HC Deb 18 June 1998 vol 314 cc493-5
5. Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South)

If she will make a statement about the future prospects for the automotive industry. [45055]

The Minister for Science, Energy and Industry (Mr. John Battle)

Car production in Britain is increasing. This year alone, we have had announcements from Rover, Toyota and Honda, involving approximately £1 billion of new investment and creating more than 2,700 new jobs. In addition, Vauxhall's recent announcement that Luton will be one of the manufacturing locations for the replacement Vectra model should safeguard 4,000 jobs in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Ms Moran

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Do he and the rest of the Department of Trade and Industry accept my heartfelt thanks, and those of the whole work force, for their efforts to ensure the long-term future of Vauxhall, Luton? Is he aware, however, that there is a skills gap in some parts of the automotive and engineering industries? Will he outline what measures he intends to take to ensure the on-going competitiveness of plants such as Vauxhall and the automotive industry generally?

Mr. Battle

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of her constituents. She is in regular contact with the Department and often brings her constituents in to meet representatives of the Department; they should be well pleased by her activities on their behalf. I take the skills gap seriously. My Department is working with the industry to identify such gaps, and we work with other Departments, including the Department for Education and Employment, to ensure that the training and skills needed to back up the industry are available. We work in partnership with industry in trying to identify its needs, especially in the metal industries, because we want to ensure that traditional skills are not squeezed out at precisely the same time as there is expansion in the industry. Britain currently has a productive and competitive car industry and we do not want it to be jeopardised by a lack of skilled labour.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Is the Minister aware of the damage done to the British automotive industry by unfair pricing practices and differentials and by the difficulty of making parallel imports to this country, which leads to higher prices in this country than elsewhere? Is he monitoring the impact on the automotive industry of the designs directive, especially the repairs article? That will impose a monopoly on spare parts for up to seven years, which will have damaging effects on the entire industry in this country.

Mr. Battle

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Action against anti-competitive behaviour elsewhere in Europe is a matter for the European Commission. We welcome both the action which has been taken and the current active discussions, because we do not want our industry to be priced out unfairly. We have a strong industry: the UK is the fourth-largest car manufacturer in Europe, with eight international companies, and the sector employs 719,000 people. It is a major sector of our economy, so we do not want unfair competition to undermine it.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I am sure that it was an oversight, but my hon. Friend did not mention the substantial investment by Ford in producing the new executive Jaguar at its Castle Bromwich plant in my constituency. I hope that he will find time to visit the plant in October, when it goes into pre-production. Will he say a word about the efforts made by Jaguar and other motor manufacturers to meet the properly tough and even more stringent emissions standards? What progress is being made by the group chaired by Ian McAllister of Ford?

Mr. Battle

Our Department participated in the setting up of the cleaner vehicles task force precisely to address that matter and to work towards ensuring that cars and other vehicles have a low environmental impact. The task force programme has been developed in partnership with the industry. I did not mention the Jaguar investment—£400 million in the new medium saloon car, the X200, which is to be produced in my hon. Friend's constituency—but that is because the sector is so productive and so much investment is going into it that, had I read out the whole list, you would have ruled me out of order, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

How is the Minister's support for the car industry consistent with the Government's general approach towards the car and motorists? The Government have imposed about £9 billion of extra taxes on motorists and a new £25 first registration tax on every new car sold, yet the Minister purports to be in favour of the car industry. Will he tell his colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions that, if we have cleaner, safer and more fuel-efficient cars, there is nothing wrong with having more of them?

Mr. Battle

In welcoming the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box after a period of absence, I seem to recall that the last time I crossed swords with him over the Dispatch Box was when I was an Opposition spokesman and the hon. Gentleman was the champion of the poll tax. However, I welcome him back, even though I cannot pretend always to agree with his analyses. The car industry itself is talking about low environmental impact and wants to contribute to our environmental targets. We see no contradiction in having environmental targets and an industry that works to match them to ensure cleaner air in our towns and cities.

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