It is not just expectant mums who are not being given the information they need. The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) referred to health professionals and my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) referred to GP training. Earlier this year, I asked a parliamentary question about midwives, but the reply did not fill me with confidence. The issue involves not just women who have mental health or substance misuse support requirements,

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as the reply suggested; it involves all women, but the Government’s 32-page alcohol strategy makes just one reference to FASD, and that is not good enough.

Voluntary organisations do fantastic work and some local authorities—just some—are raising awareness locally. Some include FAS in their joint strategic needs assessment, but that is far from commonplace. What will be the Government’s concerted and co-ordinated response and where is their national drive? I struggled to find any information on the website of the Department of Health and I found nothing on the website for Public Health England. I would be delighted if the Government pointed me in the right direction.

We have heard a lot this afternoon about alcohol labelling. There is no legal requirement in the UK to display proper warnings about the harm of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. We have heard many references to Lord Mitchell’s Alcohol Labelling Bill, which sadly did not progress beyond the Lords. Today, it is still left to businesses to decide whether to display warnings.

As part of the Department’s responsibility deal, alcohol retailers and producers have made a voluntary commitment to put an agreed warning or a pregnancy warning logo on 80% of labels on bottles and cans. In June, the Minister responded to me saying that an independent market survey is under way to measure compliance. I am keen for an update on how that survey is going.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have said that the logos are very small, if they are there at all. They are difficult to see because they are just a few millimetres high. They go unnoticed by many people and fail to convey the seriousness of drinking during pregnancy. Many countries prescribe warning labels about pregnancy on all alcoholic beverages and we have heard about them this afternoon. They include Colombia, South Korea, France and South Africa. I would like to hear from the Minister when the UK will follow suit.

We have heard about other countries that are leading the way. Canada was held up as an exemplar for what it is doing on diagnosis, treatment and specifically prevention. It is spending millions of dollars, because it believes that that will not only prevent something that is very difficult for many people, but comes at great cost to society. It believes that preventing FAS in just 10 babies saves enough to fund all the comprehensive services that it provides.

Very few disabilities are preventable, but FASD is. The message about the risks must be loud, clear and consistent. No woman wants to harm her child, but we know that lack of knowledge about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy can have a devastating impact. The Government’s response to the problem must be thorough, coherent and carried through into effective action. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and what more the Government will do to address this serious issue.

3.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): I thank all hon. Members who have spoken during this thoughtful and sometimes passionate debate. Many hon. Members have pursued the issue over many years. The time available is not too bad, but

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I will not be able to respond to every point, and if I fail to respond to a specific point, I will do my best to do so to hon. Members after the debate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) on securing this debate. It comes at an auspicious moment, because I understand that the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome UK is holding its conference today. The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) is passionate about the subject, but I take issue with his description of direct responsibility. Absenting personal responsibility for one’s body, and the life of one’s unborn child, is wrong. I am not saying that the Government do not have a huge responsibility to society at large to provide education, but to talk about direct responsibility is to miss the point that we want all adults to take responsibility for their health and that of their unborn children.

Kelvin Hopkins: The fact is that other countries have taken that responsibility and acted, and they are ahead of us. We have more babies being damaged than they do. There is a responsibility on the Government—not necessarily on individual Ministers, but on the Government in general. That applies to both Labour and Conservative Governments.

Jane Ellison: I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that Governments have responsibility, and I will try to address some of the points that have been made. My point to the hon. Gentleman is simply that encouraging personal responsibility in any individual for their own health and particularly that of their unborn child is vital throughout life, not just during pregnancy. I put it on the record that we must encourage people to take responsibility for themselves. Let me mention an example given in the debate. Everyone knows about smoking. No one would knowingly damage their own child, and the damage that smoking can do is well known, but the most recent figures I have seen show that smoking in pregnancy varies throughout the country from 0.5% in one borough to more than 26% or 27% in other places. Even when people know about the damage being done, they do not always change their behaviour. We must always put personal responsibility in the frame.

The majority of people who drink alcohol do so responsibly, but it has been amply illustrated during this debate that too many women are unaware of the health risks. More generally, too many people are unaware of the health risks associated with drinking too much. It is important to remember that throughout the debate. Understanding what is a healthy level of alcohol to consume is vital because, as has been said, not everyone knows when they are pregnant. We understand that around 50% of people do not plan their pregnancy, so encouraging a healthy intake of alcohol and understanding the harm that it may do if taken in the wrong quantity is important. There are encouraging signs among the younger generation of a dramatic drop in smoking and drinking during the past 10 years, which is encouraging.

The focus today is on foetal alcohol syndrome and foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Some hon. Members described facial abnormalities and a range of other conditions associated with alcohol exposure by the mother. Although there is wide international agreement on the diagnostic criteria for foetal alcohol syndrome, the criteria for diagnosis of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are less clear, although other hon. Members

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have cited various pieces of academic research. For both disorders, the diagnostic features may not be clear until later in childhood, so yes, we do struggle with diagnosis and with accurate prevalence data. Prevalence figures for FAS are not routinely collected or recorded by the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit, although hon. Members might be interested to know that the World Health Organisation is leading a review on agreeing common diagnostic criteria to measure prevalence better internationally in future. That would be very welcome, and we are lending expertise to that review. There are limits on some of the data, even though we hope that they can be improved.

On advice and prevention, let me talk about what Public Health England does. Its Start4Life campaign provides advice to pregnant women on establishing healthy habits to give their children the best start in life and to reduce the risk of poor health in future. One of the key behaviours covered in the campaign is focused on the consumption of alcohol and why it is best avoided in pregnancy. It promotes alternatives to alcoholic drinks during pregnancy and emphasises the negative impact that alcohol consumption can have.

In May 2012, we launched the NHS Start4Life information service for parents. That is a digital service that enables parents-to-be and new parents to sign up to receive regular free e-mails, videos and SMS messages offering high-quality NHS advice and information based on the stage of pregnancy and the age of the child. The service also signposts parents to other information about parenting, relationship support and benefits advice. Parents-to-be are encouraged to sign up to the information service for parents during their early contacts with health professionals. The take-up target was exceeded two years early, with 385,000 parents signed up to the service as of the end of last week.

Advice on alcohol consumption and other health issues during pregnancy is also routinely provided by health visitors, midwives and GPs. I think it is a fair challenge—

Kelvin Hopkins: Will the Minister give way?

Jane Ellison: Let me respond to this point. I think it is a fair challenge to say that not everyone is administering that advice and that we can do more. A piece of work is going on to educate thousands more doctors about that, and a good question hon. Members can ask health leaders, when they meet them in their area, is “Are people routinely challenged, and is there a sense of concern in terms of talking about these issues?”, as has been voiced during the debate.

I turn to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which publishes clinical guidance that includes recommendations for doctors and midwives on the advice that they should give. As we know, the NICE antenatal guidance, which was published in 2008, gives further advice. I accept the point that there may seem to be some confusion. In my understanding, the honest truth—I have done a number of debates and questions on this, and queried it quite heavily—is that the reason for the mix of guidance is that there is a mixed clinical view. There is not a settled clinical view in all these areas, but work is under way.

In 2007, the chief medical officer for England published revised guidance on alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The advice is that women who are pregnant or trying to

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conceive should avoid alcohol altogether—in other words, adopt the precautionary principle. The CMO is overseeing a UK-wide review of all alcohol guidelines, so that people can make better informed choices. That review is under way and I can assure hon. Members that it will take into account any relevant new evidence since the guidelines were last published. I am aware that in some cases, experts have, over recent years, started to change their view, moving from a view about a lower-alcohol intake to one about a no-alcohol intake. All that emerging evidence will be put into the review.

Kelvin Hopkins: Will the Minister give way?

Jane Ellison: I am very conscious of time, so I give way very briefly.

Kelvin Hopkins: I am interested in what the Minister is saying, but what is wrong with requiring all drink containers to have a health warning, as they do in America, Canada and elsewhere? What is the problem with requiring notices in every doctor’s surgery and every antenatal clinic that say: “Do not drink alcohol for fear of causing birth defects to your baby.”?

Jane Ellison: One of those challenges was touched on by the hon. Member for Sefton Central: there is some concern that a message that did not have clinical consensus behind it might cause undue alarm to somebody, bearing in mind the statistic, which has been quoted in the debate and which we believe to be true, that 50% of people do not plan their pregnancy. There is some concern about that. I accept the point that the hon. Member for Luton North makes—I think one hon. Member said that scare tactics should be used—but nevertheless that is a significant factor in considering this issue.

Let me finish off the point on the CMO’s review, because it is important and I am inevitably not going to get through all the points that I would like to make. That will be an evidence-led approach, considering whether current advice needs to be revised, and it is for people at all stages of their life, not just in pregnancy.

The reason why we need the consensus view and to get agreed guidelines—I see hon. Members shaking their heads, but I have to tell them that in so many areas of my life as Minister with responsibility for public health, somebody will say one thing in the newspapers in the morning, and by afternoon, experts will be all over every news channel disagreeing with it. We need to try to get, wherever possible, a consistent message, and that is exactly what the CMO-led review is undertaking to do.

Bill Esterson: Will the Minister give way?

Jane Ellison: I will not, I am afraid, because I have given way twice and I have four minutes left. [Interruption.] All right, then.

Bill Esterson: May I just urge the Minister to look at what I and other Members have said about Canada, the United States and France, where there is labelling? Canada especially cannot believe that we are not taking this action. I urge her to speed up her look at the evidence and the research. Other countries are doing this, so why can we not?

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Jane Ellison: The review is not my review. The review is being led by the chief medical officer together with—

Bill Esterson: But you are the Minister.

Jane Ellison: Indeed, and I will pass on the message that Members would like to see the review speeded up. It has a whole range of the right experts on it, and I will undertake to supply to the review, in evidence, the Hansard of this debate, so that those hon. Members who have cited other research and made very forceful points can feel that those are being taken into account. The CMO’s guidance about avoiding alcohol while pregnant or trying to conceive is the message that we advise to be carried by our producers. If I can, I will come briefly to that point. However, I will undertake to ensure that the message is passed on to that expert review.

I have touched on some of the health professionals who are being trained. By 2018, around 60,000 doctors will have been trained to recognise, assess and understand the management of alcohol use and its associated health and social problems—that picks up some of the points about pregnancy.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and others—including the hon. Member for Sefton Central—mentioned the US model for early intervention; I think he was talking about the family nurse partnership, which we have adopted here. The family nurse partnership provides dedicated one-to-one support for young, at-risk, first-time mothers, and that will be expanded to 16,000 places by 2015. It is really important to make the point that although sometimes it is not possible to educate people for a first pregnancy, we can pick up second pregnancies. Although teenage pregnancy is at a 40-year low, the family nurse partnership is a very important programme based on an American model that has a very strong evidence base.

I will touch briefly on labelling in the bit of time I have left. We feel that the industry has a big part to play, and we are pushing it hard. We got an agreement from

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92 companies, which committed to displaying warnings on drinking in pregnancy on 80% of bottles and cans by the end of last year. Subject to publication of the final independent market survey, we believe that just under 80% of bottles and cans had that information, and the warning is the CMO’s advice. Companies can either have a picture struck through of a pregnant women or carry the CMO’s advice, which is that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid alcohol altogether. There was some concern that that was not the message we were using, but that is the one that people who have signed up to the responsibility deal are using. We believe that is now getting more widespread market coverage. However, there is more that industry can do, and we are pushing them hard.

One thing that we could do is around duty. Personally, I would love to see the ability to vary the duty by alcohol content in wine, but it is difficult in an EU context. I do not quite know—I have never really had the answer to this—how the French managed to pass their law without suffering EU infraction, but I continue to ask the question and look into that. It is something that we are pushing to be able to do, because we want to see those warnings on as much alcohol as possible. My current understanding is that doing this through the EU would be a very lengthy process, because of the need to get that consensus.

In the 30 seconds I have left, I apologise to those Members whose points I could not respond to, but so many points have been raised. I will reflect further on what has been said in the debate and speak to the chief medical officer about it. I welcome the opportunity we have had in this debate to reinforce some of those points. There is an opportunity, when the revised guidelines are issued next year, really to put some information behind them. I am seeing the head of social marketing campaigns for Public Health England imminently—within the next week—and I undertake to have a preliminary conversation about what might be done, when the new guidelines are issued, to reinforce this very important message.

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Steel Industry

4 pm

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Turner, for the opportunity to begin this important debate on the UK steel industry. I notice that the Minister present is not necessarily the Minister in regard to the Department in question, but I am certain that that holds some great portent for the UK steel industry at the moment.

As is the case for many hon. Members here, my constituency has a great and proud history rooted in the production of steel and associated products, and I hope that that will play a strong role in the future of my area. Before I begin the main thrust of my speech, I want to take this opportunity to mention the fact that in Guisborough in my constituency, the ESCO foundry has recently decided to close, with 65 potential job losses. That concerns a thoroughly committed and local work force in Guisborough, in the centre of my constituency. There are hopes that the foundry can be sold as a going concern. However, my constituency office and the trade union movement have been working quite closely with the business to try to help those individuals to find work at other suitable craft sites, such as Sahaviriya Steel Industries and, potentially, Tees Components in my constituency. Will the Minister urge his colleagues in the appropriate Ministry to meet me to discuss that issue, because to my constituents it is a huge concern?

Apart from the local issue that I have raised, I would like to touch on a number of topics in my speech. First, I would like to refer to an open letter that was sent by 60 CEOs in the European steel industry and published in the Financial Times. The aim of the letter was to persuade Heads of State and Governments at the EU summit on 23 and 24 October

“to give clear guidance that the EU’s new climate and energy framework will—at the level of best performers—not impose regulatory direct and indirect CO2 costs on globally competing European industries.”

Many hon. Members may be aware that 1 January 2021 marks the start of a new phase of the EU emissions trading scheme and a new set of emission reduction and energy targets to see the EU through to 2030. Although those dates may seem some time away, the decisions are very likely to be taken in a matter of days at the EU summit to which I referred. There are a number of reasons why that meeting is of such importance to the UK steel industry. As in other energy-intensive industries, the CEOs who signed the letter are calling on EU leaders to ensure that the most carbon-efficient plants in globally competing industries are fully protected from the direct and indirect cost of cutting emissions. By and large, the steel industry is committed to cutting its emissions. Exposing some of its members to the full cost of EU climate and energy policies could prove devastating.

The current ETS is flawed in many respects and, if simply rolled over into the next phase, will leave sectors such as steel seriously short of allowances. The principal flaws of the current schemes are as follows. First, allowance allocations are calculated by reference to performance benchmarks for different types of plant. Those benchmarks are supposed to be equal to the performance of the best 10% in each plant category, but there is not one single

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integrated steel plant in the UK, or in Europe for that matter, that can meet the Commission’s benchmarks. Although the most carbon-efficient EU plants are getting close to the theoretical limits of what can be achieved through current production methods, a step change may not be possible until the early 2030s, and even then that will require massive investment in plants that are usually upgraded only once in a generation. There should be a real incentive to improve efficiencies, but only as far as is technologically achievable. Pushing production and investment out of Europe will not meet goals to reindustrialise our economy. That also puts local supply chains at risk and is counter-productive from an environmental perspective, as imports are likely to have a larger carbon footprint.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate—I am sorry I will not be able to stay for the full length. Does he agree that it is deeply ironic that companies such as Celsa in my constituency, which has one of the most up-to-date and carbon-efficient steel-making processes in Europe, face huge challenges from countries that are not as carbon efficient, whether that involves China or Turkey dumping imports in this country or a number of other concerning factors? It would be deeply ironic if those companies were to face challenges despite having that incredibly efficient process.

Tom Blenkinsop: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, because we met people from Celsa at a recent meeting of the all-party group for the steel and metal related industry, which I chair. They came to the meeting and were really instructive and helpful in giving us the calculations and statistics that affect their industry. I believe that their plant was built in 2006. It is practically a brand-new steelworks, with an electric arc furnace. They were telling us about the difficulties that they have been put in as a result not just of European policy, which I have set out, but of the Government’s own carbon tax policy. The carbon price floor has penalised UK industry above and beyond our EU competition. There is a twofold element. This is not just about the massive increases in foreign imports; we have penalised our own industry and undermined the march of the makers on our own doorstep. I am sure that Ministers who would have been here would have been able to listen to that fact. I shall say again that there is some great portent in why they cannot attend this debate today.

A further flaw in the system is its unresponsiveness to changes in the economy and individual company activities. We have the absurd situation in which EU allowances trade at under €6 a tonne because the recession has resulted in an over-supply of allowances, while companies such as SSI are short of allowances because they are expanding output. The system needs to be more flexible if it is to work for all.

In the Budget debate earlier this year, I welcomed the news that the Government intended to introduce relief against the rapidly rising costs of carbon levies, and the mitigation of the renewables obligation is a particularly good step forward. However, I do have concerns that have still not been addressed. It looks as if there will be a massive underspend in the support packages. In 2013-14, £35 million was provided for companies, and so far this

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year only 53 companies have received compensation: £41 million of EU ETS compensation and £6 million of carbon price support compensation.

The UK steel industry will continue to face considerable challenges in the interim, given that the national and international demand for steel is still at mid-financial crisis levels. Again, I can only urge the Minister to urge the Treasury to bring the compensation forward, so that the steel sector and other foundation industries do not have to wait.

Another issue that I would like to discuss is the threat to the UK steel industry from international imports and the over-saturation of markets with certain products. I am referring to non-EU imports of rebar. In 2010, non-EU sales of reinforcing bar equalled approximately 4% of the UK market share. Since then, non-EU rebar, mainly Chinese in origin, has surged to take a 37% market share. When combined with Turkish imports, non-EU imports moved to take 49% of the market in quarter 2 of 2014. People should bear in mind the fact that in May 2010 it is 4%, and in quarter 2 of 2014 it goes to 49%. That is a massive surge—a massive increase—in imported rebar steel. At the same time, the UK producers’ market share plummeted from a traditional level of about 60% to just 33% in quarter 2 of 2014.

That is a profound problem for the UK steel industry, to say the least. The cause is the slow-down in Chinese construction activity, which has prompted certain Chinese producers to seek new markets in which they can dump excess production, but it is also due to trading houses facilitating that explosion in imports to the UK market. They have come to the UK because they are already accredited under the British accreditation scheme to sell in far eastern markets, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, which use the same accreditation scheme.

A loss of sales of that magnitude is unsustainable in the longer term for the one remaining British producer of rebar, based in Cardiff in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). There have been reports in the construction press that some of the Chinese bars already in the market fail to comply with the British standard. UK Steel has even taken the step of advising all UK fabricators and contractors to test Chinese bars before using them. Pressure must be placed on the European Commission to act against these dumped imports, and the Government must ensure that all substandard material is removed from the market.

I would like to discuss the steel market in more general terms. Unfortunately, although UK steel demand has risen this year, overseas producers are the main beneficiaries. As I said, imports in quarter 2 of 2014 took 63% of the market—the highest share ever. For most steel products, the bulk of imports come from other EU countries. It is clear that the UK steel industry is suffering from the twin problems of the rising value of sterling against the euro and continuing uncompetitive energy prices. Although there is little that the Government can do about the former, it demonstrates that the UK steel industry remains fragile and underlines the importance of the Government acting urgently on energy prices, which are within their control.

Energy prices are critical not only to the UK steel industry but to any future expansion. The Government’s analysis revealed that last year’s average industrial electricity

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prices for UK industrial consumers were the fifth highest in the EU15, including taxes, and 6.2% above the estimated median for that group. Those prices prompted a warning from UK manufacturers’ body EEF that UK electricity costs and taxes were pricing manufacturers out of the UK. Steel companies are among those hit hardest by the rising costs. Competitive energy prices and secure energy supplies are vital for the future of the steel sector in the UK.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this timely debate. He is making his point very well. Does he agree that if we are all committed, as we seem to be across all parties, to having a strong manufacturing base, foundation industries such as steel must be properly supported, particularly on energy prices, skills and procurement?

Tom Blenkinsop: My hon. Friend has been banging that drum since he was elected in May 2010. My fear is that we are reaching a critical point where not only the steel industry but all energy-intensive industries are begging for help. They are trying to compete in the world as best they can, with the best forms of technology, and they are driving costs down as much as they possibly can. However, when Government policies make it harder and harder for them to exist on UK soil, it is no surprise that there have been reconfigurations in the steel industry across the European market.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I agree with all the points that my hon. Friend has made. In constituencies such as mine, where Tata Steel and its employees have worked incredibly hard over the past few years to become more efficient and weather the storms, we would like the Government to appreciate that the economic environment is still very challenging in the UK and internationally. We do not want the Government to think that things are getting better; there must be more focus and no complacency, so that we can continue to look at issues such as energy.

Tom Blenkinsop: The Government need to understand not only that the industry has had to adapt, but that the work force has had to adapt for long periods of time. Before I entered the House, I was a trade union officer for Community, formerly known as the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, which represents workers in the production side of the steel industry. I am still a member of that union, and that is a declarable interest. Since 2008, those men and women have been on short-time working, have accepted changes to their terms and conditions and, in some cases, have accepted pension changes. They have done so in the hope of maintaining an industry in their community, whether in south Wales, the central belt of Scotland, south Yorkshire, Sheffield, Corby, the east midlands, the north-east of England or Scunthorpe. The workers have all taken such penalties to help to maintain an industry, so that their sons and daughters have jobs in the future. Until Government policy recognises and matches the daily sacrifices made by individuals on the ground, those hurdles will not be overcome. I stood by that opinion as a trade union officer, and I stand by it now as an elected Labour MP.

To be slightly more parochial, the north-east is, per capita, the most energy-intensive region in the UK. All the while, UK generation capacity is decreasing rapidly,

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and the margin of spare capacity has not been this low for decades. However, the north-east enjoys an embarrassment of riches in the energy sector, from offshore wind to coal, electric vehicles, energy from waves, carbon capture and storage, coal gasification, biomass and biofuels. The list goes on and on. Competitive energy prices and secure energy supplies are vital to the future of the steel sector in the UK. Inaction and uncertainty only put off investors and limit job creation.

It is not all doom and gloom. The UK steel industry continues to be a proud and important part of the industrial backbone on which our economy was built and on which it will almost certainly rely as it adapts for the future. Steel is a vital foundation for many of the UK’s strategic supply chains. The UK leads the world in sectors such as automotive, energy, construction and aerospace, and UK steel is integral to all those sectors. Will the Minister comment on any contingencies that the state has put in place in case our supply chain is undermined or put in jeopardy? Security of supply and UK expertise are vital for infrastructure delivery, especially —I cannot emphasise this enough—for projects that require large and unique product types. Outsourcing is unsustainable if we are to have the ability reliably to deliver major programmes, and in terms of the logistical impact on the UK.

The steel industry has an important role to play in clean production technologies. Wind energy is a good example, because every part of a wind turbine depends on steel. The indirect benefits of the sector are significant with, for example, two to three jobs in the broader economy dependent on each job in the metal sector. Realistically, it is the truest form of a balanced economy, because its impact is spread across the UK, and is significant outside London and the south-east. To ignore not only the role steel has played in the development of our nation but its potential to secure our nation’s future, would be shameful.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, steel has a proud history. I believe that it has a strong future, but that will not be the case unless the Government do everything they can to back the industry. The Minister’s own father was a great advocate of the steel industry and wrote an excellent text on the matter. My predecessor, the late Dr Ashok Kumar, remarked that it was probably the best book ever written on the steel industry. I hope that the Minister’s response will be as good as his father’s text.

4.16 pm

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): It is a great honour to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I apologise for the fact that I am the Minister responding to this debate. The Secretary of State is in India, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business and Enterprise, who has responsibility for energy, is in a Bill Committee. However, I am a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and I was recently promoted to serve in that Department as well as in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That is despite the fact that The Guardian described me as a Liberal Democrat who had not been promoted and who sat in Cabinet, all three of which are wrong.

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I am grateful to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) for mentioning my late father’s book, “The History of British Steel”, of which I just happen to have brought a copy. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will indulge me for a moment, because it is the 40th anniversary of the publication of that great book. The hon. Gentleman’s illustrious predecessor, the late Ashok Kumar, and I became good friends because he stopped me in the corridor one day and said that he suspected that even though I was in the House, he was the only Member of Parliament who had read “The History of British Steel” by John Vaizey. That was true at the time, but I have since rectified that. That remarkable text highlights the ups and downs of the British steel industry, which has gone through many crises in its 170-odd year history. Many of those difficulties were caused by political interference, but quite a few were caused by stiff competition, particularly in the early 20th century from America.

The hon. Gentleman ended his remarks on a positive note, not only by kindly mentioning my late father’s book but by talking about the resilience of the British steel industry. It is important to focus on an industry that still employs 300,000 people. The north-east has a proud history of steel making and manufacturing, and I am particularly delighted that the former Tata Steel plant at Redcar is once again producing steel for customers around the world under its new owner, SSI Thailand.

The UK continues to make manufactured goods. A successful manufacturing sector remains the key to driving the innovation and exports that are crucial to productivity growth in the UK economy, and the steel industry has an important role to play in generating future economic growth. The hon. Gentleman talked about the supply chain. Our steel industry underpins a number of key advanced manufacturing sectors and sustains the livelihoods of many local communities, particularly those in his constituency.

Steel is found in skyscrapers, washing machines and almost any essential goods that one might care to mention. The modern steel industry has made huge technical advances. I am told that 75% of the types of steel used today have been developed in the past 20 years. If the Eiffel tower were rebuilt today, we would need to use only a third as much steel as was used when it was built. Modern cars use new steel that is stronger but 35% lighter.

As the hon. Gentleman and I have already said, steel is a critical part of the supply chain for high-technology industries such as aerospace, automotive and construction, all of which require high-value, continually improving steel products. We remain committed to a healthy and growing steel industry in the UK. There will always be a need for steel, but we must consider our steel industry in the context of the global economy, as the hon. Gentleman did. He highlighted the impact of energy regulation and imports, which I hope to address in my remarks.

As I said at the outset, the steel industry is notoriously cyclical. It has booms, but major slumps in prices and output have occurred regularly throughout its history. The sector is emerging from a downturn that is considered by many industry insiders to be more extreme than any other in living memory. Half of steel output is used in construction, an industry that suffered more than most during the recession. Despite renewed economic growth, demand for steel is still well down compared with before

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the crisis hit and is not expected to grow substantially this year. High energy costs, which I have already mentioned, and chronic overcapacity in the wider European steel industry have also affected prices, squeezed profits and hit investment. UK steel companies, like their competitors, have been forced to make uncomfortable decisions, and it is regrettable that Tata Steel has reduced its work force by 25% and its UK operating and production company by more than 20%.

Nic Dakin: I congratulate the Minister on his speech so far. Despite all the challenges that steel has faced, and following the great work by workers in my constituency and across the country to get the steel industry to where it is today, will he make it clear that the Government are committed to working with steel workers and steel companies to ensure that there is a steel industry for the future, whatever bumps and troughs there may be in the road as we move forward, so that it can be a foundation to move this country forward, as it has been in the past?

Mr Vaizey: I am happy to make that clear. The Government are unequivocal in their commitment to the UK steel industry and will do all they reasonably can to support the industry as it faces the hurdles and obstacles in achieving fair competition. No one denies the climate in which the UK steel industry operates, and we were saddened to hear the announcement last month that the ESCO Corporation foundry in the constituency of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland will be closing with the loss of 65 jobs. This will be a very difficult time for all those affected, but I am encouraged that the company will continue trading until the end of the year, particularly as that will hopefully allow employees time to secure alternative employment. A talent retention solution that helps skilled employees affected by redundancy to find jobs in other engineering companies should be able to assist in that regard. He also raised concerns about the current financial position of the SSI integrated steel plant at Redcar, and there are clearly challenges ahead, but the situation is not as serious as recent press reports suggest.

Tom Blenkinsop: I did not mention the financial element of SSI because I agree with the Minister. When financial reports are released, they usually provide a 12-month outlook, but the company and its work force have done a lot to overcome many of the barriers. We must send a positive message about SSI because it is coming out of a difficult period.

Mr Vaizey: Exactly. I should have said that the hon. Gentleman made it clear that the reports about the current financial crisis at SSI are inaccurate because, of course, there has been investment in new product. In June 2014, the operation turned a profit for the first time since the plant was restarted in April 2012. The plant is currently running at 85% to 90% capacity, and its product is being bought by customers in Canada, the USA, Mexico, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Thailand. Despite the difficult trading climate, the UK remains a significant player in the global market, although there is no room for complacency. In August, the UK replaced France as Europe’s second-largest crude steel producing country, which was the first time that we

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have had a higher output than France since January 1997. We have also overtaken Italy for the first time in 17 years. The UK’s steel output has increased largely on the back of new investment and improving efficiency, which is also driving production to record levels not only at the integrated steelworks at Redcar but at Port Talbot. The latest figures show that crude steel production between January and August 2014 increased by almost 7%.

As I said to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), the Government want to assist in any way they can. We work through all channels, at both ministerial and working levels, to ensure a free-flowing, constructive dialogue with UK steel companies. We work closely with the steel industry on a range of issues, including minimising regulatory burdens and regulations, but of course EU state aid rules limit the direct help that can be offered to steel companies. We cannot offer operational aid, but we can offer aid on research and development, environmental protection and some training. Working within EU rules, we are implementing a £7 billion package of measures to address energy costs, including £3 billion to compensate energy-intensive businesses for the impact of policy costs on their electricity bills. We are also directly supporting the long-term future of Tata Steel activity in the UK. We approved £8.2 million of Government funding to support a new R and D centre at Warwick, which is on top of the £20 million offered to Tata over the past three years to enable further investment in R and D. Through the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative, we have also offered just over £12.7 million towards the £22 million proving factory specialising in the industrialisation and low-volume production of advanced propulsion systems to automotive standards. Tata is a key partner in that project.

We are also working to help the steel industry to win orders. The national infrastructure plan includes 500 projects worth a total of £250 billion for 2015 and beyond. That figure includes more than £1 billion in railway infrastructure. It has also been announced that 95% of the steel for the UK’s rail network will come from Tata Steel for the next five, and possibly 10, years. Who knows? That may continue as we move forward with HS2. Those products should make a difference by stimulating demand for steel, thereby creating significant supply chain opportunities.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland talked about the impact of climate change regulations. I have mentioned the £3 billion support package that we have introduced to offset the indirect costs of the emissions trading system. He said that some of the regulations are simply beyond the technical capacity of any company working in the steel industry, but my understanding is that there will be an opportunity in the next few months to work with the European Commission on the new package that will be in force from 2020 to 2030, so that the regulations can be made more realistic. I will ask my colleague, the Minister for Business and Enterprise, to write to the hon. Gentleman to address his concerns that not enough compensation has so far been paid out to electricity-intensive industries. He is correct that 53 businesses have received just over £41.3 million, but I will check with my colleague whether there is a hold-up on paying out for other issues.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Chinese rebar imports. BIS officials have raised concerns with the European Commission, and we understand that the

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Commission is still considering the possibility of opening an anti-dumping investigation. We will consider the evidence providing by the Commission, but at this stage we would support any Commission decision to open an anti-dumping investigation.

This debate on the UK steel industry has been important. As one would expect, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have highlighted critical issues for industries that are incredibly important not only to their constituents but to the economy of the UK as a whole. I will take his remarks in the spirit in which they are intended, and I will take them back to the Department. I will highlight his perfectly understandable concerns about the impact of climate change regulation on energy-intensive industries and the possibility of reform. He has expressed concern about imports from outside the EU that may have a large carbon impact. His focus has been on ensuring that there is provision to secure the supply chain. I hope that he and his colleagues have heard the message that I have tried to convey as a relatively new Minister in this field, which is that the Government take the steel industry seriously and will do all within their power to help.

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Leominster Enterprise Park

4.30 pm

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): In July 2006, I was full of optimism as I stood on site at Leominster enterprise park when construction began. The park presented the opportunity to boost the local economy in Leominster, attract business and offer employment, three crucial targets needed by the town. At the time, I said:

“We have the greatest people, as well as the infrastructure in place, so we are all looking forward with hope and excitement to seeing a vibrant and successful business environment too.”

Eight years later, I have felt the need to call for this important debate because Leominster enterprise park has not delivered on its targets, yet I believe it still has that potential.

There are a number of reasons for that failure, including the direction taken by the owners of the park—first Advantage West Midlands, and now PxP and the Homes and Communities Agency—lack of investment in the park to attract new firms and a poor internet connection, compounded by the fact that the owners will not invest in fibre-optic broadband.

Fastershire, the project in Herefordshire to roll out fibre-optic broadband, aims by 2018 to deliver broadband speeds of 24 megabits per second and above for all who need it. However, I was shocked to learn that Fastershire is not coming to Leominster enterprise park. According to Fastershire, the park does not meet the necessary requirements. BT’s next-generation access team said:

“The cabinet has too few premises connected to it, rendering it too small to provide a return on the investment based on the costs of construction and ongoing running costs of providing a new fibre to the cabinet service”.

The best that BT can offer businesses on the park is the option to upgrade to fibre optic at a cost of £30,000. PxP and the Homes and Communities Agency have not offered any help. BT’s offer has been reduced to £23,500, but PxP still refuses to get involved.

As I am sure the Minister will know, businesses, particularly in rural locations, need fast and efficient internet access to compete in current markets. I heard this week of a company on the park whose internet connection is so poor that it is virtually impossible to run online sales demonstrations. The company is now considering taking matters into its own hands to improve its connection speeds, as others have done, but it can only try options that it can afford.

One firm has dualled two lines to receive double the connection speed, but that option comes with all the costs of a second line, additional hardware and the dualling itself. A second firm pays extra for EFM, or Ethernet in the first mile. EFM uses existing copper wires instead of fibre to connect to a local exchange and offers access speeds ranging from 2 to 35 Mbps. It has been confirmed to me that the park’s connection is mostly 4 to 5 Mbps, and it is claimed that businesses on the industrial estate situated opposite the enterprise park have double that speed.

PxP and the Homes and Communities Agency, as owners of the park, should be doing far more to attract business. Businesses will not be attracted to the site if it has a poorer internet connection than the rest of the town where it is sited. We could end up in the ludicrous

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situation of a commercial enterprise park having a 4 to 5 Mbps connection while fibre-connected areas of Leominster could theoretically have speeds up to 76 Mbps, or more than 300 Mbps where properties choose to pay for a direct connection to the cabinet, as some businesses will. That is totally inappropriate for an enterprise park.

PxP is a public-private property and development joint venture company between Langtree Group and the Homes and Communities Agency. Langtree invested £15 million of equity in the business, and the Government invested £15 million of equity and committed a £45 million secured loan. The Homes and Communities Agency claims that as PxP is not a public agency but a private business, all business decisions taken by the board must be founded on good commercial practices and cannot subsidise the private sector. HCA goes on to say that

“due to the recession and running costs of the business, the equity in the business has been substantially eroded and therefore the partners have suffered a substantial loss. PxP are now endeavouring to operate commercially to try and recover both the Government’s and Langtree’s investment.”

How? By doing nothing, keeping its fingers crossed and hoping for a miracle?

As I am sure the Minister will agree, enterprise parks are designed to assist development. Business plays an extremely important part in local rural economies in terms of investment and jobs. However, in the case of Leominster enterprise park, it is absolutely clear that it is serving only PxP’s own interests as the company tries to recover its losses. How can the Government stand aside and watch the millions that they invested being put on hold so PxP can make a financial return? Surely we should be seeking an economic or community return on the public interest in that asset. Public interest, in the case of PxP, seems subsidiary to its commercial interests.

Leominster enterprise park comprises 22 acres. I am aware that the park has suffered from a number of deals falling through due to finance. I have been contacted by a company called Powerline Services, a business desperate to grow and expand. In the last two weeks, Powerline has taken on an additional four staff. In March 2013, the company expressed an interest in a plot on the park. On 9 April, it requested further information, and then on 16 April it made an offer. On 9 May, Powerline was told that a board meeting was being held to discuss the offer, but that it might be unsuccessful due to a pending offer previously made for another plot incorporating the plot in which Powerline was interested.

Four days later, on 13 May, it was confirmed that Powerline’s offer for the plot had been rejected, so the company inquired into a second plot and made an offer of the full asking price of £75,000. On 17 May it received a proposed schedule of terms. On 20 May, the company confirmed that it agreed to the terms and was willing to pay legal fees should the sale not proceed. Between 28 May and 6 June, the offer was chased up. Contact was made again on 7 June, when solicitor details and full plans including site layout, elevations and materials were passed across. Powerline did not hear from PxP again until the end of August.

On 29 August, at a board meeting, PxP decided to review its strategy for selling off land and rejected the offer of the full asking price of £75,000. The Homes and Communities Agency confirmed that PxP was changing

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its strategy and was now solely considering sell, design and build opportunities instead of allowing individual companies to buy plots outright and do the design and build themselves.

A further letter that I received from the Homes and Communities Agency claimed that

“against a book value of £76,000 and sales fees equating to 15% of the purchase price, the board were unable to accept the offer, as in effect this would have resulted in a loss to PxP of £12,000.”

Powerline offered £75,000, the full asking price, for the site. How, in good faith, could Powerline have known that it would need to offer £12,000 over the asking price in order for PxP not to lose out? My constituents are not clairvoyant. If PxP was unwilling to accept the asking price listed for the plot, why did it list it in the first place?

Furthermore, Powerline was also not offered the opportunity to buy the plot for the almost £90,000 that would ensure that PxP would not make a loss. The company claims that it was blocked from attempting to buy the land at all. It was only when Powerline checked the website of the selling agent that it discovered that the plot was available as a design and build opportunity for £600,000.

The Homes and Communities Agency is aware that PxP is pricing companies out of the park. In a letter to Leominster town council in February 2013, which was sent months before Powerline’s problems, Margaret Allen, chief executive of the HCA, said:

“I’m aware that PxP has progressed a number of land sales on various plots on the estate, some of which have been successful and others for various reasons have not. I think this is a combination of reasons, some on the part of potential purchasers, but also unfortunately the requirement for PxP to generate sufficient receipts on sales of land to meet the loan repayment originally made by Advantage West Midlands, which becomes payable on disposal of land. I am worried the Park is becoming less and less desirable to any investor.”

However, HCA is not even getting the basics right. Early on, businesses on the park were promised that, subject to plots being sold, the park’s owners would arrange for adoption of the access road by Herefordshire council, but that has not happened. It means that PxP is currently responsible for street lighting bulb replacement, ironwork replacement, site maintenance of empty plots and road repairs. A few years ago, a number of businesses had to apply group pressure after all the drain covers were stolen and not replaced for months.

There have been further problems with ensuring that grass cutting and road repairs take place, with no provision in winter for the roads to be gritted, except for those around the police station, which has its own arrangements. There were also difficulties in getting PxP to act when unauthorised visitors moved on to the park. I am even told that businesses had to register their own buildings through the Ordinance Survey, and had to register individually with the Post Office, for postcodes, and with Google maps.

Compounding all the problems with PxP, the lack of broadband and the blocking of sales on Leominster enterprise park has been the role of Government officials. The situation gets worse. On 6 March, I wrote to the Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government about the park. That letter was transferred to the Department for Culture, Media and

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Sport, whose April response must have been lost in the post. In his response of 1 April, the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, said:

“I am afraid I am not able to comment on the substantive point you have raised in your letter regarding the performance of the owners of the enterprise park as this is a matter for DCLG to address.”

However, I subsequently discovered that a further letter I had sent to the Secretary of State at DCLG on 20 March had been mistakenly marked as an enterprise zone matter, which DCLG deals with.

Having waited several months for a reply, in May I sent a chasing letter to DCLG to try to elicit a response. Following further reminders that I sent in July, I finally received an apology from the head of ministerial correspondence at DCLG. He stated that DCLG should have transferred the letter to DCMS in March, because DCLG does not have policy responsibility regarding private companies’ conduct at enterprise parks. He copied in the private office of the responsible Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—the Minister for Business and Enterprise —but expressed concern that BIS might not accept the transfer of the letters due to the period of time that had elapsed.

Following further e-mails to BIS in July, I received a response in August from the Minister. On 5 September, I replied to that letter, only to be told later in September that the letter had been passed back to DCLG. We should remember that DCLG had already claimed that this matter was not its responsibility. However, I am now told that DCLG has compiled a draft response for ministerial consideration and approval. Unfortunately, throughout the period of correspondence there appeared to be confusion among the relevant Departments; officials did not seem to know who had policy responsibility for Leominster enterprise park.

When I wrote to DCLG, it failed to take action for months and then concluded that it was not its responsibility and passed the matter to DCMS, which replied to tell me that DCLG should have replied. When I received a response from BIS and wrote back, BIS passed the matter on to DCLG. I am informed that DCLG will be sending a reply, but to date I have not received it. I am reluctant to cause the Minister who is here today further embarrassment, but it would appear that there is a lack of agreement about who has responsibility for this matter. Unfortunately, this confusion and delay merely conveys to the people of Leominster that their problems are not important to the Government. As the Minister will understand, such treatment is unacceptable.

It is because of the problems I have detailed that I called for this debate today. After seven years, I am bitterly disappointed that more progress has not been made. PxP has completely failed to ensure that a telecoms service provider was available to service businesses that wanted to relocate to the park. Although I have used Powerline as a typical example, I have received reports of other businesses that have struggled to buy plots on the site. Therefore, I am reluctantly forced to conclude that PxP may be banking the extra land. It is absolutely futile to give this land and public money to a private company that is blocking development, and the Government’s handling of the matter has been extremely embarrassing. The Minister who is here today has been let down by civil servants, and this matter is also an embarrassment for the people of Leominster. I want the

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Government to make a full review of PxP’s role as owner of Leominster enterprise park. If PxP is not prepared to help businesses on the site or develop the site further, it is about time that the Government took back control of this land.

4.45 pm

Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): I will be brief, because I am keenly aware of the passage of time in the short period that we have been allocated for this debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on his masterly speech; he shone a pitiless light on the official incompetence of various Departments of State. I wish that the problems he described were limited to North Herefordshire, but I am afraid that that is not the case; the incompetence of PxP has made its way into South Herefordshire as well, and I will briefly explain how that is so.

In 2007, my constituent, Mr Jim Hardy of Aconbury Sprouts, leased a unit from PxP in the village of Ewyas Harold and borrowed significantly to do so, to expand the production of sprouted seeds in reaction to growing consumer demand. Through no fault of his own, that demand then evaporated, due to action by the supermarket multiples. Although he struggled on, unfortunately he found himself having to place the company in liquidation, after trading successfully for 26 years. The rest of his business was unable to support the borrowing he had incurred to meet the orders that he had lost.

Fortunately, from Mr Hardy’s point of view, there was another well-established and well-resourced business that was keen to take over his business as a going concern, but that process required rapid action, because, of course, taking over a business that is already functioning requires speed, to maintain continuity. Despite the best efforts of the liquidator and the prospective buyer, PxP failed to respond in a timely and flexible way, and the opportunity was lost. All Mr Hardy’s staff were made redundant and Mr Hardy’s equipment was sold off for a tiny fraction of what it would have been worth in situ.

To secure the lease, Mr Hardy had been forced to sign a personal guarantee and unfortunately that guarantee remains in place. Mr Hardy has subsequently made other attempts to sell the business. PxP has put no value on all the improvements and adaptations he has made to the unit; indeed, it has demanded that he remove them. A company in an adjacent unit has approached Mr Hardy to acquire his unit, which would remove any of the issues that PxP had raised with the original purchaser, but PxP has refused to discuss any possible sale with that company. In fact, the unit has been shown on PxP’s website as being unavailable to let, despite that being pointed out to PxP on several occasions. Now PxP is pursuing my constituent, Mr Hardy, for sums of money that will inevitably lead to his bankruptcy and the loss of his home, which is also his only source of income.

As Mr Hardy says, that is not appropriate behaviour. It is certainly not appropriate behaviour for an institution that is focused on regeneration but has given up large amounts of revenue because it has not allowed a number of transactions to take place, and that—after all—is 50% owned by a public body. However, I would go

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further and say that it is not appropriate behaviour for a private company either, and I am at a loss to understand how PxP can be allowed to penalise and pursue my constituent in this way over a period of time.

It seems to me that this example I have given provides a further data point about PxP West Midlands, and that if we join the data points the result is not flattering for the company.

4.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Penny Mordaunt): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on securing this important debate on the management of Leominster enterprise park, and the role of PxP and the Homes and Communities Agency in running it. I know that he has been in contact with the Department—in fact, with several Departments, as he has outlined—and with the HCA regarding the park, and raised issues that concern several of his constituents. I am pleased to have the opportunity today to debate the issues surrounding the enterprise park.

I apologise on behalf of officials if there has been any departmental ping-pong. I congratulate my hon. Friend on using an Adjournment debate to find the Minister who is responsible. I have listened to his concerns and I am happy to take them on board and work with him. I will outline why we are limited in terms of the intervention that my hon. Friend is seeking and hope also to give him some comfort, saying how we might be of some practical assistance.

The Government recognise the importance of enterprise parks in supporting business, boosting employment and encouraging local growth. Leominster enterprise park has brought jobs and industry to northern Herefordshire and is providing the infrastructure to support further growth in the local area. The Government are committed to helping drive economic growth through creating conditions that allow businesses to thrive, and projects such as enterprise parks are, as my hon. Friend said, key to this.

My hon. Friend raised a number of concerns about the manner in which PxP has been operating at the enterprise park, one of which is that it has been obstructing development through land banking. PxP has stated that it remains committed to selling land as long as it can generate an acceptable return and its activity at the enterprise park supports its position. Since being established in 2007, PxP has supported the sale and development of 22 of the 26 plots at the enterprise park, with more than 20 companies bringing in new business to the area, including Orphans Press, Pinstone Communications and Polythene Solutions Ltd. Most recently, local steelworker, Frank H Dale, has reached agreement with PxP to build a manufacturing unit of 100,000 square feet. The development of that new factory will, in turn, allow the business to expand while remaining in the local area, and it will keep 68 existing jobs in the town and will bring in 50 new highly skilled jobs. That company supplies steel for a range of uses, supporting investment and growth in commercial, retail and residential sectors. The decision by that company to relocate to the enterprise

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park is a clear sign that businesses are willing and able to purchase land on the site from PxP. Construction started in August and should be completed by May 2015.

Bill Wiggin: I fully understand why the Minister has gone down this route. I deliberately kept the Dale story out. Dale’s is a wonderful Leominster company that started building barns for agricultural use. I think that, if she digs a little deeper, she will find that the whole thing hinges on a supermarket development on its original site. Therefore, it is a little bit of a red herring in this instance.

Penny Mordaunt: I thank my hon. Friend for that. I am going to get to issues that my hon. Friend is concerned about. I am simply stating that there have been considerable successes in getting businesses into that site. In fact, 85% of plots at the enterprise park will be occupied, showing that PxP is open to doing business where it makes commercial sense. I recognise that my hon. Friend has brought to my attention certain issues that appear not to make commercial sense, but clearly if 85% of the plots are being taken something is working.

Land banking is in nobody’s interests, and as long as PxP receives a suitable figure for a site, it appears to be happy to provide space for a growing business. I understand that my hon. Friend wants more to be done. I understood that PxP was assisting in resolving the broadband issue and was making representations to BT in that regard.

The Homes and Communities Agency is committed to developing business in the local area and has met a number of local businesses to offer support and address their concerns. Individual discussions have been held with both Powerline Services and Thomas Panels and Profiles to try to make progress on their issues. I understand that, in one instance, they were signposted to additional funders and that, in another case, an offer was made. I recognise that there was a discrepancy in the funding required to pursue that offer.

Additionally, the HCA has been liaising with the local authority to discuss the management of the enterprise park. The head of the HCA’s midlands west team met PxP and the town council to discuss promoting the site further and to consider additional ideas to ensure successful delivery. Details of considerable activity and negotiations on the site were given by the managing director of PxP, and the HCA is providing the town council with regular updates on developments at the enterprise park.

I understand and am pleased that area representatives from the HCA are also planning to meet my hon. Friend in the near future, to discuss how further progress can be made at the enterprise park. An important part of the HCA’s role is to drive sustainable, balanced growth in all parts of the country. Enterprise parks are a key tool in driving this growth, bringing new business, skills and activity to local areas, and providing the infrastructure for businesses to succeed. The agency understands how important they are to local communities and wishes to see them bring the greatest possible benefits to their local areas.

To summarise, Leominster enterprise park will shortly be operating at 85% capacity and can be considered successful in providing exciting opportunities for new business in the area. Although I agree with my hon. Friend that it is unfortunate that the park has not yet

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reached full capacity, with the recent progress, I anticipate that, hopefully, we will see the remaining plots sold before too long. With conditions continuing to improve, I am optimistic that the people and businesses of Leominster will benefit from that progress. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to work with my Department and it, in turn, will ensure that the HCA does what it can to promote the site and work with local businesses to assist in progressing further sales.

Fundamentally, we are limited in what we can do to intervene. The influence of the HCA is limited and it has a duty of care to PxP when discharging its duties as directors. However, both my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) have highlighted a number of practical steps that would, if they could be brought to fruition, certainly help promote the site.

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I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire has a meeting planned with the HCA. I will be pleased to keep in touch with him on that matter and to look and see if we can progress the issues he mentioned about broadband and the facilities on the site, to ensure that this enterprise park’s reputation remains high.

I congratulate both my hon. Friends on this debate. Not only have they identified the Minister responsible, but I hope now that we will have an action plan to chase down any remaining issues. I am optimistic that we will get a site that will be at 100% occupancy.

Question put and agreed to.

4.58 pm

Sitting adjourned.