Sustainable Development Technologies

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 22nd February 2007.

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Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Rt Hon David Miliband, Secretary of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:30 am, 22nd February 2007

What assistance his Department gives UK manufacturers seeking to develop sustainable development technologies.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Industry and the Regions)

The DTI is working with business to encourage the development of sustainable development technologies and sustainable consumption and production practices. This support covers a wide range of activities including support of the UK science base, the technology programme and our joint work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on sustainable consumption and production.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Rt Hon David Miliband, Secretary of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are right to focus support increasingly on clusters of manufacturers and their supply chains by sectoral activity? If she does, and bearing in mind our ambitious target for renewable energy, does she agree that there is an urgent need to expand our base of clusters for renewable energy? If she is with me so far, could she bear in mind for the next time we meet that Stafford is an excellent location for such a cluster, because of its 100 years of experience in power and its existing experiences with solar, wind and biomass, and because we have the only factory in the whole of the UK manufacturing transformers, with worldwide experience in transmission and distribution?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Industry and the Regions)

I agree with my hon. Friend that clusters are an important way to provide strength and build key capacity in such areas. I congratulate him on the work that he is doing in his own constituency to try to ensure that Stafford develops such a cluster and I have no doubt that in his discussions with the regional development agency and in our considerations through the technology strategy we will bear in mind the strong case that he makes.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Following the excellent question from Mr. Kidney, and the Minister's reply, with especial reference to sustainable production, I seek her advice and assistance, and that of the Government. Earlier this week, AstraZeneca, the largest employer in my constituency, announced 700 job losses at its manufacturing site in Macclesfield. I am pleased to say that the job losses will be spread over three years, but one of the reasons the company gave for that decision was the cost of energy. Can the Government give any advice or assistance on that question, because the shedding of 700 manufacturing jobs in a high technology industry such as pharmaceuticals is a very dangerous and unfortunate development?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Industry and the Regions)

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the loss of jobs in his constituency, although I would draw his attention to the fact that we perform well in the pharmaceutical sector. The Government need to continue to provide the conditions that will enable that to continue into the future. That means providing the right business environment and ensuring that we invest in research and development so that we have the innovation necessary to keep us one step ahead.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to draw attention to the fact that energy prices last year did create difficulties for many sectors of industry. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the steps that we have taken to secure energy supply for this winter and beyond and, through the energy White Paper, to bring down energy prices so that we remain internationally competitive in manufacturing, especially in areas such as the pharmaceutical industry.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey PPS (Rt Hon Adam Ingram, Minister of State), Ministry of Defence

May I point out to my right hon. Friend that perhaps the most sustainable source of energy actually lies within the earth's crust, but that historically this country has underdeveloped and under-researched geothermal energy sources? I ask my right hon. Friend to work with the construction industry and other Departments with a view to promoting that source of energy within new construction, which will help not only our carbon footprint, but companies such as Forkers in my constituency that are at the cutting edge of geothermal technology.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Industry and the Regions)

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this important source of conserving energy and sustainable development. Indeed, I am working with the construction industry to look again into what further steps we can take around sustainability in construction to ensure that we conserve our energy resources. We support, and are in various ways investing in trying to promote, geothermal capacity.

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

The Minister said that she is encouraging sustainable technologies development, so can she explain why the DTI's supplemental budget published this week shows that she has cut research council funding by £68 million?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Industry and the Regions)

I simply draw the hon. Lady's attention to the statement, which shows that that is an underspend. It is money that was not spent, which we are drawing back into the remaining overcommitments in the Department's budget.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

One of the ways in which the Minister's Department supports renewable technology is through the low carbon buildings programme, which is so successful that it runs out of money every month. As a result, people who miss the cut-off date have to apply again the next month. As that does not encourage householders to apply under the scheme and is destructive of industry, will the Minister consider providing more funds for the low carbon buildings programme, so that we do not have that arbitrary cut-off period every month?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Industry and the Regions)

I understand that my hon. Friend has tabled a question that may be reached later this morning. Up to 2008, we are providing £12.8 million to meet the issues that he has raised.

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Conservative, Ludlow

Is the Minister aware that the director of the Renewable Energy Association has described the programme as descending into farce? At the beginning of each month when the allocations are opened, they close after shorter and shorter periods. This month, they closed within hours of opening on 1 February. The scheme was set up to encourage the development of renewable technologies in this country, but how can that possibly happen when the scheme stops and starts as it does?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Industry and the Regions)

This is a demonstration programme—we have demonstrated its success and will build beyond that into the future.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

In answer to the previous question, the Minister mentioned the potential for carbon capture technology. There is an exciting potential development at Peterhead, but it is apparently being put in doubt because of the delay in the Government's announcement of financial support for this technology. Can she tell us when a decision will be made and announced on support for carbon capture?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Industry and the Regions)

I question the hon. Gentleman's assertion that there has been a delay in our decision making on how we can better promote carbon capture. That is not the case. We are pursuing, with all the vigour that we can, the important issue of conserving our energy resources.