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The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The total annual budget to support exhibitions and seminars abroad, including overseas missions, has been between £16 million and £21.6 million for each year since 1997. The budget for 200405 is £20 million.
Mr. Evans: Does the Secretary of State agree that we need to support British exporters and that overseas exhibitions are a tremendous showcase for them to display their goods and an opportunity for networking? If the budget is cut, it will disincentivise businesses in respect of exhibiting overseas. If we do not support our exporters, we can be certain that the Germans, French and Italians, and our other competitors around the world, will support their businesses. Can we have a fresh commitment from the Government that they will not slash that budget?
Ms Hewitt: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to maintain our support for British exporters and our support for inward investors alongside that. I invite him to cross the Floor and to join my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches and to join me in opposing the disastrous plans of the Opposition virtually to abolish UK Trade and Investment, and with it, support for more than 30,000 British firms with their exports.
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the improvement in the organisation and accountability of much of the outward trade mission organisation is welcome? Indeed, the back-up that it has received over recent years from embassy staff has been of the highest order. There is an anxiety, however, that the electoral irrelevance of the Opposition means that it is down to us to reassure people that we will continue to give them the backing and support that they currently enjoy, and that the worries of organisations such as regional development agencies and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry about a reduction in even a Labour Government's budget are unfounded. She should be able to reassure such organisations that the passport to export is going to be facilitated and supported as well as it has been in the recent past.
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Although we are certainly seeking to run this superb service even more efficiently in future than we have done in the past and to ensure that we get support for inward investors alongside exporters, I am happy to give him and our business customers that reassurance. Unlike the Opposition, we will not abolish passport to export, which is an enormous success, and unlike them, we will not abolish research and development grants or regional selective assistance. We will continue to support British firms and workers.
When will the Secretary of State recognise that the best way to tackle the crisis in the balance of paymentsit is a crisis because the deficit is very close to an all-time highlies not with a string of different organisations having a finger in the pie, including all the regional development agencies throughout the country, UKTI and other bodies, but in having a single export promotion agency led by people with real experience from industry?
Ms Hewitt: If the hon. Gentleman would care to look at his own James report, he would see that he and his party propose to sack 700 United Kingdom Trade and Investment staff and secondeesmost of whom have private-sector experienceand put in 50 from the private sector. The business community has been the first to say that that simply would not work. In the James report, the Conservative party proposals for cutting £500 million
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of exhibiting British business and showcasing British talents is to ensure that British products are in use in overseas markets? That being the case, will she join me in welcoming the negotiations on a possible joint venture between MG Rover Group and Shanghai Automotive? It offers the prospect not only of selling those products in Chinese markets, but of investment here in the United Kingdom. While recent press reports have been wide of the mark, will she assure the House that the Government are doing all that they can to bring those negotiations to a successful conclusion?
Ms Hewitt: As my hon. Friend knows, we are absolutely solid in our support for the UK motor manufacturing industry and for its increasingly successful exports. As he said, we certainly cannot believe everything that has been in the press recently on this subject. I take every opportunity to stress to Chinese Ministers and business colleagues in particular the enormous merits of the United Kingdom as a place for inward investment. I am doing everything possible within my power to help ensure that those negotiations on a joint venture are successfully concluded.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): My Department has consulted publicly on recommendations from the chairman of the Office of Fair Trading that the Films (Exclusivity Agreements) Order 1989 made under the Fair Trading Act 1973 be revoked and the Secretary of State will take a decision on this order in the light of the chairman's advice due to be received shortly.
I am delighted to hear that, but I will press the Minister further. He will know that, by 2003,
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71 per cent. of all cinemas were in multiplexes and that 75 per cent. of those were owned by just five companies, so choice has been dramatically restricted. Will he consider negotiating with his colleagues in other Departments on two measures that I suggested in my ten-minute Bill last year and that have now been supported by Time Out? The first is to change planning laws so that there will be a separate use class for cinemas and the second is to introduce the possibility of rate relief for small rural cinemas.
Mr. Sutcliffe: In a sense, as with my earlier answer, we have to wait for decisions to be taken before we move on to what recommendations to make in the light of those decisions. That is under the 1973 Act. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Enterprise Act 2002 took away powers from the Secretary of State and will give them to the Competition Commission. This is being looked at under the 1973 Act and the Secretary of State has to consult and consider the chairman's recommendations. When that has taken place, issues such as the changing nature of the industry will be considered. I am sure that decisions such as the one that the hon. Gentleman raised can be taken then, or certainly there can be consultation and discussion on those issues.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): With the degree of vertical integration in the industry and with so many of the distributing companies and the people who own the cinemas themselves owned by the same people, unless we tackle the anti-competitive practices that may exist in the industry, is there not a real danger that independent producers who make small films will find it difficult to get those films into cinemas? Is it not also difficult for independent cinemas to get access to some of the big blockbuster movies that could make more money for them?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I recognise my hon. Friend's involvement in and commitment to making sure that creative industries, particularly the film industry, are successful. He will know that, since 1997, there have been tremendous tax advantages for small budget films of around £15 million. There has been a greater incentive to support the British film industry. It is difficult to make any comment at this stage until we have an OFT recommendation and the Secretary of State makes a decision.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): In 2004, 130 regulations were passed under seven items of primary legislation, as compared with 1994, when the previous Administration passed 148 regulations. The hon. Lady will join me in welcoming that reduction.
It is no cause for congratulation that industry is increasingly regulated, which is why it believes that the Government do not care for industry.
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In the light of the cost to British industry of increased regulation and the findings of the British Chambers of Commerce that the Government did not use sunset clauses in 200203, will the Minister heed the Cabinet Office, which has urged the use of sunset clauses, or does he still believe that sunset clauses are a quack cure?
Nigel Griffiths: I believe that we must bear down on regulations, some of the worst of which have been effectively tackled by our unit. It is important to examine all the options, but if the hon. Member and her party believe that sunset clauses are the universal solution to the problem, why did they not introduce them during their 18 years in government?
Mr. Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): This month, Barclays bank has published new data showing that the business start-up rate in Birmingham is set to rise by 17 per cent. Regulations aside, does my hon. Friend agree that there has never been a better time to start a business in this country?
Nigel Griffiths: My hon. Friend is right. That point was reinforced last week by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which said that this country is more entrepreneurial than all our major European competitors and Japan, too. The Barclays survey shows that more companies started up last year than at any time since the survey began in 1988. More people are in work than at any time in our history and economic growth has occurred for 50 consecutive quarters. My hon. Friend's constituents are working hard and growing their businesses and their experience is reflected up and down the country.
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) (DUP): Many people in industry believe that the Government are oblivious to the damaging downward spiral of excessive regulation and increasing non-wage costs, which undermine competitiveness. Are the Government aware that the two factors are combining to make the UK a less attractive place to do business?
Nigel Griffiths: The representations that I have received as Minister for Small Business and Enterprise include a big thank you for abolishing automatic fines on VAT, which hit 200,000 businesses and cost them £99 million in fines in the final year of the last Conservative Administration. Businesses have thanked me for raising the audit threshold to help almost 300,000 companies avoid bureaucracy and for abolishing corporation tax for 150,000 small businesses. We have done a lot to ensure that businesses do not face bureaucracy and tax, but I am first to admit that more remains to be done, and we will do more in another term.
Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire)
(Lab): Will my hon. Friend examine the regulations surrounding employment agencies? He may be aware of the recent investigation by the BBC Radio 4 "PM" programme into the exploitation of migrant workers by bogus employment agencies, which take money from migrant workers to provide jobs that do not exist. Will he examine the current regulations and, if necessary, block any loopholes to stop bogus employment agencies exploiting poor, vulnerable migrant workers?
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Nigel Griffiths: My hon. Friend is right. I know that the House and the country will thank him for his Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, which is designed to crack down on this. My hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations is determined to reinforce those efforts and to bear down on such disgraceful practices.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): For British business to reverse its declining competitiveness under this Government, it needs Government to get out of its way. Yesterday, the Institute for Fiscal Studies demonstrated that a Labour Government would have to raise taxes by £11 billion were they to stay in office. Labour offer no hope for business, in contrast to the Conservatives, who will reduce taxes.
The other crushing Labour tax on business by another name is the burden of over-regulation. Precisely by how much will compliance costs to business rise if, preserve us, Labour cling on to office for a third term?
Nigel Griffiths: Many measures are being taken to reduce compliance costs to business, so the hon. Member has clearly got the wrong end of the stick. Having read his report complaining about thousands of regulations being passed last year, I would be interested to know why the Conservatives prayed against only eight of them.
Mr. O'Brien: The Minister has failed to answer the question because he has absolutely no idea, and does not care, about how much compliance with regulations is costing British business and British competitiveness. Does he agree with the Prime Minister, who said that the problem with regulation is cultural, which is the case not least in his Department? The Minister and his Secretary of State are all talk. Will he tell the House how he intends to reverse the flow of regulations spewing out of his Department? What career incentives have he and the Secretary of State put in place for DTI civil servants to suggest specific repeals of regulations, as we have done, and not to propose yet more burdens on business?
Nigel Griffiths: It is wax out of the ears time. The hon. Member will have heard me say that 137 regulations were passed last year compared with 148 in the same period 10 years ago. We will take no lessons about that from him. We are the envy of the advanced industrial world in terms of the expansion of our economy as against the other G7 economies. He makes gibes against our Department, which he would abolisha scheme that commands almost no supportbut he should know that we are highly rated on our regulatory impact assessments and our regulatory reform orders. He should read the Whitehall memos with more care.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
(Lab): Will my hon. Friend find out whether there is anything that he can do by regulation to increase the number of women entrepreneurs in the UK? When my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and the Regions visited my constituency last week, she revealed that 101,000 women are running their own businesses in the east of England. That represents 27 per cent. of all self-employed people. Women in the east of England are
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clearly doing excellently in helping to promote business and prosperity in the region, but there is still a long way to go.
Nigel Griffiths: I agree. That is a key component of the Small Business Service and the whole thrust of the DTI. My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for Industry and the Regions take that seriously. My hon. Friend will be pleased to learn that the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report that was published last week said that 177,000 women set up a business in Britain last yeara record number. She will know that if as many women as men had done so, we would have another 100,000 potentially thriving businesses. That is the task that my colleagues and I have set ourselves, and, if I may say so, my right hon. Friends have set about it with relish.
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