HC Deb 24 May 2000 vol 350 cc951-3
1. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

What recent representations he has received with regard to small businesses in Wales. [122174]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy)

I receive a number of representations about issues relating to business in general and small businesses in particular. Recently I opened the business exhibition Wales in Cardiff and met many representatives of businesses. Last week I also met Welsh representatives of the British Retail Consortium. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), has also recently met the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

Dr. Lewis

I thank the Secretary of State for that highly informative answer. Undoubtedly, a considerable proportion of the many representations that he has received will have highlighted the hostility of small businesses in Wales towards the Government's crazy policy of scrapping the pound and joining the single European currency. Does the level of opposition to that potentially disastrous policy among those representations stand at the national average of two thirds, or at the same level as for small businesses nationally of about 90 per cent. or more?

Mr. Murphy

In all the meetings to which I referred earlier, not one mention was made of the points to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred. I heard the shadow Chancellor on the radio this morning ranting against Europe. The Government and the National Assembly for Wales are working to ensure that small businesses flourish. The Budget helped 29,000 small and medium-sized businesses in Wales. Those are the important issues that people are talking about, not what the hon. Gentleman just said.

Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the First Secretary to promote links with the 300 Welsh celtic societies around the world to bolster small businesses in Wales, particularly our craftspeople and the tourism industry?

Mr. Murphy

As my hon. Friend knows, the First Secretary and I speak and meet almost daily. We have discussed how best we can help small businesses, including the points that my hon. Friend has raised today in the House and last week in the Welsh Grand Committee. The National Assembly for Wales discussed the matters to which he referred a few days ago.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

Will the Secretary of State take note of the situation among rural small businesses? There are 10 representatives here today of Wales Young Farmers, who would be happy to meet him and other hon. Members attending Welsh Office questions at 3.30 to explain their problems. Their small businesses are in a great crisis. The problem affects more than just agriculture in the rural areas. Tourism accounts for 100,000 jobs in Wales. Is the Secretary of State in discussion with Treasury Ministers to alleviate some of the problems by varying the rate of VAT on tourism businesses in Wales to create more work and more profit in tourism?

Mr. Murphy

I understand the hon. Gentleman's points about the rural economy. It is important that agriculture in Wales should flourish, together with small businesses, small shops and small factories. In my discussions in the past fortnight I have been particularly interested in how new technology, such as shopping on the internet, can be used effectively in rural areas. I am also conscious that the Assembly has taken a special interest in how to encourage small businesses in rural areas through the rural development plan. We are all pleased to hear that young farmers from Wales are in London today.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The Secretary of State will be aware of the importance of training to business in Wales. Has he studied the words of the First Secretary in the National Assembly yesterday? He spoke about the importance of transferring from the Department for Education and Employment to the National Assembly the responsibility and resources for training under the social funds. Given that there are some differences of opinion and discussions are still going on, will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will take the side of the National Assembly, not the Department for Education and Employment?

Mr. Murphy

The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue. I am of course aware of it. I always take the words of the First Secretary seriously. Last night, I heard his words on the telephone at 10.30. Among other things, we discussed the transfer of the social fund that the right hon. Gentleman has raised. It is clearly important that we get the transfer right. I am fully involved in those on-going discussions.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the allegation that the Government are scrapping the pound and wrecking much of small businesses comes badly from a party which wrecked the pound and scrapped most of our heavy manufacturing business?

Mr. Murphy

My right hon. Friend puts it very well. He will recall that between 1979 and 1997, approximately 140,000 manufacturing jobs per year were lost as a result of the policies of the previous Government.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

The Secretary of State will know that the amount of burdens, red tape and regulations on small businesses has grown dramatically over the past three years—by £10 billion nationally. With Europe, Westminster, county councils and now the Welsh Assembly all telling small businesses what to do, will he state that all those levels of government will start to listen a bit more to what small businesses are saying? Will he give an indication to small businesses that the demands for primary legislative powers to be given to the Welsh Assembly—which are now being made by his own party in the Assembly—will be resisted and that the people of Wales will have another referendum before any primary legislative powers are given to the Assembly?

Mr. Murphy

Those two points are not necessarily connected. We are all aware of the concerns of small businesses about regulation, and the Government and the Assembly are taking those concerns seriously. These points were made to me last week by the British Retail Consortium. The Government have a new ministerial committee on regulation that is looking carefully at the matter, and a Bill on regulatory reform is being published for scrutiny. The Government and the Assembly are working together to ensure that burdens on business in Wales can be tackled, and procedures in the Assembly now take into account consultation with business with regard to the Assembly's own legislation.

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