A former minister at the department for communities and local government has castigated the Government for its ‘fatal obsession’ with de-regulation claiming this created the context for the Grenfell tragedy.
Writing on the Labour Lords site, Baroness Kay Andrews argued the state has been dismantled in the last seven years by Conservative-led Governments who have ‘turned de-regulation from a pragmatic search for improvement into a definitive political ideology.’
She argues the politicisation of de-regulation, in the context of cuts to council services and what she describes as a ‘complete disregard for the need for social housing and the rights of social tenants’, created the context for the ‘preventable disaster’ of the Grenfell fire.
Citing former prime minister David Cameron’s claim that he wanted to ‘kill off the health and safety culture’, Baroness Andrews wrote by 2014 around 800 regulations had been abolished.
She also quoted Sajid Javid who as business secretary said in 2015 there had been savings of £10bn for business thanks to de-regulation, and promised the same amount again.
However, the Conservative Lord Chris Patten rejected Baroness Andrews’ characterisation of de-regulation as an ideological obsession for the Government.
Speaking during a Lords debate held yesterday entitled Deregulation: Public Services and Health and Safety, Lord Patten said: ‘I respectfully disagree with the impression that she gave that by definition all acts of deregulation are ideological.’
He pointed out that both Labour and the Conservatives have cut regulation and cited a statement by Theresa May to the House of Commons last month: ‘all regulation is not bad regulation; there is good regulation, which we need to ensure that we get right’.
The debate, which was called by Baroness Andrews, took place on the same day of the publication of the European Repeal Bill.
Formerly known as the Great Repeal Bill, the legislation will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and will see the replication of EU legislation into British law in order to ensure a smooth transition.
Describing the Repeal Bill in the white paper outlining the UK’s exit from the EU, the Brexit secretary David Davis said: ‘It is not a vehicle for policy changes – but it will give the Government the necessary power to correct or remove the laws that would otherwise not function properly once we have left the EU.’
Baroness Andrews, speaking in yesterday’s Lords debate, warned Brexiters would use this as an opportunity to push through more de-regulation. ‘Stripping out the European regulatory frameworks is a compelling prospect for Brexiteers,’ she told the assembled house.
To support this, she quoted Priti Patel, secretary of state for international development and a prominent Leave campaigner, who told the Institute of Directors: ‘If we could just halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3bn boost to our economy.’
Concluding her speech to the House of Lords, Baroness Andrews sketched out the changing role the state has played in public life over the last two centuries.
‘It is almost 200 years since the first expert inspectors were created to stop coal mines, factories and food killing people,’ she said.
‘The state has changed a lot - it has had to - from one which sprang to action only after a national disaster, in the nightwatchman state of the Victorians, to one which has tried, over a century, to anticipate and prevent new harms as they emerge in an increasingly sophisticated economy.
‘We should be proud of that, not least since it has been good for growth, good for business, good for public health and good for society.’