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12 Dec 2007 : Column 76WH—continued

When Lord Jones of Birmingham Minister for Trade Promotion and Investment took office, he appeared before our Select Committee, which in those days dealt with a Department that was called quite rightly, the Department for Trade and Industry, rather than the nonsensical name that it now has. I asked him why his Government car was not built in the UK, because he was meant to represent British business. He waffled, gulped and tried to believe that it was built in the UK, but he had to admit that it was not. Well, I am pleased to inform Members that Lord Jones now has a Jaguar and leads by example. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] The Toyota Prius has been dumped and he is now in a diesel Jaguar, which is flying the flag for UK car production. There is nothing wrong in that, and he has set the example. It is so important that we persuade other Ministers to back British industry. Lord Jones did not take the Labour party card, but at least we have
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the Jaguar, so I suppose we have made some progress. We will work on the other aspect later.

Why cannot all Government cars be built in the UK? The Government are the standard bearer for UK industry—the standard bearer for our car manufacturing sector. If UK car manufacturing cannot rely on its Government, who can it rely on for support? That is the key question. On the Prius, what is so special about a car that is built in Japan and transported all the way around the world on a cargo ship—the most pollutive vehicle in the world—to deliver it to this country? It does not have any British car components, and at the end of its life, it costs more to scrap the Prius than it does to scrap a car built in the UK. Why are the Government playing at gestures? It is purely a gesture to say, “I am going round in a hybrid car.” It is not good enough, because if the Government had something about themselves and they really wanted to ride around in hybrid cars, they would ask, “Why are they not built in Derby? Why are they not built in the midlands?”

Dr. Kumar: In the north-east.

Mr. Hoyle: In the east, west and the north-east.

If we are serious, and the Government really want hybrid cars, they should put pressure on car manufacturers to build in the UK. They will not build in the UK when they are happy to pollute, ship a car around the world, deliver it to this country and give it to a Minister. We need fewer gestures and more positive action for British manufacturing. That is what we want, and that is how we will see the strength of UK manufacturing.

John Hemming: The hon. Gentleman mentions one of my hobby horses: one can take a car from Solihull, adapt it with a dual-fuel tank and run it primarily on pure vegetable oil. Does he not agree that the Government should examine why we have to buy the adaptations from Germany and why we do not create them in the UK? They should recognise that it is possible to run a diesel Land Rover Discovery on about 85 per cent. vegetable oil.

Mr. Hoyle: There are many options, including the old chip-shop fat, too. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman, however, is that the smell of fish and chips might be a bit much through the windows or in the air conditioning. Mr. Benton might think he was in Blackpool if it was like that. We must recognise that there are other options, including compressed natural gas, which can be used in vehicles.

John Hemming: It is still a fossil fuel.

Mr. Hoyle: Yes, it may be, but there are other options.

The issue is about investment, as we have been trying to say all along. The answer is not to buy from Japan cars that are shipped around the world. Let us make that point clear. I hope that next time we have a debate, the Minister will hold up the keys and say, “I now use a
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British-made car.” The issue is about setting examples, and I know that the Minister listens, and that he will take that on board.

Other countries, such as France and Germany, have a policy of ensuring that their Ministers travel in domestically built cars. We need a clear procurement policy that places the emphasis on best value for the service involved and for the whole UK car manufacturing sector, as opposed to a procurement policy that is based on taking what is cheapest. We are told that we buy many of the vehicles because they are the cheapest, but that does not mean that they are the best.

As I stated at the beginning, the UK car manufacturing sector has an important role to play in our economy. With the necessary support and help from the Government with procurement, stronger employment laws, efforts to improve research and development, and investment in our car manufacturing and component sector, heavy vehicles and light commercial vehicles, we can ensure that we have a viable future based on a highly skilled, high-tech industry.

There is a good picture to be painted, but it can soon be distorted and we can lose what we have. We need a Government who will champion our vehicle industry and ensure that we have a strong component sector to feed into vehicle manufacturing. To the Minister, I say please, whenever we procure, let us use the same rules that the French, Germans and Italians use. What good is a police car built in Japan or Germany? What example does that set? What good is a Highways Agency vehicle from Mitsubishi, riding around Solihull, the home of Land Rover? It is absolutely absurd. We cannot say that the decision is based on price, because part of the fleet is from Land Rover and the other part is from Mitsubishi and Nissan. It makes no sense. We need more common sense from the Government.

The issue is about joined-up government fighting for our future and recognising our car industry, so I ask the Minister to take it on board and give us the good news that he is buying and driving British.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Joe Benton (in the Chair): Order. Before I call the next speaker, may I make it known to the Chamber that I propose to start the winding-up speeches at 10.30 am? Quite a number of people have indicated that they wish to speak, and I want to try to get everybody in, so may I ask that everyone be as brief as they possibly can?

9.57 am

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Thank you for calling me, Mr. Benton. I shall try to be as brief as I can.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) on a typically spirited defence of the motor industry and exposition of the key issues. He is right to draw attention to the major challenges that face the industry in the UK, and his point was well made about the importance of getting our employment laws in line so that workers in the motor industry can be effectively protected. He is right also to point out the
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key issue of procurement not only by the Government directly, but by all sorts of agencies.

Coming from the midlands, I am, like my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), very concerned about the future of Jaguar and Land Rover, as no doubt the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) is too. None of us pretends that there are no hard decisions to make—of course there are. We all want to ensure that the company is successful. So far, Ford has stressed that it envisages its roles including not only ensuring a good and profitable presence in the UK, but accepting its responsibilities as a corporate citizen in the midlands and in the north-west. I hope that that is true. We certainly wish to hold the Company to it.

Lorely Burt: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. Would an illustration of Ford’s intention be the Aston Martin range? It has retained a share in the company and continues as supplier to it for engine and other parts.

Richard Burden: That is certainly one option, that is true. If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I do not want to go into the specifics of that. The important thing is to establish the principle that Jaguar and Land Rover are strategically vital to large parts of our economy and manufacturing industry. If Ford accepts that it has responsibility as a good corporate citizen, the precise form of what happens in the future can be discussed. That principle needs to be established, and I hope that it will be.

No doubt other hon. Members, as they did in interventions on my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley, will talk about many successes as well as the challenges that we face, whether in the north-east with Nissan or General Motors up in Ellesmere Port. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) will rightly say something about Mini and the success of the Oxford plant, and, coming from the west midlands, it pleases me to know that engines for the Mini are built there, not in Brazil. It is important to recognise that some 25 per cent. of Ford’s global engine requirements are still sourced from the UK.

I wish to say a couple of things about the challenge of climate change and how the Government and the industry can respond to it. The Prime Minister is absolutely right that the UK must be at the forefront of driving that agenda forward. It is also right to acknowledge that the industry has achieved rapid progress in the carbon dioxide performance of new cars for some time. That is not an excuse to let up; we need to go further on that and the industry must be pushed to go further, but we need to acknowledge the progress that has been made.

When regulations are brought in and we consider standards, targets and so on, we must recognise that the impact of that will not be even across the sector. They will have different impacts on different parts of the UK car industry. If the environmental performance of a company is considered across a range of models, as appears to be the intention under European regulations, a company with a balanced model range from the supermini to the performance or luxury end
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of the market will be able to meet its CO2 targets while still producing, to put it bluntly, quite polluting cars. However, a company producing a specialist model range might produce fewer polluting cars but not hit its targets, purely because it does not have a balanced model range. There is no easy solution to that, but I ask the Minister to bear it in mind. Yes, it will be a problem for Porsche in Germany, but in the UK it will be a problem for Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin—the range of companies that specialise in high-performance cars. If the European regulations go through, we must ensure that their needs are addressed.

On the same issue, we need to consider the industry’s overall performance as well as that of individual models when we consider how to improve environmental performance. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ recent sustainability report carried a sobering message: that progress has been substantial in the performance of individual models, but that in the vehicle industry as a whole aggregate CO2 emissions have not changed much, because there are a lot more cars on the road, often being driven in inappropriate circumstances. We need to examine the performance of individual vehicles, but we also need to examine the impact on the industry and performance across the sector.

Despite all the challenges, we excel in this country in niche vehicles, performance engineering and motor sport. Those industries employ a substantial number of people, but the real contribution that they can make is to securing and locking in motor manufacturing and the motor industry in a way that meets the needs of the 21st century, not those of the previous century. There is a huge potential crossover between our skills in motor sport technology and performance engineering and the environmental technologies that we need to develop. I welcome the investment that the Government have made so far; such things as the low-carbon vehicles innovation platform are welcome, but they provide fairly short-term funding. It is important that the industry is encouraged to go further and invest long-term, and Government programmes must do that.

In looking to develop and promote those technologies, I ask the Government to please examine the future of Longbridge. This is the one time that I shall mention Longbridge in the debate. There we have a Chinese firm, which will possibly be a partnership of Chinese firms in future, producing cars. However, the production of cars there will not ultimately be the most important thing. What is important is whether they bring R and D there. China has a huge environmental challenge in its motor industry, and we could use our technologies in partnership with it here, not only to build up our industry but to promote sustainability in the automotive sector over in China. Where better to do that than the place that has been synonymous with the car industry in the 20th century and can, if we do it right, be synonymous with automotive environmental technologies in the 21st?

10.6 am

Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) on securing the debate. He is making a debate here in Westminster Hall on the motor industry
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a regular feature, and quite right too, given the industry’s enormous importance to jobs, innovation, skills, GDP and exports.

Some colleagues may have seen a huge and excellent poster as they drive past Cowley, which has a picture of the Mini, saying “Made in Oxford”, and then the words “Sold in” with the flags of more than 80 countries. That is a real tribute to the skill and commitment of all the work force at Cowley and at the Swindon and Hams Hall plants, which make up the Mini production triangle, and to all the suppliers and those who are out there selling the cars. Let us remember the big contribution made to the UK car industry by the dealership network, which is another important part of the industry and has certainly raised its game in recent years.

I am pleased that my good and right hon. Friend the Minister will respond to the debate. We were pleased that he was able to join us for the formal launch of production of the Mini Clubman in Oxford in September. We were particularly glad that the Government sent a tall Minister, because it provided a practical demonstration of the excellent legroom in the new Mini Clubman. Since we last debated the automotive industry here, the Mini has continued to go from strength to strength, with not only the successful launch of the Clubman but the millionth Mini coming off the production line in April and, this year alone, 202,000 Minis sold worldwide—an increase of more than 16 per cent. on the same period last year.

I wish to make a few points about the environmental challenges and opportunities facing the industry, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) referred. What the public interest in the industry needs, and what we must work with the EU to ensure, is a stable and transparent framework of expectations and requirements on fuel consumption, emissions and recyclable materials, which is demanding of the industry and incentivises the right performance but also allows for the lead times and investment needed for new technologies and processes. It is important that the Government work with the industry and the trade unions so that there is a joint approach on those crucial issues. I look to the Minister to assure us that they are doing that.

In the industry, there is both recognition of the need to improve environmental performance and cut its carbon footprint and the will to do so, building on the considerable progress on emissions and fuel efficiency that has already been achieved.

Certainly at Cowley, there have been significant advances. The plant has cut the energy consumption for each Mini made by 20 per cent. in the past five years. Water consumption is down by more than 30 per cent. per unit, and waste recycling is up by 134 per cent. The company is committed to further reducing carbon dioxide emissions, energy and water consumption by 5 per cent. per vehicle per year.

The Mini Cooper D has one of the lowest carbon emission levels of any car worldwide at 104 g of CO2 per km, thus matching the latest hybrid vehicles. I have no doubt that with a well-thought-out regulatory framework and continuing investment in research and development, technology and skills, further progress is
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not only possible but will be achieved right across the industry, so that environmental delivery comes together with the continual increases in productivity for which the industry is already renowned.

I want to flag up with the Minister a separate matter that will have a bearing on other car plants, given the global nature of the industry and its ownership. It is important that current proposals about linking work permits to English language ability do not override other considerations, and particularly that they do not result in other countries feeling encouraged to put language barriers in the way of British workers being employed abroad. Within BMW—and, I am sure, other companies—there are regular transfers of personnel between not only the UK and Germany, but operations in other countries. We all know that public policy is full of the unintended consequences of well-intended initiatives, and I am sure that we do not want restrictions on movement within transnational companies to be one of them. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to keep an eye on that.

This debate is an opportunity for us to talk up British manufacturing and the enormous amount being achieved both by workers and companies in the car industry here. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield talked about the repatriation of engine production from Brazil to Hams Hall. That is clear evidence that there is nothing inexorable about automotive production and sourcing shifting to low wage economies. On the contrary, the more sophisticated the product, the more advanced our innovation and design, and the better the skills of our work force and supply industries, the more chance we have of retaining relative competitive strategic advantage in this country. I believe that with the right commitment to investment, R and D and skills, and with the right partnership between Government and trade unions, rising environmental expectations are not just a challenge but an opportunity that we can and must make the most of.

10.12 am

Jon Cruddas (Dagenham) (Lab): I do not want to prevent my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) from getting in before the 10.30 shutdown, so I shall simply make a few comments echoing points that have already been made. I agree with every word of the previous speech, but I find it quite strange to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), because many years ago, before I was an MP, I was involved with him in the fight to protect Longbridge and subsequently in the battle over the Dagenham plant. It brings back to me some of the tiring discussions and fights that we had to maintain car assembly in both those plants. [Interruption.]

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