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Motor Industry

Volume 545: debated on Thursday 24 May 2012

Over the past 18 months, the United Kingdom automotive sector has secured more than £4 billion-worth of investment, including the decision by General Motors to build the next generation of Astras in Ellesmere Port. Through the Automotive Council, we are working hard to rebuild the UK’s supply chain and to encourage exports further.

I am astonished that the Secretary of State has not turned up today. Not only is it bad form, but I actually wanted to praise him—although that might have been bad for inter-coalition relations. He has shown a bipartisan continuity of policy in support of the motor industry, which is so important for encouraging long-term investment. As that policy is increasingly successful, as the Minister has indicated, will he now focus strongly on the supply chain, where too many components are still imported? Will he get his officials to work with the industry to get the main-tier suppliers to develop capacity in the UK, so that there is a major benefit to the British economy, British jobs and British workers?

It is rare that a Minister gets the opportunity to receive the praise intended for a Secretary of State, so I will just stand here for a moment or two.

I entirely agree with the principle mentioned; this House has an opportunity to put manufacturing beyond party politics. I want to do that, as does the Secretary of State. We are putting in £125 million specifically to target the supply chain, and I want to make sure that that is available shortly. We are working well with Birmingham city council and others, and I look forward to being able to develop things further.

I grew up in a village just outside Coventry, a city that had half a dozen car manufacturers in the 1970s, at a time when the industry was being decimated by strikes, led by trade unionists such as Red Robbo, over demarcation disputes and excessive wage claims. Does the Minister agree that much of the recent success of the industry is due to a more sensible and flexible approach by the work force?

Absolutely. I again pay tribute to many of the work force in the motor industry. They have demonstrated the willingness to show that British workers are highly productive and that we can compete, and they are also flexible. That is the good news story. There are history lessons, and I hope that the Labour party has now learnt them.

May I put on record my thanks to the newly labelled socialist Secretary of State, and indeed to the Minister, for the work they did in securing the future of Ellesmere Port’s Vauxhall plant? Does the Minister agree that the teamwork that involved, which started with Lord Mandelson’s creation of the automotive alliance, and involved the Unite union, the management and so on, is the way to take this industry forward?

I absolutely agree with that, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, too, for his work on this issue. I do not want us to be too self-congratulatory, but it is important that we work together. I am proud to see British factories not only able to compete, but to win against stiff international competition.

The success at Ellesmere Port this week, with unions and management combining and “out-Germanning” the Germans, proved that that is the route to success, rather than the more one-sided Beecroft proposals.

I knew it was going too well. The important point is to make sure that the work force are flexible and working together. I am very happy to work with the trade unions when we are bidding for British jobs.