Former minister denies influence of ‘one in, two out’ on building regulations
A former minister has denied the influence of “one in, two out” on building regulations prior to the Grenfell Tower fire.
Former local growth and Northern Powerhouse minister James Wharton, now the Baron Wharton of Yarm, appeared before the inquiry into the west London tower block blaze, which killed 72 people on June 14 2017.
The “one in, two out” rule for business regulation was brought in by Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition in 2013.
Under this policy, every time the Government introduced a new regulation they had to remove or modify an existing regulation that cost double the amount of the new one to businesses.
Baron Wharton was the minister for local growth and Northern Powerhouse at the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) between May 11 2015 and July 17 2016.
During the same period, the inquiry heard that he was the junior minister with responsibility for building regulations.
Lead counsel for the inquiry Richard Millett QC asked Baron Wharton if anyone had ever sat him down and told him how that policy worked.
“Not that I recall,” he said.
He was asked what he understood the policy to mean.
“From my memory it wasn’t something given particular undue focus,” he said.
“I was aware of a general wish to be deregulatory where appropriate,” he said.
Baron Wharton explained that he had become a minister two-and-a-half years after the rule had been introduced
I want to be clear, I think there was a general view that deregulation is a good thing, and that unnecessary regulation would be something we should avoid. But I wasn't aware that that was in any way constraining work in the area of fire safety
He added that he was not sure when “one in, two out” was implemented but he would take Mr Millett’s word that it had been brought in in 2013.
“I don’t remember being briefed on it particularly,” he said.
“It was just a general view that erring on the side of (being) deregulatory as opposed to creating additional regulatory burden was seen to be a good thing.”
He denied that the policy had a “particular pressure” on his decision making at the time.
“I don’t feel that it was a particular pressure on my decision making or my role as a minister at that time. I don’t remember it being particularly salient or pertinent issue.”
He added that he could not recall having discussed the policy with any other junior ministers or with the secretary of state.
Mr Millett asked him if it was simply an “atmosphere” rather than a “set of rules”.
He was asked if he agreed with evidence given to the inquiry by DCLG civil servant Brian Martin who said that “one in, two out” had an impact on building regulations.
“I don’t recall having ever thought about the one in two out agenda in relation to building regulations.
“I can’t, in all honesty say that I had a view on it at the time or if I had a view I can’t recall what it was.”
Mr Millett asked him if he was unaware of the deregulatory culture within his own department
“So you weren’t aware, is this right, of a culture within your department of constraint based on an understanding of the application of the deregulatory agenda to matters of life safety that you, now you’re being asked about it, did not share?”
Baron Wharton replied: “I think that’s right.
“I want to be clear, I think there was a general view that deregulation is a good thing, and that unnecessary regulation would be something we should avoid.
“But I wasn’t aware that that was in any way constraining work in the area of fire safety.”
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