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Olympic Games

4. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): What steps he is taking to ensure that businesses in the regions can take advantage of the commercial opportunities arising from the 2012 Olympic games. [95031]

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge): Hosting the Olympics provides Britain and British businesses with a unique opportunity to
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showcase our products and services, and to exploit commercial opportunities in the short term to create a lasting legacy for British enterprise in the long term.

We are working with the regional development agencies and the devolved Administrations to ensure that we provide appropriate business support so that companies are fit to compete for games-related opportunities. We are ensuring that there is widespread access to, and up-to-date information about, procurement opportunities, and we are working with specific sectors, such as construction and information and communications technology, to ensure that we take maximum advantage of the commercial opportunities as they arise.

Ms Keeble: There is real interest in the Olympics, but there is a genuine need for the firms to get the information in a proper way and for the procurement processes to be open and transparent. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the contract packaging is right so that the smaller businesses can also get a chance to bid for some of this valuable work? That will enable my region to see some of the benefits from the 2012 games.

Margaret Hodge: I agree with all of that. We are working with regional development agencies to establish a business opportunities network, and we have already started putting online some of the opportunities that exist. My hon. Friend makes valid points, and I will take them on board as we develop our networks and information vehicles.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): May I remind the Minister that it would be advantageous to the regions, and Wales and Scotland, if Olympic events were held outside London? In that regard, will she pass on to her colleagues the message that Bala, my home town, has the best white-water canoeing in Europe, and that on Cardigan bay at Pwllheli, arguably, there is the best yachting in Britain?

Margaret Hodge: I will certainly pass that on to my colleagues. When the Sydney games were held in 2000, Brisbane, for example, benefited hugely, not least because the presence of the British team alone added £6 million to its economy.

Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): One of the best and easiest ways that companies in the north-east can benefit from the games is to host a training camp. Gateshead international stadium in my constituency is ready and waiting, offering world-class facilities. The transport links to the north-east are the best, and visitors will receive the warm hospitality of its friendly folk. Can the Minister say whether a timetable has been discussed yet?

Margaret Hodge: I cannot say whether such a timetable has been established, but I will pass on the enthusiasm to have such a facility in my hon. Friend’s constituency to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): The value of additional tourism and so on arising from the games has been estimated at some £610 million. What
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estimate has the Minister made of the proportion of that income that will be generated outside London? Can she assure me that my Province will get its fair share of the commercial opportunities, along with the rest of the United Kingdom?

Margaret Hodge: We have not made an estimate of the extent to which the benefit will be spread across the whole of the United Kingdom, but we are determined to ensure that we do that. That will happen partly through the way that we distribute the various facilities that the games will require, which is a matter for the Olympic Delivery Authority, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Part of that is about ensuring that businesses are fit for purpose, which we have taken on board, and that proper information is provided to businesses so that they can take advantage of the games. The fact that so many hon. Members are rising on this question shows the enthusiasm across the United Kingdom for the hosting of the Olympics here in 2012.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the games represent a great opportunity for the manufacturing sector, particularly the steel industry? Has she had any discussions with the Corus management in particular on how it can take advantage of this great opportunity and play its part?

Margaret Hodge: My hon. Friend the Minister for Energy has responsibility for the steel industry and will take that on board. In general, we have had discussions with the construction industry, and a construction commitment has been signed not only by construction companies but by all suppliers, such as architects and quantity surveyors, to ensure that we use the opportunity of the Olympics to improve our construction practices and showcase the best of British construction as we build facilities.

Tariffs (Far East)

5. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on tariffs on imports from the Far East. [95032]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alistair Darling): Ministers and officials have regular contact with our European Union counterparts and discuss a wide range of issues.

Philip Davies: Is it not disgraceful that we are no longer able to determine our own trade policy? Surely our future prosperity as a country is dependent on promoting our own freer trade policies with countries such as China, rather than being shackled by some inward-facing, backward-looking protection racket. Why does the Secretary of State think that our future prosperity is best decided by the unelected and unaccountable Peter Mandelson in Brussels, rather than by our Government making our own trade policies?

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Mr. Darling: When the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) tells us that his party has changed, he should have a good listen to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. The hon. Gentleman might want to have a word with Lady Thatcher, who in 1986 made a considerable contribution to the very matters about which he is complaining.

The European Union is responsible for trade, and as trade becomes increasingly global, it makes more and more sense to deal with such matters on a larger scale. The United Kingdom plays a very active role, because trade—and, in particular, keeping markets as open as possible and securing a good outcome to the current World Trade Organisation talks—is as important to us as it is to every other country.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Is it true that, as has been reported, the British Government have agreed to support protectionist higher tariffs on Asian footwear in return for Italian support for postponement of the working time directive? If it is not true, will the British Government be voting against those protectionist measures in the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Darling: The British Government have already voted against them. The vote took place about 10 days ago. I know that the hon. Gentleman is very busy these days, but if he takes a look at the record—I am sure that a record is kept of these things in Europe—he will see exactly how we voted.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): On the subject of Peter Mandelson, and in the light of the collapse of the Doha trade round, what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the enthusiasm of the EU Trade Commissioner for bilateral trade deals with countries in the far east and elsewhere?

Mr. Darling: There are two points. I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise that nothing will happen to the WTO talks and the Doha round before the United States congressional elections in the next few weeks. After that—in our view and, I believe, in the view of all involved—it is essential for the American Government, the European Union and, indeed, all the other players to become seriously engaged. Without movement from all parties the talks will not succeed, and while the price of success is immense, there is a huge cost to be paid if the talks fail.

We are prepared to support regional or bilateral trade agreements, but they must be complementary to an overall settlement. Multilateral agreements are far better, and regional or bilateral agreements cannot be seen as a substitute for them, but to the extent that they are considered to be complementary, we certainly support them.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware that the EU’s share of world trade decreased and its deficit widened by 7 per cent. in the first quarter of this year. Surely these unfair, discriminatory tariffs will serve only to make the position worse. Is it not true that their only likely effect is people paying more for their shoes in the shops? Does the Secretary of State agree with Alisdair Gray of
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the British Retail Consortium that they will not save a single job in the EU? What representations is he making to his friend Peter Mandelson to end this situation?

Mr. Darling: As I said, discussions about tariffs on imported shoes took place throughout the summer, and the vote took place about two weeks ago. As I just told the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), the British Government’s position is on the record. However, I agree that we must aim to break down trade barriers. Protectionism is disastrous for trade and industry in the medium and the long term, and we should be ensuring that we can secure as much trade as possible. Europe will depend on it, and this country depends on it. Our approach has always been to take a very liberal view, and I hope that we shall have cross-party support for that.

Business Relocation

6. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): If he will make it a requirement for companies considering relocation overseas to consult the Department, regional development agencies and the local community. [95033]

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge): We encourage companies to consult their employees before making relocation decisions. We also expect companies to work with their RDAs and local communities to help any employees who lose their jobs as a result of such decisions. However, we have no plans to make consultation a requirement.

Bob Russell: I thank the Minister for her reply, but expectations and reality are not necessarily the same. Does she share my dismay at the way in which some absentee owners show contempt for a loyal, hard-working work force, uprooting them and moving them overseas? If she does, would she be kind enough to arrange a meeting with me to discuss the particular problem of a company that may be contemplating doing just that?

Margaret Hodge: I am aware of the company in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and I am happy to meet him to discuss it. Many foreign companies invest in the UK. We have become the location of choice for many such companies, especially those that are trying to establish headquarters somewhere in Europe. Many choose the UK, and we should encourage that because it is good for British jobs and for the UK’s wealth.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the announcement today by MBDA? It is getting rid of 170 manufacturing jobs at Lostock in the constituency adjoining Chorley. Specialist skills in missile technology will not be able to be replicated in the future as and when we need a new missile. These companies such as MBDA come round MPs demanding support and loyalty, talking about investment in the UK and supporting British workers, yet today we have the sad announcement that 170 people will lose their jobs. It is not good enough. What can the Government do?

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Margaret Hodge: Again, I share the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed on behalf of his constituents and those who work for the company. I am happy to meet him to discuss the particulars of the situation that he faces. In the end, companies take commercial decisions. What we need to do, and are doing in the Companies Bill that is currently before the House, is to ensure that we have the conditions in the UK to encourage sustainable investment that will bring jobs to the UK and add wealth to the economy.

Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): I am astonished that the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) thinks that by asking a company to talk to quangos in the UK he is going to stop it from quitting the country. I simply do not know what planet he is on.

Is it not the case that Britain has slipped down the competitiveness league, and that we have to address that problem, which is yet another reason why the tax reform commission that we announced today is so important? In order to create inward investment instead of a flight of capital, will the Minister now announce policies to rebuild Britain’s brand image abroad in a simple and effective way through UK Trade and Investment and, indeed, through our own competitive merits, and put an end to the absurd practice of all our regional agencies costing a fortune by having competing offices in the likes of Shanghai?

Margaret Hodge: I am puzzled by that contribution. I assume that the Opposition have now decided to abolish the regional development agencies as a contribution to finding £21 billion of cuts to fund their tax reductions. I take a much more optimistic, pro-British view of the way we are performing on inward investment. The most recent World Bank report “Doing business in 2007” says that the UK is the best country in the whole of Europe for inward investment. We are one of the top two EU member states on employment law, with Denmark higher. We are in the top two in Europe in terms of protection for investors. We are joint second in the EU for the ease of paying taxes. That is a good record, which encourages foreign investment. It is not the poor record that the hon. Gentleman seeks to describe; he does down businesses and employees in the UK.

Nuclear Decommissioning

7. Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): If he will make a statement on his Department’s use of the Treasury Green Book in calculating nuclear decommissioning costs. [95034]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and British Energy calculate these costs. At all times, the Department follows HM Treasury guidelines.

Mr. Bacon: That is an interesting answer. It contradicts what Mr. Hugo Robson, one of the Secretary of State’s own officials, told the Public Accounts Committee on 27 March. The DTI first claimed that it had followed the Green Book, then admitted that it had ignored it. The Secretary of State
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told me on 6 July that he would write to me explaining the problem. I do not know whether he has written to me and the letter has been lost in the post. Could he send me another copy?

Mr. Darling: I wrote to the hon. Gentleman on 10 July and I will certainly send him another copy. As I understand it, the Department follows Treasury guidelines. As he knows, the purpose of the Green Book is slightly different. It looks at investment appraisal. The discounted rates that the Department has applied in relation to decommissioning costs are in line with the Treasury guidelines. I confirmed that when I wrote to him last July.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): The Government have decided to include nuclear energy in the mix and have promised not to provide any taxpayers’ subsidies. It is important for the right level of provision to be made so that future taxpayers as well as current ones benefit. In view of what the Secretary of State has said, will he go back to the Department and ensure that it uses the 2.2 per cent.—not 3.5 per cent.—figure that is in line with the new Treasury guidance?

Mr. Darling: On the latter point, the Treasury rate to be applied has, as my hon. Friend knows, been reduced to 2.2 per cent., which is the figure being used. On the broader point, we are talking largely about decommissioning costs that have arisen from the fact that, throughout the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, no one sat down to work out how the decommissioning work was to be carried out and costed. That is now being done in respect of a new generation of nuclear power. I believe that it is important to maintain the mix, as my hon. Friend said. We set out the position in July and that remains our position.

Gas Industry

8. Mr. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Whether he plans to reform the regulation of the gas industry. [95035]

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): As confirmed by the recent energy review report, we remain committed to a market-based approach, operating within a regulatory framework determined by our policy objectives and overseen by an independent regulator.

Mr. Rogerson: The world gas price is only one element of the cost to a supply company. What action is the Minister taking, with the regulator, to ensure that a 30 per cent. increase in the price of gas does not lead to an opportunistic 30 per cent. rise in a customer’s bill?

Malcolm Wicks: The regulator Ofgem has recently made strong statements to the effect that it is keeping a very close eye on this. A bit of a time period elapses before wholesale prices can affect the consumer, but I agree that gas prices are coming down at the moment.
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We cannot predict what they will be in the future, but we back the regulator in adopting a strong regulatory approach to the problem.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): Is not the real problem faced by the gas industry the failure of the market in mainland Europe to deliver gas to this country through the pipelines at times when prices here have suggested that it should? What progress is being made in the EU to ensure that all member states actually deliver what they signed up to on energy market liberalisation?

Malcolm Wicks: Steps are being taken to put principle into practice in respect of market liberalisation. The UK Government have led the charge on that and we have seen strong action from one of the commissioners, who initiated dawn raids on companies. Let us also remember that, with the opening of the Langeled pipeline, we will soon have about 20 per cent. of our future gas supply coming in from Norway, with liquefied natural gas coming in from Qatar to the tune of another 20 per cent. Continental Europe is important, but we are certainly not putting all our energy eggs in one basket, which would be the wrong thing to do. We are doing the right thing.

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