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Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port and Battery Manufacturing Strategy

Volume 690: debated on Monday 1 March 2021

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy if he will make a statement on the future of car manufacturing by Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port and the Government’s strategy for battery manufacturing.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the great work he did as Secretary of State. He was the first Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and I think that we can all say that we appreciate the outstanding work he did at that time.

The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring the future of manufacturing at Ellesmere Port and to secure the jobs and livelihoods of the workers at the plant. Since I was appointed Business Secretary last month, I have held a number of meetings with both Vauxhall and its new parent company, Stellantis, to support the company to make a positive investment decision. Only last week, I also held a constructive meeting with the general secretary of Unite, Mr Len McCluskey. Over the coming days and weeks, I, fellow Ministers and officials at BEIS will continue this intensive dialogue with the company.

More widely, the Government are continuing their long-standing programme of support to keep the British automotive sector at the forefront of technology and maintain its competitiveness, building on the work that my right hon. Friend did through the automotive sector deal.

It is my priority as Business Secretary to ensure that the UK continues to enjoy the benefits from our transition to ultra low and zero emission vehicles by continuing to build an agile, innovative and cost-competitive supply chain, which we need to secure vital international investment. With that in mind, we remain dedicated and absolutely committed to securing UK battery manufacturing. As part of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, we have already announced £500 million to support the electrification of vehicles and their supply chains, and other strategically important technologies, through the automotive transformation fund over the next four years. We continue to work with investors through the automotive transformation fund, and to progress plans for manufacturing the batteries that we will need for the next generation of electric vehicles here in the UK.

The Government and industry have jointly committed almost £1.5 billion through the Advanced Propulsion Centre and Faraday battery challenge to support the research, development and manufacture of zero and low emission technologies. Between 2013 and 2020, the Advanced Propulsion Centre has funded 67 collaborative R&D projects, creating and safeguarding nearly 47,000 jobs, with projected CO2 savings of 244 million tonnes.

I repeat: we are 100% committed to making sure that the UK continues to be one of the best locations in the world for automotive manufacturing, and we are doing all we can to protect and create jobs while securing a competitive future for the sector here in the UK in particular, including at Ellesmere Port.

I bring it to the House’s attention that I am a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary motor group and the chemical industry all-party parliamentary group.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his response to my urgent question and for his kind words. The industrial strategy made a number of commitments. One was to make Britain a home for vaccine development and to build vaccine manufacturing capability. Another was to make Britain a leading manufacturer of electric vehicles, including the batteries that power them. I mention them both not to claim special prescience, but rather the opposite; both are obviously required if our industrial strengths are to continue in the future.

In the case of electric vehicles, there are three important facts. First, we have one of the most important, diverse and efficient car industries in the world, employing over 800,000 people in all parts of Britain. Secondly, by 2030 no new car will be sold in Britain with simply a petrol or a diesel engine. Thirdly, unless the batteries for vehicles made in the UK are manufactured in Britain within five years, the cars that they power will no longer be able to be exported tariff-free to the EU. We therefore urgently need to install the manufacturing capacity in the UK. That means not just one gigafactory, but many. It all needs to be planned, built and operating at scale within five years.

In the case of Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port, as the Secretary of State says, a decision is imminent as to whether a new electric model will be built there. The same is true of Jaguar Land Rover in the west midlands and supply chain companies such as GKN. A laissez-faire approach will not do it, and neither will just general encouragement. It requires sleeves-rolled-up concrete action to be taken now between Government and industry, just as was the case with vaccines. Will the Secretary of State, for whom I have a high regard, make this commitment today and do whatever it takes urgently to ensure that Britain is a global force in manufacturing electric vehicles long into the future?

My right hon. Friend is quite right. The issues raised by his question are of critical strategic importance, and I fully appreciate the work that he did on driving the industrial strategy. As he pointed out, the industrial strategy set the foundation for vaccines and the success of the vaccine roll-out. He is quite right to point out that we need the same rigour and focus in ensuring that the United Kingdom continues to be an attractive place in which to invest for the manufacture of electric vehicles, in order to meet the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan. Electric vehicles were a key part of that 10-point plan.

I thank the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) for securing this urgent question and agree wholeheartedly with him. Labour stands ready to do all we can to secure the future of Ellesmere Port. The plant has been a major employer in the north-west for decades and is highly efficient and productive. It would be a travesty if it did not have a long-term future. That is now in the Government’s hands.

The uncertainty facing Ellesmere Port and other car plants speaks to a deeper problem caused by the Government’s inaction on automotive. They have been asleep at the wheel. First, automotive has had no sectoral support during covid, despite the worst trading levels in 50 years, while it has received billions of euros in France and Germany. Secondly—[Inaudible.] The green transition for car makers is not underpinned by any meaningful investment or strategy. They need more than the platitudes of the 10-point plan. They need a world-leading gigafactory plan.

Thirdly, Ministers said that the Brexit deal would unleash Government to back British industry, but it has not. Instead, our EU competitors are unashamedly pumping support into their car makers, while ours are left hamstrung by new red tape. It is no wonder that international companies such as Stellantis are looking at their long-term investments and wanting more from our Government.

What further guarantees can the Secretary of State give to Stellantis and others that he will back the switch to electric with real support? What is he demanding from the Budget for automotive? Will he bring forward plans to create green jobs today by raising his ambition on gigafactories and other infrastructure? Finally, will he actually do whatever it takes to help British industry post Brexit, to ensure the bright future that our businesses and workers deserve?

I do not recognise some of the premises of the hon. Member’s question. The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, far from being full of platitudes, is a world beater. I saw a story in The Guardian yesterday about the UN saying that other countries are struggling to meet our targets and our performance on decarbonisation and net zero, so I do not recognise that. She is right to suggest that we are 100% focused on securing these vital jobs. We are totally committed to net zero. I was lucky enough to be the energy Minister who landed the energy White Paper—the first energy White Paper that the Government published in 13 years. We are very focused on trying to land investment to drive the green industrial revolution here in this country.

The Secretary of State is fully aware of the remarkable site we have down here in Somerset at Gravity, where we could put not only a megafactory but a battery factory. We would welcome his support for the Gravity site, because it is one of the best sites in the United Kingdom. We have just applied for freeport status as well, to help the situation with Bristol port. Will the Secretary of State stand up and say that this is one of the sites in Britain that should be considered for the very important future of car manufacturing and battery manufacturing in the United Kingdom?

I would be delighted to make a statement that we are considering and looking at these sites. My hon. Friend will know that I have visited Hinkley Point in his constituency and seen the great work there. I have no doubt that the manufacturing skill and competence of his constituents and his area will be able to sustain an excellent gigafactory.

I commend the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) for securing this urgent question. The reality is that this matter depends on two key issues facing the UK right now: the disaster that is the Tory Brexit deal, but also, as has been said, how this Government intend to save and create jobs in the UK while driving through the changes necessary to reduce vehicle emissions.

On Brexit, the mess is clear for all to see. Indeed, the owner of Ellesmere Port said last month that it might make more sense to invest in Europe because

“the biggest market is on the continental Europe side”.

The Tories need to own their mess, as indeed does the Labour party, which has happily pushed a deal over the line. Does the Secretary of State now, even grudgingly, accept that the deal is not fit for purpose?

On vehicle emissions, the shift towards electric and, perhaps even more so, hydrogen is vital to deliver the reductions necessary, but we need to ensure that we create a supply chain at home that supports vehicle manufacturers to make an affordable transition. The Secretary of State will likely accept this point, but does he not agree that his Government need to go further and faster in their financial support?

The hon. Gentleman raises two issues. I think the Brexit deal is a success. Given the fact that we had two general elections in that period and five years in which we spoke about nothing other than Brexit, to reach a deal in the time we did was successful, and clearly Nissan committed itself to Sunderland on the back of this very good deal. He is quite right: I think we can go further and faster in driving the transition—the energy transition—and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan and the energy White Paper, which I have referred to, point the way in that regard.

The rules of origin requirements to continue selling vehicles tariff-free to the EU and the high proportion of the cost of batteries in electric vehicles make providing gigafactories urgent. The Secretary of State will be aware of proposals for the Coventry airport site, which are already at an advanced level. It is close to the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre and it is of course in the historic home of the motor industry, making it an obvious location. Does the Secretary of State agree that this development in Coventry would place the UK at the heart of electric vehicle manufacturing?

Yes, my hon. Friend is quite right. There are lots of sites that have potential in the field of gigafactories, and we remain absolutely committed to securing UK gigafactory capacity. There is a range of factors, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, that will influence the decision of any location of gigafactory investment, but I would be very happy to discuss further plans with him, alongside officials, and have further discussions about our strategic future in this important area.

Last Sunday, my constituents woke up to newspaper headlines saying a decision was due to be made on the future of Vauxhall Motors on Tuesday. Tuesday came and went, and the media speculation increased, but by the end of the week those whose livelihoods depend on the plant were none the wiser. I am sure it is clear to all just how much anxiety all this speculation has generated, but it will be worth it if it focuses the Government’s attention on the urgent need to deliver on a plan to ensure our great British car industry gets all the support it needs to move to electric vehicle production. Does the Secretary of State understand the importance of getting the right decision—not just for the people of Ellesmere Port but for the signal it sends out about where securing the future of the automotive sector stands in the Government’s priorities?

I think the hon. Gentleman is quite right. There are two issues here: there is a local issue, and I can only imagine the uncertainty under which the excellent workers in his constituency and at that site are working; and there is of course a national issue. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we are committed to having gigafactories in this country. We are 100% committed to that, and I am very hopeful that we can reach a satisfactory conclusion about the continued investment and support for Stellantis in his constituency.

I am grateful for what the Secretary of State has said about the amount of investment being made in batteries, but may I ask him for his support for companies such as those at the Culham Science Centre, which he recently visited, that are undertaking groundbreaking research in batteries, including in aviation?

I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has raised that question. I had an excellent visit a few months ago, as he remembers, in his constituency in Culham. I spoke to many business people who are driving the net zero agenda, and, alongside him, I am very happy to support those efforts.

Increasing demand for electric vehicles can help to create the green jobs that we need, as we transition away from carbon-emitting industries. Will the Secretary of State agree that cutting VAT to 5% on electric vehicles can help to stimulate that demand?

The hon. Lady is right. We are considering many ways to stimulate the demand to drive this critical agenda. It was a big step for the Prime Minister to announce that we would try to phase out the purchase of internal combustion engine cars by 2030. There was some opposition to that, but it was clearly the right move and we are looking at all sorts of other measures to promote the demand that she wants to see.

Many of my constituents make the highly successful Vivaro van at the plant in Luton. Can the Secretary of State say what the Government are doing to encourage electric van manufacture here in the United Kingdom?

That is a critical point. My hon. Friend understands about Stellantis as well, because he refers to the successful plant in Luton. What we want to see is a successful renewed commitment to Ellesmere Port, such as that which is found in Luton. He will know that the fourth point of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan was all about driving up electric vehicle take-up and, obviously, that includes vans.

It is now clear that the policy of phasing out the production of petrol and diesel cars will have an impact on employment in some areas of the United Kingdom where we have higher than average unemployment. What impact assessment have the Government done on the effect of this policy on revenue from fuel duty? What impact assessment have they done on the environmental impact of the mining of earth metals, one of the dirtiest industries in the world? What impact assessment have they done on the impact on poor families who will now face higher capital costs when it comes to purchasing cars? Would it not be a far more Conservative policy to allow manufacturers and consumers to make the choice as to which cars they make and which cars they drive?

Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman and I may have a different view on the threat of climate change, including, in particular, the drive to net zero. I suggest to him that the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan has been well received. There has been huge support across the United Kingdom to see cleaner technology and electric vehicles and many people are very supportive of the Government’s measures in this regard.

Last month, I met representatives from Johnson Matthey, which is opening a new flagship site at Milton Park in my constituency, where it will develop and test advance batches, working both to lengthen the driving distances and shorten the charging times. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a very welcome development that supports the Government’s ambition to transition us to electric vehicles as well as to help us meet our 2050 net zero goal?

I am delighted to answer that question, because it relates to an earlier answer that I gave. There are new jobs and opportunities in this push towards net zero. I would be very pleased to visit the Johnson Matthey site in Wantage and I think that it is an excellent development that we are all extremely pleased about.

A thousand jobs are at risk if the Ellesmere Port plant closes, and a further 6,000 in the supply chain. Does the Minister agree that the future of the Vauxhall Ellesmere Port plant and the GKN plant in Birmingham could be secured if the Government commit to investing in a green recovery for the automotive sector to produce a new electric model and, in that way, they could protect thousands of jobs, because actions speak louder than words.

As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), the Government are 100% committed to making sure those jobs stay. We are in conversations—negotiations, if they may be called that—with the company. We are also very committed to the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan and driving the energy transition, which will have economic impacts, secure jobs and be a great thing not only in the fight against climate change but for the economic development of our country.

The transition to electric vehicles is essential if we are to hit our world-beating commitment of net zero emissions by 2050. Will my right hon. Friend set out his plans to support the wider roll-out of vehicle charging points in places such as my constituency, where our rurality has necessitated the slower uptake of electric vehicles?

My hon. Friend raises a crucial point. Clearly, without a successful roll-out of charging points we will struggle to meet the targets we have set ourselves. We have committed £90 million already to facilitate the roll-out of larger-scale charge point infrastructure projects across England for local areas, and we will continue to support that. I would be very happy to have a conversation with him about how we can best do that.

The Chair of the Select Committee on Science and Technology could not have been clearer: for the British car industry to succeed in the growing electric vehicle market, protecting thousands of jobs, including here in the midlands, we must have UK gigafactories manufacturing electric batteries by the time the rules of origin change. How many UK gigafactories will we have by 2024? What specific steps is the Secretary of State taking to secure them?

As the hon. Lady will have seen from these questions, we are looking at a number of sites. We are absolutely committed to having at least one gigafactory site, if not more—I think we need more than one—before the next election. I could not be clearer about our commitment to the transition and ultimately to reaching net zero by 2050.

I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree that the best sites for gigafactories are those where the automotive sector is strong, transport connections are good and battery technology development is already a feature of the local economy. In that regard, I am entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) in saying that the Coventry airport site is an excellent one—coincidentally, it is, despite its name, in my constituency. My right hon. Friend would be very welcome to visit at any point, and I am grateful for his encouraging words about it. May I ask him also to accept that sites, however good, are no good without occupants? Will he use the resources he has talked about, and his time and that of his officials, to identify the right sites early and work with those promoting them to secure occupants—companies that manufacture batteries on site—as soon as we can?

I am happy to give my right hon. and learned Friend that assurance—that is exactly what we are trying to do. We are talking to local communities and local leaders about various sites up and down the country where we can site gigafactories. I am very conscious of the fact that Coventry, given its history and that of the midlands, would be an excellent place in which such a factory could be located.

For half a century, the GKN plant in Erdington has manufactured world-class components—the drive shafts and the prop shafts—for our 800,000-strong automotive industry. Melrose, which took over GKN three years ago, has now announced its intention to close the Erdington plant and to export the 519 highly skilled jobs in the plant to continental Europe, in breach of assurances given at the time of takeover. Will the Secretary of State, who has agreed to meet us on Thursday of this week, work with us—the workforce, their union, Unite, and myself—on alternatives to closure? Any strategy for the transformation of the industry to an electric future will vitally require high-value components, and those high-value components should be built here in Britain.

I recall that I gave that pledge during questions on the Floor of the House, and I am delighted that I will be seeing the hon. Gentleman, and others, on Thursday, to see what can be done on this critical issue.

I draw the House’s attention to my role as chair of the all-party group for critical minerals. All the batteries for these electric vehicles will require a reliable supply of critical minerals, particularly lithium. The Secretary of State will be aware that a significant deposit of lithium has been identified in Cornwall, and its commercial extraction is being developed by two companies. Will he confirm that the Government recognise the huge potential benefit to the UK of having a secure domestic supply of lithium? Does he agree that it would make sense for battery manufacturing to be located as close as possible to the extraction and processing of lithium, and will he meet me to discuss the potential opportunity of a gigafactory being built in Cornwall?

I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the potential siting of a gigafactory. He will appreciate that through the getting building fund the Government have already committed to supporting a lithium extraction pilot plant in Cornwall, and our Faraday battery challenge already supports work to find and use lithium across the United Kingdom. This is a critical issue. We fully understand the importance of the security of the supply chain, and I would be happy to discuss that, and more specific Cornwall-related issues, with my hon. Friend at a time convenient to us both.

The Secretary of State mentioned his 10-point plan a number of times, but that will not mean much unless the Government support existing manufacturing, including Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port. Will he do whatever it takes for Cheshire and Merseyside, and Vauxhall in particular, rather than just talking about it, so that low-carbon vehicles really can be made in Britain?

We are talking about it—we are talking with the company directly to secure vital investment. We want those jobs, and we have said time and again that we are 100% committed to the energy transition and to having world-class automotive manufacturing in the UK.

A key component of battery manufacturing is rare metals. Will my right hon. Friend outline what support he is giving to British businesses that seek to harvest polyhalite nodules from our sea bed?

The Government are committed to exploring opportunities that will support the next generations of clean technologies, and we are looking very much at the field of critical raw materials. My hon. Friend will remember that when I was Minister for Business, Energy, and Clean Growth, I was particularly committed to that form of technology. It is an exciting development, admittedly in its early stages, and I am always looking to drive innovation in that area.

I support everything that my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), said about this, and specifically about the impact of this issue on people in our area, and I support what he said about needing to move quickly. Whatever the strategy or plan, it must be about jobs and opportunities, particularly for young people who could be facing a serious unemployment situation. What discussion has the Secretary of State had with the metro Mayor for Merseyside about how we ensure that, whatever the plan is for automotive, it has the fortunes of young people at its heart?

On the specific question, I have met Steve Rotheram a number of times in previous ministerial roles, and I believe I am setting up a meeting with him soon. He has great knowledge of the area, and is interested not only in Ellesmere Port but in the possibilities of the HyNet industrial cluster, and decarbonising that. I am sure I will speak to the Mayor very soon.

I appreciate that I am the fifth Member to stand up and ask for it, but as regards the gigafactories, my right hon. Friend should look no further than Redcar and Cleveland. In Teesside we have a fantastic workforce. May I invite him to come to Redcar and Cleveland to see a potential site for a gigafactory?

I would be delighted. I am clearly going to be a much-travelled Secretary of State investigating all these potential sites for gigafactories. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the excellent work that he has done in his short time in the House of Commons. He has really made an impact and got his voice heard, and the people of Redcar are very well served. I would be very happy to visit the constituency, as I have done in the past, to look at the opportunities for the energy transition.

The workforce and the management at Ellesmere Port have done everything that has been asked of them to keep that plant productive and efficient, but as my hon. Friend and next-door neighbour the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) said, they are on tenterhooks waiting for a decision. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) for his excellent opening remarks. When he was Secretary of State, he kept all the parties involved, including MPs and the local council, Cheshire West and Chester. Will the Secretary of State do the same? We want to help him to get the right results?

I really appreciate those words of support and help. This is a cross-national issue and a cross-party issue, and I would be very happy to engage with the hon. Gentleman. He knows that I have already made a commitment to visit the HyNet industrial cluster near his constituency. I am very much committed, as previous Secretaries of State have been, to doing all I can to make sure that we get the right investment and the right result.

The Secretary of State will be familiar with my long-standing ambition to see a battery valley—or a battery vale—established in Wales, so I was delighted when Britishvolt prioritised St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan, my constituency, as its preferred site for its gigafactory, although I was later disappointed when it decided to shift its priority elsewhere, possibly because of the lack of capacity or expertise within the Welsh Government in order to serve its needs in bringing such a large, major investment project to Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that his Department needs to play an active role in co-ordinating such large, complicated investment projects for the UK, wherever they may be in any nation within the UK, so that my constituency will not necessarily lose out as it has now?

There are huge opportunities in Wales for the siting of gigafactories, and also, particularly, in terms of the net zero challenge. I spoke to Ken Skates of the Welsh Government only this morning. There is a huge appetite in Wales to drive the net zero agenda. I would be very happy, as my right hon. Friend knows, to have a conversation with him on how best we can work together to do that.

I have listened very carefully to the Secretary of State’s responses with regard to Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant, but I am sure that my constituents who work there would really like some detail from him, so could he provide us with some details about the actions that he will take to secure the future of their jobs and the thousands of jobs in the local supply chain?

I am fully aware and conscious of the difficult time that we are going through, but the hon. Lady will appreciate that these are ongoing conversations —ongoing sensitive negotiations—and I am not going to be prepared to enter into the details on the Floor of the House. Once we have a reached a decision—a conclusion—with the company, we can then have a fuller discussion. I am very committed to landing the right result in this conversation.

JLR is leading the way in committing to an all-electric future, boosting our strong manufacturing base in the west midlands, so it was disappointing that Labour discounted the west midlands from its plans. Will my right hon. Friend demonstrate his superior judgment by backing the campaign by west midlands Conservative MPs and our fantastic Mayor, Andy Street, for a west midlands gigafactory so that the west midlands truly can be the engine for growth?

I am not sure whether that was a yes or no question, but yes to my hon. Friend’s point. Andy is doing a great job. MPs in the region, my right hon. and hon. Friends, are really driving progress in this area. I would be very happy to help them and support them in that endeavour.

Having spent 27 years on the shop floor of Vauxhall in the paint shop and as a union convenor, I am just one of the thousands of people who have benefited from the highly skilled work and training opportunities that the plant has provided over its many decades in operation. By making the necessary investment now, the Government would be able to secure vital employment opportunities for generations to come and help to make the UK a world leader in the production of electric vehicles. Does the Secretary of State accept that not doing so would, frankly, undermine the Government’s commitment to a green recovery and betray the very communities the Prime Minister has promised to level up?

I think the hon. Gentleman is quite right. Levelling up is clearly heart and centre of what the Government are trying to do. We are doing all we can to get the right result for the people of Ellesmere Port and also for the UK. It is a hugely significant investment.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we not only need additional battery capacity but battery recycling facilities, so we can sustainably re-use the batteries and, if necessary, dispose of them?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The UK Government are absolutely committed not only to the manufacturing of these critically important batteries, but to recycling. We want to see a circular economy for electric vehicles. If we attain that, we will surely maximise the economic and environmental opportunities of the transition to zero emission vehicles.

We of course welcome ending new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030, but we are dismayed by the absence of a UK Government strategy to support the industry to transition, meaning that this factory’s business model is under threat.

More widely, we have heard great rhetoric from this Government on electric vehicles, but the action is lagging. For example, we have seen nothing from the £3 billion zero emission bus fund, while the Scottish Government power ahead. When will a sustainable strategy be delivered to support factories like Ellesmere Port to not only survive but thrive?

We are absolutely committed to that. When I was energy Minister, people like the hon. Member were saying, “When is the energy White Paper going to come out? What is the plan?” We have a 10-point plan, which has been widely accepted and welcomed. We also have an energy White Paper that sets out the path and we are developing strategies for how we get to net zero at a record pace. The Government are delivering. We have a very clear direction, and the industry has broadly welcomed that.

Existing electric vehicle batteries are too big, have a too limited range and take too long to recharge. I welcome the Government’s £318 million investment in the Faraday battery challenge. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how the Faraday battery challenge will lead to smaller batteries with a longer range that do not take very long to recharge?

The Faraday battery challenge is a key part of the industrial strategy, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) had a key role in implementing. It has made extraordinary progress in the past two or three years. I would be very happy to pick this issue up with my hon. Friend. Over the next 10 years, I think we will see a complete transformation in the battery technology he talks about.

As a proud electric car owner, I am glad that to support our automotive manufacturing industry and to boost its competitiveness, Labour has called for an ambitious investment in electric vehicle technology, including the electric battery supply chain, through a £30 billion green economic recovery. Does the Secretary of State agree that that strategic investment would support manufacturers like Vauxhall and give them the long-term confidence they need to build new electric models right here in the UK?

I agree with a lot of what the hon. Gentleman says. What I would say, and how I would slightly re-tilt the emphasis, is that there is Government investment, which we have—and we are committed to £12 billion through the 10-point plan—but also private investment. If we look at the success of offshore wind, we see that it was driven largely by the investment of private capital. Exactly the same thing will happen in respect of the net zero challenge. That is why we are in conversations with the private company to secure that investment.

One of this Government’s priorities is to protect and support jobs and livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic. With Dudley and the Black Country having a pivotal role in the car manufacturing supply chain, will my right hon. Friend confirm that supporting the automotive sector and boosting battery cell manufacturing is an integral part of our plans to build back better and greener from the pandemic?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The midlands, the Black Country and his constituency are a key part of this story. I have mentioned the 10-point plan many times. It was launched only in November—four months ago—and it has really set the path and set the direction in this area. He is absolutely right: we are 100% committed to success, and I hope that he and his constituents will benefit greatly—I am sure they will—from the transition to a greener and cleaner economy.

Vauxhall has made cars and vans in my constituency since 1903. The plant’s loyal and efficient workforce and the Unite union reps have worked flexibly with the company over many years to maintain production at that site, including of the successful Vivaro electric van.

The continued and future success of electric vehicle manufacture, including good skilled jobs for my constituents, is reliant not only on battery production and gigafactories but on investment in rapid charging infrastructure, so will the Secretary of State confirm the Government’s commitment to securing investment in this much-needed green infrastructure?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I pay tribute particularly to the hard work of her constituents to make the Vivaro vehicles; they have ensured that the Vauxhall plant in Luton has been a great success. It is exactly because of that, among other reasons, that we are keenly committed to making sure that Ellesmere Port enjoys equal support and success.

This Government have shown a welcome commitment to bringing electric vehicle production to the UK, with all the benefits to the economy and the environment that that entails, and I hope that we will have that in Rother Valley.

However, electric vehicle components are different from those of petrol and diesel cars and include rare minerals, such as cobalt, that are mined overseas. What discussions has the Secretary of State held about developing a strategy for sourcing rare minerals in an environmentally sustainable and ethical way, particularly by supporting domestic extraction and imports from our safe, reliable, democratic allies?

I commend my hon. Friend for that question, which is of great importance. As I have said in earlier answers, we are absolutely committed to exploring and developing lithium mining here in the UK. We fully understand the threats, or dangers, to the supply chain.

My hon. Friend will also appreciate that the Faraday battery challenge, which we have mentioned a number of times, is funding research to reduce our dependency on raw mineral supply and make better use of global resources. That obviously will involve looking at how we can reduce and replace critical raw materials.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary motor group and the APPG on electric vehicles, I am afraid I have to say that the Government have been slow to move on this, particularly by comparison with the Governments of Germany and France, in attracting investment in battery gigafactories. In addition, through the pandemic, vehicle manufacturers have received consumer support to encourage sales in those countries.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) is leading the charge to attract private sector investment in a gigafactory in Coventry. Does the Secretary of State not see and support that move? It would supply both Luton and Ellesmere Port, but also Halewood and the Jaguar Land Rover factories in the midlands. Would that not be a great outcome?

It would be a great outcome, and I am not going to make a partisan point about it. There are MPs of different political stripes across the hon. Gentleman’s region, as we have seen in these questions, who are very keen to develop this kind of technology.

I am always very happy to engage with colleagues across the House in order to get the right outcomes. It is not just a question of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne); there are MPs in his area across the House representing midlands seats very ably, and I am very happy to engage with them on this.

Happy St David’s day, Mr Speaker. If you will indulge me, may I thank you on the record for the letter that my wife and I received on the birth of our son, Henry? He was a month old yesterday, and I am pleased to say that he is thriving.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Dare I say that face make-up keeps me going?

The Secretary of State has had lots of bids from Members across the House, from all parties, on battery development. I think that I can go one better. On 10 February, the Prime Minister announced to the House that Bridgend would have a world-beating battery development plant; it was later clarified by No. 10 that perhaps the Prime Minister misspoke or mixed up his Bs—Bridgend and Blyth, two very different parts of the country.

May I ask the Secretary of State whether he would agree to meet me and, indeed, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Dr Wallis), to discuss the options for a battery plant for the Bridgend borough? My constituents have lost the Jaguar Land Rover contract with Ford, which has now gone, and Ineos has run away to France with the Brexiteer who runs that company, so we need the Government to look at bringing in real investment to keep those highly skilled jobs in my borough.

My view is that that issue, which is critical for the United Kingdom, is something on which I am willing and happy to engage with Members across the House of Commons. It is too important an issue for narrowly partisan views, and of course I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and discuss opportunities to drive investment to power the net zero transition.

The Secretary of State has had a lot of requests—I will put Chorley on his list as well.

I am suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next business to be made.

Sitting suspended.