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Lord Sugar's elevation to the Lords was always going to cause political opponents to scrutinise his every utterance with the finest of toothcombs.
And after his recent disparaging remarks about small businessmen, the newly-ennobled entrepreneur was the subject of no fewer than four questions from Conservative MPs when ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills came to the Despatch Box yesterday.
First was David Willetts:
If the Minister is so keen on apprenticeships, will he explain to the House why, in the leaked document that I have before me, he proposes cuts to the funding of apprenticeships, and why he is doing so little to help apprentices who are losing their jobs during the recession? Why does he not adopt our policy of a clearing house to help apprentices who lose their jobs to find new employers? If he will not do that, why does he not ask Lord Sugar to take that on? That might be a better use of Lord Sugar’s time than denouncing Britain’s hard-working small businesses, which is all that he seems to do at the moment. Or is it a case of “Lord Sugar, you’re fired”?
The minister, Kevin Brennan, did not bite on the bait, so Henley MP John Howell then had a go:
Picking up the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) made, I wonder whether the Minister agrees with her new noble Friend Lord Sugar, the Prime Minister’s enterprise tsar, who said that those small businesses that are trying to seek credit are merely moaners and living in Disneyland?
Another minister, Rosie Winterton, merely replied that it was "not my understanding of what Lord Sugar said".
The baton was then passed to Shadow Business Secretary, Ken Clarke:
At a time when 51 companies are going bust every day in this country, and when, as we said a few moments ago, the credit position for small businesses is very difficult, does the Minister agree with Lord Sugar, the small business tsar, that struggling small business men are moaners and living in Disneyland, which he undoubtedly said. Is it not time for the Department’s senior Minister in the House of Commons to apologise on behalf of the Government for what was said? Otherwise, it will appear that they are indifferent to, and out of tune with, the problems of entrepreneurs up and down the country who are trying to save their businesses and other people’s jobs.
Yet another minister, Pat McFadden did not engage with the reference to Lord Sugar, but rejected the charge that the Government is indifferent to the difficulties faced by small businesses.
The fourth Tory to raise Lord Sugar was backbencher Peter Bone, who got straight to the point:
Would the Minister recommend to the Secretary of State that he sits Lord Sugar down in a room, looks at him mournfully, stabs his finger at him a couple of times and says, “You’re fired”?
Another junior minister, Ian Lucas, said that among the many interesting discussions he has with Lord Mandelson, he "certainly would not give him that advice".