HC Deb 05 February 1998 vol 305 cc1207-8
1. Mr. Malcolm Bruce

How many copies of "EMU-Practical Guidelines for Business" have to date been circulated to small businesses. [25684]

The Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

In total, about 65,000 copies of the booklet have been distributed. Copies have been sent to the regional offices of the Federation of Small Businesses and to many trade associations and other intermediary bodies.

Mr. Bruce

By my reckoning, that figure is up by some 15,000 since last July, which is not a huge amount. Many small businesses are gradually realising that the euro will happen and will affect them, but they are concerned about not knowing exactly what they should be doing in practice and the fact that they may have to make expenditure for an uncertain outcome. Does the Minister accept that we need a clear timetable against which small businesses can plan the future?

Mrs. Roche

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been extremely clear on this matter. I accept that small businesses are concerned about the nuts and bolts of what they need to do. That is why all the Government's efforts are concentrated in that direction, and why my Department and the Treasury are working very hard with business. We are compensating for the lack of information from the previous Government who, because of their splits and divisions, put party before country.

Mr. Gapes

Will my hon. Friend ensure that, over the next few years, there is a continuing stream of publicity to emphasise the importance of business being ready for the single currency, so that it can take advantage of it should the Government decide that the time and the economic circumstances are right for this country to join?

Mrs. Roche

As my hon. Friend suggests, it is absolutely right that business is given as much information as possible, and we shall continue to do that.

Great efforts are already being made in the private sector to ensure that all the relevant information is given, and we shall leave no stone unturned in seeking to assist business.

Mrs. Gillan

Does the Minister agree that from as early as 1 January 1999—in about 47 weeks' time—small British businesses could face additional costs from the euro, irrespective of the UK's position, as firms that export to Europe may be forced to tender in euros to maintain their competitive advantage and will then have to bear the exchange and subsequent risks to their business?

The Minister's circulation figure of 65,000 is pathetic. She may be surprised to know that when I telephoned the Department of Trade and Industry this morning, I was told that there were no publications or advice available from the DTI. I was even asked what EMU stood for. Is that the service that business can expect from the DTI? As time is running out and the DTI has been curiously silent in giving advice to businesses, what steps will the Department take to inform small businesses and help them prepare for the change? How much money will it spend to make small businesses fully aware of the implications and danger of the euro, or is it going to rely on the Treasury to do its job?

Mrs. Roche

The hon. Lady doth protest too much. It is no good her complaining now, given that in the past 18 years when the Conservatives were in government they did absolutely nothing to help the business community. The DTI and the Treasury are working very hard not only with large but with small businesses, which are represented on the advisory group and in their small business organisation. I am not surprised that the hon. Lady uses a smokescreen to disguise her policy on this issue. She recently very honestly admitted that her party had lost the small business vote. She also said in a great fit of honesty—which I very much welcome—that there will be very little policy on small business coming from the Conservatives. That is why the latest quarterly survey by Office World on small business shows that the party in government, the Labour party, enjoys record support among small businesses.