1. Mr. Robert Ainsworth
To ask the President of the Board of Trade what action his Department is taking to ensure that the United Kingdom benefits from new two-stroke and orbital two-stroke engine technology.
§ The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)
The Government believe that two-stroke technology could deliver significant commercial and environmental benefits. It is one of a number of alternative vehicle technologies which are being studied by the Department of Transport.
Does the Minister agree that the once-ailing French motor industry has dragged itself forward by taking a technological lead in diesel development and that it is important that we do not allow ourselves to fall behind again? The French industry advanced through the Government working actively with industry to ensure that development. Will the Department have the necessary input into this new and exciting sphere of technology to ensure that this time round British industry takes advantage of it when it comes on stream in a few years' time?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the British vehicle industry is extremely competitive. Of course, like every other industry, it could improve, but it is definitely competitive with the French. I hope that he is also aware of the work done by the United Kingdom Engine Emissions Consortium, which has been substantially supported by my Department. Valuable work is also being done through a review by the Transport Research Laboratory, all of which will contribute to the industry. The vehicle industry spends substantial sums on research and development and it is the best judge of where R and D expenditure should be directed to the best commercial advantage.
§ Mr. Adley
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we take advantage of the developments in orbital two-stroke engine technology we need to be able to do so within the stable framework of the European Community? I recognise that there may be short-term disadvantages for other countries with our social chapter opt-out, but does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the long term, our membership of the Community and our ratification of the 304 Maastricht treaty is essential for that technology, its exploitation and all the other industrial and commercial aspects of British life?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I very much agree with my hon. Friend and find that there is near-universal agreement among business leaders in all sectors of the industry and all sizes of business that our continued membership of, and role in, the Community is vital for our prosperity—certainly for our vehicle industry.
§ Mr. Beggs
Will the President of the Board of Trade undertake to ensure that his Department and British industry are fully aware of the outstanding achievements in two-stroke technology of Professor Gordon Blair and his team at Queen's university? Will the President of the Board of Trade seek to ensure that the benefits of that research and development create jobs in the United Kingdom and do not, as has happened in the past, export jobs elsewhere?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I am happy to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Professor Gordon Blair and Queen's university, Belfast, where there is well-recognised expertise in such technology. I think that I am correct in saying that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, in a previous role, was able to support the valuable work done by the team.