HC Deb 14 December 1983 vol 50 cc991-4
17. Mr. Kirkwood

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking to improve Government measures to assist small businesses.

Mr. Trippier

We are committed to building on the progress aleady made, in particular by improving and simplifying existing schemes, promoting awareness and lifting burdens.

Mr. Kirkwood

Is the Minister aware that we have reached the point when there are now more than 100 Government devices and 160 assistance agencies for small firms? Is it not time that we returned to the more sensible proposals in the Bolton committee report, instead of tinkering with this morass of remedial measures?

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman should not be so scathing about Conservative achievements in the small firms sphere in the past four and a half years. We will be impressed to hear that I have taken the trouble to read the Liberal SDP manifesto published prior to the general election, and in it I found only five suggestions relating to small firms. Whereas some people greeted the various proposals in that manifesto with overwhelming and enthusiastic indifference, I thought that the five compared badly with the 108 measures, most of them tax measures, that have been introduced by the Conservatives in the past four and a half years. That is a record of which we are extremely proud.

Mr. Richard Page

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to find out what other countries are doing to help their small businesses? If his Department is not already doing that, will it do so and publish the results? If it is doing so, will it equally publish the results so that we may see the comparison between ourselves and other countries, particularly those in the EC?

Mr. Trippier

The conclusions made in the report to which my hon. Friend refers are nonsense. The research for the survey was conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which is owned by the Economist magazine. Yet in an article in that magazine on 19 November the Economist made it clear that the data were collected by the EIU but that the conclusions were not its conclusions. It could hardly have made its views on those conclusions much clearer, as the article was headlined, "Pull the other one." I agreed with that view.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

If small firms are to be exempt from the cost per job ceilings, as recommended in the statement yesterday, how do the Government intend to differentiate between small and large firms?

Mr. Trippier

The definition is drawn from the Bolton committee's recommendations of 1971. It is a company that employs 200 people or fewer.

Mr. Tracey

I congratulate the Government on the measures that they have taken to help small businesses, measures that have greatly exceeded any of the wind from the Opposition Benches. Will my hon. Friend take early steps to brief accountants, solicitors and bank managers on how to lead small business men safely to port?

Mr. Trippier

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that matter up. As I said in the debate on small firms on Friday 4 November, there is a requirement for us to improve the quality of advice that is provided to small firms by intermediaries, particularly chartered accountants and bank managers. To facilitate what my hon. Friend is suggesting, I intend to publish a sophisticated version of the Government publication "How to make your Business Grow". It will be provided for the intermediaries. We shall make it so thick that it cannot be thrown in the waste paper basket. It should be available for small firms seeking advice. [Interruption.] I do not see why the Labour party should be laughing about what the Government have done for small firms.

Mr. Alan Williams

Is the Minister aware that some local authorities have joined many large firms in the bad practice of not making payments on time to small businesses, thus adding to their cash flow problem. Far from feeling proud of their record, are the Government aware that they are encouraging this abuse and exacerbating the harmful effects on the small business man by maintaining exorbitantly high interest rates, double the rate prevailing in West Germany, which has the same rate of inflation as ourselves?

Mr. Trippier

Clearly I do not agree with the last statement. The right hon. Gentleman is being unfair. In the debate on 4 November, already referred to, I made a special plea, directed at large companies, that they should pay the bills of small firms on time. It can make all the difference between survival and failure for those firms.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the objections raised last week to long replies by Ministers and your experience in the Chamber today, do you intend to intervene to protect the interests of Back Benchers?

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the hon. Member noticed me intervening from a sedentary position.