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16 Dec 2009 : Column 302WH—continued

We need to keep the plant alive and making a contribution to the regional and national economy, both as we go into the economic upturn in the new year and in the coming years. I feel strongly that there is a 10 per cent. chance of keeping the Redcar steel complex
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open and we must do everything possible to keep it open. Also, to realise the vision originally held for Teesside Cast Products of a high-quality producer of bulk steel for the world re-rolling market, we must urgently search for new partners. The responsibility for that lies with Corus and the Government.

There are still, I believe, windows of opportunity. I am told that the Pacific rim, for example, has hardly been affected by the downturn in terms of infrastructure projects. Granted, new steel-making capacity will be coming on stream in future years in that region, but that will take a long time to bed in. Teesside is an existing world-class iron and steel-making complex and its products are tried and tested.

While my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar has taken the lead with Corus, I have made every effort and used all my links with Tata to find possible solutions. In the many conversations that I have had with the members of the Tata board, it has been clear that they feel that the Government have not done enough to help the industry; they had lost confidence in the Government's support for steel.

I welcome the announcement that the Government allocated £60 million in a response package, but the Minister will know that there has been some concern in the media and on Teesside about that announcement. I shall therefore ask some important questions and seek reassurances. How much of that cash will come from existing budgets within his Department and the regional development agency, One NorthEast, and is that cash guaranteed for Teesside?

Will the Minister reassure me that the cash allocated to help apprentices is safe, and will he name the agency that is to handle that work? Will the cash from the strategic investment fund, boosting efforts to build a low-carbon economy in the region, come to Teesside, given that previous commitments to the new and renewable energies cluster were for the whole north-east? Are those low-carbon funds as yet unallocated? Will the cash for biotechnology initiatives be used to offer new employment openings for displaced process workers affected by the Corus mothballing?

Companies such as Progressive Energy, bidding to build an 850 MW power station on a site nearby, have suggested that their work could keep the Corus plant open by capturing carbon dioxide from Corus operations, thereby allowing Corus to bid for carbon credits. Will the Government, through the Department of Energy and Climate Change, examine that possibility, along with similar opportunities?

Will the Government apply for financial assistance under the European globalisation adjustment fund, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor)? That could be used to lessen the blow to individuals by allowing cash from the fund to supplement the training packages being devised. Will the Minister accept the Government's role in providing match funding for that if it is required?

Crucially, even at this late stage, I urge my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to pick up the phone and call Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group, and Mr. Muthuraman, former managing director of Tata Steel who is now the vice-chair of the Tata board, to invite them, along with Corus chief executive Kirby Adams, to an urgent steel summit in No. 10 Downing street with the trade unions.

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I urge the Prime Minister to approach that meeting as he did the meetings with the bankers, to ask Mr. Tata what the Government can do to keep the plant open, and to do it for the sake of all the people on Teesside whose livelihoods are threatened. I can tell the Minister that I have spoken to the representatives of the Tata board and they are willing to come to No. 10 Downing street to discuss with the Prime Minister a rescue package to keep the Redcar steel complex open.

Steel and Teesside are inseparable in the consciousness of my constituents. In more practical terms, the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Teessiders and their families depend on steel. I hope that the Labour Government, whom I have supported passionately on every occasion since 1997, will join me and give further support to the ideas that I have suggested today, because the opportunity exists. I want our Prime Minister and his Ministers to take that opportunity. Do not let us down at this time.

4.19 pm

The Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr. Pat McFadden): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) on securing this debate. I know how much the steel industry means to him personally-as he said, he worked for many years in the steel industry at Teesside-and to his constituents. It is in his blood, as it is in theirs.

I note the presence here today of other Members from the area, including my hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson), for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) and for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird)-and you, Mr. Cook. As my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland said, as a constituency MP you too have a great interest in the subject.

If anyone doubted the strength of feeling in the local community about what is happening at the Teesside plant, they need only to have seen the demonstration of support at Middlesbrough's Riverside football ground over the weekend. I understand that. I understand the pain caused by the loss of a steelworks in a local community, as steel runs through my constituency too. It is now 30 years since the Bilston steelworks closed, but local people remember it as though it was yesterday. It has taken a long, long time for the area to recover.

The current recession has hit the steel industry hard. Three specific factors serve as the backdrop for Corus's decision to mothball the Teesside plant. The first is a fall in demand. This year, steel production at Corus is expected to be some 33 per cent. down on 2008, and only about 60 per cent. of capacity. Teesside Cast Products-TCP-makes steel for export, but if we compare the first nine months of 2008 with the same period in 2009, we see that steel demand throughout Europe has fallen by 40 per cent. The potential for the company to trade its way out of its difficulties in this country is severely limited.

The second factor is a fall in price. Between July 2008, when prices peaked at just over $1,000 per tonne, and December 2009 the price per tonne of the kind of steel produced at Teesside has fallen by nearly 60 per cent. That has left Corus struggling to cope with the twin problems of a fall in demand for its product and a fall in price. Not surprisingly, that has put severe pressure
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on Corus's finances and the economics of its steelmaking operations, hence the announcement of large-scale job losses twice this year, even before the Teesside announcement a couple of weeks ago.

Greg Clark: Given the time that is available, I do not think that Teesside wants an explanation of the problems faced by Corus; it wants to know why the Government have failed to act in bringing together the right sort of people in a summit to save Corus. Will the Minister move on to that?

Mr. McFadden: If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about failure, I simply turn to the Opposition's continued opposition to the fiscal stimulus that has boosted demand for steel products. I am not going to take any lessons on inaction from a party that, throughout the recession, has consistently called on us to cut spending. That would have hurt steelmaking even more than the difficulties I have outlined.

Ms Dari Taylor: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. McFadden: I will give way, but I am keen to answer some of the questions posed during the debate.

Ms Taylor: It is important for us to hear from the Minister. The press say that the Government are apparently blocking attempts by the regional development agencies to access funds, and are failing to match the support given by other European countries to their core manufacturing industries. We need to know this afternoon whether there is any truth or credibility in that.

Mr. McFadden: I assure my hon. Friend that we are not in the business of blocking anything that might be constructive for the future of the Teesside plant or the area. In contrast, our response has been both swift and significant in scale.

The third reason for Corus's decision, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland referred, is specific to the Teesside plant: the collapse of the off-take agreement to buy the steel produced there. The agreement was reached in December 2004. Under it, 78 per cent. of the slab steel produced at Teesside was to be sold at cost over a 10-year period to a consortium of four foreign steel companies. Earlier this year, that agreement broke down, in part because the world market cost of steel had fallen below the cost of producing steel at Teesside; the off-takers walked away from the agreement.

I spoke at the time to Corus chief executive Kirby Adams and to Antonio Marcegaglia of Marcegaglia steel, the lead partner in the consortium, to encourage them to resurrect the off-take agreement. I asked the two sides to meet again to try to resurrect the agreement, and stressed how critical it was to the future of the plant and to the thousands of people of Teesside who depended for their livelihoods on the continued operation of the plant-the reason for the agreement. Members will know that that meeting took place in July, but no agreement was reached.

Against a background of falling demand and a depressed price, and with no partner for its product, the future for TCP looked bleak. Despite that, Corus tried to keep the plant alive, transferring internal work to it and securing
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some short-term export work. Eventually, however, the three factors that I mentioned earlier took their toll, and the decision to mothball the plant was announced.

Throughout, the Government did what we could to keep up demand for steel. We brought forward capital spending on construction, which accounts for about half the steel used in the UK. Without that investment, the UK construction industry would be flat on its back. We also committed £400 million to the car scrappage scheme to underpin the vital automotive sector, another very large user of steel. Again, I stress that those stimulus measures were opposed every step of the way by the Opposition. Had we taken their advice-if they had had their way-demand for steel would have been hurt even more than was dictated by the market conditions.

I set out the background in order to make it clear that Corus's decision of a couple weeks ago was not taken as a result of Government inaction. We went the extra mile to try to boost demand and to resurrect the off-take agreement upon which TCP depended. Corus has not asked for aid to keep the plant open, which in any case is not possible under state aid rules. The fact is that Corus cannot run the plant without customers and without demand for the product it makes.

Mr. David Anderson rose-

Mr. McFadden: I am keen to press on if my hon. Friend will forgive me.

As a result of Corus's decision, 1,700 people employed directly by the company will lose their jobs, as will a further 1,000 sub-contractors.

In the couple of minutes left to me, I want to move on to the questions about the support package that have been asked today. The Government have moved quickly. The Prime Minister and I have both spoken to the chief executive of Corus. The chief executive has stressed that the site is mothballed and that no decision has been taken to close it permanently. Of course, market conditions may change, a new partner may be found and steel could be produced again at the site. I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland that if we can help to bring that about, we will do so.

However, those possibilities will not come about easily, and it would be wrong of the Government to stand back and wait for that to happen. The people affected by this announcement need help now. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a £60 million package of support. My hon. Friend asked some questions about that funding. It includes £30 million of new money from the Government's strategic investment fund, and £30 million from One North East, the RDA, which is to be reprioritised from within its existing resources.

Much has been said about low carbon, rightly so, as it is critical to the future of manufacturing in the area. We will use the money to equip Teesside to become part of our low carbon manufacturing base. We know that low carbon is the future. If we are to succeed, we must have a national low carbon capability. It will include £6 million of support for research and development of bio-based materials, £3 million to undertake engineering design, and £20 million for infrastructure development. We will also support the critical Wilton chemicals cluster; we want to see it continue and prosper as part of the low carbon future.

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The Government are committed to the people of the north-east, and wish to help them recover from this decision. I have seen what can happen when whole communities are left on their own. We will not let that happen in this case. Rarely can a Government have moved so fast and on such a scale in response to a closure, but the people of Teesside deserve it. They deserve our help, and we will stand by them in future.

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Neuroblastoma (Monoclonal Antibody Therapy)

4.30 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I thank Mr. Speaker for granting me this debate so quickly. Not many people know about this very nasty form of cancer, which affects a small number of children in this country each year. I welcome the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) to the Chamber as the Minister who will respond to this debate. We are very fortunate to have her here because she is renowned throughout the House for her compassion, genuineness and her ability to get things done behind the scenes. I will be asking her to employ all those qualities to solve a difficult problem and to give hope to a little boy called Zac.

Zac is a constituent of mine who suffers from a rare form of cancer called neuroblastoma. He is five years old and was diagnosed with stage 4 acute neuroblastoma in February this year. Doctors discovered a 10 cm tumour in his stomach, and smaller growths on his thigh and pelvis. Such news would have been devastating to any family, but it was made all the worse by the fact that Zac's three-year-old cousin Chelsea had been diagnosed with the same horrible cancer 18 months earlier, when she was just two years old.

Sadly, after more than two years of bravely battling the cancer, Chelsea passed away on 9 August 2009, just one month before her fourth birthday. The treatment that Chelsea received in the UK gave her a 20 to 30 per cent. chance of survival. Treatment in America would have given her a 70 per cent. chance of survival, but it would have cost her family a quarter of a million pounds.

Michelle Tomkins, Chelsea's aunt told me:

I want to emphasise two clear points that Mrs. Tomkins made. She said that the UK could do no more, and that a child's life should not have a price on it. In this day and age, such statements should never have to be said, but sadly both are true.

Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer of the sympathetic nervous system-a nerve network that carries messages from the brain throughout the body. It is usually found in young children, and it is the most common cancer among infants. The solid tumours, which take the form of a lump or mass, may begin in nerve tissues in the neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis, or, most commonly, in the adrenal gland. They may also spread to other areas of the body, including bone and bone marrow.

The disease affects about 100 children in the UK. Fewer than 30 cases are diagnosed each year, with the majority of cases affecting children aged one to four. Neuroblastoma is the second most common solid tumour in childhood, and makes up 8 per cent. of the total number of children's cancers. However, the odds on
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having two cases of neuroblastoma in the same family are one in 10 million, and sadly that has happened to Chelsea and Zac.

Detecting the cancer can be difficult. The first signs are that the child becomes tired and loses their appetite. The symptoms also depend on where the disease is in the body. For example, if the tumour is in the abdomen, the belly will swell. However, because many of the symptoms can be seen as symptoms of less serious illnesses, diagnosing it can come at a late stage when the tumour has spread to other parts of the body.

There are different ways of treating neuroblastoma, but prognosis is dependent on age, stage of disease, and the molecular biologic and cytogenetic characteristics of the tumour. Surgery is a way of curing the disease, but it is only possible if the tumour has not spread, and is not in a position of high risk. As the disease is hard to diagnose at an early stage, that is rarely a viable option. However, the next stage would be intensive chemotherapy, which can reduce the size of the tumour and prepare it for surgery, but that, too, can be dangerous to the child.

High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell rescue can also be given. If the neuroblastoma has spread to several parts of the body, or is high-risk with MYCN amplification, high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell rescue is used after the initial courses of chemotherapy. High doses of chemotherapy wipe out any remaining neuroblastoma cells, but they also wipe out the body's bone marrow, where blood cells are made. To prevent the problems that that causes, stem cells-blood cells at their earliest stages of development-are collected from the child through a drip, before the chemotherapy is given. The stem cells are then frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy, the stem cells are given back to the child through a drip. The stem cells make their way into the bone marrow, where they grow and develop into mature blood cells over a period of 14 to 21 days.

Imagine that treatment, Mr. Cook, for your own child. It would be bad enough for an adult, but for a toddler it must be almost unbearable. Radiotherapy is another avenue that sufferers can pursue, but it has high risks and can harm normal cells. Those options are bad enough for any child and any family, but they lead to a survival rate of only 20 to 30 per cent., which is simply not good enough.

Another treatment is available in America that can improve that sad statistic of 20 to 30 per cent. to a respectable 70 per cent.-plus survival rate. The treatment is called 3F8 monoclonal antibody therapy. Normally a person's immune system makes antibodies to attack germs such as bacteria or viruses, but unfortunately it will not attack neuroblastoma because the tumour is part of our own bodies. However, an antibody that attaches to neuroblastoma can be made in a laboratory, then given intravenously to a patient. That antibody will circulate in the bloodstream until it finds and attaches itself to a neuroblastoma cell, then the patient's own immune system will attack and kill that neuroblastoma cell.

On Thursday 10 December 2009, I tabled a parliamentary question asking the Secretary of State for Health

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