulations. If a Tory Government were ever to be re-elected and the hon. Gentleman were to get the chance to implement his views, I fear that the country would be damaged by the removal of regulations protecting employees' rights or health and safety. I am reminded of Churchill's comments when he introduced the wages councils. He spoke of the need to introduce regulation in order to stop the worst driving out the good. The hon. Gentleman and the modern Conservative party should look again at the history of their party in providing those protections.
Mrs. Ann Winterton: The hon. Gentleman has been talking about the content and the implementation of regulation and making assertions about what a future Conservative Government may or may not do. Will he give a moment's consideration to the amount of regulation that the Labour Government have introduced over the past four years? It has increased exponentially. Every business--small, medium and large--complains about it, as does every part of the public sector, including the teaching profession, doctors and hospitals. Does he agree that we have had far too much regulation, and does he not welcome means to reduce it?
Mr. White: I sit on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which looked at the number of regulations that are made per year--it averages about 3,000, which is the same as under the previous Government. The hon. Lady misses the point that a high percentage of those regulations simply change the level of a fee or have some similar effect. Therefore, it is not enough simply to look at the total number of regulations.
The Deregulation Committee or its successor will consider regulatory reform measures, and that is the appropriate way forward. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire is right to say that review is absolutely critical, but he is wrong to propose the introduction of a sunset clause that would allow re-regulation, which is why I fear that new clause 1 takes entirely the wrong direction.
Mr. Robert Jackson: I rise at this late stage of the proceedings on the Bill as possibly the only hon. Member present who was not a member of the Standing Committee to support the good intention of the Bill and to join my hon. Friends on the Front Bench in urging the Government to go further in a number of significant areas.
I look at the issue with a fresh mind, unclouded by the experience of the Committee. It seems to me that the Bill reflects a considerable amount of common ground between the parties. First, there is general recognition among Members on both sides of the House that the extent, burden, complexity and enforcement style of Government regulations are serious issues.
The story began under the previous Conservative Government. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was appointed to the Department of Trade and Industry in 1992, he created the deregulation taskforce and set up a unit of DTI civil servants to support it. When he became Deputy Prime Minister five years ago, he took that unit with him to the Cabinet Office--the heart of the Government machine. When the Labour Government came to power in 1997, they retained the unit in the Cabinet Office. It is true that they renamed it the "better regulation taskforce", arguing--perhaps ominously--that, whereas deregulation implies that regulation is not needed, in fact
A second area of common ground between the parties is reflected in the Bill. The measure builds on the Conservative Government's Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. At the time, the Labour Opposition strongly criticised the Act, but in government--as in so many other areas--Labour has been content to build silently and without acknowledgement on what they inherited, covering their retreat from the asperities of Opposition with the odd name change and the occasional philosophical flourish.