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Venture Capital

Miss Geraldine Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what Government help is available to increase access to venture capital for small companies in Morecambe and Lunesdale. [127638]

Ms Hewitt: The Government recognise the vital role that venture capital can play in support of growth businesses and the value that the formal venture capital industry can add. An existing business angel network in the North West currently provides informal investment capital to small companies in the region. The Government are also committed to ensuring that there is an adequate supply of venture capital to meet demand across the

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regions. The new Regional Venture Capital Funds will specialise in the provision of small scale equity to businesses with growth potential. Bidding guidance for potential sponsors of new regional funds was issued on 22 December 1999 and 21 notifications of intention to bid have subsequently been received. Should all of these come forward and meet the criteria all of the English regions, including the North West, will have access to at least one new, viable fund.


Miss Geraldine Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what help the Government are providing to small firms to encourage e-commerce. [127639]

Ms Hewitt: I refer my hon. Friend to the answers given to my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Ms Moran) on 2 March 2000, Official Report, column 337W, which described the activity of the DTI-lead Information Society Initiative.

Since then, as well as launching our Technology Means Business programme which aims significantly to improve the environment of support for small businesses, we have received an extra £60 million package from the Chancellor's Budget. This will focus on ramping-up existing services to the SME community. It includes £10 million to boost the existing network of ISI Advice Centres throughout the UK and inject greater urgency into the Government's awareness campaign; and £20 million for the SBS to create a 'Gateway' through which people can get guidance, advice and information needed to run or start a small business. Additionally, the tax benefits for SMEs following the Budget include 100 per cent. first year capital allowances, the Research and Development Tax Credit for SMEs, and tax reliefs to promote corporate venturing.

Plastic Bags

Dr. Whitehead: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to introduce a producer responsibility regime for plastic bags. [127725]

Ms Hewitt: Plastic bags, in common with bags made of other materials such as paper, that are used for the containment, protection handling, delivery or presentation of goods are classified as packaging. A producer responsibility regime exists for packaging in the form of the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997. These Regulations place an obligation on business throughout the packaging chain who meet certain threshold requirements, to recover and recycle packaging waste.


Mr. Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will introduce legislation to impose a duty of care on auditors towards shareholders of audited companies. [127486]

Dr. Howells: The extent to which auditors owe a duty of care to the shareholders of an audited company is as laid down by the courts. We will consider the need to change the position in the light of the final report from the Steering Group of the independent Company Law Review, expected next year. The consultation document

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issued by the Review in March 2000--'Modern Company Law--Developing the Framework'--addresses the issues surrounding the scope of the duty of care (paragraphs 5.146 to 5.155).

Water Companies

Mr. Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if those water companies considering mutualising their assets will be able to form limited liabilities partnerships under the Limited Liability Partnerships Bill [Lords]. [127558]

Dr. Howells: Any two or more persons associated for carrying on a lawful business with a view to profit and satisfying the registration requirements may become a limited liability partnership. However, a "statutory undertaker" under the Water Industry Act 1991 must be a company limited by shares and could not therefore be an LLP.

Energy Policy

Mr. Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he has taken in the past 12 months to support the manufacturers of renewable energy technology; and what support he makes available to promote overseas sales of renewable energy technology and energy efficiency services. [127568]

Mrs. Liddell: The Government have taken significant steps to support renewable energy manufacturers in the last 12 months.

The Government launched a new regional planning initiative for renewable energy in the summer of 1999. In November 1999 the Government issued two consultation papers, on network management and licensing issues for embedded generation, of direct relevance to renewables, and in December 1999 it announced its intention to allocate around £30 million to the growing of energy crops over the six years up to March 2007. The Government also announced plans to exempt all forms of renewable energy, including electricity generated from renewable sources, from the Climate Change Levy, which will be introduced in April 2001, providing a substantial financial incentive for its use.

On 1 February 2000, to coincide with the Second Reading of the Utilities Bill, the Government published "New and Renewable Energy--Prospects for the 21st Century: Conclusions in Response to the Public Consultation". The Conclusions Document summarises key elements of the Government's policy. They are:

The Renewables Obligation will enable the Government to make progress towards a target of generating 10 per cent. of our electricity from renewable sources by 2010, subject to the cost to consumers being acceptable. The Government are also taking steps to set up

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transitional arrangements to ensure that Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) contracts continue to be viable in the future.

The renewables industry is also benefiting from the increased renewables R & D budget, expected to be £32 million over this and the next financial years.

Export opportunities in renewables technologies and services are a priority area for DTI support. DTI supports renewable energy technology in overseas markets in numerous ways, among them financial support for feasibility studies, country profile reports on renewables, and grant-supported outward and inward missions. For example we have recently sponsored two inward missions from China, concentrating on wind energy in the UK.

Support for energy efficiency services is a matter for my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Mr. Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what his timetable is for responding to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution report, Energy-The Changing Climate. [127625]

Ms Hewitt: I, together with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, and other colleagues, will be giving careful consideration to the recommendations in this report and we will be aiming to respond within a year. In the meantime, the Government are considering responses to the draft Climate Change Programme, and plan to publish the final version in the autumn.

Dr. Whitehead: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what plans he has to enable unfulfilled Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation contracts for the supply of wind energy from onshore locations to be implemented anywhere within the area of sea within the Government's jurisdiction; [127584]

Mrs. Liddell: The Government have no locus in the contracts entered into by the Public Electricity Suppliers (PES) to secure the generating capacity from renewable sources of electricity required by the non-fossil fuel obligation (NFFO) Orders. These contracts are location specific and any amendment to their location needs to be agreed between the contracting parties. In addition the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) needs to be satisfied that the amendment does not cause the contract to cease to be a qualifying arrangement. If the contract ceased to be a qualifying arrangement the PES would not be eligible to receive fossil fuel levy for the electricity generated. I have asked the Non-Fossil Purchasing Agency Ltd. and Ofgem to re-examine the scope for amendments which would allow projects that have been frustrated by circumstances outside the control of the generator to go forward to construction and generation. Their re-examination has not yet reached a conclusion.

Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the proposed new gas trading arrangements. [127479]

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Mrs. Liddell: The term "new gas trading arrangements" covers a number of exercises, led by the Director General of Gas Supply and his office Ofgem, aimed at securing effective competition in gas supply and the economic and efficient operation of Transco's pipeline system. These include auction arrangements for entry capacity into the national transmission system and an on-the-day commodity market for balancing purposes, both introduced with effect from October 1999. Work is in hand on further refinements to the capacity and energy balancing regimes, including reviews of the exit capacity regime and of the possibility of introducing a linepack regime. Further background is available on the Ofgem website

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