Earl of Kinnoul Queen’s Speech debate

5th June 2015

The Earl of Kinnoull (CB): My Lords, it was indeed heartening to hear, both in the gracious Speech and in the admirable and fluent maiden speech from the noble Lord the Minister, such a clear and prominent statement of intent about the reduction of regulation for small businesses, the “small and the brave”, which are the bedrock of our nation’s prosperity today and a foundation for its future prosperity tomorrow. I am going to concentrate only on this.

“The last Administration made a good start in attacking the problem. The Regulatory Policy Committee, revamped in 2012, the Red Tape Challenge and the one-in, two-out rule have each contributed in their own way and continue in force. However, I hope that there will at least be a brief review of those three things to see whether they could be tweaked in any way to become yet more effective. I particularly feel that the one-in, two-out rule could do with some simplification and perhaps even the deletion of some of the exceptions, and I would be very grateful for the comments of the noble Baroness the Minister on this.

“In preparing for today, I have been in touch with the British Insurance Brokers’ Association—BIBA—which has 1,500 members with 10 or fewer employees. Here I declare my interests as set out in the register, having worked for 25 years in that industry, but never as a broker. I have also been in touch with the Federation of Small Businesses, with its 200,000 or so members. I have two points that I want to put to the noble Baroness the Minister.

“First, I urge greater action on the gold-plating that has arisen out of older EU directives—the emphasis is on the “older”. BIBA members are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, the FCA, which—or, more accurately, its predecessor the FSA—has platinum-plated the insurance mediation directive of 2002. According to BIBA’s independently commissioned research, the direct cost of regulation for UK insurance brokers is by far the highest in Europe, being a factor of two higher than second-placed Luxembourg and more than 10 times that in France and Germany. The CEO of BIBA commented to me: “Our peer associations in other European nations like France and Germany are shocked by the cost added by our regulator, and Karel Van Hulle, the recently retired European Commission head of insurance, referred to UK gold-plating by the FCA as ‘sauce anglaise’”. I understand that the FCA wants to stretch its lead at the top of the league table of cost in Europe and appears to be looking for an 8% rise next year in what it charges the insurance brokers it regulates. That must be wrong.

“That is just one example of the well-appreciated gold-plating problem. I accept that, certainly since July 2011 and arguably somewhat earlier following the Davidson Review, great care has been taken to try to prevent gold-plating on new, fresh EU directives. Nevertheless, there is a lot of gold-plating around in older regulations made before that date and there is no satisfactory comprehensive mechanism for the automatic review of these older regulations. As part of the efforts to reduce the regulatory burden, will the Government review these older EU-derived regulations to seek out the gold plate, or sauce anglaise, and procure change for the better?

“My final point is to do with the attitude of regulators up and down the land. I have had experience of regulators in quite a few countries in my 25 years in the insurance industry. Oddly, it is not a bad generalisation to say that they fall into two distinct camps in attitude, either being remote, severe and unhelpful or being akin to Dixon of Dock Green. Too many UK regulators tend towards the former category, where the regulator is feared rather than seen as a potential source of knowledge and assistance. The chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses summarised the issue to me as follows:

“When setting out to tackle the burden of red tape, it’s important not only to identify obstructive regulations, but also to look at how regulation is enforced. Poor enforcement or excessive monitoring requirements can turn straightforward regulations into costly and disruptive burdens … We would like to see more partnership working between regulators and businesses with regulators focusing on proactively providing guidance to assist and encourage rather than an emphasis on enforcement”.

“The “small and the brave” particularly need regulators with a helpful and collaborative approach to prosper. Will the noble Baroness the Minister confirm that the Government will seek to address this issue which, in all probability, would require no legislation? The “small and the brave” need our help. I urge the Government to be big and bold in providing it.”