Small Businesses

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 10:35 am on 15th May 1987.

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Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield 10:35 am, 15th May 1987

My hon. Friend has made the point very lucidly. Of course Labour did not mention the small business man in 1979, or, indeed, in 1983. That species of business man, so essential for our wealth creating process, was totally ignored. I understand that Labour's manifesto for this election has been written on a postage stamp because Labour do not want to go into too much detail. I do not blame Labour for that, but I doubt if that manifesto will refer at all to what Labour intends to do, if it is elected, about continuing to build on the work that this Government have carried out in reconstituting small businesses as an important area of our economy.

Whether we like it or not the shake-out of jobs from large manufacturers has been inexorable and there is no point in trying to put back the clock. In the car industry in particular one can see what happens when the investment that the trade unions wanted has gone into manufacturing capacity. Robots have been installed and integrated manufacturing systems and computer-aided design and manufacture have enabled us completely to change our outlook on manufacturing. Those things have also changed our capacity to produce cars and other products, such as washing machines and refrigerators, on a par with the best of our competitors.

Investment has not proved to be the way forward in employment within our traditional industries. Therefore, we have had to pay a great deal more attention to other areas where any investment that is going can be used to create jobs. Over the past few years the modernisation of industry has gone ahead so fast that other sectors of industry have not been able to take up the many people who have lost employment. Happily, the take-up has now been increased because we are creating more real jobs than any other country.

Much comment is made about the relevance of unemployment, but yesterday more people went to work in Britian than at any time in our history. Today a few more will go to work and on Monday a few more still, the signs now are extremely encouraging and new businesses play an increasng part in creating new jobs. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier). I almost said the so-called Minister for small firms. I am sure that my hon. Friend would be proud of that title, because for four years he has beavered away and has created an outstanding success story. The whole country is in his debt because he has striven for and obtained a better deal for the entrepreneur. That has not been easy, because it is difficult to break through the barriers of understanding confronting the person seeking to start off a business. That person sees before him the enormous challenge of getting his product to the market place, but he is also bewildered by the vast range of restrictions which seemingly confront him, not least that of raising money and finding somewhere to locate his business. Those matters are substantial Eigers to climb, yet the Minister has played a major part in easing some of the difficulties which small businesses have hitherto had to face but which now perhaps are easier to overcome.

Many of our opponents denigrate the small business and laugh it off as the ice cream and candy floss part of our business sector. That is nothing less then an insult because it denigrates what may become a large business in the not-too-distant future.

In the west midlands we face criticism in the tourism sector. Tourism is a bastion of the small business, bearing in mind the number of guest houses, small hotels, small coaching companies, taxis, restaurants, pizza parlour and beefburger joints, as the Americans call them, that have been created as a result of the leisure and tourism sectors. It does not matter whether it be Alton Towers, which started as a small business and has become a large one, or the Severn Valley railway, which operates successfully between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster and employs a substantial number of young people on the community work schemes as well as having a hard core of permanent people. That railway did not exist 15 or 20 years ago when the late Sir Gerald Nabarro, as chairman, bought a few miles of derelict track to open one of the first standard gauge preserved lines. That is now an outstanding success in terms of tourism potential, yet it started off in a small way. Who did not say, "Well they are a lot of nutcases who are interested in chuff-chuffs; let them get on with it; it is irrelevant to our present economy"? The people involved with that railway have taken risks and bought more miles of surplus British Rail track and they now have a link with the main line at Kidderminster. That risk has been translated into a successful and thriving preservation society, with all that it means for the economies of Bridgnorth, Bewdley, Kidderminster and many of the little villages along the route of that line.