HC Deb 19 February 1997 vol 290 c909
5. Mrs. Anne Campbell

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement about support for newly established firms in the high-technology sector. [15026]

Mr. Ian Taylor

My Department recognises the vital importance of such firms to the current and future competitiveness of the economy. We therefore support a range of measures to assist them to grow, including the small firms merit award for research and technology scheme and the provision of innovation and technology counsellors in business links, as well as initiatives to assist firms in specific industry sectors such as biotechnology.

Mrs. Campbell

Does the Minister agree that, given that only 6 per cent. of the loans under the small firms loan guarantee scheme go to technology-based businesses, he should be working with the banks, as the Labour party is doing, to double the loans under the scheme by the end of the next Parliament?

Mr. Taylor

I am happy to reassure the hon. Lady, who has kindly agreed with me, that I agree with her; but we will achieve that aim by the end of this Parliament, because we are in the process of inviting offers for the small loans guarantee scheme from other companies that are more familiar with dealing with high-tech companies.

Only the weekend before last, Save British Science and my Department jointly sponsored a conference on bridging the funding gap, which had the venture capitalists talking animatedly with us about how we could encourage finance to go into the smaller companies. I assure the hon. Lady that the debate is alive and well and many of the policies are being applied.

Mr. Batiste

Does my hon. Friend agree that companies setting up in increasingly important human genetic science need a clear ethical framework in which to operate? In view of yesterday's press conference by the Association of British Insurers, will he ask the new Human Genetics Advisory Commission to look at the implications of genetic testing for the insurance industry to see whether further guidelines should be published to encourage the acceptance of genetic screening, which is important to the future of public health?

Mr. Taylor

I can announce to the House that the first full meeting of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission will be held next Thursday. It is an independent commission under the vice-chancellor of the university of Nottingham. It is up to the commission to set its agenda, but I would be extremely surprised if insurance was not one of the subjects that it covered early on. I welcome the announcement by the Association of British Insurers, in the sense that I want the debate to come into the public domain. Genetics is a great force for good in terms of our understanding of human disease and our ability to prevent it. I do not want there to be any misunderstandings about the involvement of insurance in genetics, and I want to encourage a wide public debate about it.