§ 11. Mr. David Nicholson
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the economic prospects for the small business sector.
§ Mr. Forth
There are now unmistakable signs of the end of the recession. Business starts continue at a high rate, with more than 1,000 per week throughout the spring and summer under enterprise allowance alone. Interest rates have been cut eight times since last October. Inflation is at its lowest level for three and a half years.
The Government's past success in transforming the economic environment for small firms has been further reinforced through the efforts of employer-led, locally based training and enterprise councils and by the recently announced seven-point package of measures to help small firms and enterprise.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that good news and for the justifiable concern that he expressed earlier about late payment of debt. He will be aware that there is still a problem in my constituency and the south-west with the burden of the business rate, but is not the last thing that small businesses want the layers of bureaucracy that would result from 10 new regional assemblies, new sex and race discrimination legislation and the hundreds of new quangos that Labour would put into practice in its first year of office?
§ Mr. Forth
We shall draw the attention of the business community, especially small businesses, which are such an important part of the economy in my hon. Friend's part of the world, to the policies being espoused by the Labour party and make some estimate—if the Labour party will not do so, we certainly will—of the real burdens that they would place on business and the devastating impact that they would have on self-employment and employment throughout the country.
§ Mr. Haynes
Mr. Speaker, Sir, ever since this Minister filled his predecessor's boots, he has been talking a load of rubbish. His party and that lot behind him have crucified small businesses, and the end result is the loss of many jobs. He wants to get out of that office, get out into the areas, find out what is going on and do something about the problem, or I will kick his backside for him.
§ Mr. Forth
One of the great regrets, I am sure, of all hon. Members is that because the hon. Gentleman has chosen to leave us at the next election he will never have the opportunity to be a junior Minister. Had he been one, he would know that a large part of the duties of anyone holding my office is to meet business men and their 773 representatives to discuss their problems and concerns. My colleagues and I spend much time doing that. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are fully aware of the difficulties of the business community and that we shall continue to listen carefully and to tailor our policies to its needs. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could persuade his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench to do the same.