My Lords, the Government acted swiftly to set up a range of measures to support those businesses affected by the recent disturbances. Our immediate priority has been to get local communities back on their feet and to get high streets and businesses up and running again as quickly as possible. The response has been amazing. Businesses have been helping each other and there has been a great spirit abroad. My colleagues, Mark Prisk from BIS, Crispin Blunt from the Ministry of Justice, Damian Green from the Home Office and Bob Neill from the Department for Communities and Local Government, wrote to all MPs on 6 September updating them on the support for communities and businesses. I have arranged for a copy to be sent to my noble friend, as I recognise his involvement, over many years, in the concerns of small businesses.
I thank the Minister for her reply. It will take some time for businesses and communities to recover. I hope that the Minister will continue to monitor the situation. However, on a broader point—not just in relation to the recent riots—two-thirds of businesses nationally have been a victim of crime over the past 12 months. Can a higher profile be given to policing crimes against business, to remove the perception, which somehow seems to be the case, that these are victimless crimes and to ensure that firms are given proper advice and help?
I am only too delighted to confirm to my noble friend that this is something that the Government are looking at. These are not victimless crimes, particularly for small, family businesses, which are almost afraid to open up again. A lot of work is being done in this area. I have spoken with my noble friend Lady Browning, the Home Office Minister, who has responsibility for crime prevention. In the next few weeks, the Home Office will be releasing an improved self-assessment tool for businesses to identify their vulnerabilities, providing practical advice for how those can be overcome. That will be available through the Business Link website and, to comfort my noble friend, I shall stay in contact with him on any other areas that develop well
My Lords, when the commission, which was appointed by the Prime Minister, and of which my noble friend Lady Sherlock, I am proud to say, is a member, goes round the country, will it take evidence from businesses as well as from those who were affected in other ways by the riots? Does the noble Baroness know whether the commission will be going to areas which were not themselves affected by the riots but which potentially could have been affected? Many people up and down the country will have views on the reasons behind the riots and it is important that their views are listened to.
Pretty well anything that the noble Baroness could suggest today that we might do to reassure people all around the country, particularly in small high streets where the businesses are not run by great consortiums but by people who have been made very nervous, I will take away. I do not know whether they are looking at all of that at the moment. However, at the core of everything that we are doing is an understanding. We have been called a nation of small shopkeepers, and this is what the Question is about. We will make sure that we do our best for them.
My Lords, many small businesses that were damaged or that have closed down as a result of the recent riots may have lost, or have a lack of, complete financial records. This may prohibit them from taking advantage of the compensation that has been made available. Will the Minister reassure me and these small businesses that they will be treated fairly and with sympathy, particularly at local level?
Yes, I can assure my noble friend of this. First, all 35 affected local authorities have now indicated that they will provide support for affected businesses through the high street support scheme. Companies without insurance can seek compensation from their police authority under the Riot (Damages) Act. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is delaying tax payments for businesses needing help. Companies House has agreed to an extension for affected companies unable to file accounts or other documents, and a charitable high street fund has been set up. I am delighted to answer the Question, not because riots are something that I want to talk about, but because it is marvellous to see how much help is being given all over the country. This is society at work—I will not even say the big society.
My Lords, the Minister referred to the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, under which claims can be made against the police for damage to property. While it is entirely appropriate that innocent persons' property that has been damaged in that way should recover, does she not consider that now it may be appropriate that such payments should be made by the Treasury rather than by the police, bearing in mind that that Act was passed 125 years ago in circumstances very different from those prevailing at the moment?
We will look at the lessons that we can learn from this. As the noble Lord says, it is the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 that applies. It does not include vehicles: we have had a little difficulty with people who have had their vehicles damaged. However, we can always refer them on to other areas and other ways in which they can claim damages. We will learn lessons from this, as we do from all these bad things.
My Lords, following that supplementary question, will my noble friend assure the House that the resources made available to the businesses that have been so wantonly destroyed will be sufficient to ensure that the legacy of the riots does not include one single destroyed family business?
Yes, I can assure my noble friend that £20 million has gone into the high street support scheme. If we discover that not all the money has been used, it will not be taken back: local authorities will be able to use it to cheer people up. If any noble Lord has a good idea, I urge them to let me know. We think, as it is getting near Christmas, that any money left over could go towards the Christmas lights.