A law to cut red tape – hailed by Gordon Brown as a crucial means of reducing the burden on business – has failed to axe or even amend a single regulation in the first year of its existence.
Indeed, the government has initiated yet another consultation with business as to what regulations it would like to see abolished.
Mr Brown last year announced “radical proposals for changing the way we regulate”, promising business “the legislative and regulatory reform bill . . . will ensure we achieve this”.
The bill, which gained royal assent in November last year, was the third attempt in 12 years to devise an effective legislative axe to remove redundant regulations. The Cabinet Office promised it would “deliver real and meaningful cuts in red tape on business”.
The act allows the government to fast-track through parliament measures to cut regulation, known as “legislative reform orders”. Ministers promised the act would have a much greater effect than a 2001 law designed to achieve the same effect, under which only 34 orders were brought.
But it has taken until this week for ministers to produce a legislative order for MPs to vote on. Lord Bach, minister at the Department for Business, told peers last month: “Regulatory reform is not an easy issue . . . I am happy to accept that there is a long way to go.”
He blamed the new law’s slow start on the fact that it took until July to agree the standing orders for the parliamentary body charged with overseeing the act, the regulatory reform committee.
The Department for Business told the Financial Times there were about 20 orders in the pipeline, saying: “After a bit of a shaky start, we’re motoring on with this.”
But the select committee that is crucial to the act’s effective operation is far from “motoring”, research by the FT suggests.
Five of the 14 MPs on the regulatory reform committee have failed to attend one meeting in the past year. James Gray, a Tory backbencher who has never turned up to a meeting, said: “I’d quite forgotten that I was ever appointed. Not a subject in which I have any particular expertise.”
Anthony Steen, another Tory MP who has failed to attend meetings, denounced the committee as “an utter waste of time”. Mr Steen insisted he was a “great deregulator” but said he could not face the prospect of sitting “through hours and hours, while actually achieving precious little . . . It’s the most painful of any select committee I’ve ever been on in my life”.
The committee’s Labour chair said ministers had failed to set clear guidelines to back up their deregulation rhetoric. “Although the government is determined there are going to be a lot more [orders], we’ve yet to see it,” Andrew Miller told the FT.
“Nobody is entirely certain what the deregulatory targets ought to be and I’d love to know what they ought to be.”
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