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TRADE AND INDUSTRY

Maritime Safety

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the conclusions reached at the Council of Ministers meeting of 28 March on maritime safety; what measures are under discussion involving co-operation with (a) defence ministers and (b) European defence agencies for future presentation to a European Council meeting concerning a global strategy by the European Union in the Field of Maritime Security; and what is his policy thereon. [119815]

Mr. Hill: I have been asked to reply.

In answer to the first part of his question on maritime safety I refer the hon. Member to my reply given on 30 March 2000, Official Report, columns 230-31W. In answer to the second part, my right hon. Friend the

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Secretary of State for Defence has not had any discussions concerning a global strategy by the European Union in the field of maritime security.

Export Licences

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on what date his Department received export licence application number 8664; on what date he expects it to be determined; and if he will make a statement about its progress. [122037]

Dr. Howells: Licence Application 8664 was received by the Export Control Organisation (ECO) on 15 December 1999. The application is currently under consideration in conjunction with other Government Departments. A decision on the licence application will be reached as quickly as possible consistent with the need to give full consideration to the issues involved.

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what proposals he has to ensure that applications for export licences are published in advance, allowing for proper public and parliamentary debate before decisions are made. [121717]

Dr. Howells: The 1998 White Paper on Strategic Export Controls proposed that new primary legislation should provide for parliamentary scrutiny of secondary export control legislation, but the White Paper stated that the Government did not consider there should be advance parliamentary scrutiny of individual export licence applications as this would slow down significantly the process of decision making and raise difficult issues of commercial confidentiality. The Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry Committees endorsed this conclusion while the Quadripartite Committee on Strategic Export Controls has stated that it will seek to come to conclusions on this issue in its next Report.

All the White Paper proposals are under review in the light of comments received. In coming to conclusions on this issue, the Government will take account also of the conclusions of the Committees, including any conclusions reached by the Quadripartite Committee on this matter. We will be announcing proposals for new export control legislation following conclusion of the review.

Small Firms

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what research his Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the way that assistance is given to small firms in the regions. [121662]

Ms Hewitt: The DTI is responsible for many forms of assistance to small firms. All those services are subject to regular evaluation.

At a regional level, business support can be provided in a variety of ways. Some services are provided by the Government Offices in the regions; others are provided by the Regional Development Agencies. But the most important mechanism for providing support for small businesses at the local level in England is the network of Business Link partnerships. These provide their own services, but also access to other forms of support from both the public and private sector. Funding mechanisms also vary and, in relevant areas, EU funding can be a significant source of business support.

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It is critically important that the services provided and funded by Government are effective both in terms of content and delivery. The Department therefore asked each Regional Development Agency (and the London Development Partnership) last year to report on the delivery of business support in their region. A number of RDAs supported their reviews with external research. Those reports are now being received and the newly- established Small Business Service will be taking forward the reports with each of the RDAs. In parallel, the Small Business Service is itself restructuring the Business Link network, with the aim of new Business Link partnerships coming into operation from April 2001. The new partnerships will be expected to develop their services within the context both of the RDA regional economic strategies and national priorities established by the SBS.

Enterprise Fund

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will list the small firms who will directly benefit from the Government's Enterprise Fund (a) nationally and (b) in the Crosby constituency. [121660]

Ms Hewitt: The main elements of the Enterprise Fund are the Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme, the UK High Technology Fund and the Regional Venture Capital Funds.

With regard to the Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme, the Government act as guarantor to the lenders in the scheme. The loan is arranged between the lender and the small firm and is subject to commercial confidentiality procedures.

Both venture capital elements of the Enterprise Fund, namely the UK High Technology Fund and Regional Venture Capital Funds are currently being developed. They will be managed by professional fund managers. All their investment decisions will be made on a commercial basis. As an investor in the funds, the Government will not be able to forecast which small businesses will directly benefit.

It is therefore not possible to list, either nationally or for the Crosby constituency, which small firms will directly benefit from the Government's Enterprise Fund.

Partnership Fund

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how the Partnership Fund will achieve its aims of fostering new attitudes and approaches to partnership at work; and how much money is to be made available for the Fund. [121663]

Mr. Alan Johnson: The Fund supports projects to develop partnership approaches in the workplace and to disseminate best practice. Up to £5 million is being made available in a series of calls over four years.

Thirty-five projects, having a total value of £2,880,000, are being supported under the first call for proposals of the Partnership Fund. The second call for proposals was launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 9 May 2000 and the deadline for applications is 21 July 2000.

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Shipbuilding

Mr. Sarwar: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will ensure that Shipbuilding Intervention Fund money will remain available to UK shipbuilders for the remainder of this year. [121470]

Mr. Alan Johnson: I announced on 25 January 2000, Official Report, column 199W that I had decided to extend the availability of the Shipbuilding Intervention Fund to 31 December 2000. I am pleased to confirm that that remains the position.

Mr. Sarwar: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on (a) perceptions of the effectiveness of the home shipbuilding credit guarantee scheme and (b) the plans the Government have to alter the scheme. [121469]

Mr. Alan Johnson: I believe that the scheme has played an important role in helping UK yards win new orders since its inception in the 1960s, and continues to do so. The scheme has supported some 1,200 vessels to the value of more than £4.5 billion. It currently supports UK built ships to the tune of £200 million.

The Department runs the scheme on a comparable basis to similar schemes in our main competitor countries and we believe that its current terms/facilities are competitive. To this end, and in response to recommendations from our partnership with the industry in the Shipbuilding Forum in 1999, we delivered significant improvements to the scheme by making loans available in euros and US dollars, and by making guarantees only facilities available too. This makes the scheme one of the few to offer guarantees only, and to offer finance of up to 12 years.

Following the introduction of these improvements, there is now a high level of inquiry for finance under the scheme involving potential orders for eligible ships at virtually all the UK yards.

In line with our general approach we remain ready to consider constructive suggestions for ways that the scheme might be strengthened in the future.

Mr. Sarwar: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on his Department's support for shipbuilding (a) on the River Clyde and (b) in the United Kingdom as a whole. [121315]

Mr. Alan Johnson: My Department's strategy is to support and promote all parts of the UK shipbuilding industry equally, irrespective of their location. In particular, the policy is to assist the industry to improve its competitiveness. In July 1998 my Department established the Shipbuilding Forum whose membership comprises representatives of the shipbuilding and ship repair industry, trades unions, equipment suppliers and customers, both private and public sector. Also involved are the National Training Organisation for the marine sector and relevant Government Departments. The Forum's terms of reference are to consider the current situation of the shipbuilding and ship repair industry and how to improve its competitiveness so as to increase its share of the European market, leading to increased output, profitability and employment.

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