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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [21 July].

    That this House approves the Government's assessment as set out in the Economic and Fiscal Strategy Report 1998 and Comprehensive Spending Review for the purposes of section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993.--[Mr. Allen.]

Question agreed to.


Education (Scotland)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

29 Jul 1998 : Column 501


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation,

Question agreed to.




    That Mrs. Ann Taylor be discharged from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons and Mrs. Margaret Beckett be added to the Committee.--[Mr. Allen.]

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Compressed Natural Gas Vehicles

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Graham Allen.]

11.55 pm

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) rose--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Will Members who are leaving please do so quickly and quietly?

Mr. Pike: I want to draw attention to an important issue--the use of compressed natural gas in vehicles on our roads. It is an important environmental issue. It also has important implications in my constituency, where, in a few months, 70 people are likely to be made redundant as a result of lack of orders for the gas bottles they make for natural gas vehicles.

Lucas Aerospace converted from defence production to the manufacture of a consumer product, and has done so extremely well. I have taken a close interest in the product since the idea was first considered, when the then site manager of the factory, Mr. Gardiner, invited me to the site to discuss it with the unions and management. The unions and management co-operated extremely successfully in finding a product that could use the existing skills of the work force and could transfer from defence to consumer use.

The product started in production last year. On 24 April this year, I toured the factory, with the bottles, with their finished covering, in full production. I was very impressed by what I saw.

On 17 February, the management sent me a detailed letter, making the case for compressed natural gas. That was from Jon Matthews, who is general manager now. At the time, I sent that letter to Treasury and Trade and Industry Ministers, and subsequently received replies.

The point that Lucas Aerospace made in that letter, as a member of the Natural Gas Vehicle Association, was that it wanted to promote the use of natural gas as a clean, safe and efficient fuel. Its view was:


    "safe in use and storage,"


    "world-wide availability".

I accept that there is also an argument for liquid petroleum gas. One of the problems is that the two are competing with each other. That may be right, but it means that those in the retail trade find it difficult to know which product to supply.

I am glad to see the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry in his place, because he has corresponded with me and met me to discuss the industry, and has been extremely positive and helpful. The work force recognise that he has tried to be positive in the way in which he has tried to help in tackling the problem. On 17 May, he wrote to me:

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    We all agree on the objective. The problem is how we achieve it.

On 22 May, I received a fax from Lucas announcing 70 redundancies. Following that, the union representatives came to London and, together with me, Mr. Maciver, the divisional managing director of Lucas Aerospace, Terry Burns, the works convenor, and others, met the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry on 9 June. The unions had prepared an excellent brief, and presented a petition with a large number of signatures that had been gathered in the town centre in support of the work.

The brief stated:

The brief gave a number of reasons why we should change to CNG and pointed out what Lucas had done in this field. An extract from the Leifeld News, under the headline "Peace dividend a real bonus", stated:

    "The Lucas Aerospace facility at Burnley has for 15 years been one of the West's leading suppliers of steel rocket motor cases for missiles. In 1990 it was recognised that future reductions in defence spending would result from the ending of the Cold War.

    A resourceful management therefore initiated a search for non-defence related products which could be made drawing on in-house expertise in metal forming and utilising existing plant with a minimum of additional investment. The answer--high pressure seamless steel gas cylinders."

That has been done extremely well, and represents a remarkable feat of co-operation between management and the work force.

Unfortunately, another letter from Lucas on 15 June reported:

Early-day motion 1443 has been tabled on the subject, and, as of last Thursday, 124 hon. Members from all parties in the House had signed it.

Enterprise plc, Burnley borough council, and Members of the European Parliament Mark Hendrick and Michael Hindley have all tried to find a way forward. We all know that, in a few years, there will be a market for the product, even though the market is not sufficient to justify production at present. The danger is that, if Lucas goes out of production, when the market develops the gas bottles will not be made at Lucas in Burnley or anywhere else in the United Kingdom--we will end up importing them. That is why it is important to find a solution.

In the local government magazine talkback, the Minister for Transport in London, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), is pictured launching an LPG vehicle. The accompanying article states:

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    LPG is currently available from more than 80 sites nationally, and CNG from about 12; any lack of local refuelling facilities need not be a problem, however, because a mobile LPG refuelling unit or overnight CNG refuelling unit can be installed at a fleet depot."

Matters are not quite as simple as the article would lead one to suppose.

I have had letters from various Ministers, including the Financial Secretary and the Minister for Roads. There has also been correspondence with Moscow, where we tried to find a market for the product. Unfortunately, the market in Russia is falling. In addition, the Russians do not use such a high-quality gas bottle. As a result, they want a much cheaper product.

On 8 July, Mr. Maciver, from Lucas wrote to tell me that there was an additional six weeks' work, which will take work to mid-September, when the redundancies will now take place.

I received today a letter from Ford. I had written to the company in the USA. The letter that I received was written by Peter Pestillo, the executive vice-president. He wrote:

The letter continues:

    "Towards that end we welcome government assistance in developing much needed infrastructure."

The key issue is securing that infrastructure.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry sent me a detailed letter on 22 July, in which he set out what the Government are trying to do and pointed to where he sees the problems. My hon. Friend has to admit at the end of the day that the Government are not able to come forward with the type of package that, in the short term, would secure the production of these gas bottles at Lucas at Burnley.

British Gas, or whatever it is called these days--I never remember what its new name is--has written to me as follows:

British Gas adds:

    "the Government could reduce the duty on natural gas . . . towards the EU minimum."

It believes that that would be a help.

Metrocab has written to me as follows:

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    3. The limited number of refuelling points."

That is another problem. The fourth one is described as

    "the lower range between refuelling for a given size of tank."

Those are the situations that Metrocab sees as problems.

The Energy Saving Trust has a powershift programme that

That is something that may well need to be followed up and encouraged, because it could lead to a solution.

The letter from Energy Saving Trust adds that that aim is

We all know of the situation which existed when we first had unleaded fuel. It was only when the Government introduced a sufficiently wide price differential that garages began to supply the fuel. It was only when we knew that we could go to any garage and obtain unleaded fuel that we were reasonably confident of buying a vehicle that operated on it.

London Taxis International, makers of the famous black cab, says that it is

Mobil CNG has also written to me. It

    "welcomes the Government's 'New Deal for Transport' . . . in particular the call for environmentally cleaner fuels and quieter vehicles.

    Mobil CNG offers the UK the most viable fuel option that is significantly cleaner and quieter than diesel vehicles. This means that it is particularly suitable for the commercial sector and bus fleets, being ideally suited to Mr. Prescott's bus for the 21st Century . . . We believe that CNG is the fuel for the future and that the Government should combine with industry to develop and manufacture environmentally friendly vehicles for the new millennium."

Today, I received a fax from the unions. They think that Lucas has not done all it could. They recognise that investment in the aerospace industry takes a long time to pay back, but they also believe that a more positive approach could be achieved if Lucas Aerospace took such a view about CNG bottles. They think that the Government are committed to CNG, but are perhaps not doing quite as much as they could to get over this short-term difficulty.

I recognise the problem, but we are considering something that will have a market in the next century. It would be a tragedy if we failed to save this production unit and did not encourage CNG vehicles to ensure that, when we have more of them on the road, their gas bottles are not imported, but made in this country.

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