Deregulation Bill Speech

I rise to speak in support of the amendment that appears in my name and the names of the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I was delighted that the Minister referred to it as an amendment of the far left in this Parliament. If that is the case, I am probably nicely in the political centre in my home community of Carmarthenshire. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion spoke passionately and convincingly about the many pernicious and insidious aspects of the Bill that reflect the Government’s true intentions.

I am glad that the Joint Committee that carried out the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill criticised the enabling clause heavily. It would have allowed Ministers to scrap regulations by order, as they saw fit. That clause has been removed by the Government, or at least substantially amended. As originally conceived, it would have set a worrying precedent. It was reminiscent of the Henry VIII clause that was originally proposed in the Public Bodies Bill in 2011, which would have allowed the Government to abolish public bodies. At least the Government had the good sense to drop that proposal in the end.

Why do the Government need to do away with these regulations? The origins of the Bill are rooted in the perceived need to do away with red tape that was supposedly holding back economic growth in the dark days of 2011, 2012 and early 2013. However, what was holding back economic growth was not the bogeyman of small but important pieces of regulation and protection, but a dramatic slashing of capital investment, which had the effect of stagnating and even shrinking the economy at a time when the Government should have been stimulating the economy fiscally, rather than simply monetarily. That was the reason for the prolonged nature of the great recession, the massive drop in living standards, and the dashed hopes and dreams of millions. Unemployment rose and companies folded because of a lack of business and a lack of funds as the banks, propped up by the Government, failed to lend.

For many parts of the British state, the economy is not recovering. The Government point to UK GDP figures, but conveniently ignore the fact that growth is concentrated in London and the south-east of England. In my part of the world in west Wales, the latest gross value added statistics showed that the economy had shrunk by 4%. Although Wales as a whole is slowly beginning to turn the corner, we have been massively handicapped over the past five years by reductions in wages in real terms and decreased economic activity,

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and we have not benefited from the significant capital injection that London has seen in projects such as the Olympics and Crossrail. To suggest that red tape was holding back the Welsh economy is to tilt at windmills.

Before the Government get too carried away and announce the end of boom and bust, as the last Labour Government did, or the end of the struggle endured by ordinary people and the end of the squeeze on living standards, they should take note of the upcoming green budget 2014 by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. It warns that

“there is little reason to expect a strong recovery in living standards over the next few years…it seems highly unlikely that living standards will recover their pre-crisis levels by 2015-16.”

Desperately needing to appear to be doing something, the Government announced a deeply serious investigation to discover what was holding the economy back, pledging to cut any red tape. Finally, that allowed Ministers and the Government to hold it up and shout, “Eureka! Here is the lost formula for economic growth and business investment.” I do not need to remind Members that business investment and lending across the British state is at pathetic levels, even though the Government now rejoice in forecasts for economic growth. Business investment in the UK as a share of GDP is among the worst in the world.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion spoke about several aspects of the Bill but focused on the scrapping of environmental regulations that apply in England. Thankfully, much of the Bill will not apply in Wales, as the National Assembly for Wales is sovereign in those and other areas. However, some of the more pernicious aspects of the Bill certainly do apply to Wales. The Bill is so far-ranging and a real hotch-potch of ideas—some bad, some made and some just plain ugly—but I will focus on just some aspects, particularly those relating to health and safety, employment tribunals, civil liberties, housing and the scrapping of energy and climate change obligations.

The removal of employment tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations is insidious. It follows in the same vein as earlier plans by the Government, such as the proposal to make it easier to fire employees, as recommended by the Beecroft report, and the Chancellor’s plan to allow companies to offer shares in return for workers giving up their employment rights. It also follows the halving of the consultation period before large-scale redundancies can take place, the introduction of fees for workers bringing employment tribunal claims, and proposals for a lower cap on unfair dismissal awards.

The removal of an employment tribunal’s power to make wider recommendations typifies the Bill’s ideological nature. The Government are seeking to chip away further at workers’ rights, and the Bill reflects that attitude and those prejudices. Many Government Members are still chasing shadows, believing that they are fighting the battles of their ideological heroes of the ’70s and ’80s, but the trade unions are not the potent forces of yesteryear, because successive Governments, both Labour and Tory, have emasculated them.

I welcomed the announcement made on the Floor of the House this afternoon on clause 47, which threatened to introduce rules for secret hearings should the police wish to seize journalists’ notebooks, photographs or digital files. Applications, or “production orders”, must currently be made in open court. That change would

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have represented a worrying and sinister development in the near-continuous eroding of civil liberties under the Labour Government and under the coalition.

Clause 28 represents yet another nail in the coffin of the Government’s claim to be the greenest ever. Whatever happened to “Vote blue, go green”? The removal of the requirement for the Secretary of State to set a target for microgeneration follows the fiasco over the sudden reduction in feed-in tariffs. I need not remind anyone of the Prime Minister’s recent reported comment that he wanted—I hope that you will forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker—to cut all the green C-R-A-P.

The changes to health and safety in the Bill have already been heavily criticised by the TUC, which noted that the plans to exempt the self-employed fail to take into account the fact that the fatality rate among that group is far higher. It is important that all workers are protected. Any attempt to chip away at health and safety legislation, even if just for a particular group, represents a threat to the safety of all workers.

Although plans to speed up the right to buy do not apply in Wales, I believe that the move is symptomatic of the Government’s return to the Tory and Labour boom-and-bust model of growth based on rising house prices and personal debt—the British disease, as I call it. It does nothing to address the need for housing where there is high demand and will not bring about an increase in social housing provision. How does something like that affect Wales, Members might ask, as the clause does not apply there? When the boom-and-bust model hits bust and there is another housing crash in England, that will affect the whole economy of the British state.

I look forward to questioning the Government Ministers responsible for the later stages of the Bill’s progress on the consequences and impacts of some of its other clauses and provisions.

One Response to “Deregulation Bill Speech” [latest first]

  1. Thanks for this Jonathan.

    Yourself, Caroline, John and Jeremy are among the tiny minority of MPs that consistently argue in favour of liberty and social justice.

    It is sad that there are so few decent MPs, but that there are at least some is much better than none at all.

    All the best

    Tom (Another Angry Voice)

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