HC Deb 02 July 1973 vol 859 cc17-8
18. Mr. David Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking to implement the Bolton recommendation to minimise form filling and returns to Government Departments in view of the concern felt by small businessmen.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Anthony Grant)

After widespread consultation the Government have tabled a new clause for this year's Finance Bill which would exempt very many small firms from future statistical inquiries by allowing the Business Statistics Office to use data collected in the administration of value added tax. This is an important result of our continuous review of the form filling burdens on small businesses.

Mr. Mitchell

Is my hon. Friend aware that those of us who have been campaigning about the problems which face small businesses will welcome very much what he has said? Will he say how many firms will benefit from what he has just announced? Further, will he continue his efforts to protect small businesses from unnecessary returns and form filling to other Government Departments?

Mr. Grant

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his first observation. I know the particular interest which he takes in these matters. I can give him the assurance that I shall continue with the work to which he referred. Many thousands of firms will benefit. If this information had been available to the BSO before the issue of the questionnaire for the 1971 census of distribution, about 100,000 small re- tailers would have been exempted from the census.

Mr. Alan Williams

Is it not a fact that the so-called saving is no saving at all? Is not any saving from not having to complete the statistical returns more than offset by the overwhelming burden of having to complete value added tax returns?

Mr. Grant

I do not accept that for one moment. This is one particular advantage which the Business Statistics Office can adopt by virtue of the VAT arrangements without introducing any new statistical inquiries to small firms which would otherwise be necessary. Such inquiries would have put a much greater burden on small firms. Happily that will not be the case now.

Mr. Jay

How many firms would benefit and have less work to do if VAT were abolished altogether?

Mr. Grant

That is a question which the right hon. Gentleman should address to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The point I am making is that a large number of firms, including small firms, will be relieved of the burden of form filling, an aim which I should have thought the House supported, as a result of the proposals which I have announced today.

Mr. Douglas

Will the hon. Gentleman give us some information regarding the setting up of small business advisory units—particularly in Scotland—in line with the Bolton recommendations?

Mr. Grant

I hope that the small business centres will be open by the late summer or autumn and that they will be in action certainly by the autumn. A number of the appointments have been made and those appointed are carrying out some of their work in advance of the offices being set up.