Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): May I start by apologising for having to leave shortly after my contribution, but I am meeting the prisons Minister, the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), about enterprise in prisons and enterprising criminals—a debate about criminal entrepreneurs is for another day!
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa). He made quite a big deal about how Labour does not understand the needs of business. I gently remind him that it was his Government who announced the introduction of a new national living wage, and quite a lot of concern has been expressed by small businesses about how that is going to affect them, because there has been little consultation—[Interruption.] —as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) reminds me.
I have to say that I think it is quite fraudulent to call this an Enterprise Bill; it would fail under the Trade Descriptions Act. What do we actually have? We have the creation of a small business commissioner, and, as has been said, we are not against that, but the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), who has now left the Chamber, made it very clear that the danger in the creation of this post is that it will be meaningless—that the small business commissioner will not have the authority and power to do something about small businesses not being paid for their services in good time, which we have discussed so many times over so many years.
Also under this Bill, Ministers are considering how they can give regulators more responsibility for looking at the impact of anything they do on the businesses they regulate. I understand that as well; sometimes I think it would be simpler if we just put on every civil servant’s screensaver the words, “Why am I doing this, and is this really necessary?” to nudge them into thinking about what they are doing and how it is affecting not only businesses but other areas of public policy.
As for regulation, however, we have been here many times before. When the last Government had a policy, they talked about “one in, one out”. They advertised on websites for what regulations to scrap, but the problem was that they received many more suggestions for more regulations, not fewer, even from businesses themselves.
I would love to know the Government’s regulation scorecard. The Secretary of State did not talk about the savings for business, but the truth is that many Governments often leave their term in office with more regulations in place than they inherited. For me, regulation has to be shown to have a purpose, and I have no problem with getting rid of regulations that are out of date or need updating, but they are important to make sure we keep products and people safe, and to ensure fair competition. If this Bill is hinting that the reason why enterprise in this country is not succeeding is purely down to centrally imposed regulation, I suggest that the Government do not understand what we need to do. I do not believe that the banking collapse, which affected people in this country and around the world as both consumers and businesses, was to do with over-regulation.
Let us look to the European Union in this regard as well, because the EU REFIT programme has already led to the withdrawal—[Interruption.] I will thank my hon. Friend—[Interruption.] It would be great if the shadow Front-Bench spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), would let me finish my speech instead of taking interventions from those on the other side. As the House of Commons Library has confirmed, the EU REFIT programme has already led to the withdrawal of more than 400 proposals and to the repeal of some 6,000 legal measures in the past decade. That is good; that is what we want to see from the European Union.
To me, what is really important is the way in which Governments support and assist the development of foundation industries such as steel as well as the new emerging sectors in which businesses of all sizes have a stake. Truly, this Bill is disappointing in that regard. For those areas, it will be largely irrelevant. It could have done something to promote and protect responsible enterprise. It could also have brought in measures to protect UK-based firms that pay fair and responsible taxes from being undercut by global firms that offshore their profits beyond the reach of HMRC.
The Bill is also disappointing on apprenticeships. I welcome apprenticeships. For too long, there has been an imbalance between the support for those who go to university and the support for those for whom the way into a good career and job prospects is through an apprenticeship. I have some questions, however. I welcome the clearer definition of an apprenticeship. There was concern in the last Parliament about too many arrangements being badged as apprenticeships and not quite meeting the test.
I also have some questions about the Minister’s setting of targets for apprenticeships. The Bill appears to set out how the Government will meet their own apprenticeship target by creating obligations only on the public sector to provide those apprenticeships. If that is to be followed by specific targets for different public sector bodies, will she tell us what proportion of the Government’s target of 3 million apprenticeships is to be created by the public sector rather than by private business? I, too, want the public sector to be model trainers, to grow the future workforce and to have model apprenticeships. We should be aware, however, that many local authorities will soon be less than two thirds the size they were in 2010. Many have been forced to shed thousands of experienced public sector staff. If they are now to take on more apprentices, this could appear to be a case of sacking experienced staff and backfilling with apprentices.
If public sector bodies are to be required to help to meet the apprenticeship targets, why does the Bill not extend the right of public bodies to require apprenticeship quotas in their public procurement contracts, in the way that the Government have done with centrally issued contracts over a value of £10 million? By imposing targets only on the public sector, the Government appear to have little confidence that the private sector will step up to deliver the apprenticeships that the Government and the country need.
The UK Green Investment Bank was intended to be a body that could make long-term investments.
me that it is being privatised just to get it off the balance sheet, but I hope the points that have been made about the special share situation will ensure that its green ambitions are protected.
I am looking forward to serving on the Bill Committee. I am sure that we will have further discussions about Sunday trading, and I hope we will be able to ensure that the Bill adds up to more than it does at the moment.