Heseltine to hack again at red tape

Ministers to report monthly on any plans for new rules

John Rentoul
Sunday 04 October 2015 23:59

The Government's war against Whitehall red tape is to be "stepped up" for at least the tenth time since the last election, as it emerged yesterday that ministers are to be ordered to present a monthly report to Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, on any planned new regulations.

Mr Heseltine was charged by the Prime Minister with "hacking back the jungle of red tape" in 1992, when he was President of the Board of Trade. Since then the Government's deregulation unit, for which he retains responsibility as John Major's deputy, has identified 1,000 regulations for abolition.

But right-wingers point out that the Government creates about 1,400 statutory instruments - rules which do not need parliamentary approval - every year. Hence the requirement, from 1 January, for a monthly report justifying new statutory instruments to be submitted to Mr Heseltine or his deputy, Roger Freeman, the public services minister.

Mr Heseltine's Cabinet committee on domestic policy has also ordered ministers to stop "gold-plating" European directives - when departments make regulations that are more restrictive than required to satisfy European law. Ministers are believed to have criticised draft Home Office fire regulations which were felt to go further than EU safety law.

The renewed initiative against red tape follows a seminar earlier this month at Chevening, Kent, the Foreign Secretary's residence, reported in yesterday's Financial Times. The meeting is said to have identified four areas where red tape could be cut: health and safety, food hygiene, building regulations and taxpaying.

However, the Labour Party yesterday was scornful of the plan. "Declaring war on red tape is one of those things Tory ministers always do when they are in need of an applause injection," said a Labour spokesman. He pointed to recent analysis which showed that 71 per cent of the regulations now in force had been introduced since the Conservatives were elected in 1979.

The first high-profile drive against red tape was the review by the Marks & Spencer boss, Sir Derek Rayner, in 1982. Lord Young of Graffham, then a Cabinet minister, promised to create jobs by cutting regulations affecting small businesses, and legislation followed.

Mr Major again promised to "simplify rules and regulations" in his 1992 election manifesto.

Since then, however, the tide has showed little sign of turning. A year later, small businesses reported a "significant" increase in red tape, with the Government and the European Commission held to be equally responsible.

The crusade also suffered a setback when the trade minister responsible, the right-winger Neil Hamilton, was forced to resign in October last year over "cash for questions" row.

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