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5 Dec 2002 : Column 1040continued
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?
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 ownall 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.
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.
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?
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
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 answernot just in ceramics but in other sectorsis 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.