Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Regional Investment

3. Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): If he will make a statement on his strategy for promoting inward investment in the English regions. [159060]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Caborn): Invest UK is the Government agency that promotes the whole of the United Kingdom as the best inward investment location in Europe, and it works in partnership with the United Kingdom's development agencies.

As my right hon. Friend said, Ernst and Young's "Investment Monitor" was issued today and shows very clearly that the UK's number of inward investment projects has increased by 13 per cent. on last year. The UK enjoys investment rate growth that is more than twice that of Europe, and we are Europe's favourite investment location. Our market share has also gone up by 2 per cent., so that we now receive 26 per cent. of all investment into Europe.

Ms Winterton: Almost 6,000 jobs in Yorkshire and Humberside have been created as a consequence of inward investment secured by Yorkshire Forward. However, if our region is to be at the leading edge of the knowledge economy, we will have to increase the amount of high-quality inward investment in research and development. When my right hon. Friend next meets Yorkshire Forward, will he discuss with it what can be done across Government to increase such investment and to help restructure our industrial base in the region, particularly in the light of today's announcement by Corus?

Mr. Caborn: My hon. Friend asks a very pertinent question. Regional development agencies, particularly the one that operates in my hon. Friend's constituency in Yorkshire, have been established in the north-west and the north-east to organise inward investment from north America to what they call the greater north of England. Additionally, in our White Paper a few months ago we considered the matter of clusters. We are now rewriting

3 May 2001 : Column 967

the cluster policy as an inward investment prospectus for all those who want to invest internationally in our knowledge economy. I think that that will keep us at the leading edge of technology and ensure that we continue to move manufacturing up the value-added chain.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): What real help is the Department of Trade and Industry giving to businesses that have already invested in the regions, but recently found their business decimated by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease? After examining the small print of the help that the Government are offering, many businesses see very little, if any, real help being offered. It is another example of all spin and no substance.

Mr. Caborn: There is to be a statement on foot and mouth later today--

Mr. Baldry: What about the Department of Trade and Industry?

Mr. Caborn: The regional development agencies in the four worst-hit regions have had an additional £15 million on top of the £8 million available in their own budgets. I know that they have been working very hard. Furthermore, my hon. Friend the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment have been working with the regional development agencies to ensure that they mitigate the worst circumstances being experienced in those regions by the businesses to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Wind Energy

4. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): What support he will give to the development of offshore wind energy generation. [159061]

The Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe (Mr. Peter Hain): Offshore wind will be eligible for the new renewables obligation that we propose to introduce this October. Of the £260 million allocated for renewables support over the next three years, at least £49 million has been allocated specifically for offshore wind, and that sum may well increase.

Mr. Blizzard: I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that East Anglia is in an ideal position to develop offshore wind power. SLP Engineering of Lowestoft, a company with a fine track record in fabricating offshore oil and gas platforms, is in the right place to develop, manufacture and erect offshore windmills, and is already building a prototype offshore wind turbine at Britain's most easterly point. Given the downturn in the offshore oil and gas fabrication industry, will he consider the company's eligibility for diversification grant to provide much- needed jobs in Lowestoft, which has been designated an assisted area by his Department?

Mr. Hain: By all means, I will consider that. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: SLP Engineering has a fine reputation in offshore gas and oil exploration, drilling and platform construction. We would like the company, and the industry around my hon. Friend's constituency,

3 May 2001 : Column 968

to diversify increasingly from oil and gas--although maintaining that where appropriate--and explore the enormous potential for offshore wind development.

We recently announced 18 new projects, right around the coast of England and Wales. The forthcoming renewables obligation will provide £3 billion of investments, and the Government are supporting that with more than £250,000 of research and development project aid grant. We can drive forward the renewables agenda, bringing to it our unique expertise on the UK continental shelf.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): The Minister said in The Times yesterday that if Labour was re-elected, he wanted a second Labour term to be more radical and left wing. Would that increased left-wing verve mean even more regulation for energy companies and industry generally? Would it mean even more levies on consumers electricity bills and increased electricity costs for both consumers and industry, as he imposes higher and higher renewables targets? Does he accept that a gloves-off second Labour term would be a disaster for the energy sector and a disaster for British industry?

Mr. Hain: I note that the hon. Gentleman has already conceded the general election. The answer to all his questions is no. I remind the House and the public that the Conservatives' record on renewables in 18 years of government was pathetic. We are now driving forward the agenda. More and more green energy will be the future for Britain, and, yes, I do see myself and the Government championing that. The Prime Minister has put his considerable authority behind it, with the announcement of £100 million of new support for renewables.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): My hon. Friend's answer is of great importance to constituencies in the north-west. Is he aware of the major significance for manufacturing in my constituency, where Cambrian Engineering, based on the Llandegai industrial estate in Bangor, is a leading company in wind farm equipment? Does he agree that offshore wind farms can also be tourist attractions and will be a benefit to the coastal strip in north Wales?

Mr. Hain: I very much agree. Indeed, I had the privilege of visiting Cambrian Engineering with my hon. Friend before the previous general election. I was very impressed with its desire to increase production so as to rival the Scandinavian producers of wind turbines, and towers in particular, in which the company has especial expertise. We want to harness the enormous potential of offshore and, indeed, onshore wind in Britain, and in my hon. Friend's constituency in particular.

Consumer Rights

5. Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): What plans he has for reviewing the rights of consumers after (a) bankruptcy and (b) insolvency. [159062]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Caborn): I have no such plans at present.

Mr. Hughes: That is not good enough. With that kind of answer, the Minister may not even get re-elected.

3 May 2001 : Column 969

I have a constituent on jobseeker's allowance, and another who is a pensioner, who each lost about £1,000 deposit when they paid for some furniture offered for sale by Uno for World of Leather, which went into liquidation in March 2000. They are entirely dissatisfied, as are thousands of consumers, because the companies appear to have known that they were going into insolvency when they did the business. They reformed within two weeks, having been sold on to another company, and reopened as New World of Leather.

If the customers had been able to pay by credit card, they might have been protected. As they were not able to do so--as many poorer people are not--they had no protection. The law needs fundamental change. Can the Minister be much more effective, much less complacent and promise some action from Labour, because otherwise it might have to come from someone else?

Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman raises a serious question. Some 21,000 customers of Uno were affected and we immediately asked the administrators to submit a report to the Secretary of State. An interim report was submitted in September 2000 and our insolvency service started working on the question of disqualification. The final report was submitted in April and we shall now consider what action to take on the disqualification of directors. In conjunction with the Office of Fair Trading, we are considering a new code, and a consultation document has been issued. The Government believe that the voluntary code of practice can still play an important role.

As the hon. Gentleman said, those with credit cards have some safeguard when paying a deposit if it is more than £100, and we recommend that people ensure that it is. We are taking action to ensure that rogue traders are rooted out and, if necessary, disqualified. I remind the House that some 2,800 directors have been disqualified in the past two years.

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough): It disturbs me to agree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), but he and I, like many other hon. Members, have constituents who suffered as a result of the closure of World of Leather. I urge that action be taken for the sake of the consumer and for people such as a constituent of mine who runs a small engineering business. He was recently affected by the closure of Wadkin of Leicester, which left him with a £46,000 debt from that company. My constituent's company may go under as a consequence, yet Wadkin knew full well that it was going under at the time. Much more protection should be given to small businesses and individuals in that situation, and I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to build on the code of conduct and consider further legislation in the next Parliament.

Mr. Caborn: As I said, a consultation document has been issued by the Office of Fair Trading, and I agree that we need to try to tighten up the operation of the code. However, we do not want to place an undue burden on business because the customer will have to pay for whatever policing we put in place. We will try to root out

3 May 2001 : Column 970

unacceptable behaviour through the voluntary code, and we are consulting with all parties to try to toughen the code of conduct.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): Instead of giving such a weak and spinning answer to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), why does not the Minister apologise for the fact that the Government have broken their promise to introduce a consumer Bill in this Parliament? Why does he not say, "We are very sorry, but we have produced only half an insolvency Bill because we were late sending out the second half of the consultation"? Why does he not apologise for spending £200,000 and more persecuting a poor hapless Sunderland fruit and vegetable trader for the heinous and terrible crime of selling 34p worth of bananas in pounds rather than in kilograms? It takes a man to apologise, and I invite the Minister to be such a man.

Mr. Caborn: I think that is from the World of Leather to the world of blather. The hon. Gentleman has excelled himself in probably the last Trade and Industry questions in this Parliament, and I shall treat his remarks with the contempt they deserve.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): The first Bill on which I worked after my election in 1979 was the one that became the Competition Act 1980. We discussed this very issue during our proceedings, and for 20 years since then Back-Bench Members of all parties have pushed successive Governments on the matter. I will not be in the next Parliament, but may I express the hope that the Government will really sort the problem out? It is a major problem, and consumers all over Britain are very angry.

Mr. Caborn: First, may I, on behalf of the House, thank my hon. Friend for what he has done at Question Time while he has been a Member of Parliament? He has successfully probed many a Minister standing at the Dispatch Box. I know that my hon. Friend has campaigned for 20 years for consumer protections, and that is to his credit. When the Government are re-elected, I hope that we will take on board the serious comments that he has made over the years, and that we will be able to encapsulate that in the action that we take.

Next Section

IndexHome Page