Mr Colin Moynihan (Lewisham East)
I take on board my hon. Friend's comments with regard to the spending of the Inner London Education Authority. That is directly relevant to the debate because it is a tax burden through the rates on businesses in London. I hope that the newspaper rumours of the last couple of days that we may read in the Conservative party manifesto that action will be taken to allow schools or perhaps boroughs to opt out of ILEA are true. If that is not in the manifesto, I hope that it will be Conservative party policy in the future because that would ease the considerable burden on the ratepayers and the business ratepayers of London. That can lead to more entrepreneurialism and growth in the small business sector, which I hope we will see. If that happens, I believe that in inner London we will get substantial cuts in the business rate following the reorganisation of the rating system, which will lead to even more cuts, so it is not just the business rates that will be assisted but a substantial proportion of the domestic ratepayers will benefit from the community charge if we go ahead with that scheme.
I hope that the matter which was so accurately pinpointed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) as being central to this debate with regard to the development of youngsters is recognised as being important for the ratepayers and the business rate.
For the first time we have an education authority whose cost per pupil is greater than the average cost to the taxpayer for sending his child to a private school at primary or secondary level. That is now the remarkable position in inner London. The Government have an opportunity to take dramatic action to change the funding of education authorities and shift to the parents the emphasis for running the schools and for choice. I hope that the capitation system will go through. In this sector we can get more initiatives from the parents on training to provide the small business men of tomorrow.
The health of small businesses is vital to the future of the economy and the growth of new jobs. It is essential that small businesses are innovative and flexible. If they are, they can provide the customer with a far wider choice, which is a fundamental Conservative principle.
Undoubtedly the contribution of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) to the small business sector in his non-political capacity has been substantial on the Isle of Wight. He made an extremely useful contribution to the debate and one that does him credit as a Member of Parliament. He has won the respect and affection of hon. Members on both sides of the House. He highlighted the opportunity in the small business climate to develop new and a wider spread of initiatives and therefore more choice to the consumer.
The record of the Government on small businesses is second to none. I regret that we hear little from the Opposition about small businesses. It is unusual to read anything in print that the Opposition wish to do to encourage the entrepreneurial climate in which small businesses will flourish. It is characteristic of the way that the Opposition treat this subject that the Opposition Benches are completely deserted for this debate. This matter is fundamental to their constituents and it should be important during the coining election campaign.
I hope that it will be noted that so few of the Opposition have contributed to the debate and, more important, for the first time that I can remember, not one member of the Opposition—not even a Whip—is present to hear what, no doubt, will be an outstanding contribution by my hon. Friend the Minister. I have never known precedent in this regard to be broken. I have never known my hon. Friend not to make an outstanding contribution on this subject in the House or outside.
Between 1982 and 1984, under the Government, self-employment and small firms employing fewer than 20 people created 1 million jobs. That shows how serious the issue is. Through the growth of small businesses, we have managed to create 1 million new jobs which have been able to respond to the demands of a rapidly changing technological world. A quick response to service industries is important and it can be made only with the entrepeneurial flair of individuals and small businesses. There is no better example than the development of the Isle of Dogs and the growth in the City, resulting in a need for a range of small business activities to provide support services. Some hon. Members would have seen only last weekend on the television the detailed assessment of the many small businesses that have taken the opportunity provided by Government assistance to speak to constructive local authorities or the London Docklands Development Corporation, which has been very helpful, about providing back-up services, from flower arranging to shoe cleaning. Opposition Members, if they were here, might not consider those services to be important, but they employ a large number of people and have been highly profitable. Twenty seven companies have been set up to provide those services. They have earned a lot of money in the City in the post-big bang era.