HC Deb 10 February 1988 vol 127 cc353-4
21. Mr. Page

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what new plans he has for lifting bureaucratic burdens on business.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Active work continues in every area of government to lighten the load of regulation and improve the delivery of Government services for business. We propose to issue a White Paper reporting progress and the next steps in the summer.

Mr. Page

In thanking my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply, may I ask whether he is aware that in 1979 we had one of the most wizened and shrunken small business sectors in the Western world? Does he accept that due to the Government lifting the bureaucratic burdens it is now starting to grow? What does my right hon. and learned Friend intend to do to relieve the load on small businesses of company law, particularly on the audit facility?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend that one of the most impressive achievements of the British economic recovery has been the rate at which small businesses have set up and that sector has expanded. It is important that the Government continue to deal with small business in such a way that they do not waste management time or erect obstructions in the way of people intending to expand their business. We are now looking at several detailed proposals on company law reform and particularly aim to lift bureaucratic burdens in our changes. We have informed interested parties of the details of our intended reform of annual filing requirements for company accounts, and we are certainly giving detailed consideration to the small company audit and account requirements, to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Cryer

If lightening bureaucratic burdens on small firms is so good, why is it so good to increase them for trade unions in Act after Act? Since we lose more days every year from industrial injury than from strike action, can the Minister assure us that the proposals to remove the bureaucratic burdens on small businesses will not extend to the removal of health and safety obligations—which most small firms of any decent standard welcome—to ensure that loss of life and limb is not increased?

Mr. Clarke

Trade unions can have their own bureaucracy, but I am sure that nothing that the Government have done puts more bureaucratic restraints on them. This is a matter, not for me, but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We are seeking to strengthen the ways in which members can enforce legal rights, which this House has provided, against trade unions which might otherwise be unwilling to concede them. That does not conflict with the other general aims of our policy. The Government have no intention whatever of reducing the standards of health and safety achieved in the British workplace.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I sought to be called on question No. 1 as I represent Lancaster——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry that the hon. Lady was not called then, but she has her chance now on question 21.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I am now dealing with question 21, Mr. Speaker. I should like to point out that companies which come to Lancaster, despite any bureaucratic restrictions, rarely go into liquidation, because of the assistance given to them by local business men and the local city council. Anyone who comes to Lancaster will do exceedingly well.

Mr. Clarke

That is a very welcome message for us all. It is confirmed by my experiences of Lancashire, where the co-operation between the local business leadership and the local council, and the use they make of the assistance from the Government, is very effective and is showing up very well in the recovery of the economy in that area.