HL Deb 11 February 2004 vol 656 cc1098-100

2.53 p.m.

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further help they will provide to small businesses in the developing single European market.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, UK Trade and Investment offers a range of advice and services to assist small businesses in the developing single European market. We achieve that through our network of international trade advisers, which is currently being expanded by 15 per cent. In addition, the UK also supports the work of the European Commission's European Information Centre network in its role to promote the benefits of the single market. The centres offer a range of services to the UK SMEs.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. But does he share with me the concern arising from the lead story in Small Business News which details the difficulties and expense of small firms exporting into the euro-zone; for example, in setting up euro bank accounts and establishing credit card collection facilities? Does he agree that all this red tape would be swept away were we to join the single currency?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I think that report was based on a booklet produced by the DTI, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Treasury on trading in the euro-zone. I do not think that it points to the problems that exist in opening euro accounts. It simply identifies the issues which members of the institute should consider discussing with their clients. I agree with the noble Lord that one thing is clear in this debate: if we joined the euro, it would simplify currency exchange.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, could the Minister explain to his noble friend Lord Harrison that what is needed is a bonfire of the EU regulations and red tape that are stifling enterprise, particularly for small businesses? Does he believe that what is needed is less Europe, not more Europe, if small businesses are to thrive?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, what is required is better regulation, not more or less of it. In some cases, better regulation would be less regulation. That point is increasingly understood across Europe.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, I do not wish to provoke further the Eurosceptics on the Tory Benches, but does the Minister accept that, in order to protect small businesses in the negotiations on the EU budget which will come into effect when the 10 new countries join— in addition to trying to protect the so-called UK rebate—Her Majesty's Government also ought to endeavour to protect regional assistance? Thus, we would not suffer in the negotiations about regional assistance, bearing in mind the significant advantage that small businesses get from regional assistance in the less prosperous parts of our nation.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, clearly, when we have those discussions on protecting the UK position, regional assistance is an important objective.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, did the Minister notice the article in the Times on 17 January in which Monsieur Delors is reported as praising Britain for staying out of the failing euro? If he believes that we are sensible to stay out, surely we would not want to go in under those circumstances.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I had hoped that the House would resist the temptation to use this rather small Question about the accounting systems of small businesses to raise the whole question of the pros and cons of the euro. One thing that is absolutely clear is that a five-minute debate on the pros and cons of the euro will do nothing for large or small businesses.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, under new Labour business regulation has grown by 53 per cent since 1997 costing, together with increased taxation, some £15 billion every year. How are these horrendous barriers to be overcome by small businesses trying to compete in the single European market? Could the Minister tell the House what the Government are going to do about those two specific problems and when they are going to do it? I know he said that this is a small Question, but it is a very important one, particularly to small businesses.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, to answer a question based on such a contentious assumption, which is totally in dispute, about the scale or amount of regulation would be quite improper. We can have a debate about the amount of regulation, how it is defined and its costs in taxation, but I cannot accept that that is a correct assumption on which to have this debate.

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