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Kali Mountford : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Following on from the last question and my right hon. Friend's answer, is it not the case that sophisticated, developed western nations have a great deal to gain from good trading relationships that allow poorer nations to develop new wealth? To that end, Europe, being a sophisticated economy, has perhaps the most to gain. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging Pascal Lamy to reconsider whether to hold talks following Doha, and show the flexibility and leadership that is needed to get the talks back on track?
Ms Hewitt: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, at the recent informal Council of European Trade Ministers, I strongly made the point that the EU needs to show real leadership if we are to get the Doha talks back on track. For various reasons, the other key members and groupings in the WTO are not in a position to do that. We need to do that in the EU, and I am glad to say that among both existing member states and accession states there was strong support for that position.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that many of us believe that the Government deserve credit for their work in promoting free trade, which enriches nations? However, was not an opportunity missed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to help to revitalise the Doha development agenda? Will she look again at the Conservative proposal for an advocacy fund, which would help developing countries to secure access to quality legal and economic advice on those important issues?
Ms Hewitt: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post on the Front Bench. No opportunity was missed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reported to the House a few days ago, the Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed in strong language on the need to reinject momentum into the Doha round. Given the range of countries and economies that the Commonwealth represents, that was hugely important. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, about the advocacy fund. The Government have invested very substantially indeed in building the capacity of developing countries to argue their position within the WTO. Indeed, we saw some of the fruits of that investment at the Cancun conference. An advocacy fund would undermine the process of capacity building, which developing countries have made it clear they want.
Mr. Chaytor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. Regardless of the accuracy of the report, is it not the case that politicians in Northern Ireland, both Irish Governments and the Governments of Iceland, Denmark and Norway continue to complain about the impact of radioactive emissions in the Irish sea and the North sea? Is there any possible argument for continuing with the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, and should we not separate the issue of reprocessing from the wider debate about the role of nuclear power in our future energy supply?
Nigel Griffiths: There certainly is such a case. Our generation has an obligation to ensure the safe disposal of contaminated nuclear material produced by a previous generation. However, my hon. Friend makes a serious point, and as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee he takes a keen and informed interest in the matter. I have no wish to do anything that would spoil good relationships with our neighbours, but reports such as this, which are not founded on a shred of fact about anything reaching the beaches of Northern Ireland, can only fuel distrust between us as they are complete fiction. We take such reports seriouslyit is important that perceptions of the treatment of any materials, whether contaminated or not, at Sellafield or elsewhere, are taken with the utmost seriousness and dealt with accordingly. I believe that we are doing so, but we must be ever vigilant.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP): Notwithstanding the Minister's answer, he will know that emissions from Sellafield are a long-standing worry in Scotland, Ireland and the north of Wales. He will also know that the nuclear industry has recently spent a great deal of money on slick advertising campaigns and lobbying on a future energy mix with the aim of assuring us that it is all safe. Will he tell the nuclear industry that that effort and money would be better spent cleaning up the mess at Sellafield?
Nigel Griffiths: I visited Sellafield a short time ago, and I can tell the House that there is an impressive amount of work on the site and that responsibilities are taken seriously. Doubtless, BNFL will read the hon. Gentleman's comments in Hansard.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): The Government have accepted in full the findings and recommendations of the Competition Commission, following its investigation into the supply of banking services to small and medium-sized enterprises.
Mr. Chidgey : Have not the Government abandoned their promise to establish an independent payments regulator in the banking industry? It is now more than three years since the Cruickshank report revealed that the banks were making excessive profits out of small business. When will the Government keep their word and crack down on the length of time that it takes banks to clear cheques and electronic payments while they line their pockets at the expense of our small businesses?
Nigel Griffiths: That is a serious matter and the Government have indeed cracked down following the identification of 10 practices that were restrictive or against proper competition. We have ensured that SMEs are entitled to interest on their current accounts or free money transfers, and that money transfers are made more speedily. We now ensure that SMEs have clear advance information on all possible charges, and from 31 December we will make it much easier for SMEs to switch between banks.
Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): My hon. Friend will no doubt accept that banking facilities for small and medium-sized enterprises are important, but are one element of the wider package of support that we give small businesses. Is he satisfied with the package of support that the Department is giving to small businesses, particularly such projects as the Mustard programme in areas like north Staffordshire, where the start-up of small businesses is way below the national average? Will my hon. Friend look into the situation to see what improvements can be made?
Nigel Griffiths: As my hon. Friend knows, I have personally examined and investigated with my officials the provision of support for small businesses in his area, and I found that that contract was awarded quite legitimately. On the lack of start-ups in any part of the country, including his constituency, by comparison with the national average, the Small Business Service is determined to ensure that more people do start businesses. Yes, I am satisfied that steps have been taken by the Small Business Service and othersthe regional development agenciesto ensure that we have an enterprise culture where people are able to start and grow their businesses, and where there are more businesses growing for the prosperity of communities in every part of the country.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): Does the Minister accept that more and more smaller businesses are being forced to look to banks and other professional bodies for support in dealing with the routine management of their payroll, entirely as a result of the Government's ill-judged imposition of regulation and changes to the tax credit system that make it impossible for a small business man or woman to manage the
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): If the banks are cheating small businesses, as suggested by that Liberal, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey), and others, is there not an easier way of putting a stop to that in a decent worldthat is, to call upon all Members of Parliament on the Tory Benches who are directors of banks and other companies to stop the cheating?
Nigel Griffiths: My hon. Friend has mellowed in his time in the House. I was anticipating another more drastic remedy, which I did not think the banks would approve of, but as he did not mention public ownership, I warmly endorse his comments. I know that all Members, on behalf of their constituents, will raise with the heads of the banks any grievance they have about the treatment of small business or constituents, and I am sure those matters will be attended to.