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Mr. Byers: We have been in discussions with Ford about its proposals for Gaydon. Its discussions with BMW are still continuing. It hopes that they will come to a conclusion within the next two months or so. It is a complicated set of discussions and due diligence is taking place. Ford is working on the proposal, as originally suggested, that it would take over the Gaydon facility and those employees who are linked with Land Rover at Solihull. A number of those employees will then be linked with the Mini, which is to remain at Cowley. That announcement was made by BMW today. Other employees may be engaged by Phoenix.
As far as I am aware, Phoenix has not yet made a statement about its intentions regarding workers at Gaydon who may be linked with any models being developed under the new ownership of Phoenix at the Longbridge plant. Our latest information is that Ford is still discussing with BMW the acquisition of the Gaydon site and the workers who would go with the Land Rover operation.
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West): My right hon. Friend has been fulsome in his tribute to Mr. Towers and his team. I am sure that he will be pleased to know that all of us on the Government Benches agree with him on that. Is he aware that we feel that he has played a critical role in the negotiations? He has been plunged into a crisis not of his making, and has supported an arrangement with Mr. Towers that was subject to attack on many sides, and we should like to congratulate him on that.
The important lesson to be learned--which the Secretary of State has not mentioned--is that his Department will continue to play a critical role in such matters in future. As we look forward to a more settled future after the present crisis, international arrangements and partnerships will have to be agreed so that Rover's future can be more secure. We pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's magnificent achievement, but ask him to give a commitment to ensure that those arrangements can be secured, thus avoiding similar crises in future.
Mr. Byers: I thank my hon. Friend for his warm words. I assure him that I do not see today as the end of the book--rather, one chapter has come to an end and a new one is beginning. Much work will need to be done. The point that I made about working together to meet the challenges ahead addressed indirectly the sorts of
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington): On behalf of the people of Birmingham and the west midlands, I thank my right hon. Friend for his efforts in bringing Phoenix and BMW together. I also thank him for confirming that the taskforce and its funding will be continued to help casualties of the change in the business.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging all those who got together to keep Rover on the road to get behind the wheel of a Rover, the better to ensure the future of Longbridge as well as jobs in its supply chain and dealerships?
Mr. Byers: One of the interesting facts to emerge is that sales of Rovers have taken off in the past month, as many people are choosing to buy Rover models. If John Towers and the Phoenix consortium maintain that level of sales, they will have no difficulties in future. I certainly know that John Towers and the Phoenix consortium have thought about their marketing strategy in detail, and I hope that people will consider carefully the attractive models offered by the new owners of Rover.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): The news that the bid is going ahead is extremely welcome and heartening for the 1,500 workers in my constituency employed at Longbridge. However, it has been a time of great anguish and uncertainty for those people, so it is important that the Phoenix bid has a long-term future.
Will the Secretary of State give us further details about his conversations with Mr. Towers today? The flow of events so far suggests that production at Longbridge will be cut by half to between 150,000 and 200,000 cars. Is that consistent with 1,000 job losses and maintaining a work force at Longbridge of about 7,000?
Will the Secretary of State also tell us what car will replace the Rover 25 and Rover 45? Is such a car in the pipeline, or will that depend on an international company coming forward with a new product for Longbridge?
As the new owner of Rover, John Towers is addressing those issues. It is only right and appropriate that, as the new commercial owner of Longbridge, he should make announcements about the number of redundancies and the new models that he wishes to develop at the plant. Today, he said clearly and publicly that Longbridge will develop models such as the Rover 75, which is coming up from Cowley. I know that the Phoenix consortium want to develop the estate version of that car. Proposals have been announced by John Towers and the Phoenix consortium,
Mr. Byers: I welcomed the opportunity of visiting, with the hon. Gentleman, the Land Rover plant in Solihull two or three weeks ago. It was valuable for me to see at first hand the excellent facilities at the plant and the commitment of the work force in difficult circumstances. I know that Ford is committed to the future of Land Rover, and they have exciting plans to develop the Solihull site.
The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of pensions before. We have received assurances about the security of pensions, but I am waiting to receive confirmation in writing so that I can put in writing the response received from BMW and the new owners of Longbridge and Land Rover at Solihull. I shall do that not only for present employees but for pensioners who are concerned about the future of their pension entitlement.
Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge): I join my colleagues in welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement today, which will come as a great relief to my constituents and to the small businesses located in my constituency that supply Longbridge. I am pleased that he will support those who are made redundant and their families. However, may I ask about the £129 million which, I understand, will remain available to the taskforce? To be obvious about it, how can businesses in my constituency gain access to that money?
Mr. Byers: We have in place a scheme to help companies in the supply chain that face difficulties, and we have made £12 million available already. Given the nature of my hon. Friend's constituency, it is entirely possible that the organisations and employers that she is talking about will regard access to support for the supply chain as a means by which we can be of immediate assistance. If individual companies are feeling the pressure of events, they should get in touch with the taskforce, which is monitoring the situation and ensuring that those who are experiencing difficulties can be routed in the right direction.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): The Secretary of State will be aware that, all along the M40 corridor, from Oxford to Birmingham, there are many component manufacturers. When Alchemy was in play, representatives told the Select Committee that, because of the pound's strength, the only way to make the figures work was by sourcing more components from overseas. What assurances has the right hon. Gentleman been given by the Phoenix group that it hopes to continue to source components in the west midlands and the UK, whenever possible?
Mr. Byers: The Phoenix consortium is more likely than any of the alternatives that were on offer to source more components in Britain. Part of its marketing strategy will be that the cars that it makes are British cars, made by a
Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on all the efforts that he put in behind the scenes to help bring about today's welcome announcement. I endorse his comments about John Towers and his perseverance in the face of criticism--perhaps those comments apply to my right hon. Friend as well.
However, do the Government accept that the pound is overvalued, that the low value of the euro does not reflect the strength of the European economy, and that that is harming our manufacturing industry? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should work with our European partners to do everything possible to bring about a more realistic alignment of those currencies?