HC Deb 18 November 2003 vol 413 cc613-4
20. Hugh Bayley (City of York)

What assessment the Better Regulation Task Force has made of the number of regulations imposing costs on business which were made in (a) 1992-1997 and (b) 1997-2002. [138846]

Mr. Alexander

The Better Regulation Task Force, which was established by this Government in 1997, carries out detailed studies of specific regulatory issues on which it makes recommendations to Government, rather than general surveys of regulations. The task force has published 29 substantive reports and made more than 350 recommendations, almost all of which have been accepted by the Government.

Hugh Bayley

Does my hon. Friend recognise the burden of regulation placed on tourism and hospitality businesses, especially the small ones? Tourism is important to the city of York, which is one of the country's most important tourism centres. It is just as important to many other towns and cities in the beautiful and historic county of Yorkshire. What is the Minister doing to speed the reform of regulation in his Department and in the House?

Mr. Alexander

I know that my hon. Friend's tireless work on behalf of the tourism and hospitality sectors in his constituency is recognised on all sides of the House, and I pay tribute to it. Specific measures taken by the Government include the licensing reforms and deregulation orders that covered the golden jubilee and new year's eve, and permanent changes have been made to the licensing regime around the latter date. Those changes are expected to save business about £1.9 billion in the first 10 years. Also, in its hotels and restaurants report of June 2000, the Better Regulation Task Force called for a major overhaul of the planning system. The Government have introduced a Bill to reform that system.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

In the 2002 annual report, the chair of the Better Regulation Task Force says: If we are half way through the better regulation journey, Europe is just at the beginning. Will the Minister say what progress he has been able to make in the context of European regulatory impact assessments in the past year? Does he plan to make those assessments available to the House, so that we can take a view while directives are still at the discussion stage, rather than when they have been finalised. when it is too late?

Mr. Alexander

I shall certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's final point. I can also inform the House that only last week I met my equivalent Minister in the Spanish Government to discuss exactly that matter. I made clear to him the Government's pride in the fact that the European Commission has begun to take forward the British agenda on better regulation. I also impressed on him the urgency of that agenda, as a way of ensuring Spanish support while we try to gain wider acceptance for it across Europe.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

My hon. Friend the Minister will know that the Regulatory Reform Committee published a report a few weeks ago, and I am sure that he has been studying it. The Committee expressed some concern that the Government were not delivering quite what they had forecast. How will the Government speed matters up? Now that the Opposition have had a reshuffle, does he hope that they will be able to appoint hon. Members to take part in the Committee's work?

Mr. Alexander

I certainly value the work of the Committee. I have appeared before it and had the opportunity to read the report in question. I can give my hon. Friend some comfort as the reform of patents legislation and fire safety proposals are due to be laid before the House along with other measures in the next few months. The target set for the Government in the regulatory reform action plan is stretching, but I continue to believe that it is achievable.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

The Minister will know that we are losing 2,000 manufacturing jobs from this country every month. He will also know that the Confederation of British Industry survey of business leaders showed that 60 per cent. of them are likely to move jobs abroad in the next two years. Is not the reason for that the 15 new sets of regulations penned by this Government every day of the week? Is that not why 95 per cent. of business leaders report that they are spending more time on complying with Government regulations than ever before? Will he give them a Christmas present by telling British companies now that there will be no new regulations for the rest of this year?

Mr. Alexander

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position on the Front Bench shadowing the Cabinet Office. He has offered the House a characteristically thought-out policy proposal in his first appearance at the Dispatch Box on this agenda. If we are going to discuss the work of the CBI in this area, a better starting point might be the words used by Digby Jones yesterday on the "Today" programme on Radio 4. He said: We've low inflation, low interest rates, low unemployment and some sustainable growth. In fact, we're the most successful economy in Europe". I could hardly have put it better myself.