HC Deb 27 April 1999 vol 330 cc136-8
12. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

When he last met representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses to discuss economic and monetary union. [81001]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Calum Macdonald)

My right hon. Friend last met the Federation of Small Businesses on 21 April. Economic and monetary union did not feature on that occasion, but the federation is a member of the Scottish EMU co-ordination group, which is taking forward business preparation in Scotland for EMU. The group last met on 12 April.

From 1 July, this will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

Dr. Lewis

I am sorry to hear that economic and monetary union did not feature on the agenda of that meeting. Had it done so, small businesses would have been able to inform the Secretary of State of their overwhelming opposition to the abolition of the pound and its replacement by the euro. They might also have drawn to his attention the result of last month's ICM poll, which shows that 30 per cent. of the population are in favour of EMU, but 60 per cent. are against. That makes a 2:1 majority, and it marks a 6 per cent. increase in the majority against EMU since last October when the same question, with the same wording, was asked. Does that not show that the Government are wasting their time trying to brainwash people into abandoning our currency and merging our economy with that of the European continent?

Mr. Macdonald

There are different views in the business community. The Scottish CBI, for example, supports the principle of UK membership when the economic conditions are right, and that reflects the Government's position. We are preparing industry for the possibility of that decision, and the Federation of Small Businesses is playing a constructive and positive part in preparations.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil)

Does my hon. Friend agree that economic and monetary union will be attractive to Scottish businesses when they are able to appreciate the full import of the competitiveness White Paper, which contains a range of opportunities and assistance for small business? In addition, small businesses depend on large businesses operating alongside them. Will my hon. Friend accept the congratulations of small businesses in my constituency on the work done by the Secretary of State and Lord Macdonald of Tradeston to smooth the path to ensuring the future of coal mining at Longannet? A multitude of jobs depend on the mine, both in Longannet and in the industries and small businesses in west Fife and Clackmannanshire that depend on it.

Mr. Macdonald

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the Government are pursuing a range of measures to help small businesses. We certainly do not need a penny increase in income tax, which would severely affect many unincorporated small businesses.

Mr. Desmond (Swayne (New Forest, West)

Is the Minister aware that polling evidence reveals that although small business men are overwhelmingly against economic and monetary union, they nevertheless have a sense of its inevitability? In other words, they fear that people less intelligent and informed than themselves may vote for it.

Mr. Macdonald

The Federation of Small Businesses has set out its views in a press release, saying that the FSB is not telling its members to ignore EMU and stick their heads in the sand and hope that it will go away. It won't. The hon. Gentleman might take that advice.