UK Car Component Manufacturing

House of Commons

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) on securing this important debate and on the manner in which he introduced it. As the Chairman of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, I am privileged to have him as a member of my Committee—[Interruption.] I will not say that it is a dubious privilege.

The Select Committee is coming to the end of an inquiry on the reasons for success and failure in the automotive sector, although we had hoped to have produced the report by now. In that respect, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) for the excellent evidence that he gave us, which came out of concern about the Rover group. However, the inquiry is being held up because we are waiting for further evidence from Advantage West Midlands, although I hope that we will finalise the report when it arrives.

We are also considering the broader issues facing manufacturing industry, and we have touched on many of those outlined by the hon. Member for Chorley. In particular, we are looking at public procurement, which has big ramifications not only for the car industry, but for many other parts of British manufacturing.

I want to echo the hon. Gentleman’s comment that energy costs have recently emerged as a major issue for UK manufacturers. The Committee has received evidence on that issue, and he is right to highlight it. We cannot afford to be complacent. However, I also want to challenge him a little on his definition of Britishness. I had the privilege of being a special adviser in the Department in the mid-1980s.

Mr. Hoyle: It is your fault.

Peter Luff: The hon. Gentleman says that it is my fault, but he should wait to hear what I am going to say. The Secretary of State at the time—now Lord Young of Graffham—had a clear industrial strategy and sought to attract to the UK all the internationally mobile major car investment going. He played a big part in getting Toyota, Nissan and Honda here, and they have had precisely the effect that we hoped for.

In that respect, I was powerfully struck by something that I was told anecdotally by a constituent who made car components before the Japanese companies arrived. He said that the big motor manufacturers procured their components from companies on the basis of who bought them the best lunch. It was not the quality of the component, but what was on their plate that dictated who got the contract. The Japanese had no truck with that, and I am sure that they have played a major part in driving up standards in the UK component industry, much of which, I am glad to say, is located in my constituency.

I am afraid that I also disagree with the hon. Gentleman—I suspect that we will have a debate on this in the Select Committee—about his point that people in this country are easy to sack. People here might be easy to sack, but it is also easy to establish a business here, which is one reason for Nissan, Toyota and Honda coming here in the first place. There are two sides to the equation, and both need to be considered.

In conclusion, what does it mean to buy British? I suspect that the hon. Gentleman—perhaps I should call him my hon. Friend, for these purposes—and I will disagree slightly about this, but I would say that buying British means buying from any company that is committed to the UK. For someone who does not want a Mini, buying a BMW 1, 2 or 3 series might be a good way of, in effect, buying British. The Minister can carry on driving her Toyota Prius for exactly the same reason.

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