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Internet (Military Equipment Sales)

13. Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): What plans he has for regulating the advertisement of military weapons and manuals on the internet. [82370]

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The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian McCartney): Before I answer my hon. Friend's question, may I take a few moments to thank you, Madam Speaker, and right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for the many cards, letters, e-mails and faxes that I received wishing me well during my recent illness? I assure hon. Members that the rumour that I am the first DTI Minister to be bitten by the millennium bug and survive is completely untrue. I hope that they will see from my responses today that I am back in full working order.

In the United Kingdom, the law applies equally on-line and off-line, which means that goods or services can be advertised or sold on the internet in the same way as on traditional media, provided that they comply with UK law in that area. The majority of British defence manufacturers advertise their equipment and services in the "British Defence Equipment Catalogue", which is widely available. It is an offence under the Official Secrets Act 1911 to publish classified material without authorisation, regardless of the medium of publication. In addition, the Government's White Paper on strategic export controls, Cm 3989, contains a proposal to make it an offence to publish controlled technology relevant to the development of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Beard: I thank the Minister for that reply. Has he seen the pages on the internet that advertise, for example, lock-picking tools that are described as "deluxe" and "the standard choice of the industry"--it does not say what industry that might be. Even more sinister are the pipe-bomb-making instructions, which carry the thoughtful caution, "Pipe bombs are killing devices", and the helpful advice, "For more bombs, click here". The intellectual market is also catered for with the "Improvised Munitions Handbook" and the "Anarchist Handbook", which provide advice on making small arms, mortars and incendiary devices and the explosives that go with them. Does the Minister agree that the greatest danger lies not in importing the American gun culture to this country, but in allowing a few criminal and crazed individuals to access such material and know-how, which leads to tragic consequences, which we witnessed recently in Brixton, Brick lane and Soho?

Mr. McCartney: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and comments. There is no one in the House who is not filled with horror, revulsion and continuing concern about recent events, some of which we can make no further comment on because they are now part of the court process--I want to say nothing that would interfere with that. We are concerned also about the incident that took place in my hon. Friend's constituency.

We are taking action and will continue to do so. We need international co-operation on enforcement in different jurisdictions. Businesses and consumers need tools to protect themselves, such as the ability to filter material for harmful content and the ability to ensure that children and young people are not able to skim the net and get information that they can use inappropriately. The users and sellers of internet and hardware products could assist in that process. Service providers should and must uphold the law on-line. However, we shall keep the options open, while remaining mindful of the potential need for future regulation. I shall report to my right hon.

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Friend the Home Secretary the comments made today about issues that hon. Members would like the Government to review.

It makes sense to have laws controlling the misuse of information. For example, it is an offence to make or possess explosives under suspicious circumstances, and that is appropriate. Internationally, we need to do much more and to try to co-operate on what is a difficult matter, given the different jurisdictions.

National Minimum Wage

14. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): What assessment he has made of the effect on the UK economy of the implementation of the national minimum wage and the working time directive. [82371]

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian McCartney): The national minimum wage will ensure fair competition on the basis of quality of goods and services provided and not low pay. It will help to promote work incentives, encourage firms to invest in training and improve the morale and commitment of workers, bringing about reduced levels of staff turnover and absenteeism. Productivity will improve and employers, workers and the economy as a whole will benefit.

Our assessment of the costs and benefits resulting from the implementation of the working time directive are contained in the regulatory impact assessment relating to the directive, a copy of which is held in the Library of the House.

Adjusted data from official statistics, which will be available in October, will give some idea of the extent of the shift in workers' earnings resulting from those new legal protections.

Mr. Chapman: I welcome my right hon. Friend back to the Dispatch Box. It is good to see him in such fine fettle. Does he agree that, although the minimum wage has been operating for only a short time, its competitiveness has been well established during that time? Does he agree also that, taken alongside the working time directive, trade union recognition and other measures taken by the Government, the minimum wage has vastly improved not only the lot of the British worker, but the economy?

Will my right hon. Friend compare and contrast that with the policy of the Conservative party, which not only opposed those measures but, in government, viewed the way forward as a low-wage, low-cost, low-productivity, sweatshop economy? Does he agree that the national minimum wage and the working time directive are not over-regulation, but better regulation--better for the economy and better for the workers?

Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend is absolutely right on several counts. Nine out of 10 companies in the United Kingdom support the concept and principle of the minimum wage because of the business case for it. Four out of 10 companies complied in advance of 1 April. In all the inquiries so far, only 50 companies that have had complaints made about them have refused to implement the minimum wage and, in those instances, our inquiry

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teams are following procedures to ensure that the workers in those companies get justice and receive the minimum wage.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the only people in Britain who still oppose the minimum wage are the party of Scrooges on the Conservative Benches and the handful of isolated employers who refuse to implement the minimum wage. Since 1 April, 2 million workers in Britain have received the minimum wage, including more than 180,000 in Scotland and 100,000 in Wales. It has been a tremendous success and the Conservatives are the only people who are still avoiding the question. At the next election, will they say that they will cut the minimum wage?

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome back the Minister. We are all delighted that he has made a good recovery and we have missed his own special brand of invective in our recent exchanges.

The Minister believes that the minimum wage must be seen to be fair and bear a fair relationship to what others can earn. Mr. Gavyn Davies, and his loadsamoney, has obviously made it much more difficult for the Minister to set out the case. As one of the leaders of the anti-fat cats campaign when the Conservatives were in government, will the Minister take action to detach Mr. Davies from some of his loadsamoney, or has the Minister come round to our view that it is quite wrong to interfere in money that people come by legally in a private marketplace? If he has changed his view and agrees with us, where does that leave him in presenting Labour's brand of different policy and fairness?

Mr. McCartney: The right hon. Gentleman has got it wrong again. We introduced the fat-cat tax--the windfall tax--which he opposed. That tax got 250,000 young people and long-term unemployed people back to work. We have halved youth unemployment and long-term unemployment. It was he and his party who were the supporters of fat cats, and this Government who introduced social justice. He still has not answered the question of why his party is committed at the next election to opposing the continuation of the minimum wage, when that would impose a wage cut on 2 million British workers.

Mr. Redwood: Will the Minister just answer? Does he approve of Mr. Davies's remuneration or will he do something about Labour fat cats?

Mr. McCartney: Fortunately for Mr. Davies, he does not qualify for the national minimum wage--but 2 million British workers do. The right hon. Gentleman still opposes that minimum wage. He is the Scrooge, not this Labour Government.

Science Parks

15. Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): If he will review ways to stimulate the creation of new companies in science parks around universities with the participation of university staff. [82373]

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The Minister for Energy and Industry (Mr. John Battle): The Government are aware of the important role that incubators and science parks can play in nurturing new companies, and have supported the setting up of UK Business Incubation as a centre to promote best practice among those nurturing young companies.

Dr. Palmer: I am grateful for the Minister's comments. I understand that Cambridge university attributes the flowering of science companies partly to the university's policy of allowing staff to use research from the university to start companies. I know that not all universities follow that practice. Given the importance of the generation of new technology companies, does the Minister think that Government recommendations on how universities might best promote such activity would be suitable, bearing in mind universities' independence?

Mr. Battle: As well as making recommendations, we are developing policies on moving the excellent research and engineering base into the productive economy. There are some 50 science parks across the country, including Cambridge, Aston, Teesside and Warwick. We want a synapse between universities, commerce and business so that new products and processes are created, resulting in new jobs. There are two relevant policies. Some £60 million seed capital funding from the university challenge fund is matched by money from universities to enable them to turn research into good business. The £25 million behind the science enterprise challenge will encourage eight centres to develop entrepreneurship alongside the excellent science developed at universities.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I am sure that the Minister recognises the achievements of Brunel science park at Brunel university in my constituency. I am sure that he also recognises that, when companies that have been nurtured in science parks outgrow the parks, they find it difficult to locate on suitable sites nearby and very often must relocate, causing local job losses. Can his Department suggest any measures that might alleviate that problem?

Mr. Battle: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's question. Indeed, I have visited Brunel. In answering, I shall simply recall an anecdote. A person in my constituency who developed a valve wanted to set up a business and asked for assistance. From working in a bedsit, he was offered 20,000 sq ft of flatted factory floor 20 miles away. People need small and appropriate assistance. We must combine assistance to universities with support through business links. That one-stop shop will support fledgling businesses, so that they are enhanced and thrive and develop to provide new jobs.

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