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Small Business

Volume 403: debated on Wednesday 9 April 2003

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When he next expects to meet representatives of small firms to discuss administrative burdens on business. [107067]

I have met representatives of small business on several occasions recently to discuss various issues of mutual interest. I shall be happy to meet them again in the future, but I am sure that we all hope that it will be a local Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment who does that shortly.

I am grateful for that reply. Small business is obviously vital to job and wealth creation in Northern Ireland, and what it needs at the moment is fewer burdens and less red tape. Does the Minister agree with CBI Northern Ireland and the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland, which are very concerned about the job-destroying agency workers directive? What will he do to try to stop the implementation of that directive?

On red tape, I will not apologise for the Government introducing the minimum wage, improving maternity leave and paternity leave, giving millions of employees the right, for the first time, to paid holidays, and tackling discrimination against the disabled. On the agency workers draft directive, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have concerns about it, which are shared by CBI Northern Ireland and throughout Great Britain. We want to make sure that it does not propose disproportionate costs on business, and our negotiating strategy certainly reflects that.

Has my hon. Friend considered the use of the existing regulatory reform procedure for the removal of any genuinely unnecessary and unhelpful burdens?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The Northern Ireland better regulation strategy seeks to reduce burdens on business and, as part of that strategy, the regulatory impact assessment has been revised completely. A number of other measures have also been introduced that seek genuinely to reduce administrative burdens on business.

Only yesterday, CBI Northern Ireland informed me that the Northern Ireland Office was considering a new administrative burden on business, under the single equality legislation, to increase compulsory work force monitoring. Will the Minister go further than merely talking to local business people in Northern Ireland, and set up a taskforce to report to him within six months, representing the CBI, the Institute of Directors, chambers of commerce and the small business sector, under the subject heading, "Reducing the burden on business of all sizes"? Let us reduce the burden rather than increase it.

My Department is in regular discussions with the Economic Development Forum on a range of issues that affect business. I would like to pay tribute to the former Administration for setting up effective partnership structures in Northern Ireland, which have ensured that there is already close dialogue between the CBI and Government. I am sure that that will continue in the future.