Chambers of Commerce

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th December 1997.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 12:00 am, 18th December 1997

How frequently and by what mechanism she consults chambers of commerce; and if she will make a statement. [19879]

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Small Firms, Trade and Industry), Department of Trade and Industry

I consult chambers of commerce through their national representative organisation, the British Chambers of Commerce, and also through individual chambers. For example, the BCC is a valued national partner which participates in various business link working groups which meet at regular intervals throughout the year.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

Will the Minister think about bringing the chambers of commerce into more regular and routine consultations, which is what they tell me they would value? For instance, we now have a draft Budget; they could be formally consulted on it, so that we could know their responses to the budgetary proposals. The chambers also have views on local government finance and other Government policies. They want to know that those views are collected and part of the public debate. If the Minister would do that for them, they would be very pleased.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Small Firms, Trade and Industry), Department of Trade and Industry

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we consult the chambers of commerce very regularly. Indeed, a couple of weeks ago, I met them two days running. We contact them continually, and did so over our recent late payment legislation. They are a partner that is valued by the Department and the Government.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although there are some good chambers of commerce, there are some pretty awful ones too? Is she evaluating chambers of commerce that have amalgamated with business links and training and enterprise councils, to see how successful they have been? If there is to be regeneration at the grass roots, let it be done with best practice; and let us put an end to some of those lawyers' talking shops which do not deal with the local economic situation.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Small Firms, Trade and Industry), Department of Trade and Industry

I warmly welcome the great work done by chambers of commerce in consulting their members, in setting up an accreditation system and in forming core chambers. My hon. Friend is right to point out that there have been successful mergers, many of them with good practices. When such mergers take place, we must obtain proper value for public money, and small and medium businesses, to which the Government are so committed, must be given the service that they need.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

In her very regular consultations with chambers of commerce, the hon. Lady will no doubt have discovered that many of their members, especially small retailers, have been deeply worried by the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs, who boasted to consumers in August, in an interview with the Sunday Mirror, that he would slash the prices of fridges, televisions, videos and perfume by 30 per cent. before Christmas. Has he done that? No. That is another promise to the consumer broken by the Government. Will not the only wrapping that this Minister gets for Christmas be a rapping over his knuckles?

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Small Firms, Trade and Industry), Department of Trade and Industry

In the true Christmas spirit, I congratulate the hon. Lady on her punchy question, but I say to her that I have had no such message from retailers. Small businesses have expressed warm appreciation of our policy.

It is always good to see the hon. Lady, and it is interesting to note what she has to say on that subject. Recently, she told The Sunday Times that the Conservative party's failure with small business had contributed to its losing the general election. She told the The Sunday Times and the Federation of Small Businesses that very little policy on business—and especially small businesses—will emanate from the Opposition. We have noticed that again today.