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Manufacturing (Vale of York)

6. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): If he will make a statement on manufacturing industry in the Vale of York. [159063]

The Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The Government are supporting manufacturing business in the Vale of York and throughout the Yorkshire and Humber regions. We have allocated an extra £50 million a year over the next three years to regional development agencies. That includes £10 million to Yorkshire Forward to promote innovation and economic development throughout the region.

Miss McIntosh: Is not the Minister ashamed that the Government have presided over 350,000 job losses in manufacturing industry across the country? More than 600 such jobs have been lost in the Vale of York.

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Samsung closed its plant at Flaxby Moor, and more than 100 jobs were lost. British Aerospace lost its plant at Sutton-on-the-Forest, with a loss of more than 50 jobs. The Monroe shock absorber factory closed last year and 392 jobs were lost, and 76 jobs will be lost when the Lawson Mardon packaging factory closes in June. In addition, 64 jobs are under threat at Range Powermax. Will the Minister confirm that the Government have failed manufacturing in the Vale of York?

Ms Hewitt: I am astonished that the hon. Lady made no reference to the 1 million jobs lost in manufacturing industry in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s. Many of those jobs were in the Vale of York. The Government will take no lectures about manufacturing industry from the hon. Lady or from any other Conservative Member. It is a great pity that the hon. Lady does not recognise the many strengths of manufacturing industry, in her constituency and across the country.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that productivity in the steel industry has grown, but productivity has grown in manufacturing industry in general at a rate of 6 per cent. a year. There has been an increase in manufacturing output and exports in the past three months, and forecasters generally agree that there will be further growth this year. Unlike the record of the previous Government, that is a record of which we can be proud.

Chemical Industry

7. Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton): What contribution the chemical industry in (a) the UK and (b) the north-west made to GDP in the last year for which figures are available. [159064]

The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Alan Johnson): In 1997, the chemical industry nationally accounted for 2.2 per cent. of the UK's GDP, with approximately 0.5 per cent. attributable to the north-west.

Mr. Twigg: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he recognise the strategic importance of the Ineos Chlor firm in Runcorn, in my constituency? It is the second biggest chlorine producer in Europe and employs about 2,000 people. Will he do all that he can to ensure that the firm's grant application comes to a successful conclusion soon? The background is that there have been 450 redundancies in my constituency, and that ICI may not have given the firm all the details and information necessary to make investment decisions before it was sold.

Finally, will my hon. Friend do what he can to help the employees and managers at Bush Boake Allen Inc. in my constituency? They are in the middle of a management buy-out at the moment, and redundancies are also possible there.

Mr. Johnson: We are in touch with both companies. Ineos is one of the most important chlorine producers in the country. We are in close touch with Ineos and the regional development agency in connection with future support for the company. As we speak, we are discussing a regional selective assistance application for the plant.

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We are also in close contact with the other company mentioned by my hon. Friend. The chemicals industry is very important to the country, and in fact is the largest manufacturing sector. It is especially important to the north-west. Last year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched the north-west chemicals initiative. We intend to ensure that the sector and the region get the fullest support from the Government.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Minister will know that the Government's new energy tax will hit manufacturing and chemical industries in the north and the midlands especially hard. It will not hit service industries in the south so hard. What calculations has he made of the net outflow of tax revenue from the north and the midlands that will occur because of the introduction of the climate change levy?

Mr. Johnson: The DTI has negotiated successfully with the chemicals industry the levy discount scheme of up to 80 per cent., which the industry has greatly welcomed. The plant that has just been mentioned--Ineos--pays no climate change levy. It is exempted because it is part of the electrolysis process, which is very important.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): E-business.

Mr. Johnson: Yes, but I think the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) is exaggerating the effect of a very important process in ensuring that we keep to the Kyoto commitments, which I believe all parties should fully support.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Given the importance of the sector to the north-west, and the fact that, as it is a higher paid industry with lots of housing associated with former workers close by, pockets of deprivation have inevitably been created close to the industry, will my hon. Friend enter into discussions with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the industry to see what positive measures can be put in place to help to regenerate employment in areas close to the sector?

Mr. Johnson: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The chemicals industry is so important to the north-west because of the points that he makes. The RDA has made the chemicals industry a priority for that region. However, it is important to emphasise that the growth in chemicals has consistently outpaced the growth in the economy overall. Indeed, the growth in the chemicals sector last year was double that of manufacturing in general. The industry has a good future, but we must ensure, as my hon. Friend says, that we deal with some of the problems that we inherited from the past.

Chester Street Holdings

8. Mr. Alan Campbell (Tynemouth): What plans he has to institute a DTI inspector's inquiry into the events leading up to the collapse of Chester Street Holdings. [159066]

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The Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce (Ms Patricia Hewitt): I share my hon. Friend's concern about the collapse of Chester Street Holdings and the dreadful situation of thousands of men who are suffering from asbestos-related diseases and whose employers' insurance policies were held by that firm. We are working across Government to resolve this very complex situation as quickly as possible to help the sufferers and their families.

Mr. Campbell: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Is she aware of the great sense of anger on Tyneside at the way in which asbestos victims are being denied proper compensation while directors of the company, such as Mr. Robert Hardy, are lining their pockets with huge wage rises and bonuses? What assurances can my hon. Friend give that all asbestos victims will receive proper compensation, and that lessons will be learned from this, not just for workers in other industries, but for the insurance industry as a whole?

Ms Hewitt: I am indeed aware of the anger and despair felt by the victims and their families. Let me make it clear that we will not allow the insurance industry to walk away from Chester Street Holdings or from the people who thought that their employers had effective insurance cover with that company. As my hon. Friend is aware, the Policyholders Protection Board will protect individuals whose employer no longer exists and whose insurance policy was compulsory. We are working with the insurance industry, as my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary has made clear, to deal with the position of employees whose employer no longer exists but whose insurance cover was not compulsory. Between us, we will ensure that lessons are learned and that matters are put right, not only for these individuals but for the future.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): The collapse of Chester Street Holdings needs investigating. However, does the hon. Lady agree that it is no use having a report unless it is published? So before she launches a new DTI inquiry, will she reveal the information that her Department already holds on the connection between the late Robert Maxwell, the business dealings of the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson), and the funding of the Labour party? Will she confirm that that report was carried out two years ago by her Department, but it remains a cover-up because it had not been--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The question is narrower than the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises. Any right hon. or hon. Member who is attacked in any way should be given notice of that, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has given such notice. However, the original question was far narrower than the area that he is going into.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I am not attacking the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West--I am simply pointing out the subject of a report that is held by the DTI and which is not being published, in defiance of all the

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principles of openness and good government. Will the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce publish that report?

Mr. Speaker: Order. What the Minister will do is reply on Chester Street Holdings. If the right hon. Gentleman has nothing to say about Chester Street Holdings, the Minister will have nothing to say, either.

Ms Hewitt: I think that the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) has made clear his complete lack of interest in the victims of the collapse of Chester Street. It was the Labour Government who, in 1999, banned the importing, the sale and the use of all forms of asbestos. In relation to Chester Street, we are seeing--in those victims--the effect of years of neglect of asbestos problems by previous Governments.

On the other matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has made the legal position clear. The right hon. Member for Wells does not seem interested in facts of law on that case.

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