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Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right to point out that certain sections of manufacturing are experiencing difficulties as a result of the relative strength of the pound against the European currencies. I happen to believe that the best way in which the European currencies can begin to strengthen is through effective economic reform. A wholehearted embracing of the recommendations of the Lisbon summit would be the best way of ensuring that European economies demonstrate their commitment to economic reform. That would help to strengthen the European currencies, which is where I think that the problem lies, rather than in the strength of sterling, given that, as I said, it has depreciated in value against the American dollar and the Japanese yen over the past few days.
Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): The Secretary of State has indicated some rationalisation in the supply chain to Rover for which he might be prepared to make available additional resources. Given his experiences last time, has he clarified that that would be within European Union rules?
Mr. Byers: The hon. Lady is one of those hon. Members who have played a constructive part as constituency Members of Parliament in what I know have been a difficult few months for many Members and their constituents. She raises an important point. If state aid is involved, it must clearly now receive approval from the EU. However, much of the taskforce's work--certainly with help in the supply chain--does not fall within European state aid rules. Therefore, we can and are already making support available in the supply chain; companies are already receiving financial support. We do not have such a problem with many of the taskforce's proposals. Support for the supply chain is one example of our making decisions that are not within the EU's remit.
Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East): As Chairman of the Catering Committee, I think that we ought to have a really lovely party today to celebrate. We are all very glum on a day on which we have had wonderful news. I assure the Secretary of State that there
I thank the Secretary of State for all his work behind the scenes in negotiations. I would also like to say a special word to the Prime Minister, who last week received a deputation from the workers at Rover. He was very courteous and concerned about the plight of Rover. Today, the great cloud is lifting. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) that we should rejoice; today is a lovely day.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): I join the Secretary of State in welcoming the Longbridge solution to the Rover problem. Does he recognise the concerns of my constituents who work for Rover at the Cowley plant in Oxford, where there will not necessarily be dancing in the streets? What reassurance can he give those workers who face being laid off because, under the Phoenix plan, the Rover 75 line will move to Longbridge months before the Mini goes to Cowley? Even though, since Thursday, Oxford is no longer a Labour stronghold, will he still put political energy into the problems at Cowley to ensure the short-term and long-term future of the highly skilled workers at that modern plant?
When I visited the shop stewards and management of Cowley about four weeks ago on returning from a meeting with the BMW management in Munich, I was very clear with them that the issue affected not just Longbridge but all plants in the Rover group that were part of BMW. We have been raising the question of Cowley in discussions with BMW throughout the past few weeks. The hon. Gentleman needs to be aware that although BMW's announcement today said that the 75 line would be moved to Longbridge, it confirmed that the Mini would be made at Cowley.
Mr. Byers: Yes; BMW has given guarantees about that. However, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the gap between the R75 going to Longbridge and the new Mini beginning production at Cowley. Earlier today BMW gave an assurance that although there will be a gap, there will be no redundancies as a result of the decisions that it has taken. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.
Mr. Ian Pearson (Dudley, South): May I add my welcome for today's news and warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his active role in brokering a commercial deal that offers a brighter future for the work force at Longbridge? Does he agree that for the future, topline sales are vital for Rover and other British car manufacturers? British jobs depend on British people buying British cars. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to publicise widely the car models that are made in Britain and encourage people to buy British?
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his announcement. It may have been greeted with visible disappointment on the Opposition Benches, but I can assure him that throughout the west midlands it will be greeted with satisfaction and hope. Will he make sure that what he has just said about investment and regeneration connects with the revisions to the assisted areas map that are under consideration? Many west midlands constituencies are being severely affected by the revision of that map--for example, four out of five wards in my constituency have been dropped from the original proposal. If we are serious about west midlands regeneration, will my right hon. Friend make sure that the statement on assisted areas connects with his statement today?
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend will be aware that we have just concluded the consultation period on the revised map, and we are now considering our response to that. I have no doubt that the situation in the west midlands will be one of the issues on which we need to reflect and which will inform our response to the consultation exercise.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East): I of course add my welcome to the many others that have been given in the House. There is a long journey ahead. We should pause and recognise that the role played by the trade unions during the long negotiations has been crucial. Their patience, understanding and perception of the problems has been exceptional. I know that during the coming months and years, the trade unions and their working members will work closely with the management to ensure that on competition, unit costs and the general production of a superb range of cars they will work together. We should recognise that working together is always better than working alone.
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right to point out the difficulties that still lie ahead. There is no getting away from that. We can celebrate today, but we should not lose sight of the fact that difficult decisions will have to be taken in the period ahead. My hon. Friend is also right to point out the valuable role--and, if I may add my own comment, the positive and constructive role--that the trade unions played in the exercise that we have been through over the past six weeks or so. They have been a force for good in what has happened, and we should not lose sight of that. They will play an increasingly important role in the period ahead. As my hon. Friend says, if Phoenix is to be the success that we all hope that it will be, people will have to work together with a real sense of partnership. That is the best way of overcoming any difficulties that may lie ahead.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Obviously, the whole country breathes a sigh of relief today. I do not believe that there is a constituency that would not have been touched if Rover had been allowed to close. Whether through the dealerships or the component manufacturers,
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend raised the issue of the R30 with the head of Rover UK during a Select Committee meeting and received an answer that was less than satisfactory. We should continue to argue for the development of the R30 in the UK. It is a UK idea and its development here would be a compliment to our manufacturing base and car industry.
My hon. Friend's question also raises an important point about access to the American market for the MG and Land Rover, which has perhaps not been marketed as well as it could have been. I have no doubt that the new owners--Ford in the case of Land Rover, Phoenix in the case of the MG--will consider export opportunities, especially to the United States.