Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

4.43 pm

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I had just stood up when a ghost passed over my grave. I am not quite sure why, but I am going to say something slightly different from what I had planned to say, because the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has done that. Motor racing and motor sport are part of British culture. We are embedded in them, as was your Lordships’ House historically.

I go back perhaps 60 years to when I was minding my own business in the second form of my prep school. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, the noble and

23 Apr 2009 : Column 1679

learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, were at the same school. The French master, Major Hunter, who had just got back from the war, had lost part of his skull and had a metal plate—we always remember that—suddenly got up and said, “Vous avez gagné le Mans”; “You’ve won Le Mans”. I was not quite sure what he was talking about. He showed me Le Monde, and there was a Ferrari with the name “Lord Selsdon”. I was not sure that my father was a Lord at that time; I had hardly met him. About five days later—we had asked him to come to the parents’ match at cricket—I looked around and saw out of the window a red sports car with “22” on it. We were so interested in the car that we did not notice the man who had driven it. He came up and introduced himself; he was my father. As he had been a fast bowler at Winchester, he said that he would open the bowling. He bowled an aerial wide, which was pretty distressing for me. I had been a wicket-keeper, and the parents had not brought one, so I was keeping against my own father. He then bowled another wide, said he had trouble with his knee, and was taken off. My friends remembered that moment and years later one, whose name I had probably better not mention, told me it was the defining moment of his life. He went on to become the leading fundraiser for Williams.

When you do not know about things, however, you find out later. I had not realised that strange ingredient was there not only before the war, but right throughout history. I think that Brooklands first opened in about 1903—it may have been a bit later—but you were not allowed then to race on the roads in England, Scotland or Wales. The tourist trophy was therefore established effectively to be in Ulster or the Isle of Man. After the First World War, there was quite a delay; but in 1922, the BRDC or the RAC said that it would again run that trophy in the Isle of Man. My father, who was still at school, managed to sneak out; he entered with a Fraser Nash. His mother was so keen on it all that one of the family cars that she had bought, a 1903 Mercedes, had raced at Brooklands in 1907 or something. Together with that went a Panhard and a range of other cars. His racing career, which I did not know about, followed on. So when you look back into your own history at someone you did not know, who was your father, you become extraordinarily interested.

While thinking of what he did during the war, I realised that the technology of motor racing led to the combined services having the best drivers ever of fast motor-gunboats. As those in the Navy said, “If they can drive fast cars, they can drive fast boats”. A whole range of those MGBs and MTBs were driven by racing drivers who knew each other, got on very well and went back after the war to continue their motor racing. Before the war, however, there were great cars with names that we had never heard of; one of the fastest in the world, and the first to do 100 miles an hour, was the Prince Henry Vauxhall. Vauxhall was racing cars in those days. There was also Sunbeam, and who should come along but the Shrewsbury family—the Talbots—who managed to create that great car which the French would call a “Tal-beau”.



23 Apr 2009 : Column 1680

That is all by way of background, but to come on to it: in those days, when you could not go and race on the roads, you could race on the sand—at Skegness and Pendine Sands. You could also do hill climbs and speed trials until 1925, when there was a fatal accident and everybody said that it could only be done on the road. Brooklands then came back to itself; I think that the 1926 Grand Prix was held there. They had 110 laps of a 2.616 mile circuit; you went up the various bends and did the finishing straight. There was nowhere else to go. That effectively led to the opening of Donington in 1933. All of that time the British, who did not have many cars, were using some old British names to try and attract the continental drivers and cars; but trying to attract them to Ireland or the Isle of Man meant a double sea journey. To some extent, that led to the opening of Donington, so there was only one route.

The British were really the best drivers and, in a way, had a part in the best designers. Some of the mechanics, however, were French. They were always brought up with a screwdriver in one hand and a spanner in the other; you could stab someone with one and beat them over the head with the other. Now, before the war, my father was suddenly told to go and buy a couple of Lagondas. They entered them and came fourth and fifth, or third and fourth. I found that someone had bought that Lagonda V12, which took 50 gallons of fuel, and asked me to go and look at it. It had been restored and was on the market at a total of £3 million. I wish that my father had kept it. He went on to buy a Ferrari, which he bought at the motor show in Paris because Enzo Ferrari did not want his cars to race. He then bought one of the first Formula 1 cars.

It is strange, but I had to pay my last school fees myself because, unfortunately, motor racing had shortly consumed our entire family wealth. The other day I calculated my father’s success. He ran two racing teams in France, including Ecurie Ecosse. The coat of arms was always on it. I could not understand how there was an ability to get money over to France when there was a £25 limit. I realised that we were probably in the midst of an exchange between the motor-racing community from before the war and those who were involved in special operations. Anyway, there seemed to be no shortage of money.

With the racing Dukes, including the Duke of Richmond, and the Bentley Boys and others, there was a culture that led to a need to improve one’s car. Suddenly, one day, I found that my father had bought HRG and Singer engines. I was told that I must not motor-race and, if I agreed, that I would get a car. I then got one of the first small Austin-Healey cars which I took down to HRG. The compression ratio was raised through the roof. It would go like something off a shovel.

In those days you needed the Kingston bypass because the motor-racing brigade would go from Little Jack in Berkeley Square to the Ace of Spades pub. All the motor-racing people would be there and they would all know each other. Stuart Proctor would be the RAC scrutineer from HRG. Jack Brabham was next door. Over time, I learnt that these small people had the ideas. When I became chairman of the export

23 Apr 2009 : Column 1681

side of the Engineering Industries Association, I found that I was with these people—originally with 7,500 engineers. By that time I had bought a second-hand Aston Martin and could not afford a new gear-box. But one of them said to me, “Take it down to Bristol and I will take the bits apart. I will cast something”. He gave me an extra speed on the gear-box, which I could not believe.

Another person realised that if cars were forced closer to the ground, they might have better handling. But he knew that they would bump, so he put a titanium plate underneath, which is why they made a lot of sparks. A car body chap worked out that the design of the car could give that down thrust just by shaping the air, which would also give better rolling. Now as I think of all the new bits which you can stick on to the back of a car to change it and to put McLaren out of business, I remember all of those small people. I really loved what they would tell you. They taught me physics that I did not know. They taught me everything and all about metals. But they were all friends and competitors. This created a culture in England where everyone wanted to have a car. The culture is more important than people spending a mass of money on promotion. Because of that, on my birthday, I suddenly found that my son had given me a weekend and eight laps at Le Mans as a present. I might do it while the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, is there.

I have spoken about the culture and the fun. This is sport. It is not a boring activity. It is enjoyable, although the wives do not like it because they have things on their ears. But we are superb and we should remain superb.

4.52 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, I feel something of an intruder in this debate. I jokingly said to the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, “Oh, it is a pity you cannot speak in this debate”. I realised that I did not want him to speak: I wanted a tutorial from him before I joined in this debate. To be perfectly honest, motor sport is not the sport that rings my bell. I will admit that straight away and risk getting lynched on the way out of the Chamber. It does not really work for me. I have always been acutely aware that my own sport, rugby, is sometimes described as grown men fighting in mud, as it was by a small lad who was watching. If we are talking about it and your eyes glaze over, be patient with us.

Undoubtedly, the economic benefits of motor sport are unarguable. Not long ago, we had a debate on tourism and I spoke about sports tourism. The one event that encapsulates the idea of sports tourism is probably the Grand Prix. A huge high-tech circus arrives, with more glamour than any other sport can manage. I say that with a degree of envy. There is several days of build-up, followed by one huge event with massive coverage. It then moves on. It is the ultimate, one-off show. I have been reading the comments made by Bernie Ecclestone about the preparations for the Olympics, but the comparison falls down because the Olympic Games are slightly more than a one-off show since they are a culmination of things. But in terms of individual touring shows, F1 probably represents the epitome of the great show.



23 Apr 2009 : Column 1682

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, proceeded not only to shoot the fox I was after, but to blast it full of holes because of the high-tech, high-end engineering that undoubtedly goes with Formula 1 and motor sport in general. The examples I found about the level of investment in technology and rate of improvements achieved can be equalled only by the arms industry during times of war. It is a case of seeking out what is new and keeping up the pressure to make improvements. All sports do this, but the application that goes into developing the best training shoe or a jersey that does not absorb sweat and keeps you warm is not as great as that which goes into creating a high-tech engine, and will not be as transferable to other things. Technological development takes place because of the pressure to perform. The noble Lord covered this very succinctly, but the fact is that if a machine is more efficient, it helps the environment through improved fuel economy, safer design and so on. When one thinks about it, it is clear that if Formula 1 were not achieving such improvements, someone would be getting it very wrong. What we do know about F1 is that the pressure to perform and achieve is massive.

I am told that other types of motor sport have a much higher profile outside Great Britain. Whereas F1 is our thing, other forms of racing in America are very popular. There are probably instances of cross-fertilisation of technological development between the different engineers; indeed I am sure of that because why should it not happen? There is a symbiotic relationship between an enormous event in which the vast majority of the population has at least a passive interest and the wonderful industry which backs it up. That is the real prize. Even if you hate cars going round and round making a lot of noise, as someone pretty close to my persuasion put it, you cannot deny the value of the industry that supports them.

The real question we have for the noble Lord, Lord Davies, is at exactly what level do the Government feel that they should come in with offers of support? Some of the briefing I have received states that F1 takes pride in the fact that it does not need a huge injection of money. What do the Government feel they should be providing in support of the industry? Is it more investment in education at the higher levels, such as in masters degrees and PhDs in engineering? Should we be encouraging support for the industry in that way? In further education, we have to ensure that the service industries are able to support and enhance not only Grand Prix but other motor sports events to ensure that people enjoy the festival atmosphere that such events generate.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned getting his car stuck in a field. That is the sort of thing you laugh about 10 years down the line, but at the time people say, “I’m not going there again”. The support structure must be in place because people who are not that committed to the sport want to attend because it is a “nice day out”. Most sports have learnt how to put on a good show. What are we doing to make these events something that people want to go to as of themselves? An example of another sport would be rowing. Someone said that Henley could survive without

23 Apr 2009 : Column 1683

rowing, but not without alcohol because it is a fun event. How are we helping motor sports to create fun events to attract those not interested in the core activities?

I want to say to those involved in the F1 motor industry that they do have good spats. Long-running arguments are reported in the papers and offer an example to the rest of the sporting world by showing that you should try to have your in-house disagreements in private. I will not go into the arguments that went on between Silverstone and Donington Park except to say that when we are talking about such huge sums of money, it might just be best not to claim that you are being done down quite so obviously. When very rich people involved in a certain world begin to argue among themselves, they should appreciate that the rest of us do not really want to know about it, and if we do know, we will probably just laugh.

5 pm

Lord Luke: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Astor for introducing this interesting debate. I do not know whether noble Lords are aware of what a great ally of motor racing he is. He has made an exceptional appeal today and I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us.

British Formula 1 racing should be entering a golden period in its history today, with British-built cars dominating and two British drivers as serious challengers for this year’s championship. What recent discussions have the Minister and the Government had with Formula 1 authorities about the retention of a British Grand Prix? As my noble friend said, it would be an outright disaster if we were to lose the international and engineering challenge of a British Grand Prix which we have so successfully hosted for more than 50 years.

My noble friend has met the owners of Donington Park, as he said, and it is clear that they do not seek any free state aid or any handout. They would, however, like to secure constructive and positive support and encouragement from the Government to help them through these difficult economic times.

The relationship between the annual British Grand Prix and the Motorsport Valley business cluster is vital. The loss of one would undoubtedly affect the other very seriously, as my noble friend said, and any damage to our international credibility, such as a failure to hold our own Grand Prix, would have devastating economic effects. Does the Minister appreciate also that sponsorship of individual Formula 1 teams is likely to be severely curtailed as major UK-based businesses would almost certainly withdraw their support?

I have been following motor racing for over 50 years and the first British Grand Prix I attended was, I think, 50 years ago at Silverstone. Therefore I am extremely sorry at the turn of events which has occurred. However, that does not mean that I do not support Donington; of course I do. I believe that an up-to-date, first-class circuit, together with some extra facilities that undoubtedly Silverstone does not possess, will have the same, or possibly even greater, encouraging effect on the businesses associated with motor racing, which will, I believe, stay in the UK and indeed in the east Midlands.



23 Apr 2009 : Column 1684

Of course, there is also the ongoing effect of a successful British Grand Prix year after year drawing in more and more foreign companies in high technology and hugely benefiting the economy of this country and, specifically, the east Midlands.

A recent Royal Academy of Engineering Survey of over 400 engineering companies revealed that they are already finding it difficult to recruit graduate engineers and anticipate even more skills shortages in the future. What recent discussions has the Minister had with his colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families about encouraging the take-up of subjects such as science and engineering? Does he accept that if we fail to achieve a change, the motor sport industry, which is worth some £5 billion to our economy, will be forced to relocate abroad regardless of whether we still have a British Grand Prix?

I want from these Benches to strongly support my noble friend’s efforts to persuade the Government to give a clear and positive statement of support for the British Grand Prix at Donington and to use all their influence to ensure that Britain continues to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix. As my noble friend said, if such a statement is made, it will undoubtedly influence bankers, investors and overseas companies to confirm their investment plans, and we would very much welcome this.

5.04 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I hope that my speech will be an answer to the last question that the noble Lord, Lord Luke, addressed to me about the extent to which the Government give our full support to the Grand Prix at Donington and to the motor sport industry. The noble Lord asked whether the House was aware of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Astor, to that industry. We are all aware of it.

I am personally grateful that this very same debate nearly 12 years ago gave me the chance to make my maiden speech, in which I sought to develop exactly the issues that my noble friend Lord Rooker developed today: the significance of this industry for high-tech engineering, the significance of the development of skills in this country for engineering and the importance of our being aware that in education we need to address ourselves to science and engineering if we are to be a successful country. I did not speak with quite the eloquence or insight of my noble friend, who is a former engineer and therefore has the advantage of me. I merely produce engineers; both my sons are engineers, one of them in the motor industry. I do not have quite the insight that my noble friend illustrated today, but I subscribe very much to his remarks.

We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, for introducing this debate. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, who took us down memory lane. The noble Lord will forgive me if the Government do not go too far into the past but look to the future; after all, this debate is about the degree of future government support for the industry.

It is clear, though, and the noble Lord certainly did us a service in these terms, that the Grand Prix has a long and glorious tradition in this country and we

23 Apr 2009 : Column 1685

produce great world champions, from Mike Hawthorn right through to Lewis Hamilton last year. While the Grand Prix is a regular occurrence in this country, it is no less a part of that exciting concept of the decade of sport that the Government are looking to foster, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Astor, made reference in his opening remarks, along with great events such as Wimbledon, the Six Nations, the FA Cup final and many others. It helps to showcase British talent and expertise alongside the world events that we have attracted and are hoping to attract.

We want to see success for the Grand Prix over the next 10 years and far beyond. I am grateful for the contributions today that emphasised not only the enormous thrills that the sport brings to a high percentage of our people—the noble Lord, Lord Astor, referred to television figures, and we should recognise how striking the interest in the Grand Prix is, represented by the numbers of people in this country watching the BBC broadcasts this year—but the wider issue of the importance of the Grand Prix and the industry to our economic well-being. It is important that Britain is able to stand tall in the world of engineering and to emphasise that it can enhance, develop and cultivate the high-level skills that guarantee that we will be at the forefront of research and technology. That is an important part of the success of the British motor racing industry.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord for referring to my noble friend Lord Drayson, who we all heartily hope will have a wonderful time at Le Mans. I feel a bit as if I am speaking about cricket while I have Kevin Pietersen sitting next to me, or speaking about soccer with Steven Gerrard here; it is quite clear whom the House would prefer to listen to. But my noble friend has significant interests and, as the House will readily appreciate, when speaking from the Dispatch Box the Government have only one interest: the governance and welfare of the nation. That is why I am deputed, in my rather inadequate stance, to have my noble friend sitting alongside me—but I assure the House that I have had the benefit of his advice in preparing my response to this debate.

We have all been excited, particularly this year, because of the success of British-based teams and drivers in the first three races. We all know that it is a long season and that there will be many changes. Climatic conditions are likely, one would expect and hope, to be a little different from those in Shanghai in the majority of races. We want to create an environment in which our teams prosper and, of course, we want to ensure that Britain continues to host Grand Prix.

Today’s debate gives me a chance to set out the Government’s position. The British Grand Prix is clearly one of the most exciting events in the British sporting calendar and is a key sporting event in the Prime Minister’s call for an amazing decade in sport. If the Grand Prix were not staged, it would be to the detriment of that concept. We have some of the most passionate and well informed fans in the world, who do not just watch the race on television but, as my noble friend Lord Rooker indicated—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Astor, and other noble Lords attend Grand Prix—attend such events. We are all too well

23 Apr 2009 : Column 1686

aware that the British Grand Prix is the biggest sporting event in the UK in terms of attendance. Even the new Wembley Stadium holds only 90,000. One or two footballing interests are represented in the House; the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, will know that football can manage 90,000, whereas the Grand Prix can manage three times that number. We are aware of the very keen interest displayed by the British public in Grand Prix.

Ministers and officials across Whitehall have done all that they can to support Silverstone in its attempts to retain the British Grand Prix. We helped through the East Midlands Development Agency because we were anxious about the future of the Grand Prix. There has been significant investment, not just from the motor industry; there was also substantial investment in the road that facilitated access to the Grand Prix at Silverstone. We stand ready to assist in that area.

We are aware that there are some reservations about Donington. The track looks fine, but there are reservations about facilities. There is still the question of raising capital, although our intelligence is that we can be optimistic that the investment in Donington will make it a huge success. However, should anything go wrong on that front, it is important that Silverstone is available to resume its position, because the essential thing is that we must not lose a British Grand Prix.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page