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Aluminium Industry

Volume 503: debated on Wednesday 6 January 2010

1. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the future of the aluminium industry in Wales. (308870)

We remain committed to supporting the aluminium industry in Wales, as we demonstrated with our strenuous efforts to save jobs at Anglesey Aluminium over the summer.

To be fair to the Government, I guess that they did as much as they could to try to ensure the survival of Anglesey Aluminium, but is not the fundamental problem the operation of the European Union emissions trading system, which is making it increasingly difficult for primary metallurgical industries to operate in the EU? It would be all well and good if it resulted in the reduction of global CO2, but it merely results in carbon leakage to other economies such as China and India, which are not constrained in the same way.

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct about the Labour Government’s efforts with regard to Anglesey Aluminium. We made strenuous and laborious efforts over the summer to try to save those jobs as far as we possibly could, but unfortunately, for commercial reasons, the company was not able to accept the offer that was made to it. I must say that we remain committed to the aluminium industry generally in Wales and, of course, in the whole of the United Kingdom, but it is important to recognise that we operate within a European Union framework. Naturally, we are concerned about the environment and carbon emissions, and we are doing everything possible to work with our European partners to ensure that those emissions are kept to an absolute minimum. It is important to recognise also that European Union directives have an important role to play in sustaining this country’s economy.

A happy new year to you, Mr. Speaker, and to all Members.

The decision by Rio Tinto Alcan to cease production at Anglesey Aluminium has left a massive hole in the regional economy of north-west Wales, but I put on the record my thanks to the Wales Office and, indeed, to the Government for their efforts with their generous offer and intervention to keep production going. Unfortunately, the company’s internal matters took precedence.

Looking forward to the future use of the land on the Anglesey Aluminium site and the concept of green energy, does the Minister agree that we need to move forward to ensure that those jobs are kept on Anglesey? Will he meet the First Minister to ensure that priority is given to Anglesey?

I also wish my hon. Friend a happy new year. I am sure that it will be a happy new year for Labour, too. The prospects for the island of Anglesey are rosy. For example, I welcome the decision by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to consider Wylfa as a potential site for new nuclear build, and obviously we are looking at various options to ensure that the available land on the Anglesey Aluminium site is used in the most productive way possible. I am aware that a very positive meeting occurred between representatives of a certain company, my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Wales, and I am sure that those deliberations will continue. I shall use my good offices to hold discussions with the First Minister as well.

In 2007, when Lord Mandelson was European Trade Commissioner, he promoted a scheme for halving duty on the imports of aluminium to the EU. That was to the significant benefit of the Russian aluminium industry. To what extent does the Minister consider that that decision contributed to the demise of Anglesey Aluminium?

I do not believe that it was a factor in any way at all, because the aluminium industry throughout the world has faced difficulties. We are of the view that working closely with our European partners is entirely positive, and that is recognised by Rio Tinto, for example, which is an international player. Of course, discussions take place with the European Union, but it is important to recognise that we live in an international community, and the European Union is a big and positive player.