My Lords, like others I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, and look forward to hearing her maiden speech when I sit down.
I warmly welcome the Bill. Small businesses and local enterprise are part of the life-blood of communities and play a major part in enhancing the life opportunities of many people. Granted, there are areas where the Bill could go further, but every initiative to support small businesses is to be welcomed.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to the role that churches and church-linked groups play in local enterprise. For example, the Cathedral Innovation Centre in Portsmouth has recently been involved in a number of very good initiatives, including working with the South East local enterprise partnership and Provide to develop a major social enterprise strategy, which is being launched today in Thurrock. Alongside my right reverend friend the Bishop of Derby, the centre has supported the St Peter’s Innovation Centre in central Derby. In partnership with the YMCA, this has created micro-businesses led by young people who have been unemployed. The centre has also opened a Southampton office, from which the Southern Policy Centre has been launched, with support from five parties in the southern counties. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and Greg Clark, the Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, spoke at the launch. Numerous small businesses and enterprises are up and running, often employing young people from disturbed backgrounds—all this using virtually no public cash.
I am also delighted to draw to your Lordships’ attention the good work being done by local authorities, not least the City of Peterborough. For example, through its involvement with the supply chain network, the city council is supporting larger organisations to work with and mentor smaller businesses to improve their resource efficiency and reduce their business costs. Local support for small businesses is vital and should be encouraged.
I very much welcome the introduction of a register of persons with significant control. This is an essential requisite for transparency and trust. I congratulate the Government on being, I think, the first in the world to set up such a PSC register. It is surprising—perhaps shocking—that we need to legislate to force businesses to reveal who runs them and who benefits from them, but, as we do, let us do it thoroughly but without too much delay.
I have some concern that the proposals in this area may not be strong enough, so I ask the Minister whether the Government are working to persuade the EU, G7 and G20 countries and our own overseas territories and Crown dependencies to introduce similar public registers. How will the Government ensure that the register is kept up to date and that there is an adequate verification regime? Will the Government publish a list of possible sanctions for those who do not fulfil their duties in regard to the register? I believe that these are important questions but I stress that I ask them in a spirit of support for the Bill.