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4.50 pm

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I did not think I would agree with much of what the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman said, but I did agree with the comment that we should not pretend that everything in the garden is rosy. That would be a disgrace, and very unfair to the people who have lost their jobs, the companies that are struggling and the communities that are under pressure.

We are certainly impacted on by the worldwide recession, but we are also impacted on by decisions taken by Governments in the past. I want to talk first about decisions taken in the 1980s in the industry I worked in—coal mining—and the effect they had not just on the people working in it, but on those working across the whole of manufacturing industry.

In the 1980s, the main way we supported underground coal mine roadways was by putting in arch girders. Arch girders cost £108 a set, and they were used for every yard we moved. In 186 pits, we were moving thousands of yards a week. By the early 1990s, however, there were hardly any pits left, and the impact on the steel industry of the fall in demand for that one piece of equipment was massive. The manufacturing base was therefore impacted on as a result of direct Government intervention, but the impact was not felt only in the nationalised industries. Companies such as Huwood in my constituency, which made conveyor belts, went to the wall; companies such as Gullick Dobson and Dowty, which were making hydraulic supports, were no longer needed; and companies such as Anderson Boyes in Motherwell, which made cutting-edge shearers and coal cutters in this country, have now disappeared or are owned by German companies. That is a clear example of the failure of the market to deliver.

We are now seeing what is happening as a result of our Government having come into office in the 1990s. We have seen the introduction of the regional development agencies; in my part of the world, that has played a major role in supporting manufacturing industry. Sadly, however, the Leader of the Opposition says the regional paraphernalia, as he has described it, is one of the things that he has in his sights in the so-called attack on the quango state. If that happens, that will have a major impact on support for manufacturing industry in the north-east of England.

The regional development agency in the north-east has set up a manufacturing advisory service, which has played a major role in assisting more than 250 companies, helping them to save almost £4 million in the last two years alone. It has also helped to cut CO2 emissions by almost 26,000 tonnes in the same period. The Government, the regional development agency and manufacturers have between them set up the New and Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth, which supports the development of electric vehicles by Smith vehicles—part of Tanfield—near Consett. It also supports Nissan in developing electric cars; my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) mentioned that. A
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new technology centre in the Sedgefield constituency has helped in the development of plastic electronics; that is another example of us tapping into the skills of the people of the north-east, supported by this Government agency that the Conservative party would do away with. A centre for innovation has been developed, too, where we will take forward cutting-edge technology on Teesside to develop biotechnology, making energy from waste and mass.

The traditional skills are still there, too, to be deployed and developed for the use of this nation, as has happened in the north-east of England for centuries. When the Minister began his comments, he spoke about the long history of manufacturing in this country, and there was some chatter about that. In my part of the world, we received a charter from Queen Elizabeth I to develop the first industrial-scale coal mining expeditions anywhere in the world, and in the early 1700s we set up the first industrial-level ironworks, and we still want work today. We are ready, we are willing and we are very, very able to build the new high-speed trains that are at present up for discussion. If the Minister really wants to do us a favour today, he should go to see the Secretary of State for Transport and tell him to give the contract for the trains to the Tyne Valley yard, which just happens to be in my constituency.

There is more to come for the future. There are real opportunities, if we grasp them between us. This is not a job that the Government alone can take on; there is also a role for the private sector. There is so much potential in the coal reserves off the north-east of England. The new methods of accessing coal, including underground gasification of coal, could transform the way coal is used to power the energy of the world. There is more coal under the North sea off the north-east of England than the whole world burns in a year, and we are leaving it there to rot. Joint work between the Government and the private sector is needed in order to access it.

Another development has also come to a standstill: carbon capture and storage. There is much debate in the industry about what to do. What infrastructure should we build? Should we build the equivalent of a B road or a motorway? If we build it too small, will it be fit for purpose for the future? If we build it too large and things do not work out, will we have we wasted money? The truth is that while we are talking nothing is happening, but it needs to.

We are entering a world where turbines that are 140 metres high with blades 55 metres long—the total sweep is 110 metres, which is more than the length of Wembley’s football pitch—are being built off Aberdeen. That is the sort of technology that we are getting into and that is the sort of thing that we want to see off the north-east coast of our country. We can achieve that, but if we are to deliver it, the private sector and the Government will need to step up to the plate. One of the biggest things we are going to be worrying about is the shortage of copper to provide the energy and the cabling from the sea to the shore. We have to get our act together on that. Again, it is down to us to work with the private sector to ensure that that happens. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) spoke about being a free marketeer, but I am sorry to say that the free market has failed this country and without total Government intervention it will do so again.

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4.55 pm

Mr. McFadden: This short debate has shown the passion that exists in this House for manufacturing. Of course this has been a changing story for our nation and we no longer have as many large manufacturing plants with thousands of employees as we did some decades ago. However, in that story of change we must not be too quick to ascribe a story of failure and decline.

One of the themes to emerge from this debate is the impact of the recession on manufacturing. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) rightly said that it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge that, given the people who have lost their jobs and the companies that have gone to the wall. We do acknowledge that, but I wish to say something about the scale of the impact and to repeat the figures that I used in my opening comments. In the year to April, manufacturing output in the UK declined by 13 per cent., which compares with 14.6 per cent. in the United States, 19.9 per cent. in France, 24.3 per cent. in Germany and more than 30 per cent. in Japan. There has been an effect and companies have gone to the wall, but the United Kingdom has not been hit disproportionately hard compared with other countries—some countries have done worse.

A second theme was shown in the agreement across the House on the importance of the transition to a low-carbon economy for our manufacturing future. The hon. Members for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) and for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), and my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) commented on that. It is right that carbon capture should be considered as part of that. This country has to make the most of the transition to a low-carbon economy. Hon. Members have also stressed
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that we need to equip our workers with the skills to take part in the low-carbon economy, and it is important to create opportunities, as well as to know that the demand exists. To that end, we have the Train to Gain programme, we have 12,000 new apprenticeships this year and we have 300,000 more higher education students than we had when we came into office. Ensuring that our country has the skills to take part is crucial, and not only for economic reasons. If we do not ensure that, there will be a great sense of exclusion from the economy of the future, and we must guard against that.

The third theme of the debate was demand, which was raised specifically by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey). He rightly said that the Government made a choice as the recession hit to do what they could to stimulate demand, be that through construction, other capital projects, the car scrappage scheme or action in other areas. We have done what we could to stimulate demand. I accept that we must continue to work on the schemes that we have announced to ensure that they are effective. We have been active on some of the specific problems that have been mentioned, for example in respect of discussions between Corus and EDF Energy about energy prices.

The final theme of this debate that I wish to mention is local pride. That can be seen in the companies mentioned by hon. Members from across the House. Manufacturing gives shape and identity to our constituencies, and what goes for our constituencies also goes for our country. That is why manufacturing is such a crucial part of our economic future.

Question put and agreed to.


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Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Mary Creagh.)

5 pm

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to bring the important and urgent matter of nuclear weapons proliferation before the House. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty, or NPT, is the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime. The treaty came into force in 1970 and is recognised as having been a real success. It was negotiated at a time when there was a very real danger that the number of states with nuclear weapons could reach 20 or more within a decade or so. The fact that that did not happen is recognised as being in large part due to the treaty. The NPT is also given credit for the decision of a number of states that had set out on nuclear weapons programmes, or that had inherited nuclear weapons from their Soviet predecessors, to abandon that path.

The NPT is essentially a deal between those of us with nuclear weapons and those without. The non-nuclear weapons states agree not to pursue nuclear weapons. In return, they have access to civil nuclear energy and a promise of disarmament from the five recognised nuclear weapons states—China, the US, Russia, the UK and France. While the so called “grand bargain” at the heart of the NPT is easily described, supporting and enforcing it is a constantly changing task as technology advances and politics shift. The fundamental issue is whether the NPT is the way forward for the next 20 years.

The developments in nuclear proliferation have been something of a roller coaster ride in the past two decades. Following the end of the cold war, steps were taken to strengthen the non-proliferation regime, and the NPT review conferences of 1995 and 2000 gave us real grounds for optimism.

Review conferences are held every five years as part of the ongoing operation to ensure that the mechanisms in place to protect the world from nuclear proliferation are up to the job. The conferences of 1995 and 2000 were significant successes, with the conference in 2000 adopting a 13-step programme of action for the total elimination of the nuclear arsenals of the nuclear weapons states.

From 2000 onwards, however, we have been going backwards. The last review conference, in 2005, ended in failure. Nothing was achieved. Later in 2005, further efforts to strengthen the regime were made at the UN millennium summit, based on Kofi Annan’s high-level panel report, “In Larger Freedom”. Again, these efforts got nowhere. In the meantime, the United States and India reached a deal that significantly undermined the NPT central bargain. India is a non-NPT country, yet the US agreed to supply India with civil nuclear fuel and technology.

I am sure that other parties were content to see the lack of progress and content to let the US take the blame, but it is clear that the previous US Administration were not working to strengthen the global non-proliferation regime, to say the least. The former UK ambassador to the UN, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, has said:

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All the while, resentment continued to grow towards the nuclear weapons states that their disarmament obligation was not being met.

The link between non-proliferation work and disarmament is strong, and is brought out in the recent report of the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is far more difficult to deal effectively with a less co-operative state, or to build support for measures to strengthen anti-proliferation work, if dissenting parties can point to the failure of the nuclear weapons states to make progress towards disarmament. At this point, I will restate my own view that the UK’s decision to replace Trident is a setback.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend might be coming on to this point, but the decision to go through the initial gate—possibly in September when the House is not sitting—is more than a little bizarre. Does he agree that the Government ought to be brought kicking and screaming back to this place—certainly as the Americans and Russians have moved the debate on—so that we can properly debate whether that is the right way forward?

Dr. Strang: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I agree. There is real concern—certainly among Labour Members—about the September decision. I do not quite see why it has to be made in September and I would like to think that there could be some movement on this point. We know that the Trident replacement bid is a big issue that will not go away—far from it, as it seems to be getting more and more prominent for a range of reasons. My view, like that of my hon. Friend, I think, is that Trident should have been cancelled many years ago. However, I agree with his point.

Having endured those bleak years, are we now on the way up? There are, in my view, real grounds for optimism. The first is the new Administration in the United States. My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told the Foreign Affairs Committee:

That, I think, is incontrovertible.

The new President has declared that he wants to work towards a world without nuclear weapons, to pursue the US ratification of the vital comprehensive test ban treaty and to support a verified fissile material cut-off treaty. As the House will be aware, the US and Russia made progress earlier this week on a joint understanding for a new strategic arms reduction treaty. The START follow-on treaty would reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads and delivery vehicles. Surely that encouraging development points up the difference in President Obama’s approach from that of his predecessor. I would go so far as to say that President Obama provides us with the best hope we have had for years in the area of non-proliferation.

Our own Government have shown that they are seized of the importance of progress at next year’s NPT review conference. In March, the Prime Minister announced that the UK is to work with other countries to set out a “Road to 2010” plan. I understand that publication is likely to come before the House rises, and I hope that is right.

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There are signs of movement at an international level, too. In May the preparatory committee agreed by consensus an agenda for the 2010 NPT review conference. That might not sound like much, but it is a lot better than what has been achieved in the past. Indeed, it was the first time that that has been achieved in the preparatory committee for 15 years. Later in May, the UN conference on disarmament, which had been deadlocked for 12 years, agreed a programme of work, including the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty.

It seems there is indeed scope for progress, and it is vital that we seize this opportunity, because the challenges that we face are urgent. Iran and North Korea are NPT signatories and they have breached their NPT obligations—North Korea has tested nuclear devices. India, Israel and Pakistan have all acquired nuclear weapons since the treaty came into force, with major implications for security in their regions. All three refuse to join the NPT. The NPT nuclear weapons states still hold massive nuclear arsenals, and would continue to do so even after the planned START follow-on treaty is fully implemented.

The security of nuclear material is a great concern, especially as the use of civil nuclear power worldwide is expected to expand. The A.Q. Khan proliferation network shows the ongoing threat of the illicit transfer of technology and materials, and the threat of terrorist efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and materials is surely a continual concern.

So how do we proceed? Looking to the 2010 review conference and beyond, a consensus has been emerging over some of the steps that need to be taken. First, we must see the early entry into force of the comprehensive test ban treaty. It can come into force only when all five nuclear weapons states and all states with civil nuclear reactors have signed. Nine such states, including the United States and China, have still to make this commitment. As I have mentioned, President Obama has pledged to pursue this, and the fact that the Senate is Democrat-led gives further ground for hope.

Secondly, to strengthen measures that prevent the illegal diversion of material to nuclear weapons programmes, we must have universal adoption of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s additional protocol, which allows inspectors more intrusive access. The Government recognise that progress here is a priority.

Thirdly, a fissile material cut-off treaty would halt the further production of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium. The Government have identified that as an essential step towards a world without nuclear weapons and, as I have mentioned, President Obama has reversed the position of the previous Administration and reinstated US support for the treaty.

Fourthly, moves to guarantee supplies of fuel for peaceful nuclear energy uses, enabling countries to forgo the development of fuel-cycle facilities, would limit the risk of diversion and of terrorist intervention. If progress is to be made here, participating states must have absolute confidence that supplies would be guaranteed.

Fifthly, we need proper enforcement measures for states that breach or withdraw from the NPT system—a point made by President Obama in his speech earlier this year in Prague. I am pleased to say that this is also a priority of the UK Government.

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Sixthly, we nuclear weapons states must take steps to de-alert our existing arsenals, reduce our dependence on those arsenals in our defence policies, and improve our levels of transparency. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has pointed out, the fact that we do not even have an authoritative estimate of the total number of nuclear weapons attests to the need for greater transparency.

Finally, we nuclear weapons states have an obligation to disarm. As I have said, disarmament is one of the three pillars of the NPT, and the world is watching closely. The progress towards a successor to START made by the US and Russia this week is an encouraging step in the right direction. Non-nuclear weapons states will need to see that we nuclear weapons states have an ongoing commitment to further, deeper cuts in our arsenals.

This week, Robert McNamara, US Defence Secretary during the Cuban missile crisis, died. Unlike most hon. Members, I can remember the Cuban missile crisis. I was a student and can remember the genuine fear that we all—students and university lecturers—felt at the time. Forty years after that crisis, McNamara famously revealed how close the world came to nuclear war. He said:

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