The Queen's Speech: Deregulation: Prescott warns of 'killing fields'

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SENIOR CABINET ministers have warned colleagues that the comprehensive deregulation Bill foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech will be highly contentious.

The details of the Bill will be announced in early January by Neil Hamilton, the minister for corporate affairs, but the Government was immediately attacked by John Prescott, Labour's spokesman on employment, for returning Britain to the 'killing fields' in industry by scrapping health and safety rules.

Denying that charge, Mr Hamilton accused Mr Prescott of being 'an Olympic gold medallist in scaremongering'. He ruled out abolition of safety regulations covering old people's homes, and fire regulations on nightwear and furniture, and promised: 'We are not going to reduce consumer protection.'

But Mr Hamilton also came under under attack from Tories in the Lords after making it clear the Government will drop hundreds of regulations without seeking primary legislation

Some peers warned there would be trouble ahead for the Government if it was drafted as 'enabling legislation', allowing ministers to implement detailed changes at a later date through orders, which have little scrutiny in Parliament.

The Bill is intended as one of the key pieces of legislation in the Prime Minister's 'Back to Basics' programme for the next session of Parliament. It will attempt to fulfil the Government's pledge to carry out a bonfire of red tape to ease the burdens on industry, particularly small businesses.

It is a policy that has the support of the vast majority of Tory MPs, but one Cabinet minister warned: 'One man's intrusive regulation is another man's protection. Once they start to look at the proposals, it will prove highly contentious.'

Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, put Mr Hamilton, an outspoken Thatcherite, in charge of the deregulation task, which the right wing of the Tory party has been awaiting eagerly. Another Thatcherite, Michael Forsyth, Minister for Employment, has carried out a detailed review of health and safety at work.

Seven taskforces of businessmen recently reported back to the Department of Trade and Industry on more than 500 recommendations for cutting regulations covering retailers; tourism; food, drink and agriculture; construction; chemicals and pharmaceuticals; engineering, financial services, transport and communications.

An eighth taskforce was set up in August to review regulations on the voluntary sector.

The deregulation Bill will also implement reforms to the licensing system for the operators of goods and public service vehicles announced by John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, and open the Government's payment of pensions and other services to market-testing.