Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5 Dec 2002 : Column 1040—continued

Broadband Services (Perth)

9. Annabelle Ewing (Perth): What discussions she has had with the Scottish Executive regarding the introduction of broadband services in Perth constituency. [83610]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): My right hon. Friend's broadband taskforce involves all the devolved Administrations and the English regional development agencies and is working to increase the availability and take-up of broadband throughout the UK. Scotland is also benefiting from the £30 million UK broadband fund. This has been the subject of consultation with the Scottish Executive.

Annabelle Ewing: I thank the Minister for his answer, but he will be aware that great swathes of my constituency of Perth are not covered by affordable broadband and that Scotland lags at the bottom end of the UK coverage league table. When does he foresee a national strategy for broadband roll out in Scotland? Will he undertake to discuss with his Scottish Executive counterparts a national funding package to secure broadband roll out as soon as possible in rural areas such as my constituency?

Nigel Griffiths: One minute—four facts. Scotland receives £4.4 million, the largest single allocation from

5 Dec 2002 : Column 1041

the UK broadband fund. There are technology trials in Campbeltown, a rural part of Scotland, totalling £65,500. Establishing a wireless network in the Western Isles is getting £1 million worth of resources. In the hon. Lady's constituency, the DTI is contributing £70,000 to trials in Crieff to ensure the use of electrical means rather than telephone wires or cable TV. Any other Member from any other party would be congratulating the DTI and the Government.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I cannot allow that question to go beyond the hills of Perth.


10. Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West): If she will propose legislation limiting the use of fireworks to local government licensed events. [83611]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Miss Melanie Johnson): I have no plans to limit the use of fireworks to organised public displays, including local organised events.

Mr. Best : Will my hon. Friend explain a little further why not?

Miss Johnson: One reason is that it would require primary legislation and our current programme does not include such a Bill. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the Government supported a private Member's Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy). Sadly, it was talked out on 3 July 1998, but it would have included provisions such as those referred to by my hon. Friend.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Does the Minister appreciate that many Members have received numerous complaints on the subject of fireworks, especially from people in urban and suburban areas? One of the biggest problems is the level of noise. In my constituency, that affects elderly people and people who keep livestock outside, especially birdkeepers. If the hon. Lady is unable to consider legislation such as that proposed by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best), is there some way noise from fireworks can be reduced to acceptable levels?

Miss Johnson: I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman and his constituents, and indeed all constituents, including my own—all of whom have in recent times suffered from a high degree of noise nuisance from fireworks, as have their pets. The package of measures that I announced on 15 October will do much to cut noise from fireworks, because a ban on air bombs will be effective from January. They are among the noisiest repeating fireworks that are cheaply available and cause noise and nuisance that is completely unacceptable in local communities.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West): Although I welcome the package of measures, they go nowhere near far enough. Fireworks continue to be sold well after bonfire

5 Dec 2002 : Column 1042

night. Some fireworks are so powerful that they can blow up telephone boxes. It seems that there is consensus for legislation on both sides of the House, so can we introduce a licensing scheme, with licensed distributors, for the sale of fireworks and stop their sale from shops? Secondly, can local authorities licence events such as parties and celebrations so that there is some control of the whole business? I am sure that there is agreement on both sides of the House for the speedy introduction of legislation to tackle that abuse.

Miss Johnson: I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a degree of consensus, which we welcome. I am also aware that we need to give the measures that I announced some time to take effect, as there will be a lead-in time for the fireworks industry as regards the sale of fireworks. However, in addition to those measures, the Government stand ready to look further at the need to promote quiet communities and to secure safety through other opportunities that may arise in the future.

Liabilities Management Agency

11. Tony Cunningham (Workington): What discussions she has had with trade union representatives on the implementation of the Liabilities Management Agency. [83612]

The Minister for Energy and Construction (Mr. Brian Wilson): My officials are in regular dialogue with national officers from all the main unions representing the employees of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd., Magnox Electric and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. They have also held a number of meetings with union representatives at site level. A meeting with Sellafield representatives is taking place today.

Tony Cunningham : I very much welcome that, because my constituents in west Cumbria would urgently like a meeting with the Minister. Would my hon. Friend be prepared to meet representatives from west Cumbria, where there are serious concerns about the implementation of the LMA, especially as regards wages and conditions?

Mr. Wilson: I should of course be pleased to meet them. I occasionally meet stewards and full-time officials from Sellafield, both formally and informally, and I should be pleased to discuss the issues and, I am confident, to lay their concerns to rest.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): When the Minister comes to implement the Liabilities Management Authority, is he proposing to transfer historic waste liabilities from British Energy to the LMA? If so, will he transfer with that funds and assets from British Energy commensurate with those liabilities?

Mr. Wilson: That is still an open question and was not part of the arrangements announced last week.

5 Dec 2002 : Column 1043

Ceramics Industry

12. Ann Winterton (Congleton): What recent assessment she has made of the future economic viability of the United Kingdom's ceramics industry. [83613]

The Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions (Alan Johnson): The ECOTEC study published in March 1999 is the most recent report on the ceramics sector. This led on to the creation of the Ceramics Industry Forum, which is supported by £3.3million of DTI funding. More generally, departmental officials keep up to date with developments in the sector through regular meetings with ceramics firms and intermediaries covering a wide range of productivity and competitiveness issues.

Ann Winterton : Is the Minister aware that the UK ceramics industry has been better placed than its European counterparts to withstand competition from low-cost importers because of the comparative flexibility of the UK labour market? However, will he address the concerns of ceramics manufacturers in the Congleton constituency, as well as the British Ceramics Confederation, who believe that that slight advantage is being seriously eroded by the incessant imposition of unnecessary and unrelated regulations by this Government, which add costs and reduce competitiveness and will affect future investment and employment opportunities?

Alan Johnson: I accept that the ceramics industry feels that it has an advantage in this country thanks to the splendid policies of this Government. The intelligent question from the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and the answer from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State addressed the issue of regulation. All sectors of manufacturing are, of course, concerned about additional regulations, but they are also extremely discriminatory in terms of the regulations about which we are talking. For instance, employment regulations such as the minimum wage, the right to paid holidays and the right that part-time workers be treated the same as full-time workers do not even register on most manufacturers' Richter scales. Most good employers in this country see such measures as decent and proper terms and conditions for their employees. The problems in ceramics are being addressed through the industry forum, for which the Conservative party was committed to remove funding as part of £300 million of cuts in business support. The industry is taking the issues forward and having an intelligent debate about regulations, which is not always what we hear from the Conservative party.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): May I dissociate myself from any call that the Government should not be looking at extending employment rights to workers in the ceramics and potteries industries? However, my hon. Friend the Minister is well aware that we cannot disguise the fact that the ceramics industry has faced severe problems, arising particularly out of the

5 Dec 2002 : Column 1044

global market in which it is operating. It is important that we stick with the agenda of innovation and design. I invite my hon. Friend to visit—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call the Minister.

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend can invite me to visit; I am just not sure where. [Laughter.] She makes an important point about the ceramics industry. The only answer—not just in ceramics but in other sectors—is to add value and to continually innovate, so that we can compete on the same basis as our competitors from Japan, Germany and the United States; not in terms of low pay or low skills but in terms of high added value. I should be pleased to visit Stoke-on-Trent. I was due to visit twice, but the visits had to be called off because of parliamentary business. However, we will rearrange the visit shortly.

Next Section

IndexHome Page