Task forces to review safety regulations

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The Independent Online
SAFETY regulations on rail transport and the food industry could be scrapped in spite of an assurance by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, that a Downing Street drive for more deregulation would not attack safety.

Mr Heseltine announced that seven task forces of businessmen would be appointed for a 'bottom-up' review of 7,000 regulations which are adding unnecessary costs to businesses, following a deregulation seminar yesterday convened by the Prime Minister at Downing Street.

At least one Cabinet minister at the 40-strong seminar, also included by junior ministers and senior civil servants, supported the proposals by David Willetts, a Tory backbench MP and former head of the Downing Street policy unit, for a reappraisal of the safety regulations on British Rail. Mr Heseltine said: 'This is not an attack on regulations per se. We fully recognise that safety is critical and a very high proportion of safety regulations have been put in place by Conservative governments. No one for a minute should think we are launching an attack on safety.

'What we are doing is looking to see that where regulations have been introduced, they have been introduced with regard to their consequences. We might find that in some regulations that dealt with safety some statistical analysis was being compared which didn't add to anyone's safety at all.

'One might wonder whether that was necessary . . . It's these sort of things that can build up to a most daunting impact on the small businessman . . . But there is no way we are going to prejudice safety standards.'

Neil Hamilton, the parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry with the task of co-ordinating deregulation, is a founder member of the Thatcherite No Turning Back Group, which includes Mr Willetts. The minister indicated that he shared Mr Willetts's view that there should be a presumption to scrap regulations unless there was an overriding need for them.

Mr Willetts, in a paper on deregulation, attacked the introduction of automatic train protection devices at a cost of pounds 600m, in the wake of the Clapham rail disaster of 1988 to slow down trains when the driver failed to do so. He suggested that the money could save more lives in the NHS.

Mr Heseltine said the task forces would help to avoid 'turf wars' across Whitehall.

They will cover food, drink and agriculture; communications and transport; construction; engineering; chemicals and pharmaceuticals; financial services other than those covered by the Securities and Investment Board (SIB) review; and other services including tourism and retailing, other than food.