HC Deb 25 February 1999 vol 326 cc535-6
8. Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

What assessment he has made of the impact the competitiveness White Paper will have on encouraging an entrepreneurial culture in the UK. [71603]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Stephen Byers)

The need to foster a culture of enterprise in the United Kingdom was a central theme of the White Paper.

I will shortly publish an implementation plan which will set out how we intend to introduce the various measures contained in that White Paper.

Mr. Davies

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the success of the entrepreneurial renaissance in Britain depends on pupils and students being equipped to make the leap from good ideas to successful products? In this respect, will he applaud the activity of the New Addington education action zone in Croydon in fostering business links and providing mentoring to equip our pupils for the future? Will he commend to the House the provisions of the competitiveness White Paper in linking up our centres of learning to the business community?

Mr. Byers

I am delighted to hear of the success of the New Addington education action zone. In one of my previous Government posts—as Minister for School Standards—I was involved at an early stage in discussions with my hon. Friend about the proposals from that part of his constituency. I am pleased to hear that that zone is progressing well.

A number of proposals within the White Paper will promote a culture of enterprise. I am keen to get away from the poverty of ambition that has held far too many people back for far too long in the UK. I believe that we have positive proposals to ensure that that will no longer be the case. As Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I look forward to their implementation in the months and years ahead

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

About four weeks ago, the Prime Minister was reported to have said in a speech in Bristol that European Union directives had increased social costs on business by far too much, and that that was damaging competitiveness. Will the Secretary of State list those directives that he and the Prime Minister would like to see removed?

Mr. Byers

We should always review the burden on business, which is one of the reasons why, 10 days ago, we decided to alter the original proposals for the regulations concerning the introduction of the national minimum wage. As a result, we have cut the costs of business by £200 million. That was only the beginning, and I am sure that we can take steps in future to help lift the costs from business.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all examples of entrepreneurial zip are not necessarily to be welcomed? In connection with the minimum wage, there is some indication that some employers are attempting to decrease hours so that they will not have to meet the increased payments to their work force. Will that matter be examined carefully and reviewed, and will such a review lead to action in future?.

Mr. Byers

The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 has been drawn up in such a way as to limit any opportunities for the type of abuse to which my hon. Friend refers. Clearly, one of the reasons why the Low Pay Commission has been kept in being is to ensure that we can review the Act's workings and operation. If there are specific examples of such abuse, I would urge him, in the first instance anyway, to draw them to the commission's attention.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

How does the Secretary of State have the gall to present a competitiveness White Paper when everything that the Government do makes it dearer to make things in Britain and to do business in Britain? The Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry actually called for more regulation in a recent interview in The Birmingham Post.

Will the Secretary of State accept that he is to competitiveness what Lord Sainsbury is to organic farming and Brussels is to the London art market? Does he not agree that the Brussels tax plans will kill London as an art market? I hope that he does not find that amusing. Will he guarantee that he will stop any new tax on the British art market coming from Brussels? Does he agree that such a tax would take the business out of London to New York? Will he give a guarantee—yes or no?

Mr. Byers

The right hon. Gentleman may be slightly confused. The issue that is being debated today in Europe is not a tax, but a royalty for artists. He should be aware of that.