HC Deb 01 November 1995 vol 265 cc291-3
8. Mr. Bellingham

To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he next expects to meet representatives of small firms to discuss Government measures to encourage start-ups. [38656]

Mr. Ian Taylor

Ministers, my Department's officials and business links regularly hold meetings with small firms organisations. Support for business start-ups is regularly discussed. With a net increase of about 60,000 businesses in 1994 and a projected increase of about 100,000 businesses in 1995, Government policy is effective.

Mr. Bellingham

Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the biggest problems that confronts small firms in my constituency is excessive regulation? Does he agree that the Government's small businesses litmus test scheme will help firms because they will be consulted first? Is not that yet another example of the Government helping small firms? It is all very well the Opposition sneering, but does my hon. Friend agree that, as long as they support the minimum wage and the social chapter, they cannot claim to support small businesses?

Mr. Cummings

Henry, try to live on less than a minimum wage.

Madam Speaker

Order. [Interruption.] Order. I am inclined to name Members and ask them to leave the Chamber if they are not able to contain themselves while we are at Question Time. Hon. Members below the Gangway on both sides of the House must stop blaming each other and behave like the adults they are supposed to be in this Chamber.

Mr. Taylor

My answers usually give rise to excitement after I have given them, not before. The key point about the small business litmus test is that all regulation will be considered in the light of its impact on small businesses. That is a welcome step forward.

As for the minimum wage, it is important to ensure that when Opposition spokesmen talk to small businesses, small businesses understand what they are being told. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce had to correct a recent Labour press statement. It is clear that the Labour party has not understood the devastating effect that the minimum wage and social over-regulation would have on small businesses.

Mr. Sheerman

Is the Minister not aware of the devastating effect of the cancellation of the business start-up grant on business start-ups? Training and enterprise councils, business links and economic development units across the country are already reporting a 25 per cent. drop in small business start-ups. If the Government are serious about small business, is it not about time they reintroduced that useful grant, and soon?

Mr. Taylor

The grant is now part of the single regeneration budget, which is important in that local people come forward with partnership schemes which have, as part of their scope, the generation of small business start-ups. The announcement yesterday about the national network of business links will provide enormous help to those wishing to start up small businesses. The Department for Education and Employment's training for work scheme is also a great asset. I believe that the Government have in place a range of possibilities to which small businesses can look when they need help.

Sir John Cope

Does my hon. Friend recognise that it is not only start-ups that are important but that it is important to allow existing small businesses to flourish and expand? In that connection, it is extremely good to see on the Order Paper the flow of deregulation orders following the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. Will my hon. Friend and his colleagues do all they can to speed up the flow of those orders?

Mr. Taylor

My right hon. Friend speaks from experience, having been a Minister with responsibility for small businesses. I know that the creation of a small businesses Minister in every Department will accelerate the interests of small businesses in relation to any proposals for regulation that come to the Floor of the House and will speed up ideas about what we can do to deregulate.

Mrs. Roche

When the Minister next meets representatives of small businesses, will he explain to them in detail why the consultancy brokerage service has had to be axed before it was even launched, at a cost to the public purse of almost £3 million? Is not such incompetence yet another example of how, under the Conservative Government's management, Britain has slumped to 18th in the world prosperity league?

Mr. Taylor

The slumping going on in the House is in the originality of the questions being asked by Members on the Labour Front Bench. The business links system, which is now countrywide and which combines training and enterprise councils, enterprise agencies, universities and business interests, is the best business support system of any country. In those circumstances, I hope that the hon. Lady, who has just made her debut in the Labour Front-Bench team, will enjoy seeing what a Conservative Government are delivering in the field.

Mr. Gallie

Is my hon. Friend aware of the start-up of flights between Prestwick and Stansted airports? Does he believe that it breaks the mould of expensive flying within the United Kingdom? Does he further believe that it gives a great opportunity to small businesses in my constituency to extend their areas of operation and that it will greatly encourage those who wish to start up new businesses?

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend is an indefatigable fighter for the interests of businesses in his constituency. I am sure that the new airport arrangements will assist, and I wish the new venture the very best of luck. I am sure that Ministers at the Scottish Office and the Department of Trade and Industry will take a close interest in the progress being made.