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Volume 592: debated on Thursday 12 February 2015

The regional growth fund provides support to key industries in England, creating and safeguarding jobs. I am pleased to announce today that regional growth fund support over the next two years will be expanded by nearly £300 million, including more than 60 new schemes. Some 90% of the funding announced today will go to projects and programmes in the manufacturing sector, helping companies to expand, develop new products and new markets and create long-term skilled jobs.

You do not want to mention, Mr Speaker, that my second name is John, and when I was a young councillor with my first seat in Wales I went around with my full name of Barry John.

May I say to the Minister, “Not bad, but not good enough”? Why can we not have up front, “Manufacturing, manufacturing, manufacturing”? We need a commitment to that across the parties in this House. We have just launched a cross-party manufacturing commission. Will the Minister support it, will he do something about it, and will he come tonight to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ manufacturing conference and hear me speak?

Tempting though that invitation is, I am not sure I will be hearing the hon. Gentleman speak, although I enjoy his contributions in this House. Manufacturing has been enjoying a stunning revival during the last few years, and it is supported by the investments made through the local growth fund and the regional growth fund. Some £1.1 billion of funding has been put into manufacturing. Is there further to go? Of course, but this Government’s strategy is clear: by reviving the sectors in which we have strengths that are famous around the world, we can build the prosperity that will provide the security for our country for many years to come.

Will the Minister confirm that when we talk about “tech” we mean not just the software, but the hardware as well, and that there are enormous prospects for British manufacturing, especially supported through the RGF, to be world leaders in the high-tech industries of the future?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He and I had the privilege to be at the Royal Society last night, where awards were presented for some of the key figures who are translating some of our most brilliant ideas into practice, especially in advanced manufacturing. Across all the sectors there is confidence that the prospects for this country are better than ever. That is a tribute in large part to the work that my right hon. Friend did in office.

The steel unions, supported by steel employers, launched a “Stand Up for Steel” campaign after the debate in this Chamber on the future of the steel industry. With there still being uncertainty about the future of Tata long products, what are the Government doing to stand up for steel, a crucial part of our manufacturing industry that is famous for its innovation and crucial to the future success of this country?

Anyone who was born on Teesside cannot fail to be aware of the importance of the steel industry. It is an important part of our industrial base, and this Government have made significant strides in supporting it. For example, we have reduced the energy costs that would otherwise have been incurred. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. and hon. Friends have regular discussions with representatives of the steel industry and will continue to support it.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) rightly said that the food and drink manufacturing sector was the largest manufacturing sector in this country. It employs 400,000 people and invests £1 billion in innovation. There is also huge opportunity for further growth through innovation, but the Food and Drink Federation’s calls for a food and drink manufacturing council, with collaboration between the industry and the Government to foster innovation, have fallen on deaf ears. The phrase “food and drink manufacturing” is not even mentioned in the Government’s agri-tech strategy. Why have the Government chosen to ignore this innovative and high-potential manufacturing sector, and how will the Minister make amends?

We have not ignored it. In fact, I had the privilege of attending the Agri-Tech Leadership Council, which involved many of our key players across the food and drink industry and my colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) and the Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Lord de Mauley. We met representatives of the industry precisely to plan and implement the strategy that the sector wants to put forward.