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25 Oct 2006 : Column 445WH—continued

Mr. Howard: Of course no one is suggesting that Eurostar is malevolent in any way in what it proposes, but it may be mistaken. It may have made a mistake, or it may be making assumptions in good faith but on the basis of inadequate or inaccurate analysis of the
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evidence. We have sought an opportunity to test the analysis and evidence, and it is important that we and Kent county council have made available to us the information that we need to carry out that assessment.

Mr. Harris: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a valid point, and I am glad that he clarified the position. However, as I said, there will be an opportunity to review timetables and service patterns after the new service begins next year.

Since its opening in 1996, Ashford International station has provided a valuable alternative to passengers who want to use Eurostar but want to avoid travelling into central London to join the train. The reason for reducing the number of trains stopping at Ashford is, of course, the opening of a second station in Kent at Ebbsfleet, which is strategically located close to the A2 and M25—perhaps too close, as the hon. Member for Ashford would claim.

Eurostar carried out detailed research over 18 months which shows that Ebbsfleet serves a much larger catchment area than Ashford. Indeed, Ebbsfleet’s catchment area is enormous, with 10 million potential travellers. It extends around the M25 and will open up new markets for Eurostar. By contrast, the catchment area for Ashford is geographically large, but the level of patronage on Eurostar is quite low. Eurostar’s research has shown that up to two thirds of the passengers who currently travel to Ashford will find Ebbsfleet equally or more convenient, and Ebbsfleet will be served by international trains to Paris, Brussels and Lille.

Eurostar believes that, following the opening of Ebbsfleet, the residual number of passengers wishing to travel from Ashford to Brussels will be fewer than 20 per train, which is too few commercially to justify a direct service. Indeed, there is a serious threat that stopping Eurostar services at Ashford as well as Ebbsfleet would extend journey times to the extent that more passengers would be lost than gained. The current journey time between London and Paris will be cut by 20 minutes when the new channel tunnel rail link opens. To have two stops, one at Ebbsfleet and one at Ashford, would almost take away that advantage.

Damian Green: The Minister has been very generous in giving way. I heard what he is saying almost word for word from the mouth of Eurostar’s chief executive at the meeting that we had with the company. The point that was made then is that trains do not need to stop at both places. They can alternate, with some stopping at Ashford and some at Ebbsfleet. That would address the time issue.

Mr. Harris: That is a valid point, and, as I said before, there will be an opportunity to address such issues once the timetable is up and running. However, based on passenger numbers and the information that is available to the Department and to the hon. Gentleman, it is difficult to justify the existing timetable if Eurostar’s commercial obligations are taken into account.

It is also worth noting that more than 500,000 people a week visit Bluewater shopping centre, which is close to Ebbsfleet. By contrast, Ebbsfleet itself will be used by fewer than 25,000 passengers per week. Locally,
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major improvements to the strategic road network have been and, as the hon. Gentleman said, are being carried out to reduce the impact of new traffic flows, and we hope that congestion will be minimal.

Let me conclude by emphasising that I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I know that there is genuine concern in his and other constituencies in east Kent that Eurostar’s proposals may mean that the area will be left with substandard services. I hope that I have been able to reassure him that most of the demand from Ashford will continue to be met, and that there is scope to review services to Ashford in the light of future changes in demand.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended until half past Two o’clock.

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UK Car Component Manufacturing

2.30 pm

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I thank you for facilitating this debate, Mrs. Dean, and I thank the Minister for attending to respond to it. The subject is important. Manufacturing is still one of the mainstays of the UK economy, and we ought not to lose sight of that. No matter how many people want to talk manufacturing down, we are in the Chamber to talk it up. I am sure that we will have a good response from my right hon. Friend.

UK manufacturing has faced turbulent periods, which is why the debate is extremely timely. We have had bad news, we have had good news and we have had indifferent news. It is the good, the bad and the ugly of the UK car and component manufacturing industry that we want to discuss. We need to ensure that the debate is a serious one. It is about the future of car component manufacturing in this country. It is not a forum for scoring political points, but a means of raising the genuine concerns of Members of Parliament. Amicus, the Transport and General Workers Union and other unions have been involved and they have the same worries about the future of manufacturing in the UK. We need to get the message across, and that is what we will try to do.

There is no doubt that the UK manufacturing sector is changing fast, with many worrying signals as well as reasons to be optimistic, which I shall come to. If we look back to 1996, the Ford Motor Company was producing cars in the UK, as were Rover Group and General Motors. The Vauxhall brand was dominant. Those were the major players. Rover Group, which was once the fourth largest car manufacturer, is now gone. Ford no longer builds a Ford-badged car here. Of course, GM also lost one of its assembly plants. We have seen a real difference since 1996.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that when tourists, particularly from France and Germany, visit this country they are amazed that fire, police and ambulance vehicles are not manufactured in the UK but in their countries? Is not that an absolute disgrace?

Mr. Hoyle: It is a total disgrace. It is unacceptable. In Italy, France or Germany, such vehicles would be produced only in that country. We need a bit of that spirit in this country. People will say to me, “It’s European law. It’s this, that and the other,” but we all know that companies will alter the design features to fit the spec of the vehicle that is built there. We want to copy a little of that, and procurement ought to be a major part of that. I totally agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): On the matter of Ford-badged cars not being built here any more, I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to take the opportunity to recognise that Ford is building great British-badged cars in this country, such as Jaguar, which employs 3,000 people in my constituency. Ford is the leading investor in research and development in the motor industry in the country, and probably accounts for some 70 or 80 per cent. of motor industry research and development. We should
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encourage the company—especially as the leaked review into the future of Jaguar and the rest of Ford Europe is under way, and as Ford management will meet the Chancellor tomorrow—to redouble its commitment to and investment in the British car industry and Jaguar in Erdington in particular.

Mr. Hoyle: Of course we should. I cannot disagree, and one ought not to shy away from doing that. I certainly would not have liked to have opened Ford’s bank statement this week. It has struggled, and the debate is about the premier brands of the automotive industry. We hope that Ford will stick with Jaguar and we can see signs of it coming good. It is a tragedy that Aston Martin was put up for sale, because the research and development and shared knowledge should have continued within those premier brands. I hope that Ford will reconsider because Jaguar has a future. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) said, it is a shame that the police are not using Jaguars. Why do they have to use other vehicles? The police in Stafford were the last force to use Jaguars, and surely the time has come for the police to invest in the Estate, the S-type, the XJ—

Mr. Simon: What about Ministers?

Mr. Hoyle: Ministers can set the best example. All ministerial cars should be British built, and that is part of what we will say today.

The recent news has not been good—far from it—with 900 job losses at Ellesmere Port and the decision to close Peugeot at Ryton, with the loss of 2,300 jobs. It is not just about the jobs that have been lost—far from it—but about the back-up effect on the component sector and the loss of hidden jobs. We can see the direct impact of a car plant closing, but we cannot see the impact on the supply chain, which could be as much as four or five times worse. We cannot really measure it.

Every time there is bad news we have to look not only to the headline figure but to the hidden figure and the component sector, because it is just as important as car production. We must remember that the likes of Rover and Jaguar get a lot of their components from the UK. We know that other manufacturers are basically an assembly plant, and we need to persuade them to invest more in components from the UK. That is part of the problem that we must address.

It is not good news for the people of Coventry. The first bad news came from Jaguar, although I know that it only moved up the road. Then they found out that Peugeot had misled everyone. It had been offered a Government loan in the form of a £15 million grant, but it turned its back on Coventry at the last minute. That is the kind of tragedy that I despise the most. I admire the French for putting France and French industry first, and we are seeing a shake out, but I hope that we will do the same.

Let us not buy Peugeot and Citroen products. Maybe they will then consider how important the UK market is. They have a large share of the UK market—we are third and fourth for Citroen and Peugeot respectively. Why are they not producing vehicles here? Why do they
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sneak off to the former eastern bloc? It is absolutely appalling. Peugeot should stand by the loyal workers that made Ryton one of its profitable sites. It was not losing money, but just needed more investment and a new model to come down the line. Peugeot has misled the people of Coventry, the regional development agency and the Government. Such car producers are the unacceptable face of manufacturing.

I hope that we will start to learn a little more from the French and start to back the British car industry. As has been pointed out, the Government must set the example. We must ensure that we do not lose any more car plants and we must see continuing growth. Unfortunately, this week we heard similar news about TVR in the north-west, not far from my constituency. TVR produces its famous cars in Blackpool, but a Russian entrepreneur came over and demonstrated the danger of foreign investors buying out British companies. They do not have the same affinity. He might say that he was slightly misled when he bought the company, but TVR has always produced in Blackpool. Now it seems easier to move production to Europe. It is a worry.

The 260 jobs that Blackpool could lose are quality skilled jobs in the north-west and that is a tragedy. It is also a tragedy for the components sector, because it has a knock-on effect. It is a great worry. As Kevin Morley, the BBC automotive industry analyst, stated:

We build some of the best racing cars, the best technology comes out of the UK and we have the best research and development. We must see that transferred into production. Production must be the backbone of the industry, and we must get manufacturing back and up to where it ought to be—leading the rest of Europe. We want to see the investment of the 1980s and 1990s continue in this new millennium. We must look at that and ensure that we are the best place to do business.

I know that global forces can dictate the actions of multinational companies, but the Government can still take action to support and promote UK manufacturing. As I said, they should lead by example, show their patriotism to the country’s hard-working people by backing British manufacturing and ensure that all Government cars are built in the UK.

That principle should be extended to chief constables. We should remind them where the money that pays for our police force comes from. Do they think it comes from Japan, or even Germany or Korea? No, they get it from the British public. The least that chief constables could do is to start buying British. They buy Astras, but not the bigger cars. When did we last see them use a Jaguar, to name just one model? When did we last see a Transit? Most of the larger vehicles are Mercedes. Much more can be done, not only with cars but with the light commercial vehicle sector as well. It is time for chief constables to start leading by example. It is not good to see so many BMWs and Mercedes.

The Highways Agency buys a few Discoverys—we see them travelling up and down the motorways—but what other vehicles does it use? Mitsubishi has no plant here, and Nissan four-wheel drive vehicles are not built
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here. Why is the Highways Agency not buying the best four-wheel drive vehicles that are built in the midlands? It is absurd that it runs four different types of vehicle. It makes no sense. Bearing in mind the scale on which it buys vehicles, it would be better to buy from one supplier, and it should be British. We need to take that message back to organisations such as the Highways Agency and the police.

What about the ambulance service, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) mentioned? Why are ambulances made by Renault or Mercedes? The home of the Transit is at Southampton. We should be using Transits or LDV vans from Birmingham. It is the same with the fire brigade. Why should brigades buy Scania and Volvo? What is wrong with them buying DAF trucks built at Leyland?

A lot of good vehicles are made in Britain, but we have to persuade Departments and agencies to start backing British manufacturing. Let us show our mettle. Let us copy the French, the Italians and the Germans. Let us use the same playing field instead of the unfair playing field that causes such unfair competition. People wonder why it is not happening and why Ministers do not use British-built cars. It is a shame, and I am sure that it is something that the Minister will put right. As I say, we must reverse that trend.

It is an easy option for multinational companies, including car producers, to turn their backs on the UK when the economy is not running well. Whenever General Motors or Peugeot want a better financial result, what do they do? They turn their backs on the UK and close their plants here. Why? Because it is easier to do that. It is so much cheaper to make someone redundant in the UK than it is in France, Italy or Germany. We should not have to pay that price.

We need an equal playing field, so that British workers have the same rights as those in other EU countries. It is appalling that it is cheaper, easier and quicker to sack someone here. People say, “Is the plant profitable? Yes, but it’s cheaper to get rid of the workers. We don’t have to wait 12 months”— or however long it takes in Germany. People can be made redundant virtually overnight in this country, and that is unacceptable. It needs to be changed. We must ensure that people are not made redundant simply because it is easier. Companies must be made to realise that our workers have the same rights. I hope that the Minister will do something about that. It is important that we take up the challenge.

Ensuring that we have a safer manufacturing industry and component sector and strengthening employment rights is the first challenge. The second is dealing with what happens when car companies begin to look at the books. The Select Committee on Trade and Industry found that people in the UK feel disadvantaged when it comes to energy costs. The problem is that our energy companies are failing us because energy is more expensive here than it is for our competitors abroad.

That disadvantage is the result of the failure of energy companies to invest in storage facilities. If only we had had the storage facilities the other week, when it was not possible to give gas away, we could have back-filled them with gas, which would have guaranteed cheaper energy. We could have energy at a
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set price all year round instead of the price spikes. That is becoming a difficulty for car companies, which recognise that energy is a problem.

We need the Government to play a part. If companies fail to invest, I hope that the Government will either force them to invest or invest for them and then charge them. That is how we can get a better and more stable economy for our manufacturing industry. It is about a level playing field. However we might look at it, we have to prevent people from taking the easy option. Those are the key factors. The cost difference in heavy energy use of between 20 and 30 per cent. is another key factor. I hope the Minister takes that on board. Addressing that problem would help to reduce prices and ensure that we are more competitive. The Government need to take the lead on those challenges. We have to support UK industry and ensure that all workers have the same rights.

The Warwick agreement is a lot of fine words, with which we all agree, but we know that it has failed. Although it has been successful in some areas, in others it has let us down. The fact is that Government procurement was meant to support UK industry. We have seen examples of when that procurement should have happened but did not, as with textiles, which moved to China. We would not have broken any laws had we done that—far from it. Those goods should have been manufactured here. Instead, the Government contracts ended up in Chinese factories. It is not acceptable.

Procurement can make a real difference. We must ensure that the Warwick agreement is held up as a good example of best practice in supporting UK industry and manufacturing. We have to get behind it, because it could make a difference, especially to the midlands and the north, which have been struggling. The agreement can help, because Government procurement leads by example, and there is a lot of money to be spent. We need to ensure that it is spent here, in support of UK jobs. I hope that we start to get that right.

As I said, there are many troubles in UK manufacturing, but there are also many positives. It is interesting to note that Honda is adding another shift, with further expansion—that is good news—as are Toyota and Nissan, and the Mini is bringing engine production back to the UK. There are many success stories, and we have to build on that success, but it does not always support the UK component industry. We have to persuade companies not only that the UK is good for manufacturing but that it is good for supplying components. That is what needs to be pushed. We have to make the car industry realise how important the component industry is to the UK and that it is a quality product that can be delivered on time.

We have some of the most skilled, able and dedicated workers in the world. We should not lose sight of that. It is said that people can retrain, but why should they? Why should we lose a shift at Ellesmere Port? They are skilled people. We should ensure that GM understands that future Government procurement will be based on who builds here. That is what we have to get across.

Our facilities are the among the best in the world. We have the best technology, some of the best research and development, and some of the best plant and machinery. We must build on that. Last year, we made
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1.6 million cars. That was not far short of the record. Only the 1970s were better, so it is a good story. We have had the good, and we have the bad. It must be recognised that the UK is good for car companies and can help them to be profitable.

The Government have initiated changes to create a more favourable framework for car companies. People realise that working with the trade unions has done much to improve the industry. It is not the old days of strikes; the unions are now working with management. It is about them working together to ensure that there is a future. That was noted by the chief executive of Rolls-Royce, Ian Robertson, who recently said:

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