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De Lorean Project

Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the further progress of the De Lorean project.

Construction of the factory buildings is well advanced. Recruitment of hourly-paid workers has begun and there is now a total of 155 persons on the payroll. Development work on the DMC12 car is being satisfactorily carried out by Lotus Cars Limited and two prototypes are currently undergoing road trials.

I very much welcome the provision of jobs in West Belfast, but does not the Minister think that the cost so far of providing 150 jobs is rather high at £53 million? Does he not feel that there ought to be more rapid developments in this private enterprise venture which is being so lavishly supported by the taxpayer? Is the hon. Gentleman also satisfied that the venture should be supported by such a vast amount of design and development work by Lotus? Is he satisfied that he has sufficient scrutiny of the project and sufficient Government intervention or is he just handing over the money and letting private enterprise do the rest?

The hon. Gentleman could well have addressed, and probably did address, those questions to the Government of which he was once a member. The fact remains that so far as the investment is concerned, we are satisfied that we can monitor progress effectively, that we are carrying out the arrangements entered into by the previous Administration and that, regarding development, the operation with Lotus Cars is going through smoothly. On the taxpayers' commitment, I would suggest that we have got, through our membership on the De Lorean company and through our monitoring of the NIDA operation, adequate control of how taxpayers' money is being spent. I accept that this is a major part of the Government's responsibility.

Since we discussed these matters in July, has my hon. Friend had any success in establishing whether this remarkably fortunate American person has succeeded in his efforts to obtain a franchise for Alfa Romeo in North America, in direct competition with this car, as a means of hedging his bets?

My latest information is that arrangements which have been under discussion between De Lorean and the Alfa Romeo company have not been concluded and I cannot therefore comment on the generality. But, on the information available to me, I am satisfied that the proposal was not in direct competition with the De Lorean car.

Will the Minister accept from me that the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) are his own and not those of Her Majesty's Opposition? Most of us on the Opposition side of the House supported the previous Government in the De Lorean project, bringing jobs to Belfast where they are much needed. We shall continue to support this Government in that objective.

I recognise the force of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. I have always believed that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), thank goodness, is unique.