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Mr. Bercow: I am greatly enjoying much of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but can I ask him to focus on a slightly different aspect of the equation? He talks about the importance of making work pay, but does he not agree that it is also important to generate a culture in which people think it is worth while to start a business? To that end, does he not regard it as regrettable, if not deplorable, that the Government continue to refuse, even as a starting measure, to publish an annual statement of the costs of regulation on business? What possible good explanation can there be for that omission?
Mr. Purchase: The hon. Gentleman is pushing at an open door as far as I am concerned. I would love to see the annual costs of regulation. I do not believe that we have made a significant dent in the costs of regulation. In fact, in some sectors, we have undoubtedly added to them, but we believe in the greater good, and the administration of the minimum wage is an example of that. We can disagree about that, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am absolutely open to ideas and suggestions on how we can reduce regulation.
I have one such idea in my head, and I shall tell the hon. Gentleman about it. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has taken an interesting step forward in encouraging new businesses to start up. The offer of £2,000 worth of free advice and assistance is very welcome. Without that advice and assistance, I fear that more businesses would fail than needed to. My right hon. Friend also said that we had liberalised the approach to account reporting and the rules for audited accounts have been relaxed, to some extent, for smaller companies.
My suggestion for my right hon. Friend is that we should not insist on using the European convention on accountancy--which is very good for larger companies--in smaller companies. Smaller companies with a turnover of less than £1.5 million to £2 million should perhaps be able to base their reporting unaudited, on a profit and loss account, a balance sheet and a source of application of funds. That would give them a quite a boost, and would save them a lot in accountancy fees.
Mr. Bercow: I confess that I am veritably put in a state of high excitement by that concession. I do not want to push my luck, but I am tempted to have a go. Consistent with what the hon. Gentleman says about encouraging the enterprise culture are two propositions. The first is that it is about time that the Government conducted a proper assessment of the United States Regulatory Flexibility Act 1980 and the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act 1996, because that would yield benefits. The second is that it would also help if the Government signed
Mr. Purchase: I am not in an argumentative mood. However, I keep my wits about me and recognise that everything that comes from the United States is not always welcome or helpful. The adoption of chapter 11 would have been useful, but I know that the Opposition oppose it. They believe that it does not help to keep businesses afloat.
We could consider what the hon. Gentleman suggests. Indeed, I invite him to join me in admiring the concept of continuous improvement, which most of industry applies. Reconsidering, deleting and adding to legislation is the right approach to any Act that involves regulation. Continuous improvement is an important part of industry and commerce. It is right to have a lighter touch within the bounds of good health and safety practices and good labour relations.
Ms Abbott: I listened with great care to my hon. Friend's argument on what is usually known as welfare dependency and I agreed with much of it. I can identify individuals in my constituency who are in an advanced state of welfare dependency and whole estates that contain generations of people who are mired in welfare dependency. But moving complete communities from a state of mind that accepts welfare dependency to the more preferable state of enterprise and looking after themselves is not a simple matter of providing tax credits and making speeches. However undeserving many of those people may be, if our approach to moving them off welfare dependency is too short-term or mechanistic, the poorest children in society might suffer. That is the danger.
Mr. Purchase: That is a profound point and I have no objection to it. If I wanted to pick a fight, it would be with Samuel Smiles. The concept of the deserving and undeserving poor has never served the country well. We need a more rational approach to understanding the cultures that people inhabit and the way in which things develop. I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention. There is room for discussion, debate and analysis. I agree that a mechanistic approach cannot solve the cultural difficulties. However, it demonstrates that there is a way out in the shorter and medium term. It is important to give that signal. I commend the stance taken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, but accept that there needs to be a wider debate about the future and how we apply short-term measures in the wider context of cultural change.
The hon. Member for West Worcestershire mentioned the International Monetary Fund and the European Union institutions and criticised the funding of longer-term spending and debt. I am an absolute supporter of my right hon. Friend's golden rule on that matter. I have always believed that we should pay for the acquisition of a capital asset over its useful lifetime. For example, a new school in a local authority area will serve successive generations. It is right, therefore, that successive generations pay for that asset. It would be unfair to front load that expenditure for capital acquisition so that today's tax burden becomes intolerable. That would be nonsense.
A similar case can be made for current expenditure. The golden rule, expressed many years ago by Mr. Micawber, is, "Expenditure 19s 6d, income £1--good fun; expenditure £1, income 19s 6d--not too good."
It is right that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor should balance his revenue budget over the cycle and ensure that, year on year, we can sustain desirable improvements in our society. There is no better way to organise our financial affairs than by employing the golden rules that he has set his stall by.
I welcome the improvements in exporting. I hope that I do not encourage raucous remarks when I inform the House that, with the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), I am joint chairman of the all-party group on exports. We have made a real effort because exports are a most important facet of British economic life. Without exports, we cannot import. We are an island economy and we are short of certain items, so we have to import them. If we do that, we must pay for them, and the only way to do that is by selling abroad.
I welcome the improved figures. I especially welcome the improvements in manufacturing. I am delighted but surprised, because there have been considerable manufacturing job losses in my constituency over the past few months. Goodyear has made 500 people redundant. Skilled tyre workers and management are finding themselves out of work. The Chubb safe company will soon send about 200 workers down the road. Some 200 jobs at the Britool factory on the border of my constituency, which employs many of my constituents, are being exported to France. About 350 jobs are going at a food processing company. All those jobs are well paid. Even the workers at the food processing factory receive hourly rates in excess of £5, which is well-paid employment in the west midlands for that industry.
Redundancies are also a major problem elsewhere. There has been a disastrous loss of employment in the steel industry. However, my right hon. Friend is able to announce that our manufacturing exports are improving. We are matching the best exporting countries in the world and we have internationally competitive companies that are doing the business for Britain. They are to be congratulated on that and we should be proud of them. We should recognise that their efforts support our way of life, because we have to import many of the things that we enjoy. The dreadful affliction in farming is bound to lead, at least in the short term, to an increase in imports. I make no comment about the disease itself or the handling of it; I merely point out that in the short term we will have to find the money to pay for increased imports--that is a fact of life.
Mr. Bercow: I am determined to provoke the hon. Gentleman, which has thus far not been possible. He has just made yet another interesting and valid point. Given our improving export performance, does he accept that despite his reference to the overly high exchange rate, the overall strength of our capacity to sell overseas means that the exchange rate difficulties in no way justify a decision