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18 Nov 2002 : Column 380—continued

Mr. Smith: Yes, except that in bringing forward pilots there will have to be boundaries to the pilot areas. I am not sure that all boundary problems will be unavoidable. We will try to do this as sensitively as possible, recognising the needs of local communities.

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ASW Steel Mill

4.27 pm

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, to debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the closure of the profitable ASW steel mill at Sheerness where 190 were made redundant last week and approximately 150 will be made redundant shortly.

Roger Oldfield acts for the receivers, KPMG. He said at an open meeting in the summer at Sheerness that we would find a buyer but thought that it was unlikely that ASW Cardiff would. Last Monday, he announced the reverse and closed ASW Sheerness.

Three elements about that decision concern me. First, during September 2002, there were four bids on the table: Caparo Industries offered to buy Sheerness. Hopewell Investments offered a similar deal. Ittifaq, a Saudi company, offered to buy Sheerness but the receivers set a condition that it could only sell the product called billets outside the European Union.That was because they had had a better offer from Celsa, a Spain-based steel company. Celsa offered the higher price; it offered to buy ASW Cardiff and some parts of the Sheerness mill.

The receiver's job is to extract the highest price for his list of creditors. No one appears to regulate what he does and though both plants have received Government assistance over the years, it seems that the Government are frozen out of the procedure once a receiver is appointed. That needs to be re-examined.

Secondly, ASW Sheerness is a modern plant with an outstanding management and work force. ASW Sheerness was not closed after the holding company went into receivership in the second week of July but its

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counterpart in Cardiff was. I am glad that the Office of Fair Trading has accepted an invitation from me to look at the Celsa deal.

Thirdly, during the whole period from July and throughout last week, I was in constant touch with Rhodri Morgan, First Minister of the Welsh Assembly, and a number of Welsh MPs, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan), as well as the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation. I know that they were also working with the Welsh Development Agency but here is the anomaly. In the south-east, we have a regional development agency the equivalent of the WDA, but it has little profile; it is called SEEDA. We also have a Government office for the south-east, called GOSE. Not one person from either of those offices was in touch with the ASW management or ASW workers at Sheerness: not one phone call, not one meeting— nothing. It is outrageous. I hope that the SEEDA chairman is carpeted and the chief executive of SEEDA offers his resignation, as they have badly let down my community. They are out of touch and out of sight. The south-east needs its own Minister, so that the management and work force that I represent have the same chances as our fellow citizens in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I hope that you will agree, Mr. Speaker, to the adjournment of business to allow the House to discuss how we can best save ASW Sheerness and ASW Cardiff.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I have to give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24, and I cannot therefore submit the application to the House.

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Points of Order

4.31 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, question 6, from the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing), was withdrawn earlier today, even though it was tabled only last Wednesday. Also, no Scottish National party MPs were present during the very important statement on pensions and benefits. Will you inquire into both those points, and ask why there has been such a lack of participation? Many of us from Scotland believe that they are only part-time Members.

Mr. Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman knows that I will not inquire into these matters.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of today's widespread publicity of allegations that the Government blocked an offer to the firefighters in the summer, will you tell the House whether the Deputy Prime Minister has indicated to you that he might wish to come to the House to comment on his statement of 22 October? In it, he said:

Mr. Speaker: I think that the Deputy Prime Minister is busily involved in negotiations.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the weekend, there was an alarming breach of security at the naval base in Devonport, Plymouth, when two untrained amateurs

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were able to gain access to the base and clamber all over a nuclear submarine. Given that we are supposed to be in a heightened state of security, may I ask whether you have received an indication from the Secretary of State for Defence that he wants to make a statement to this House today about this awful breach of security, and to reassure the people of Plymouth that security will be upgraded and that such an incident will not occur again?

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), Mr. Speaker, will you bear in mind—as I am sure you will—our discussions with your office about the establishment of a joint SNP-Plaid Cymru parliamentary group, the fourth largest parliamentary grouping in this House, and the fact that members of Plaid Cymru can speak on behalf of SNP members as well? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am just about to tell the hon. Gentleman that that is not a point of order or a matter for me.


Industrial Development (Financial Assistance)

Secretary Patricia Hewitt, supported by The Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Mrs. Secretary Liddell, Secretary Peter Hain and Alan Johnson, presented a Bill to amend section 8(5) of the Industrial Development Act 1982: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 5].

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Fourth Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [13 November],

Question again proposed.

Economy and Trade and Industry

4.33 pm

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): At the heart of the Queen's Speech are policies for stability, enterprise and fairness—policies that in the past five years have helped to build strong economic foundations and brought us the lowest unemployment for 25 years, the lowest inflation for more than 30 years, the lowest long-term interest rates for 40 years, and the lowest debt interest payments as a share of national income for nearly 100 years. These are policies for enterprise, stability and fairness that this Queen's Speech—and, later, the Budget—will reinforce, as we overcome the uncertainties since 11 September and the most difficult world economic down-turn for 20 years. Twenty other countries, accounting for 60 per cent. of the world's output, have been in, or are in, recession, while Britain, despite world uncertainties that are felt here, has continued to grow.

In this debate on the economy and on trade and industry, my argument is that, in a world where we are more aware every day of both the opportunities and insecurities of globalisation, and the challenge constantly to upgrade our technology and skills, the best way forward for the British economy is, first, to hold firm to our policies for stability and not risk monetary or fiscal instability; and secondly, to continue to create new enterprise, new jobs and better services with reform, and to reject policies that would undermine investment, undermine our new deal for jobs, and undermine our commitment to make work pay.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): There is one economic statistic about which the Chancellor is uncharacteristically coy: he never seems to mention the whopping great trade deficit. Does he believe that that is a problem, and if so, when will it be solved?

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