HC Deb 24 June 1996 vol 280 cc5-6
6. Mr. Nigel Evans

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what recent representations he has received concerning the over-regulation of small businesses. [32609]

Mr. Freeman

Earlier this year, I received over 500 letters from small businesses when I invited them to tell me what regulations were hampering their business. At the final "Your Business Matters" conference on 11 March, we announced a package of deregulation measures in response to the concerns raised. We are now continuing our contacts with businesses through a series of special deregulation seminars.

Mr. Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that small businesses are the backbone of this country and that we ought to do as much as we possibly can to lift burdens from them, so that they can grow and employ more people? Is he therefore as concerned as I am at the possibility of the introduction of the regulations incorporating the 48-hour directive, which would undoubtedly affect some small businesses? We did not sign up to that directive; indeed, we explicitly opted out of it. Is the Minister aware that he will have the support of the vast majority of businesses, small, medium and large, in his fight to resist the imposition of the 48-hour directive?

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that small businesses would suffer greatly from the erroneous and dangerous election of a Labour Government, who would agree to qualified majority voting on the social chapter provisions of the Maastricht treaty. That would mean a great many expensive burdens on small businesses. The Opposition are by no means the friend of small businesses. It is this Government who have consistently deregulated and who will defend small and large businesses against inflexible and expensive welfare state laws.

Mr. Olner

Does not the Minister speak with forked tongue? Will he admit that, for every deregulation order that the Government have introduced in recent years, they have brought in three new regulation orders which have crippled small businesses?

Mr. Freeman

That is a travesty of the truth. Neither Labour Front Benchers nor Back Benchers have any genuine interest in the deregulation initiative, and Labour would sideline it if ever elected to government. In the past 12 months alone, we have lifted burdens from small companies by allowing more than 500,000 of them to pay VAT annually; and we have lifted the auditing burdens from another 500,000.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which found that the reasons why small businesses in this country produce so many new jobs arc the deregulation and privatisation effected by the Government, and the lowering of company taxation for small businesses? Was he as nauseated as I was to see the Leader of the Opposition last week in Germany attempting to glory in the transformation of the economy that those very measures have brought about—given that he voted against every single one of them?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Indeed, experience of the social market experiments in Germany and other EU countries shows how dangerous they can be, in the sense that those countries lose competitiveness. Germany's unit costs, compared with ours, have meant that time and again Germany has lost, and we have gained, inward investment. In competition with those other countries, they lose and we gain in terms of export markets.