§ The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt)
My Department promotes the development of small enterprises and investment by larger firms, particularly in the assisted areas.
§ Andy Burnham
Does my right hon. Friend agree that some recent manufacturing losses have involved low-value, high-volume products, often in some of our 915 most deprived areas? The physical inheritance of those areas from their industrial past—the mills and the pits—means that they are among the hardest to regenerate. I welcome the successful regeneration of northern cities, and I welcome the great northern cities that we now have; but does the Minister think there is a case for commissioning a special study, along with the northern regional development agencies, to investigate what more can be done to regenerate hard-to-reach northern towns?
§ Ms Hewitt
I share my hon. Friend's concern about the loss of, in particular, traditional manufacturing areas in some of the most disadvantaged towns, including those in his constituency. Let me draw his attention, however, to what we have already been able to do, in his constituency and more generally in the north-west, through regional selective assistance and the grants—which I know he welcomed—to Patak's Foods and, more recently, Corbett Packaging, which is relocating in his constituency. Those are good examples of our commitment to modern manufacturing and to the securing of good jobs, especially in our most disadvantaged communities.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
Given that in his Budget speech on 9 April the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about adding to the incentives for small business creation, and that, whatever the merits of individual measures, the sea of regulation is now deeper and more hazardous than any with which business has previously had to contend, can the right hon. Lady now tell me and the House what assessment she has made of the merits of the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980 and the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 in the United States?
§ Ms Hewitt
I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman's contributions about red tape, but in response to the rather difficult and confused metaphor that he used, I have to say that he is wrong. The number of regulations each year that impose a cost on business has fallen since 1996, and we have taken a number of steps—simplifying the VAT regime, for instance—to make life simpler and easier for small business. The hon. Gentleman referred to some good examples of practice in the United States; we did indeed look at that and learned from it in creating and strengthening the Better Regulation Task Force and our whole system of regulatory scrutiny. That is why the OECD says that we have one of the best regulation and regulatory reform regimes in the world.
§ Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that enterprise in a deprived area such as mine remains heavily dependent on the fortunes of the pottery industry, which in turn heavily depends on exports? In that context, does she share my concern about the 30 per cent. tariff on pottery imports from the United Kingdom to the United States? That swingeing tariff is having a very detrimental effect. Will she look into it with some degree of urgency, and make the necessary representations to her colleagues in the European Union?
§ Ms Hewitt
Yes, of course I will. My hon. Friend raises an important point, and he will know, as do other 916 hon. Members, of the enormous efforts that we have made to deal with the unlawful tariffs that the United States has imposed on imports of our steel—a matter on which we shall soon have the final ruling from the World Trade Organisation. The tariffs on pottery imports into the United States are a real hindrance to companies in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere, which have quite enough problems to contend with already. I shall certainly see what we can do to help, both bilaterally and within the WTO.