HC Deb 13 April 1978 vol 947 cc1656-8
Q1. Mr. Loveridge

asked the Prime Minister if, when considering the nomination of future members of the EEC Social and Economic Committee, he will reduce to seven the number of members representing trade unions so as to allow for at least one representative to speak directly for small businesses.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

Membership of the Economic and Social Committee of the EEC is due to be renewed in September. The United Kingdom, in common with other large member States of the Community, sends 24 representatives, of whom eight represent employers' interests, eight represent employee interests and eight represent a variety of other interests. There are no plans to change that overall balance; but, within that framework, the Government intend to nominate representatives covering as wide a range of interests as possible, and consultations to that end are now under way.

Mr. Loveridge

Although I am encouraged by that answer, is the Prime Minister aware that the smaller business sector in Europe is proportionately much stronger than our own and, therefore, deserves fuller direct representation from us? Is he aware also that the Opposition support his measures to strengthen our own small business sector in order to expand and create jobs? Will he, therefore, continue to adopt further Conservation policies for small businesses as the General Election draws nearer?

The Prime Minister

As the Budget made clear, there is no doubt about the Government's policy in relation to the encouragement of small businesses and enterprises, and we shall continue to do that. As for whether there can be separate representation on the Economic and Social Committee, there is a great deal of competition for that and a tremendous number of people have asked whether they can be represented. We shall not be able to satisfy them all.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Quite apart from cutting down trade union representation on the Committee, will my right hon. Friend make sure that someone is there who specifically understands the problems of youth unemployment? It will be quite impossible, if we are to have grandiose schemes from the Commission, without having those capable of putting them into commission as soon as possible.

The Prime Minister

Certainly I shall take note of that. Of course, the employers' group and the employees' group nominate their own representatives. I am sure that the trade unions and perhaps the employers will keep my hon. Friend's request in mind.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

In view of the Government's conversion to supporting small businesses, may I press the Prime Minister to include somewhere in the list of representatives someone to represent unquoted companies and unincorporated businesses—and here I must declare an interest—since these companies represent some 40 per cent. of the gross domestic product?

The Prime Minister

Yes, but the Confederation of British Industry includes a number of these organisations and there is, therefore, every reason why they should look to the CBI for representation. However, I shall bear in mind the right hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Has the Prime Minister's attention been drawn to the report prepared for the Anglo-German Foundation by Arthur D. Little on small businesses in the United Kingdom and Western Europe, and can he say whether any of the valuable recommendations in that report have been drawn to the attention of the Departments which should be taking some action on them?

The Prime Minister

I have not read it myself, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is active in this area, will have done so. In case my right hon. Friend has not done so, I shall draw his attention to what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Welsh

Will the Prime Minister follow the lead given by other EEC States in encouraging small businesses by, for example, introducing a fully-fledged Minister for the self-employed and small business affairs and by immediately abolishing the iniquitous self-employed levy?

The Prime Minister

The SNP seems to be a little behind the times. I thought I had made it clear—I think that everyone else in the House knew it already—that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has special responsibility for small firms and that in the Department of Industry an Under-Secretary of State handles these affairs too.