Millions of people's lives have been improved as a result of regulations brought in over the last few years, Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam said yesterday. She was replying to recent criticisms of regulation by business organisations and professional bodies.
Dr Mowlam said, "We make no apology for introducing policies which ensure that people earn a decent wage and have the right to paid holidays. Around 1.5 million people now have higher pay and over 3 million people have benefited for the first time from the right to paid annual leave."
"Increasing the length of maternity leave and improving arrangements for part-time workers has helped well over half a million people."
"At the same time, we recognise that these regulations pose an extra burden on businesses, particularly the smaller ones, and we are working hard to ensure that those burdens are kept to a minimum. We listened to the views of business on both the national minimum wage and the working time directive, for instance, and made changes, which mean that the cost of implementing the regulations is very low."
"Some of the figures which business organisations claim to be the cost of regulation – anything from the Institute of Directors' £5 billion to the CBI's £13 billion are gross exaggerations. They confuse the cost of the policy itself with the cost of administering the policy. It is very misleading to argue that entitlements and benefits which individuals receive are bureaucracy or red tape."
Dr Mowlam emphasised that the UK is relatively lightly regulated compared with its major competitors.
"Several surveys have dispelled the myth that the UK is heavily regulated. The OECD reported in 1999 that the UK had the lowest level of product market regulation and one of the most lightly regulated labour markets. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the UK second only to the Netherlands as the best location for business and the CBI reported that the UK has more flexible labour market regulation than other European countries."
Dr Mowlam also denied that this Government was more prone to legislate than previous administrations:
"If you look at the numbers of Acts of Parliament passed and statutory instruments issued each parliamentary session they are broadly the same order of magnitude. And it is important to remember that less than 5 per cent of statutory instruments have a significant impact on business."
"Regulations inevitably involve cost – but if we want to have a fair and equitable society – I would argue strongly that the benefits justify the cost."