I talk to people in the automotive industry on a regular basis—indeed I have received three texts from companies in the past 30 minutes. The industry-led, BERR-facilitated new automotive innovation and growth team’s report on the future of the UK automotive industry is expected in early May.
People have not stopped driving cars; they have just stopped buying them, because it is difficult to access finance for buying or, indeed, leasing them. Way back, on 27 January, the Secretary of State said that he was setting up a taskforce, to be led by the new trade Minister, Lord Davies. It was supposedly going to work out how consumers could access finance again to buy all these cars and get the car purchase market going. Nothing has been heard of that taskforce, so when are we going to hear the outcome of the work supposedly being done by Lord Davies on this car financing taskforce?
People have not stopped buying cars, but car sales have fallen. February sales were down 22 per cent. in the UK, 48 per cent. in Spain and 24 per cent. in Italy. There is a problem in the automotive sector, and that is one of the reasons why we announced the automotive assistance programme. We are still in discussions with the Bank of England and the Treasury on how car finance arms might be able to access some of the support that is available through Government programmes, but every day newspapers contain good deals on cars, including 0 per cent. finance and cashback in many cases, so finance deals are available. Clearly, we want to ensure that we support a strategically important industry such as the car industry, which is going through a very difficult time. We are doing that and we will continue to look at what further support we might be able to make available.
The Minister must realise that for tens of thousands of people in the automobile industry, the Department is all talk and spin, but no action. He says that Lord Davies is still studying the proposals on car finance that we put forward as a policy suggestion months ago, but when will we get a result? As Lord Mandelson has indicated his sympathy for that policy, is it being blocked by the Bank of England or the Treasury? When will a decision be taken on this important matter?
We all agree about the importance of ensuring that the car industry has support in these difficult times. Along with the construction sector, the automotive sector has borne the brunt of the recession, in addition to what has happened in the banking system. It is difficult to point to other sectors that have seen quite such dramatic falls, but a car is a big discretionary purchase.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should not pretend that car finance assistance would be a panacea and that if funding is made available through the banks to car finance arms, everyone will go out and buy cars. We will continue to have discussions about whether we can do something that represents value for money for the UK taxpayer that will assist car finance arms. Some of those finance arms are already providing good deals, however, and he knows that.