HC Deb 21 July 1993 vol 229 cc346-8
12. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a further statement on progress in lifting the burden of unnecessary regulation on business.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

At the Prime Minister's progress meeting on deregulation held yesterday, Ministers welcomed progress on specific deregulation measures to reduce the burden on business and agreed to introduce an important deregulation Bill as soon as possible. Ministers also agreed to publish a document called "Working with Business: A Code for Enforcement Agencies" and a report on the operation of EC law in the United Kingdom; to review how duplication between enforcement agencies might be eliminated; to require a small business litmus test of the impact on them of any new regulations; and to set up an eighth task force focusing on charities and voluntary organisations.

Mr. Arnold

I welcome the progress that is being made with the campaign to hack at red tape. Does not it contrast with the legislation, bureaucracy and interference that would follow from the adoption of the social chapter which is supported by two Opposition parties?

Mr. Hamilton

I know that dinosaurs have become much more popular recently as a result of films, but Opposition Members really must get rid of their neanderthal attitudes to the competitiveness of British industry. It is only by continuing to reduce the burdens on industry that we can take full advantage of international competitiveness, which will ultimately be reflected in increased employment opportunities.

Mr. Turner

Does the Minister accept that millions of people would welcome more regulations, particularly when dealing with companies such as Ever Ready, which has closed a factory in Wolverhampton, with the loss of 80 jobs? A constituent of mine visited Woolworths in Wolverhampton and found on sale Ever Ready batteries that were manufactured in China.

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman must accept that bureaucracy and red tape do not do business in this country any good at all. The consequence of imposing extra legislative burdens on companies to increase their operating costs would simply make us less competitive. What we should be concerened about in the European Community is not what Mr. Delors called social dumping in moving jobs from France to Scotland, but moving jobs outside the European Community altogether to the deregulated economies of the far east and elsewhere.

Sir Michael Grylls

When my hon. Friend considers deregulation measures, will he consider abolishing the statutory audit? In particular, will he listen to the views of business organisations, especially the Small Business Bureau, which have made it perfectly clear that there is no reason why there should not be total abolition of the statutory audit for all privately owned companies? It serves no purpose to any outside trader dealing with privately owned companies; therefore, let us get rid of it.I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to to do so very soon.

Mr. Hamilton

I am confident that we will be able to announce in due course a relaxation of the current audit requirements on small companies. The results of the consultation exercise in which we have been engaged for some time will be evaluated shortly. I am delighted that my hon. Friend and the Small Business Bureau have made representations to me as part of that consultation process.I hope that we shall he able to announce a radical change, to the benefit of business, in due course.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

As the Minister has had a year to study the Institute of Directors' proposals to abolish 50 licences, including licences in respect of driving instruction, the retail sale of alcohol, the running of theatres and cinemas, and minicabs, will he repudiate the proposals to leave the public without proper protection and ensure that they are not included in his Bill?

Mr. Hamilton

I shall repudiate the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party. They have done nothing constructive to contribute to the debate. There are many ways in which we can ensure effective regulation to preserve the interests of the wider public which do not involve licensing. As part of the deregulation review, we shall be reconsidering all the legislative burdens on business of any kind to ensure that they are proportionate to the benefits that are claimed to flow from them. It can never be in the interests of business or of the people whom business employs to impose unnecessary costs on them.

Mrs. Lait

Does my hon. Friend accept that many Conservative Members are pleased to hear about the new initiatives to consult small businesses about the regulations that bear so heavily on the people who run those businesses? Is he happy with the means of consulting all small businesses? Has he any proposals to improve the consultation process?

Mr. Hamilton

We agreed yesterday that, in future, when we consult before legislation is put before the House, we will first view our proposals from the perspective of small business. Too often in the past, the Government have listened to what big business has had to say and to business organisations, which may not in themselves be wholly representative of all the small businesses that are active in their economic sectors. It is important that small businesses are encouraged because it is from small businesses that big businesses and future jobs will grow.