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Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): I shall be very brief, but I want to clarify some of the remarks that I made about Alchemy in an intervention on the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable).

Alchemy is certainly smaller than the company that one would expect to take over a plant such as Longbridge. The deal that it is doing for Longbridge dwarfs anything that it has taken on to date. However, I do not want it to be thought that I was in way criticising the company. It has a good reputation and has been involved in several successful investments. According to the British Venture Capital Association's handbook, it has invested in

The hon. Member for Twickenham referred, I think, to the final company in that list.

Alchemy specialises in rescues, turnarounds and management buy outs, so it is possible that it is in serious discussions with some of the senior management at Longbridge. However, it is equally true that it does not of itself possess the resources that would take a plant, such as Longbridge, forward for the future. When the Secretary of State meets John Moulton of Alchemy Partners this evening--I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here now--I hope that he will, as a priority, discuss exactly how Alchemy intends to obtain the long-term funds to secure the future of the company.

We all hope that the deal with Alchemy is successful and that it will give the workers at Longbridge the success that they deserve following all the changes in which they have participated in recent years. However, it is important that we receive a little more detail on how that will be achieved. There is hope, because one of the main sources of funding for Alchemy's existing investments is United States and middle east investors. Perhaps, the company has a secure source of long-term funding, but it is a priority for the Secretary of State to establish that fact this evening if possible.

6.23 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West): Possibly, this has been a more significant debate than the Opposition anticipated when they tabled their motion. In seeking to gain party political advantage from it, they have unwittingly raised a major issue about British industry and British manufacturing industry in particular. They would do well to address that issue in opposition, and they will have plenty of time to do that.

The history of the motor industry and other manufacturing industries in this country is one of continual decline. Under successive Governments and successive managements, we have seen nothing but the United Kingdom losing out to European and international manufacturers in terms of market share, product development and all the things that go towards a successful manufacturing industry. It ill behoves the Opposition to try to gain party political advantage from the debate, because that is not what it is about. Arrangements were entered into with BMW in good faith.

Mrs. Browning: The hon. Gentleman talks about the arrangements that were entered into, but we do not know what deal the Government brokered. The Secretary of

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State said that these deals are subject to commercial confidentiality. How can we make a judgment when we do not know the details of the negotiations?

Mr. Robinson: The hon. Lady understands nothing. It was her Government who entered into the arrangements and allowed BMW to gazump the existing arrangements. It all started some five years ago, when the Government allowed BMW to gazump Honda, much to the disgust of the Japanese, and buy Rover. Her Government were absolutely responsible for the arrangements that governed that deal. If she did not know about that, it was up to her to find out about it.

I shall tell the hon. Lady what those arrangements were. BMW committed itself to reserving the marque of Rover and to reserving Rover as a manufacturing entity in the UK. BMW said that it would continue all the arrangements that were already in train between Rover and Honda. Those were the arrangements that the hon. Lady's Government entered into.

That deal came to my attention when I was at the Treasury, when out of the blue we heard that BMW wanted to close down Longbridge. BMW did not want to know about the arrangements. It does not care about workers in Longbridge; it is concerned about workers in Munich. The hon. Lady looks distressed, but we must understand the basic fact that despite all the so-called multinational and global investment and industry, each major national company looks after its own people first, and others afterwards.

In that sense, I do not blame the Germans for pulling the plug on Longbridge, which is what they are doing. BMW says that it has made losses, but I say to BMW, "You have had this company for five years. You said that you would make a success of it. I did not doubt your word." I did not doubt BMW's word because one could look at the company's glittering success in Munich. Now decisions about the British motor industry are being made in Munich by Frau Quandt and her family. On another date in the historical calendar the situation could have been quite different.

That situation is not the fault of this Government or this Secretary of State, or indeed any of his predecessors. If any fault is to be found, it is with the British failure in manufacturing industry. The hon. Lady, who in her great wisdom initiated the debate, does not want to consider that. She says that we did not do well enough with the aid application to the European Commission, but everybody knows that everything possible was done by this Government and previous Governments to get the necessary aid. Everybody knows also that European aid has not had the slightest influence on BMW's decision today to dump Rover.

BMW has dumped Rover because it does not suit interests any more. That is fine for BMW, but what about us? What about our employers and employees? [Interruption.] I beg the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) to listen for a moment. In the City and everywhere else one sees that global activities are taking place and global entities are being formed, but within those entities the national interest prevails. I beg hon. Members to think about that for a moment. Let us consider the City of London--the citadel of British power where our people prevail. We are increasingly being subsumed into other, bigger entities, which are seemingly global but in reality are nationally oriented.

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Returning to the car industry, one sees the motorcycle industry and machine tool industry as subsidiary, but in all those industries this country is losing out and we are not as strong as we ought to be. Obviously, it is too late for BMW even to reconsider its decision. Why has BMW taken that decision? Because it is in its interests. The national interest there is predominant. Had it been a factory in southern Germany--in Munich--that was at stake, such a clear-cut, brutal decision would not have been taken.

Who should we blame for that? We can look back to five years ago. It is not as though the decision had to be taken overnight, or the facts were not already known. It is not as though there has not been a magnificent increase in productivity and quality of product. For one reason or another, BMW chose not to manufacture it in the UK.

Fair enough. That is BMW's decision, but is it good enough? Do we, a great nation in our own right, accept that decisions are taken irrespective of our Government's views on the matter, and irrespective of what that company in Germany said when it bought into and took control of our industry? Is all that unconditionally acceptable to us?

We have nothing to be ashamed of with regard to labour productivity. The costs of production in the UK are 30 to 40 per cent. less--I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) listening to this--than they are in Germany, so what is the problem?

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton smirks, and I find that offensive.

Mrs. Browning: I was not smirking.

Mr. Robinson: Indeed, she was. Our jobs, our people--[Interruption.] Now the hon. Lady laughs. That is even better. It becomes her well, but we care about British industry and the British motor industry. We care about what we still have of our manufacturing industry--while it lasts.

The issue transcends party politics. It does not offend any party political dogma, or rather, it should not. It is an issue that affects us all as citizens of the United Kingdom. Unless we realise that in the case of global industry, the globally competitive aspects pertain most of all with regard to the management of it, we shall lose out. If we are happy to lose out--to sit back and see it all happen, and imagine that we will be saved by the internet or some other marvellous new technology where the English language prevails--fine. However, I say to hon. Members that that will not do. This country, and any mature democracy such as ours, must have as its basis some major industries and activities under its own ownership and managerial control.

I am delighted that the Opposition initiated the debate tonight. It allows us to highlight matters that go beyond party political issues. The Opposition will regret having raised the issue this evening. We know the issues that really matter--[Interruption.] Yes, jobs--very much so. Who did nothing in that regard? We have done all we can to protect jobs.

I wish Alchemy well. We must give it every support. I am sure that the Government will do so, as we did for BMW, and I hope that Alchemy will respond more positively and constructively to the support that it gets from the Government than BMW has done.

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