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My final category of remarks relates to whether the review mechanism in new clause 1 applies to future regulation and legislation flowing from the European Union. It is important to clarify that. I have no interest in debating the European Union. I have pronounced on that topic often and occasionally at length.
The House must consider two crucial enabling devices relevant to the debate--article 3(b), on subsidiarity, of the Maastricht treaty, and the protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality which is an annexe to the treaty of Amsterdam. We should hear more about them.
Mr. Lansley: My hon. Friend rightly touches on a point mentioned previously by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). It seems to me that EU legislation that has direct effect would not be susceptible to regulatory reform orders, so the new clause would not apply. However, other EU measures require domestic legislation in this House. Does my hon. Friend agree that they could be implemented by regulatory reform order, in some circumstances, and so be subject to the new clause?
Mr. Steen: I could not face incurring your wrath, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that the House finds what I have to say helpful: if not, I shall not continue. However, in the past I have found that the House finds the odd observation helpful.
My concern has always been the number of rules and regulations passed by the House. I have been a Member of Parliament for very nearly as long as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I know that the House exists to pass more rules, regulations and laws. A real deregulatory process would mean that hon. Members did not have to spend so much time in the House. When Britain had an empire, the House did not have to sit nearly as long.
We now have a very complicated society with an increasing number of rules and regulations. We are making more laws and sitting longer. The purpose of new clause 1, as I understand it, is to reduce the amount of legislation on the statute book by providing that after five, four or three years, legislation can be removed from the statute book. I cannot understand why anyone would
I am making a perfectly reasonable speech, which I hope the Minister will respond to in his reply to the debate, if he gets the chance to speak. I am very keen on sunset clauses and reviews simply because they might reduce the amount of legislation that remains on the statute book. When the Conservatives were in office, we talked about deregulation, which meant fewer laws. We are now talking about reducing legislation by the effluxion of time.
Mr. Cash: I hope that it is. It may interest my hon. Friend to know that I too wish to speak in the debate because in 1984, within a few months of being elected, I introduced the Small Business Bill, which dealt specifically with the reduction of legislation, as my hon. Friend may recall. He may even have been a signatory to it. Furthermore, I have even written a pamphlet on the subject, on which I can dilate at great length.
Mr. Steen: There are very few subjects on which my hon. Friend has not written a pamphlet. I am delighted that he is here today and that he hopes to contribute to the debate. I shall make a short speech. I am not interested in extending the debate because I think that all the points have been covered from every possible angle, but I am concerned about why the Government are not in favour of new clause 1, which would reduce the amount of time, effort and energy that we devote to debating and passing legislation. I should have thought that most right hon. and hon. Members would like more time away from this place, but it seems that Labour Members would like to be here day and night, seven days a week, producing more and more legislation. The new clause is about less legislation.
I make one simple point that I have made before. I have sat on the Deregulation Committee, and for four or five years I chaired the Conservative Back-Bench committee that tried to reduce the amount of rules and regulation by secondary legislation, but the new clause is much cleverer. As I understand it, it proposes to write into primary legislation a means of getting rid of legislation if it is no longer relevant. That is an advanced and progressive way of thinking. Under the Bill as it stands, the Government would have to find parliamentary time to cancel a rule or regulation that they had passed either on the Floor of the House or through secondary legislation. I can see that hon. Members are listening to what I am saying and I am quite sure that I am striking a chord with them, but I would love to give way to the Minister if he could tell me why I have got it wrong.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend has got one simple fact wrong. The Labour Government want to spend less and less time in Parliament, producing more and more regulation. Would not it be better to spend less time in the House and produce less legislation?
Mr. Steen: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend; that is what I should like to do. I am a member of the Select Committee on European Scrutiny, which passes thousands of rules and regulations. I want those to be reviewed every five years; otherwise, we shall have even more books of legislation that someone will have to repeal--probably us, when we return to government.
The new clause is a sensible provision that any reasonable person would want to support. I am not making a party political point; I do not want to extend the debate--heaven forbid! However, after listening to it for several hours, I am at a loss to understand why the Government have set their mind against a progressive, radical, thoughtful, attractive and helpful provision and why they want to allow the Bill to be passed without amendment. It would allow the Government to keep all the existing rules and regulations and extend them--a type of gold-plating--without primary legislation.
The Bill is a device that is completely contrary to the new clause. It will allow the Government to multiply rules and regulations with ease; if 2,500 rules and regulations a year are introduced by Europe, the Government can turn them into 50,000--a nightmare progression. I do not say that the Government would want to do that, but the measure will give them that power.
I want less Government intervention. The new clause will reduce the amount of Government intervention in our lives. It will free us from the bureaucracy and official enforcement that control our lives. That is where the difference lies. The Bill would extend the powers of the state; the Opposition's new clause would reduce the powers of the state. I do not know whether that point is helpful, but I think that it is the essence of the new clause. It is amazing that I could make it so forcefully in only nine minutes. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) will also have the opportunity to speak.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): I had not intended to speak in the debate--I had planned only to listen carefully to the arguments. Before I became a Member of the House, I was in business and travelled widely around the world, and I have yet to find a country that was regulated to prosperity. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) on his excellent, short and pithy comments, which went to the nub of the debate.
Some Members believe that the state is a real agent for good, while others think that more good comes from individuals. I was especially struck by the comments of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), which contrasted completely with my experience both outside the House and as an MP. I have received so much correspondence from businesses worn down by excessive regulation that I think that the new clause will benefit many businesses--especially small ones that cannot cope with regulation.
Much regulation and legislation is drawn up with the best intentions, but it is never subsequently reviewed. Despite the comments of the hon. Gentleman, there is no doubt in my mind, or in the minds of many of my business constituents, that legislation is gold-plated.
We should not go too far into the origins of legislation, but I want to draw the attention of the House to one point. On one day, 1 November last year, the Select Committee on European Scrutiny--on which I served with my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash)--passed 78 documents within two minutes of the beginning of our meeting. With the best will in the world, we could not have gone into the intricacies of how that legislation would bear down on businesses that are trying to be competitive and make a living.
Specific practical examples have been missing from the debate. If you will bear with me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will cite two examples--one that has happened and one that may--of legislation that would benefit from new clause 1. It would ensure that there was a mechanism retrospectively to assess the impact of legislation and improve it. The first example is the regulation on integrated pollution prevention and control, which claims to be following European Community directive 96/61. When that came into force, the National Farmers Union said that