HC Deb 09 February 1994 vol 237 cc278-9
9. Mr. Steen

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement as to the progress of his deregulation unit in reducing the number of rules and regulations affecting small businesses.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs (Mr. Neil Hamilton)

We announced about 450 deregulation measures on 19 January. Many of these will substantially benefit small businesses—for example, the abolition of the statutory audit, which will remove a useless cost from tens of thousands of small companies; and the rise in the value added tax threshold, which will free up to 75,000 small businesses from the tentacles of VAT. In future, we shall judge regulatory proposals first by the results of a small business litmus test.

Mr. Steen

In view of the tremendous commitment by the President yesterday and by the Minister responsible for deregulation, which is supported by both sides of the House, will the Minister instruct the deregulation unit to alter the individual divisional objectives that apply to the working practices of the 11,389 officials in his Department? Will he provide an incentive-related pay scheme so that the more rules and regulations his officials get rid of, the more they will be paid?

Mr. Hamilton

I hope that if we were to introduce such a scheme, it would apply to Ministers, too. All officials in the Department of Trade and Industry are fully committed to deregulation, as we well understand that that goes to the very heart of the competitiveness of British industry. It is the wealth that industry produces which pays the wages of all of us.

Mr. Loyden

Is the Minister aware that most people will see this latest gimmick of the Government as a very thinly disguised means of reducing the protection of workers in industry in order to maximise profit? Is not that the sole intention of the legislation?

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman, who, as a union wrecker and a keen supporter of the dock labour scheme, had an important part to play in the destruction of the port of Liverpool, knows quite well the consequences of absurd regulations for the jobs of British workers. I am happy to say that, as a result of our getting rid of the dock labour scheme, British ports are expanding again. The port of Liverpool is doing more trade today than it did in its heyday in the 1950s.

Mrs. Browning

Is my hon. Friend aware that the announcement made this week to modify rules on portable electrical appliances will be warmly welcomed, particularly by hoteliers in my constituency? They say that the burden on their businesses caused by regulations, especially those relating to testing electrical appliances, has been onerous and has affected their profitability.

Mr. Hamilton

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We are keenly aware of the advantages that will accrue to smaller businesses and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) said, particularly to tourist businesses in the west country, if we continue to take an imaginative approach to deregulation.