HC Deb 03 July 1985 vol 82 cc316-7
3. Mr. Greg Knight

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many submissions have been received to date in response to his Department's consultative document, "Burdens on Business".

Mr. Trippier

We have received 78 submissions so far — 22 from business and other organisations, and 56 from firms or individuals.

Mr. Knight

Is my hon. Friend aware that the House will applaud the initiative that he has taken to seek to cut away unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape, which are indeed a burden on business? What further action does he propose? Will he bear in mind the increase—some of us would say regrettable increase — in Common Market regulations?

Mr. Trippier

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his initial remarks. The initiative to which he referred has been carried forward by my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Young of Graffham. He hopes to make a statement on the matter before both Houses rise for the summer recess.

My hon. Friend is right about the growing number of regulations that are coming out of the European Community. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has raised the matter on two occasions in the European Council. We are now waiting for the European Commission to come forward with its ideas on how we can cut unnecessary burdens.

Mr. Ashdown

As the Minister knows, we support his attempts to reduce the burdens, especially on small businesses. Nevertheless, does he accept that the statistical base for the health of the small business sector is now so inadequate that we are unable to monitor properly the effect of Government policy? Does he further accept that it would be possible to set up a better monitoring system without increasing the burdens on small businesses? Will he take steps to put that into operation?

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that we have a paucity of statistical information with regard to the small firms sector, particularly about employment in that sector. It may be possible to introduce new measures. Perhaps the Department of Trade and Industry should consider a new way of trying to get at that information. Only recently I had a meeting in my office with representatives of Dun and Bradstreet, which, as the hon. Gentleman will know, produces the statistics for small firms in the United States. Certainly those statistics are more prolific. Of course, I have great difficulty in trying to balance increasing the statistical base and not increasing the burdens on small firms in regard to form filling.

Mr. Bellingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest problems facing small businesses is the attitude of Government officials? In America, officials will go into a small firm with the sole aim of trying to help the entrepreneur, but here officials are far too often unsympathetic and at times antagonistic.

Mr. Trippier

The attitude of certain officials has been identified in the "Burdens on Business" scrutiny report. I am anxious, wherever possible, to encourage officials to be more user friendly.

Mr. Williams

Will the Minister confirm that the Comptroller and Auditor General warned the Government recently that many small firms are not maintaining good health and safety standards? Does not that warning underline another report which shows that firms with fewer than 100 employees, although they account for only one in 20 of the work force, account for half of all machinery accidents? As the Government have already cut the Health and Safety Executive by 13 per cent., do not those figures make nonsense of the proposal in the document that small firms should be self-regulating in health and safety matters? While many small firms are responsible, will it not mean that the health and safety interests of far too many workers will be left in the hands and at the whim of cowboys and sweat shop operators?

Mr. Trippier

The right hon. Gentleman sought to make a similar point in the debate on small firms on 21 June. I should emphasise that the "Burdens on Business" scrutiny report, to which he referred, is not necessarily wholly the work of the Department of Trade and Industry. In fact, it transposed the views expressed by small business men who were interviewed in the "Burdens on Business" scrutiny. We have to try to find the right balance between licence and liberty. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear in his foreword that there was no question of our removing necessary protections for employees, consumers or the public at large. However, we are determined to reduce the unnecessary burden and to simplify and rationalise those controls which must be retained.