HC Deb 18 June 1998 vol 314 cc500-1
10. Miss Melanie Johnson (Welwyn Hatfield)

What steps she is taking to promote innovation in United Kingdom small and medium enterprises. [45061]

The Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

The Department is committed to the promotion of innovation, particularly within small and medium companies. On 11 June, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade launched the 1998 round of "Smart", the grants scheme for innovation and development in small firms. Many more of the Department's schemes, such as the teaching company scheme, also operate in that area. Innovation and technology counsellors in business links also have an important role in enabling small and medium enterprises to innovate.

Miss Johnson

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. May I tell her that Otodynamics, a company in Hatfield, recently won the Queen's award for technological achievement for its portable equipment for testing the hearing of small babies? That equipment can be used in many locations around the world because no computer or other equipment is needed. It was produced by a company begun by a husband and wife a few years ago, in conjunction with University college, London. Will my hon. Friend comment on how we can promote further projects that are likely to lead to worldwide success in technological development among small businesses? How can we promote further the use of our universities to support and help such development?

Mrs. Roche

I congratulate the business mentioned by my hon. Friend, which is a good example of what can be done when the barriers between business, finance and the academic and science side are broken down, and when the transfer of technology is encouraged. The Government are examining this area, believing that small and medium businesses, especially in the high-tech sector, have the ability to win for Britain. We are working closely with universities, financial institutions and businesses.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

In seeking to promote innovation in small and medium enterprises, does the Under-Secretary agree that the European Commission's proposals for bureaucratic national works councils for companies with as few as 50 employees will offer no help to those companies, and could be a great hindrance to them? Does the hon. Lady agree that, when the President of the Board of Trade was challenged by John Humphrys on how she would cope with the Commission, her response of, "Well, er, we shall see how things go," was spectacularly feeble?

Mrs. Roche

The hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that I have heard the same tired old rhetoric from him before. He cannot answer the points that regulation increased under the previous Conservative Government, and that it is the Labour Government who have sought to tackle excessive regulation. The hon. Gentleman will recall that, during the UK presidency of the European Union, we set up the Best committee, chaired by the well-known British entrepreneur Chris Evans, who has dealt with cutting back European regulation. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to congratulate the Government on our achievement.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

Will my hon. Friend have regard to the fact that mining areas now rely on small and medium businesses to create well-paid jobs; the Tory Government destroyed the mining industry and well-paid jobs? Will she do all that she can to help small and medium enterprises in Yorkshire and Humberside to develop science and technology, so that skilled and well-paid jobs can return to our area?

Mrs. Roche

I agree with my hon. Friend that small and medium enterprises are a good example of things that are helping to regenerate areas where industries have disappeared and new industries are coming in. What is good about those high-growth, high-skilled industries is that they are based on the skills that are in those communities in abundance. We shall do all that we can to support those industries, and I am delighted that recent polls show that the small business community is feeling very confident about what this Government have achieved so far.

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