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De Lorean Motor Company

Volume 957: debated on Thursday 9 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the financial arrangements entered into with the De Lorean company for the manufacture of cars in Northern Ireland.

The financial arrangements entered into with the De Lorean Motor Company consist of the provision of equity and loan capital by the Northern Ireland Development Agency and of grants and loans by the Department of Commerce for Northern Ireland. It would not be appropriate to give the details now, as these remain confidential between the parties concerned. However, I understand that the company will have to file information in the United States which will become publicly known, and I intend to consult the company about the extent to which the Government may, by agreement, make known the basis of the assistance provided in Northern Ireland.

But it is intolerable for the Minister of State to spend at least £52 million of taxpayers' money and refuse to tell the House the total extent of that expenditure, how much has been given by way of grant, and how much by loan. Will he say here and now specifically to the House, and therefore to the taxpayer, just what involvement he has entered into and how open-ended is the commitment to Mr. De Lorean in the event of his company requiring more money for this somewhat doubtful project?

I am in continual consultation with quite a number of companies througout the world. Many of the negotiations are extremely delicate and are treated as confidential. If I were now openly to go against the confidentiality of one firm without that firm's permission I should put at risk quite a few other projects that I have in mind.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned £52 million. He is responsible for that figure, because it is not a figure I have mentioned.

Will the Minister inform the House approximately how much per job is to go into the company?

That is impossible at present, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. I am delighted to have secured this project and I hope that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, especially in those areas where it is needed, will also welcome it.

When I have the agreement of the company, I shall publish the figures, but I shall do so only with the agreement of the company, because I do not want to put at risk any of our other negotiations with many other companies to come and bring jobs to Northern Ireland.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are many thousands of people, particularly in Belfast, who welcome the enthusiasm and endeavour that he has put into attracting the industry to Belfast? It has given hope to thousands of people who had no hope before. Does he deprecate the view of those who are trying to knock this project—those in the media and those on the Conservative Benches? It appears that there are many people who do not want to see this much-needed undertaking in Belfast.

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks and for giving me the opportunity of doing so. I have wondered whether as a result of all the bashing that we have taken in Northern Ireland we are frightened of success. This is one of the worrying aspects, in my view. But we have to make this a success, because the prizes for Northern Ireland are so great.

If the Minister is not to give figures—I am sure that he is right in not wishing to publish them—will he at least tell the House what percentage of the total equity is provided by the parent company?

Again, I cannot do that now, because the company spent considerable amounts of money before even coming to Northern Ireland. I ask the hon. Gentleman to await what I shall do with the consent of the company when the opportunity arises. If I do otherwise, I shall be putting at risk many other negotiations that we are pursuing at present.

As the proposed vehicle uses a French engine, as the French engine makers put it into their own car, which is not selling, and as the planned output equals that of Porsche and is six times that of Lotus, can the Minister continue to say that the project has been thoroughly vetted and is soundly based? What provision has been made for the losses to be shared between the public purse and the private promoter?

That is pessimism in the extreme. I do not expect losses. I expect success. For the people of Northern Ireland this is a great opportunity. I do not think that it would be wise to go any further into the matter. The opportunities are there in Northern Ireland for numbers of firms. All sorts of pessimistic papers can be waved at me, but I am not filled with pessimism about this project. I am going forward with success in mind.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I intend to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible date.