Enterprise Bill [Lords]: 9th March 2016

Alan Brown
The Secretary of State could give us further devolution for a start. If we had been given more powers in the Scotland Bill, as we wanted, perhaps the Government would need to worry less about us.

Another interesting aspect of what we have seen today is the Government’s last-minute so-called “concessions”, and we are going to get amendments that we do not know about, in the House of Lords. The Government need to make up their mind whether they are in favour of the House of Lords and what is being ​done in there or not. Only last week they were not happy with what the House of Lords is doing but today we are supposed to vote with the Government because the Lords will save us—I do not know where we are going with that.
The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
You spoke in favour in the Committee—

Alan Brown
I did not speak in favour of Sunday trading in Committee, because I did not speak about Sunday trading in Committee, and the record will prove that. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) spoke in favour of stronger workers’ rights, and that is also there for the record.

I have mentioned cash retentions, and the Minister’s attitude to dealing with that matter is to acknowledge that it is an issue but to say, “Don’t worry, we have a Government review. We will do the review and then we will implement the measures.” We have to put all the trust in the Minister, but we should consider what the proceedings on Sunday trading show. The Prime Minister said, “We won’t be doing Sunday trading” but it was then proposed, even though it was not in the manifesto, and today we have seen last-minute deals. That proves that we cannot have any trust there, which is why I wanted to have a vote about cash retentions.

Kevin Foster
I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments on Sunday trading. Will people working in Scotland’s largest supermarkets be able to look forward to hours restrictions from the SNP Government at Holyrood, given the SNP’s attitude towards that issue in England?

Alan Brown
It is a different argument. The Government did not publish a full, proper impact assessment. The impact assessment that came before me was suggesting that workers might lose up to £1,400 a year and there could be £70 million lost out of the Scottish economy—that is from a published economist. When the Government cannot counteract that, I will go with that information. My conscience told me to vote on that basis and do the right thing.

Let me conclude on the cash retentions. We are seeking a retention deposit scheme similar to the tenant deposit scheme. This has been implemented in other countries— it has just been introduced in New Zealand—and shown to work well. It would protect small businesses. Up to £3 billion is held in cash retentions at any one time, and £40 million was lost in 2015—this is money the small companies could not recover because of bankruptcy in the other companies. Given that this recovery is meant to be based on small and medium-sized enterprises, this was another missed opportunity by the Government. I will leave it at that.

Amanda Solloway (Derby North) (Con)
I want to take the opportunity to highlight a really good part of the Bill, and, having worked in retail since the tender age of 16—not too long ago—I have full authority to talk about it. I have worked in a variety of different roles and I recognise how essential it is that we support small businesses, as they can be so vulnerable to the market forces we have today. I welcome the introduction ​of the small business commissioner, whose function it will be to provide advice and information to small firms, and to assist them in payment disputes with larger firms.

Kevin Brennan
I, like the hon. Lady, started working in a shop at 16. Does she also welcome the fact that clause 33(5), which gives effect to schedule 5, means that what we have achieved by voting down Sunday trading is not only not having the extension of Sunday trading hours, but improving workers’ rights on a Sunday, as that remains part of the Bill, as we heard earlier?

Amanda Solloway
I have limited time available to me now, so let me just say that I think Sunday trading would enhance the role of retailers and give people the choice that they very much want to have.

Kevin Foster
Does my hon. Friend share my surprise that the Opposition seem uninterested in the small business commissioner, who will make a real difference to small businesses, and that they just want to harp on about one issue instead?

Amanda Solloway
With the House’s permission, I will continue discussing the small business commissioner. Under the current system, payment disputes too often cannot be resolved without cases going to court. That costly process is limiting to small businesses and, if pursued, can lead to further financial pressures, making it a barely viable option to small business to have any kind of legal battle.

With my background in retail, I have often seen directly how late payments, often by larger and more robust businesses, can be crippling to small businesses. There may well even be a culture of large firms dragging their heels when it comes to making payments. What those firms disregard is how serious it can be to these small businesses not to make payments on time.

A recent study in Derby found that one in five businesses in the region is a victim of late payments, and that can be crippling.

Wendy Morton
These late payments can cripple small businesses. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when businesses are starting up, it can mean the difference between survival or not, and creating jobs or not?

Amanda Solloway
Absolutely, and what we need to do to boost our economy is to encourage these small businesses to get established and to flourish.

Therefore, this is an element of our business culture that must change. We must give advice and support to smaller businesses. The role of the small business commissioner will help to facilitate that. If as a country we are to continue to encourage enterprise and the entrepreneurial spirit, we must continue to do all we can to support small businesses and address the concerns and problems that hinder their performance.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD)
I will not take up too much of the House’s time. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to debate the important new clause 10 and amendment 20, so I wish to put a few words on record, especially as the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise is in the Chamber.​

I gently say that ours is a strange system whereby automatically Opposition amendments are dropped and Government amendments go through, especially because, as we have just seen with the amendment on Sunday trading, that does not always reflect what happens in the House. I strongly believe that new clause 10 would have had the support of a majority of MPs. It was not my intention to press it, however, because I had hoped to hear from the Minister that she accepted its terms. It was tabled to deal with a disgraceful loophole whereby tenants of large pub companies taking the all-important market rent-only option would have to surrender their existing lease and accept a shorter five-year lease, which would be wholly unacceptable.

Clauses 39 and 40 deal with the pubs code and the adjudicator, and I thank the ministerial team for listening to concerns about paragraph 8.12 of the draft code and dealing with them. The matter is being addressed in the Bill because of concerns about the draft code and the unacceptable nature of some of its provisions. I can tell the Minister that tenant groups are reporting some quite disgraceful behaviour from pub companies as an attempt to both game and circumvent the forthcoming pubs code, which comes in on 1 June. The Bill was the only opportunity to amend primary legislation that could then affect the content of the pubs code. Now it is a question of working with the Minister and her team to try to deal with some of these issues.

Anna Soubry
Does the hon. Gentleman welcome, as I do—and announce—the appointment as the pubs code adjudicator of Paul Newby, who I am sure will look forward to meeting the hon. Gentleman? Will the hon. Gentleman also accept my assurance that we will be true to all that was said and agreed on the Floor of the House last year when the legislation went through? Please may we work together to ensure that we have a good pubs code?
Greg Mulholland
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments and their tone. The answer on both counts is yes, absolutely. I presume that the Minister’s news is hot off the press because I certainly had not heard anything about the adjudicator. It is huge news.

Anna Soubry
You are the first to hear.