asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many representations have been received by the Scrutiny Committee on the burden of Government regulations; and if he will make a statement.
Field work for the "Burdens on Business" report involved more than 280 small firms and 14 business organisations. It has been published to stimulate further comment from all concerned.
Does my hon. Friend agree that European Community requirements are playing a significant role in increasing the burdens on business? What does he intend to do about that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. European Community requirements are a substantial and growing element in the regulatory burden. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised the matter at the last meeting of the Council of Ministers in late March. The Heads of State of all other member countries agreed with her, and I understand that the Commission has been asked to report back on necessary action.
What representations has the hon. Gentleman received about the burden of local government regulations on industry? Does he agree that over-zealous planning officers often place considerable burdens on businesses, especially small start-ups?
That certainly features in the report. Planning was a major concern in relation to small firms. That matter has been brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and we hope that action will ensue.
I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on identifying these burdens and on the publication of the report. Does my hon. Friend agree that the quicker these obstacles to expansion are removed, the better? Will the Government consider whether the best way to achieve that is through the introduction of a deregulation Bill to scoop up and remove all those obstacles in one parliamentary measure?
As my hon. Friend will recall, in the debate on small firms on 18 January I said that some form of co-ordinated mechanism might be introduced to carry these initiatives forward. I chose my words carefully, because the decision as to the form of any such coordinating mechanism will have to be taken by people very much senior to me.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many local authorities have been extremely co-operative in relation to small businesses and that ratepayers have made considerable contributions, often carrying out duties which should be the responsibility of central Government?
I do not necessarily agree with that, although I agree that in many cases local authorities have tried very hard to assist small firms. We are concerned about the response of councils to the exhortations of the Department of the Environment—for example, in circular 22/80, which was supposed to give the benefit of the doubt to businesses seeking planning permission. A further circular 16/84 was issued by the Department of the Environment more recently and was widely welcomed at the Department of Trade and Industry. We await with great interest the response of the local authorities.