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Norman Lamb: Beecroft's 'Socialist' Attack On Vince Cable Was 'Nonsense'

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NORMAN LAMB
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One of Nick Clegg's closest advisers has dismissed Adrian Beecroft's attacks on business secretary Vince Cable as "nonsense" and "not very helpful".

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Lib Dem business minister Norman Lamb also suggested that experience showed "fire at will" employment laws had very little impact on job creation, even among micro-businesses. He hinted that the Tories' belief that relaxing the rules would create jobs was based on dogma, rather than any actual evidence.

Beecroft - the Tory donor who authored a long-supressed report calling for a relaxation on no-fault dismissal to stimulate job creation - described Cable as a socialist during an interview with The Daily Telegraph, adding the business secretary was unfit for office.

Cable - who has spent much of this week keeping his head down, making a series of visits away from Westminster - is said to be fiercely opposed to any attempt to make it easier for people to be sacked by employers.

He is defended by Lamb in a HuffPost interview, who when asked about Beecroft's socialist comment, replied: "It’s a nonsense. I don’t think that name calling is very helpful, let’s just focus on the issue."

Lamb went on: "Actually the secretary of state last week announced a very important decision by GM to maintin the investment in Ellesmere Port, he did that by going out to America and securing that.

"The idea of Vince being a socialist is laughable," he added.

Lamb told HuffPost that while he supported the concept of flexible labour markets "totally", and oversaw the recent move to extend the minimum qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims from one to to years, he suggested that wholesale liberation of employment dismissal laws wouldn't achieve the job creation many Tories claim it would.

Claiming that many microbusinesses "don’t like Beecroft because it gives them a stigma that it makes them a worse place to work than somewhere else," Lamb warned of myths surrounding relaxing Germany's sacking laws, often peddled by Tories.

"They often parade Germany as this country that suddenlty unlocked all this growth potential, all the analysis shows that the UK has a much more flexible labour market than Germany – even now – and is becoming more flexible.

"In Germany they increased the threshold for this regime of 'no unfair dismissal protection' from 5 to 10 employees, if you look at employment in microbusinesses before and after the change, there was no difference.

"You would expect, were it the case that there was this sudden liberating effect, that there would be a dramtic increase in employment . There was an increase in temporay employment, but we’ve extended it to two years, and most temporary employees woiuld go before the two years was up," he said.

"Let’s just base our judgements on evidence rather than dogma," he concluded, adding that he would oppose any attempt to remove minimum wage rules from microbusinesses - something proposed by Tory MP Andrea Leadsom on Thursday.

"I certainly wouldn’t support it. The minimum wage is very important," said Lamb.

David Cameron confirmed on Wednesday during Prime Minister's Questions that the government was still looking at some elements of the Beecroft report - but that any consultation on relaxing sacking laws would only be confined to mirco-businesses.

Backbench Tories - particularly those who're members of the Free Enterprise Group founded by Norfolk MP Liz Truss - have called for small businesses to be liberated from large amounts of regulation.

Labour oppose any move to make it easier for any firms to fire workers, with Ed Miliband clashing with Cameron at PMQs over the Beecroft report, which was finished last autumn but supressed by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills until this week.

Ministers only agreed to publish the report after most of it leaked and the government came under increasing pressure to give its view on Beecroft's conclusion. A call for evidence by the BIS department will close in the second week of June, with further statements expected later in the summer.

Lamb is also overseeing the passage of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill - which would create a quango to arbitrate over disputes between supermarkets and food suppliers.

"It’s there to do something which the Competition Commission found was a problem, and is limited to that," he insists, amid mounting concerns from the British Retail Consortium that it will place a huge burden on supermarkets. But Lamb warns that the adudicator, while having an initially narrow scope, could evolve if it found that it was failing to address the middle-men who often come between the food producers and the supermarkets, and which will not be regulated by the new adjudicator.

"If the Competition Commission found that the code itself needed at some future adjustment – because let’s say an anonymous supermarket decided to exercise bad behavior through another party as a sort-of agent of that supermarket, the code may be sufficient to deal with that, but it may not. That’s the responsibility of the Competition Commission," he said.

The Bill to create the adjudicator is currently in the House of Lords and could be before MPs in a few weeks. "As an economic liberal I fundamentally believe in the power of compettion to reduce costs to the consumer, and boost economic growth," says Lamb.

"The Competiton Commission has come forward and said the market is not working as effectively as an open market should, perhaps because of the dominance of some of the big players."

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