Enterprise Initiative

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 1:22 pm on 4th March 1988.

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Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea 1:22 pm, 4th March 1988

Into the Grimsby nets, and then they go the other way.

The hon. Gentleman might force himself to welcome the movement in the EEC in respect of the fiche d'impact. It is difficult to translate, but it has nothing to do with fish. It does not translate exactly as the enterprise and deregulation unit but it requires all legislation and amending legislation to go to a committee for its impact on small firms. Until it has been through that process, legislation cannot be enacted. There is a lesson for my hon. Friend to preach to his colleagues in some of the other Departments—not least the Treasury and the DHSS—to ensure that their legislation has no unfortunate impact on small firms, as, sadly, it too often has.

I welcome the shift in DTI spending away from the broad regional grants to more selective spending on technology, research and development and advisory services. That is the right way to encourage businesses to start and to grow. In the latter context, it is good to see that spending has increased from about £142 million to £147 million, approaching three or four times as much, over the period of this Government.

Hon. Members have raised the problems of labour shortage and uncertainty over the housing market, among others. Again, I hope that my hon. Friend will speak to his colleagues in other Departments about the effect of the cost of local government on small firms. Progress is being made in many parts of the country, not least my own area in Wandsworth, where the partnership between local and national Government has brought in more new firms—including manufacturing firms. In Battersea, we have reduced unemployment by 19 per cent. in the last year, and in Wandsworth it is down to 9·2 per cent. Wandsworth is the only inner London borough, apart from the City of London, where unemployment is below 10 per cent.

Much of that improvement is due to the policy of keeping rates low so that jobs can be created in the inner cities, and there is a fear that the new uniform business rate will have an unfortunate impact on some small firms. The National Federation of Self Employed and Small Businesses did a survey of its own members, and found, for example, that a new engineering workshop in Norfolk would be paying 219 per cent. more in UBR, a hairdresser in Lincoln 300 per cent. more, a pub in Broadstairs 362 per cent. more and a railway arch workshop in Slough 440 per cent. more. Although the Government are rightly trying to help the north, as opposed to the south, in some of their rate reform policies, when they say The more prosperous businesses in the South East will be paying more rates", they must be using a transferred epithet, because businesses in the south-east will pay more business rates whether they are prosperous or not.

I do not wish to cut into the happy duet that we are about to enjoy, but 1 briefly ask my hon. Friend the Minister to pass on to his right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State my welcome for his use of 25 employees as the definition of a small firm. In the past, figures of anything from 100 to 250, or even 500, have been used. In fact, about 78 per cent. of firms employ five or fewer people, and the enterprise initiative package will assist those very small firms to grow.

I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say, and I am grateful for the opportunity given to us by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington to debate the matter.