HC Deb 17 January 1996 vol 269 cc732-3
10. Mr. Hawkins

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what further steps are planned to remove unnecessary regulations on small businesses. [7894]

Mr. Page

Small firms are vital to Britain's well-being. My ministerial colleagues and I therefore always look for ways to reduce the burden of regulation on small firms. One of the most significant ways in which my Department achieves that is by exempting small business from regulation wherever possible, for example in company law and competition law.

Mr. Hawkins

I welcome what my hon. Friend has just said about small businesses, which are so vital in constituencies such as those in Blackpool. What are the Government doing systematically to ensure that unnecessary regulations are not placed on the backs of small businesses to start with? Surely prevention is better than cure.

Mr. Page

My hon. Friend has put his finger on the nub of the problem. Prevention is better than cure. The Government, through the competitiveness White Paper which is produced every year, are looking to see how they can reduce the various regulatory burdens on small business. I know that a series of conferences is taking place throughout the country, entitled "Your Business Matters", and the messages on the burdens that are unnecessary are coming through and will be responded to.

The most positive thing that has happened has been the appointment of a small business Minister in every Government Department, as announced by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I am convinced that those small business Ministers, who will watch legislation as it is proposed and how it might affect smaller businesses, are the way to improve the situation for the future.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Have not 1,000 regulations been identified as suitable for repeal, and have not the vast majority of them been carried into law by the Government since 1979? Do not the facts contradict the rhetoric that we always get from Conservative Members? Have not the Government engulfed small businesses in red tape and bureaucracy?

Mr. Page

I look forward to the hon. Gentleman supplying me with information that proves that the statement that he just made is factually correct, because I sincerely have my doubts. Of the 1,000 regulations earmarked for amendment or repeal, more than 500 had been dealt with by the end of last year: for example, 75,000 small firms no longer need to pay VAT; there is a continuous licensing system for goods and public service vehicle operators; and restrictions on shop hours have been removed. We have made a positive move to reduce the burdens on smaller firms.

Sir Michael Grylls

I welcome the very good work that my hon. Friend has done, but will he undertake to use the maximum exemption limit for small firms—those with a turnover of £4 million—rather than a lower figure? The limit of £4 million, as allowed by the European Union, would exempt far more firms from unnecessary red tape. Surely we should use the maximum figure rather than set a lower figure, because a firm with a turnover of £4 million is still a very small firm.

Mr. Page

My hon. Friend is well known for the support that he has given small firms over the years, and I can only listen to what he has to say with reverence and attention. I assure him that we shall do whatever we can to reduce burdens on small firms.

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