Previous Section Index Home Page

13 Jun 2006 : Column 226WH—continued

13 Jun 2006 : Column 227WH

We are realists, of course, and recognise the impact of globalisation, which is felt throughout the country and Europe, but on the whole we feel that we do not always do as well as we could, and that is the concern that impelled my hon. Friend to secure this debate.

I have three specific matters of great concern to Coventry to bring to the Government’s attention; I am sure that the Minister will take them on board and that we shall pursue them subsequently through her. Before I come to them, however, I should mention that we should not feel that all is doom and gloom or that all is lost in manufacturing in the country as a whole.

We accept, of course, that those Jaguar, Massey Ferguson and probably Peugeot jobs—although that issue has not been finally decided—will not come back to Coventry and that we shall have to seek newer and different manufacturing outlets. However, in the nation as a whole, manufacturing is 20 per cent. higher than in 1975, despite the dramatic falls in 1979-81 and 1991 under successive Conservative Governments, when it dropped by 25 per cent. and 8 per cent. respectively.

In the past 10 years, despite the impact and the pressures of globalisation, we have broadly sustained our level of manufacturing output. However, in Coventry we have felt the pinch very badly, and we welcome this debate to make it clear to the Minister how we think the Government could help. We are not looking for subsidies, handouts or anything like that, but for what the Chancellor in person has always committed himself to: competitive new ventures with high added value, through which we can be resistant to the pressures of globalisation.

I should like to bring three specific issues to the Minister’s attention. First, I mention investment in the Browns Lane plant, which happens to be in my constituency and with which we have had long-standing good relations. Mr. Peter de la Marche, an entrepreneur of great vision and energy, has taken over the site with a big investment of £50 million and I am sure that the whole House, as well as those in the Chamber today, wish him well in the bold, exciting venture that he is bringing to Coventry. He has a brilliant new idea for modular building, and his company name is pretty eponymous: Delamar Construction.

I understand that some of that project’s issues are yet to be finalised with the Government; there is an application for support of one sort or another, and it would not be appropriate for me to go into the details of that. However, may I lodge with the Minister and, through her, the Department, a request for an early meeting on the matter? I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South and my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), who I am delighted to see are both present today, wish to join me in that, because we see a huge opportunity for the Government to play a key, unlocking role. Again, I pay tribute to Peter de la Marche himself.

I should also like to raise the issue of the Ansty site, already referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South, which is an extremely important potential development. The hospital trust there has made it clear that it is immensely interested; Yvonne
13 Jun 2006 : Column 228WH
Carter, the dean of Warwick university medical school, and Mr. David Roberts, of the trust, have both made it clear that they see it as something through which we can really play to the inherent strengths of the city.

As far as the trust is concerned, a huge contract is out with General Electric Medical Systems; on the back of that, we hope to build the first investments in the new medical equipment centre that we would like to establish on the Ansty site. I am pleased to say that we have had an initial meeting with Sir William Castell, chairman of the Wellcome Trust. Previously, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister will know, he was chief executive of General Electric Medical Systems and a board member of General Electric. I am pleased to say that he has agreed to visit the hospital and look at the site in August to see what we have in mind and to make key contacts for us with the company.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South said, the project clearly will need support from the Government and from Advantage West Midlands. Most encouraging is that when a delegation of us saw the Chancellor and were briefed on the meeting, he said that he would take a personal interest in it. That would be a great help to us in pushing the matter forward.

We have fixed other meetings with GEMS, and I have also arranged a meeting with the Advantage West Midlands managing director. As my hon. Friend said, that organisation will be vital in getting the project off the ground. Again, would my right hon. Friend the Minister ensure that we secure maximum support from the Department?

The third area—again, it happens to be in my constituency but none of us makes any apology for that—is London Taxis International, which makes all the cabs in London. As my right hon. Friend is aware, it also has various matters outstanding with the Government and is looking for support on key areas of innovation and new development. If she would take those three matters on board—perhaps we could set up a meeting with her, with officials or with whoever is most appropriate—my colleagues and I would be most grateful.

1.21 pm

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge): I have only nine minutes to talk about an important issue that is of concern to the many Members who are present here. The best I can do is also to offer the courtesy of a meeting as soon as possible to take forward some of the issues that I know are of real concern. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) on securing this debate, short as it is. I can probably make only four or five points, and I shall try to make them briefly.

First, the importance of manufacturing to this country is unquestioned. It contributes one sixth of our gross domestic product, one half of our exports and about three quarters of the money that we put into research and development. It is hugely important, particularly for the west midlands, where it is at the heart of the economy. According to figures that I have been given, there are 23,000 manufacturing enterprises
13 Jun 2006 : Column 229WH
in the region. Most of them are small and medium-sized enterprises, but it is still the case that one in five people working in the west midlands works in manufacturing. One of my jobs as the new Minister for Industry and the Regions is to determine what initiatives we can take to strengthen manufacturing at a time when there are losses in manufacturing jobs, although as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) said, there is also an increase in output from those jobs.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I know that my right hon. Friend is short of time, so I shall be brief and simply say that several points raised by hon. Friends have echoed with me because of what happened at Longbridge. While she is setting up meetings to examine things in greater depth, may I ask her also to meet interested colleagues to review progress since the final report of the taskforce? Economic regeneration of the area around the Longbridge site, building human capital in the area, overcoming training barriers and so on require further discussion.

Margaret Hodge: From my time wearing my previous ministerial hat, I know that my hon. Friend played a key role in these matters. I was able to work with him on all aspects of the Longbridge closure, and I know that he has a particular interest in how the site will now be employed. Of course I will be happy to discuss with him and others our plans for the site.

I want to say a little about the car industry, as there is a tendency to get the bad news in the press and to forget the good news. In the early 1970s, the United Kingdom produced some 1.9 million cars. By the early 1980s, that had gone down to 900,000, but the figure for 2005, which is the latest year for which we have statistics, is up again at 1.6 million. We should be proud of that.

Of course, closures are devastating for the individual families involved, the local communities and the work force, but equally, there is a growing number of good stories. I do not have time to go through them now, but one just has to look at Toyota in Burnaston, Nissan in Sunderland, BMW in Oxford and Honda to realise that we are bringing into the UK manufacturing that was done in the past in places such as Japan and Brazil. There are some good news stories as well.

As far as Peugeot is concerned, I understand entirely what my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South said about the devastation that losing those 2,300 jobs will create and the impact that it will have on the work force and their families. He drew attention to the fact that the Government did what they could to support production of the new 207 model by allocating £14.4 million, which was never taken up by Peugeot. We are in close contact with the company and will ensure that it meets its legal obligations.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in paying tribute to the chairman of the Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire Partnership, Brian Woods-Scawen, who brings together all the local stakeholders to ensure that proper support is provided for the workers through the learning and skills council and job centre, for local communities through local authorities and for the
13 Jun 2006 : Column 230WH
suppliers. He works with all the key local partners and has said that he will come to us if he requires more assistance.

My hon. Friend was asked about the boycott, and I would add only one thing to his remarks. We must remember the dealerships, which employ some 5,000 people, and that 73 per cent. of cars produced in the UK are exported. It is a good export industry, and we depend on that world trade.

In the final moments, I shall discuss briefly the Ansty development site, which I know is of great interest to local Members of Parliament. It is a complicated site, and I am told that it must go through complex reclassification and planning consultation, which will take time. According to the time frame that I have been given, it is unlikely that the process will be completed until 2008. Difficult planning and commercial considerations are involved, but I am aware of the interest in that site of my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry, South and for Coventry, North-West and others who are present for this debate, and I would like to have further discussions about it.

I, too, congratulate Delamar Construction on the work that it is doing on the Browns Lane site. It could employ up to 2,000 people, which would be a welcome change. To be honest, I am not totally aware of the funding application, but I will try to take it up and review it. Again, perhaps we could discuss it at our meeting.

Mr. Robinson: On that point and the others, it would be most useful if my right hon. Friend would agree to a meeting where we could table these concerns, get a full background briefing and urge her as to their importance.

Margaret Hodge: Similarly, I shall also take up the situation in respect of London Taxis International.

May I say one further thing on trade union rights, which were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South? My previous role as Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform and my current responsibilities as Minister for Industry and the Regions have led me genuinely to believe that the more liberal labour market environment in which we operate has brought huge benefits and many jobs to the UK. Inward investment is as important in attracting jobs as the fear that people have about whether we have rather looser trade union rights. I would challenge people’s fears about looser rights. I do not believe that that is the case. The work that we did in 2000 on the recognition of trade unions and on collective bargaining and in our 2004 legislation to ensure continuous consultation and information, and the trade union rights that exist around redundancies, are all good. I hope that the unions will use the European works councils, which are a new facility open to multinational companies.

We should never forget the benefit of inward investment. The UK is now considered the best place in Europe for inward investment, and with that comes jobs. According to the latest figures, which are for 2004, we had more than 560 new inward investment plans.
13 Jun 2006 : Column 231WH
That was more than any other European Union country. France, which is topical at present, had fewer than 500 new projects for inward investment.

In the brief time available, I have not done justice to the important issues that were raised in the speeches and through interventions. I would be happy to have a meeting—

Mrs. Janet Anderson (in the Chair): Order. We now move on to the next debate.

13 Jun 2006 : Column 232WH


1.30 pm

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to have an Adjournment debate on this topic. This debate is timely in a number of ways, given the decision by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence that was announced a couple of weeks ago and the fact that this week is national carers week.

Many of those on the front line of dealing with dementia are not the individual sufferers, but those affected by the ripples that it sends out through the family and those who take on the role of informal carers, the consequences of which can be huge in terms of stress and its health consequences. I want to cover two or three issues in this short debate, not least the decisions by NICE, and try to tease out where the Government think we should go from here.

It is about 100 years since Alois Alzheimer first described the disease that today bears his name, at a medical conference in Germany. One hundred years on, there is still no cure and our understanding of the basic biological processes behind dementia remains limited. Dementia affects about one person in 20 over 65 and one person in five over 80. There are estimated to be about 750,000 people in the UK with dementia, and that figure is set to rise to more than 1.8 million people by 2050. There is debate to be had about the veracity of those figures, and there is perhaps more to be done to ensure that we are clear on what the epidemiological data tell us and what the trends really are. However, those figures are generally accepted and they demonstrate that there is a significant and growing financial burden as a result of dementia.

That burden is three times more than that of any other of the major diseases—cancer, stroke and heart disease—put together. That is why dementia is one of the greatest health and social care challenges of the 21st century. It is rated by the public as second only to cancer as the disease of which they are most afraid. There is a taboo about dementia and a fear about losing one’s independence and becoming debilitated, at the root of which is perhaps the fact that there is no cure. Recent events have done little to change that perception and have perhaps even fuelled that fear further.

NICE’s recent decision to restrict or even ban certain Alzheimer’s drugs has come as a blow to patients, carers and clinicians alike. Before exploring that decision, however, I should like to pose some questions about research. The basic science behind dementia is still in its infancy. Investment in essential research has not been made and many in the field of medical research believe that research on Alzheimer’s and dementia is about 20 years behind where it could have been if it had received adequate funding.

Research on treatment and cures for Alzheimer’s receives far less funding than such research for other diseases. As of 2001, research on Alzheimer’s received just £3.7 million of Government research funding, as compared with £33 million for cancer research, and the most recent figures suggest a widening of the gap in research spend. For every £11 spent per Alzheimer’s patient on UK research annually, £289 is spent per
13 Jun 2006 : Column 233WH
cancer patient. I want to make it clear, however, that I am not questioning the investment that has been made in cancer research; I merely point to the unevenness of the research effort.

Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman makes his point well. Does he agree that one of the effects of the relative underfunding of research into Alzheimer’s is that a burden that would otherwise fall on the taxpayer is placed on carers, often spouses, who are put under enormous pressure as a result?

Mr. Burstow: The hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in such issues for a considerable time and I share his analysis. Costs are shunted away from the formal care system in the health service—that might be accelerated as a consequence of NICE’s decisions—and on to individuals. The costs become hidden, but the consequences return to haunt us in the public domain, because they lead to increased health care costs for those who have taken on the caring burden. The saving is therefore illusory, not real. If a disease costs as much as dementia does, it is common sense to commit more research to find ways of preventing and curing it.

The establishment of the dementias and neurodegenerative disease research network has of course helped to provide much-needed infrastructure and follows the template that has been used for developing cancer research. However, there is a still a need for more fundamental research, because without a better understanding of the basic science behind dementia, the potential of the network is reduced. As one researcher put it to me recently:

If Alzheimer’s is a Cinderella in the research world, non-Alzheimer’s dementias are like Cinderella’s poor relations. For example, the Medical Research Council is funding only one clinical trial in dementia and no trials investigating the treatment of non-Alzheimer’s dementias. Even basic treatment questions regarding the use of aspirin or anti-hypertensive treatments in people with vascular dementia, for instance, remain unanswered.

It is not just in research that the Cinderella status comes to the fore. The treatment of dementia was dealt a heavy blow two weeks ago, when NICE published its guidance on Alzheimer’s drugs. Not surprisingly, the decision has provoked a huge outcry from patients and carers groups, clinicians and hon. Members from all parts of the House. Placing strict conditions on when the dementia drugs can be used will have a hugely detrimental effect on patients, families, carers and health care professionals. Having issued positive guidance in 2001, NICE has changed its mind, leaving people with mild Alzheimer’s in limbo, condemned to deteriorate before there is any hope of receiving treatment.

Next Section Index Home Page