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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): The House will be delighted to hear that, since we extended the small firms loan guarantee scheme to include motor repairers 10 months ago, 69 loans have been guaranteed to the motor repair sector. Since the scheme was extended, applications have increased by 40 per cent. I know that the hon. Gentleman will want to join me in congratulating the sector on taking up that Government help.
Mr. Cameron : Can the Minister explain why small garages are being sent such mixed messages about LPGliquefied petroleum gas? On the one hand, the Department of Trade and Industry has launched "Boost LPG", a programme to encourage garages; on the other, the Department for Transport has stopped making Powershift grants to car owners to convert their cars. Is the Minister aware that if people ring Powershift they find that it has never heard of "Boost LPG", and that if they ring "Boost LPG" they find that it has never heard of Powershift? What would he say to garages, such as Ernigrip in Enstone in my constituency, that have spent thousands of pounds tooling up to convert cars to LPG, only to see what even the most kind-hearted Back Bencher would call a bit of a shambles from the Government?
Nigel Griffiths: I notice that the hon. Gentleman calls for more Government money to go to people who want to convert. I wonder whether he has cleared that with the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the shadow Chancellor has costed it and which further cuts he will propose to achieve that. However, I share the aim of many other hon. Members of ensuring that there is
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP): The top priority concern of the 60,000 small businesses in Northern Ireland, including motor repair industries, is insurance. Already, average increases are about 62 per cent. Sole traders have seen premiums rise by more than 100 per cent., and 21 per cent. face closure. Some 99.98 per cent. of small businesses believe that the Government have not yet done enough about that. What are the Government doing to address the problem of the huge rip-off of insurance for small businesses?
Nigel Griffiths: We very much see insurance as a matter for the private sector companies that are providing it. We also wish to ensure that this is a regulated and fair market. Our concern is such that a working groupunder the chairmanship of the Minister for Work, my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne)of which I was a member, has considered this matter. Premiums have risen for a number of reasons, a key reason being the market. Working with the insurance industry, we have come up with three areas of concern and action. Those have been welcomed by the small business groups that have been involved in advising us. We must ensure that insurance is available to all car owners and to the garages that carry out the repairs. I do not think that the problem is as acute as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I am willing to consider any evidence that he cares to submit to me.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is the Minister aware that, over the past seven years, more than 4,000 small garages have closed? Most cited the main reason as excessive regulation. For example, it is extremely costly and bureaucratic for a garage to open an MOT inspection centre. Furthermore, garage mechanics are now banned from wearing vinyl gloves in case they get eczema. More and more obstacles are being put in front of small independent businesses. The Minister said that he is the champion of small businesses, and he talks about the loan guarantee scheme, but what more can he do to stop the closure of these small businesses that are the lifeblood of rural economies.
Nigel Griffiths: We have done a lot to help those businesses. I mentioned earlier that we have helped them by extending the small firms loan guarantee scheme. Under that scheme during the previous Conservative Administration, those rural motor businesses were not entitled to those guarantees. We have given them other help as well. They are among the up to 700,000 small and medium-sized enterprises that can benefit from the flat-rate VAT scheme. By raising the audit requirements, we no longer require 219,000 businesses to spend up to £275 million a year. Those are tangible benefits. There are lots more, and I think that we are shortly coming to a question that will allow me to elaborate on that.
The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services (Mr. Stephen Timms): The target that 10 per cent. of our electricity should come from renewable sources by 2010 is certainly achievable. That has been confirmed by my Department's renewables innovation review, which we shall publish on our website shortly. We have also put in place a framework of measures that we are confident will deliver that target.
Mr. Rosindell: I take it from the Minister's reply that he expects the Government to achieve the target that they have set out, despite the fact that the current 3 per cent. target is not even being met, and that industry leaders believe that the 10 per cent. target for 2010 is unrealistic. Does the Minister now accept that the Government's preference for and reliance on expensive, unsightly and unreliable wind turbines will not achieve the 10 per cent. goal? Does he agree that, if we are to get anywhere near that target, the Government must diversify the types of renewable energy sources that they prefer and use?
Mr. Timms: No, I do not agree. The target is certainly realistic, and we have made a lot of progress towards it. We certainly had a low starting pointthe previous Conservative Government expressed little if any interest in renewable energy. We are now, however, making the progress that we need to make. The first big offshore wind farmat North Hoyle, off the coast near Rhylstarted providing electricity to the grid last autumn. We made a big announcement about further offshore wind developments before Christmas, and I also announced in December an extension of the renewables obligation forward to 2015, to boost investor confidence. That, too, is helping. I welcome the projection announced this week by the British Wind Energy Association that 500 MW of wind capacity will be built this year, and 750 MW next year. We are making substantial progress and focusing very attentively on ensuring that we hit the target.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): Perhaps I can help the Minister in giving his answer to the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell). Many exciting developments beyond wind power are being researched at Robert Gordon university in my constituency, involving obtaining energy from the marine environment, particularly tidal races. I know that the Minister is in Aberdeen quite often. The next time he is in the city, will he undertake to visit the university to look at those developments and to see how they can help to fulfil the renewables obligation?
Mr. Timms: I know of the work to which my hon. Friend refers. A DTI-supported wave power device has been plugged in at the marine energy test centre in Orkney this weeka centre supported by the DTI, along with the Scottish Executive. As my hon. Friend says, there are some very attractive developments in wave and tide power, and also in other renewable energy
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): The Minister will be aware that Powergen is trying to build a wind farm on the breakwater at Portland Harbour, but is he also aware that the Royal Yachting Association has described the harbour as
Mr. Timms: I am aware of the project, and of the hon. Gentleman's interest in it. I have also seen the press coverage. As Powergen has made clear, the project is at a very early stage and a good deal of consultation will be required, as well as an impact assessment. All the factors that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned will be taken fully into account during that process.
Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton) (Lab): I support the Government's programme for renewable energy and its extension beyond 2010. Would my hon. Friend consider clean coal technology as a source of renewable energy that would also renew jobs in mining, and could make a substantial contribution to energy production?
Mr. Timms: I think that that could make an important contribution to a low-carbon economy in the future. That is why, for some time, we have supported research on the subject. I was in Washington last week, and as my hon. Friend knows the Americans are very interested in clean coal technology. We are working on some ideas with them.