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Petroleum Coke

3. Mr. Hardy: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will take steps to prevent the use of petroleum coke for the purpose of electricity generation. [19442]

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Energy (Mr. Richard Page): Any proposal to use a fuel at a power station must satisfy the appropriate regulatory requirements.

Mr. Hardy: Does the Minister deny that petroleum coke is a particularly dirty fuel? The licence that is currently being processed will be viewed with bitter disfavour in my region. Does he accept that, if that fuel is burned in Yorkshire, it will serve as evidence of the Government's disdain for our international environment commitments, and will show the critical nature of coal stocks. It will also provide a final commentary on the Government's deplorable handling of the British coal industry.

Mr. Page: I thank the hon. Gentleman for coming to the House and asking me my one question for today, rather than withdrawing a question that I was due to answer, as all the other Opposition Members have.

The Environment Agency has permitted the trial. It will regulate the trial throughout to ensure that it operates within authorisation, and will be able to withdraw authorisation if the trial exceeds any of the limits that have been laid down.

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As for the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the decision to go ahead is a matter for National Power, not for the Government. We all know the mistakes involved in trying to second-guess industry; we also know the supreme results that are being achieved through privatisation. Domestic electricity prices have fallen by 4.6 per cent. in real terms since privatisation, including VAT, and prices for industry have dropped by 14.8 per cent. I know what that means, and the House knows what it means: it means lower costs, more sales and more jobs.

Mr. Wigley: The Minister talks of not second-guessing industry, but does he not accept that the amount of pollution caused by the various methods of generating electricity is a matter of public concern? Does he not accept that Government have a responsibility to devise a mechanism, whether through tax or by other means, to ensure the maximisation of clean sources of electricity production--whether through hydro, tidal or other sources--and to minimise the amount of electricity that is produced from dirty sources, especially those generating an undue proportion of carbon?

Mr. Page: Let me say, as Minister in charge of the non-fossil fuel obligation, that only two weeks ago I announced the largest round of the non-fossil fuel obligation programmes. I sincerely hope that much more "green" electricity will be produced in this country. As for what the hon. Gentleman says about this type of fuel, I know that £1 billion has been spent on flue gas desulphurisation in the Drax and Ratcliffe plants, and I am certain that the Environment Agency will not allow generation to proceed if it produces the levels of pollution to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Manufactured Exports

4. Mr. Garnier: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what are the latest figures for manufactured exports from the east midlands. [19443]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Anthony Nelson): Separate regional figures are not available, but nationally the figure for manufactured exports for 1996 was £139 billion, with east midlands companies making a full contribution. That represents a 9 per cent. increase in both value and volume when compared with manufactured exports for 1995.

Mr. Garnier: On behalf of manufacturers in my constituency and throughout the east midlands, I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done to promote British exports in his capacity as Minister responsible for export trade. It was with great regret that we learned that he was retiring from the House.

May I remind my hon. Friend that the economic picture in the east midlands has never been better, and that business confidence has never been brighter? That is evidenced by longer order books, and by the increasing number of jobs that are being created in the manufacturing and exporting sectors in the east midlands. Does my hon. Friend agree--has it been his experience when he has travelled abroad on behalf of the United Kingdom--that all that would be put at risk if we were to invite a Labour

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Government into this country, given all the Labour party's job-destroying activities and its fondness for the social chapter and the minimum wage?

Mr. Nelson: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his generous remarks. It has been a pleasure to keep this Treasury seat warm for him, so that he can take it up in the next Parliament.

I entirely concur, without reservation, with all that my hon. and learned Friend says. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members will listen, I will tell them that there is even better news for the east midlands. According to the respected body, Business Strategies and Cambridge Econometrics, the east midlands is set to become the fastest growing region in the country. That is largely due to the successful revival of manufacturing industry, which, in turn, is entirely due to the success of the Government's policies.

Mr. Skinner: Does the Minister recall that, a week after we had that crowded meeting in Chichester and 100 people were turned away because they would not fit into the town hall, he decided to throw in the towel?

As for the east midlands, is the Minister aware that, following the closure of all the mines in the area, many of the industries that used to supply hydraulic and other equipment to the pits had to close completely because they had lost their home market, and that therefore many potential exports were also lost? There is another story about the east midlands: a story of despair. As many as 50 per cent. are unemployed in some of the former pit villages, and, following the closure of the mines, there is opencast mining all over the counties. The net result is that imports are now coming in to replace the coal that should have been produced by British miners.

Mr. Nelson: The hon. Gentleman will always be welcome in the constituency that I represent. Labour traditionally loses its deposit in Chichester and, by and large, we try to encourage the Labour candidates there. Anything that he can do to help the Labour candidate at the expense of the Liberal Democrat will be welcome. The hon. Gentleman's visit had nothing to do with my decision. The real test will be at the election and I have no doubt who the worthy constituents of Chichester will return on that day.

With regard to the east midlands, it is as if Labour Members do not remember the despair a few years ago in some regions, the unemployment, the difficulties and the lack of hope, which have been transformed by the Government's policies. Unemployment has fallen significantly, and production and prosperity have increased. The Labour party is always in favour of regulation, taxation, state spending and state regulation. It is always the impediment to free enterprise and to prosperity. It always has been and it always will be.

Mr. Tredinnick: May I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in supporting the export drive in the east midlands, thank him personally as my Member of Parliament for many years, and wish him a happy retirement on his last day at the Dispatch Box? Is he aware that the tremendous investment in my constituency at companies such as Triumph, Wace and Deluxe UK Ltd has meant that there is a new export drive based in

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Hinckley? Is he also aware that a recent survey has shown that, if a minimum wage is introduced and a social chapter of the European Union is implemented, at least 1,000 jobs will be lost in Hinckley?

Mr. Nelson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was pleased to come to Hinckley and to see for myself many of the successes to which he refers. It is undoubtedly true that the east midlands has led the way in many of the exports and indeed inward investments that have been so spectacular. No small part of that is the fact that we do not have the overbearing costs associated with the social chapter. It is remarkable that the east midlands is also leading the way in some of our principal new exports. For example, the UK is now the largest exporter in Europe of computers, of televisions and of semi-conductors. That truly remarkable performance is entirely associated with the Government's consistent policies of sound economic and industrial management.

Mr. Bell: It is also the last Question Time for my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and we should wish him well in his retirement after his many years of service to the House. May I also associate myself with the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier)? It is the last appearance of the Minister for Trade, who has been an eloquent spokesman and defender of our interests. I remember a half-hour speech that he made recently without a note and while suffering from a cold. That was testimony to his perseverance and persistence in our interests.

In relation to our £139 billion-worth of exports and to the east midlands, as we had some refreshing honesty from a former Minister with responsibility for transport about how defective our road building programme was, can the Minister explain with the same refreshing honesty why we have had a trade deficit since 1983 on our manufactured goods and why our deficit last year was £12.5 billion--£1 billion a month? Can he explain how that has come about in the past 13 years of a Tory Government?

Mr. Nelson: Yes, but first may I tell the hon. Gentleman how grateful I am for his kind words? He knows that I am leaving the House voluntarily. In case it should prove that in the course of the next few weeks he does so involuntarily, may I, too, say that it has been nice doing business with him?

As for the size of the deficit, the hon. Gentleman has chosen to use the figures for goods. Our trade in services is of almost the same value as our trade in goods, and if we take the figures for services, and add the third component of the current account--account movements, dividends and incomes from foreign investments--we find that this country is pretty much in the black.

We have a very small deficit. According to Treasury estimates it looks as if the deficit for the past year, on a turnover of about $1 trillion on our current account, will be about £1 billion or £2 billion. That represents a remarkable performance. It reflects a huge burgeoning of activity on both the manufactured goods and the services front, and the results of huge investments abroad. Remember that those investments have taken place under the liberal policies that the Government have followed since 1979. The deficit is only 1.5 per cent. of GDP, and the deficit under a Labour Government was double that size.

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