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Volume 545: debated on Thursday 24 May 2012

1. What steps he has taken to reduce the burden of regulation on (a) small and medium-sized and (b) other businesses. (109146)

The Government take a comprehensive approach to cutting the burden of red tape. We have capped the cost of new regulation, identified hundreds of existing regulations to be scrapped, and introduced a moratorium on regulation for all micro-businesses.

Small businesses in Wimbledon tell me that the two incentives to growth are access to lending and deregulation. Will my hon. Friend be a little more explicit about what the red tape challenge might bring those businesses in my constituency?

Progress on the red tape challenge is very important. We have now reviewed some 1,500 regulations, and Ministers have agreed to scrap or substantially overhaul 59% of them—some 887 regulations. That will make a real difference to businesses in Wimbledon and, indeed, elsewhere.

Will the Minister take it from me, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on management, that we must stop feeding this anti-regulation red tape movement and concentrate on good management of small businesses? Forty-three per cent. of managers in the country are rated as poor. Let us do something about management, rather than going on about red tape.

We cannot ignore the fact that 11,000 elements on the statute book impose a burden on many businesses. We need to tackle that, and I am sorry that the last Government failed to do so. Indeed, they produced six new regulations on every working day. But is the hon. Gentleman correct in saying that we need to think about the calibre of management of small businesses? Yes. Bad regulation and red tape need to go, but we need to think about the wider issue as well, I shall certainly take that from the hon. Gentleman, as he asked.

My hon. Friend has already outlined many of the measures that we as a coalition Government are taking to reduce the regulatory burden, but does he agree that a fire-at-will policy might be counter-productive and would not produce the increased productivity and growth that we need so much?

The element of the Beecroft report to which my hon. Friend refers is one of 23 separate measures. We want to ensure that we consider these matters on the basis of good evidence. That is why there is a call for evidence, and once we have had a look at it and weighed the pros against the cons, we will make a decision.

Before we continue these exchanges, let me say that ordinarily when the Secretary of State is absent, the fact of the absence is explained at the start of Question Time. I can hear Members inquiring about it. I know that the Secretary of State is absent because I have received a letter from him, but let me say for the record that it would be desirable to be told at the outset, and, in general terms, that it is of course highly undesirable for the Secretary of State to be absent on these occasions. It must not become a regular practice.

Does the Minister believe that a person who has made a donation of more than £500,000 to the Conservative party and made more than £100 million from equity deals is a fit and proper person to determine Government policy and workers’ rights?

Let me first respond to what you said, Mr Speaker. I apologise if I have not made it clear that the Secretary of State is promoting British business in Germany. I know that that is something that all parties have wanted to do. However, the Secretary of State will note, and we will note, your admonishment.

As for the question from the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), I think that we need to be very careful when it comes to the kind of allegation that he is trying to make about that particular individual. It is important to have good employers—good people who actually understand the market. That is an important contribution, regardless of whatever the hon. Gentleman’s prejudices may be.

It is clear that this Government do not know what they are doing on growth: one day it is regulation, and the next day it is deregulation. This week, Baroness Wilcox pronounced in the other place that the groceries code adjudicator regulations were a “pro-growth measure” on the same day that the AWOL Secretary of State called the deregulatory Beecroft proposals “bonkers”. Does that not demonstrate that Downing street’s obsession with Beecroft is not intended to promote growth, but is simply another example of this Government’s incoherent and incompetent approach to the economy, putting old Tory ideology before any credible strategy to get people back to work?

I am sorry that we are getting platitudes like that, because this is an important issue. We want to ensure that there is a concerted approach on regulation—capping the costs of new ones, scrapping existing ones, and thereby helping small businesses. That is what we are doing. The Labour party failed to do that in 13 years in office. It is no good Labour Members wishing things; we are acting and they are not.