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I am interested by what my hon. Friend said about ways of reducing costs. I was aware of GM's policy of using road rather than rail, and there may well be merits in drawing that to the attention of the rail companies to see whether a deal can be put together.
I know that my hon. Friend is especially concerned about the implications that the announcement may have for Ellesmere Port. He will know that Nick Reilly in particular has made strong and supportive statements about the position there. I am sure we are all pleased that Ellesmere Port at least has not been affected by yesterday's announcement. We must find ways of strengthening the plant's position, so that it can go from strength to strength in the future.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the system of contingency planning that I established when I held his job, to prepare for and if possible avert problems of this kind? Will he tell us what discussions were held with Vauxhall about the impending decision, and when they were held? Will he also tell us what plans he has--if this sad decision is irrevocable--to expedite planning procedures on the site and the land around it, to ensure that that land is made free for the generation of jobs in the area to create work for those who have been displaced?
Mr. Byers: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about planning procedures. I shall ask the groups that have now been set up to look closely at the question of regeneration and job creation opportunities.
Barbara Follett (Stevenage): I thank my right hon. Friend for his speedy response to this terrible situation, which has affected hundreds of workers in my constituency, and will affect many firms in Stevenage and elsewhere in Hertfordshire. Will he do all he can to ensure that the remaining van and jeep production at the Luton plant is secured for the future, and that in future Vauxhall will take its workers into its confidence?
Mr. Byers: Yesterday's announcement included a positive commitment to confirming and maintaining Vauxhall's earlier decision to invest in the new van facility at Luton. We must obviously ensure that it remains true to that statement, but I have no doubt that, having reviewed the position in considerable detail and having now made a decision, it will do so.
I understand my hon. Friend's concern. No doubt many individuals, families and communities in Stevenage and, indeed, throughout Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, will be affected by yesterday's announcement. What we as a Government must do is work alongside those people to take them through what will a difficult and painful period of change. I have no doubt that--although it will be a difficult time--because of the economic climate that we have been able to create in the United Kingdom, we are in a far stronger position to deal with this body blow than we would have been five or 10 years ago.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Why will the Secretary of State not accept that we are seeing factory closure after factory closure and job loss after job loss throughout British manufacturing? There is a crisis in manufacturing in this country. The Government are over-regulating: they are taxing and regulating industry to death. Why will the Secretary of State not take some responsibility? Why will he not make it cheaper to make things in Britain? Why does he show such persistent callous indifference to the manufacturing crisis that he and his colleagues are creating?
If the right hon. Gentleman reads yesterday's statement by General Motors, he will see that none of the issues to which he referred is relevant. Redundancies were announced in Germany and north America, a region that he holds up as a good example. In reality, 10,000 jobs are being lost at General Motors worldwide. That has nothing to do with the issues that he raised. The sooner that he begins to talk about what we can do for individuals who are affected by the decision, the sooner he will have more respect, certainly from Labour Members.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): My right hon. Friend will know that the knock-on consequences of closures in the motor industry can be devastating for smaller and isolated communities. The recent announcement of the closure of Johnson Controls, a car seat manufacturer, in Silloth in my constituency is causing the death of the community and town. Can the Department of Trade and Industry establish a unit to look specifically at small and isolated communities that have little chance of attracting industry and replacing jobs, because otherwise the long-term prospects for such communities are dire?
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the vulnerability of communities that are based on one or two types of production. A diversified economy gives a community the strength to deal with such announcements, but it is very vulnerable if it is committed to one employer. We need to consider how we can assist those communities. The idea that my hon. Friend advances of having a unit or group of people to examine ways to help areas diversify into growing sectors of the future will be a useful and practical step for the Government to take.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): In the light of the Secretary of State's surprise at having to make today's sad announcement, what steps will he take to improve the way in which his Department monitors the reaction in the motor industry and other vulnerable sectors to the tax and cost increase factors that must have led to the decision by General Motors? Did he receive, at any time in the past 12 months, an approach by General Motors about state aid so that car production could remain at Luton?
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): This is a very important statement for the workers at Vauxhall who have lost their jobs and for Members of Parliament in the Luton area and elsewhere who are able to cross-examine the Secretary of State on the matter. There have been job losses in other firms such as Biwater in my constituency and Coats Viyella in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), and it is a pity that we have not had an opportunity to ask similar
On Vauxhall, will the Secretary of State explain in more detail the regional selective assistance that is to be provided to the Luton area and whether it will be available to areas in the east midlands that are suffering in a similar way?
Mr. Byers: Regional selective assistance is available for Luton because of the changes that we have introduced to the assisted areas map, which is one criteria that needs to be satisfied before such assistance is made available. Some areas in the east midlands are on the new map. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman wrote to me the other day about two of his constituents in Clay Cross who are trying to establish a new business. As it is now in an assisted area, they could qualify for regional selective assistance.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): The Secretary of State was right to condemn the fact that the news was leaked. Will he investigate a report that I heard this morning about the leak coming from the Department of Trade and Industry after it was told the news on Monday? I hope he will take that matter seriously.
My main question is on the role that was played by the rip-off Britain campaign, in which the right hon. Gentleman's Department successfully attacked the motor industry and caused it to bring down prices. How has that affected the motor industry and the Vauxhall announcement?
Mr. Byers: The media will know where the leak came from, and they will say that it was not from the Department of Trade and Industry. On the substantive point about the price of new cars in the United Kingdom, a Competition Commission inquiry into that matter produced a clear report and we accepted its recommendations. Having had such clear recommendations from the Competition Commission, it would have been a terrible folly to ignore its precise findings. As a result, car prices in the United Kingdom are down by about £1,100 on average, which means that there will be a competitive environment. If we look at the reasons given by General Motors worldwide for the decisions taken yesterday, we can see that the United Kingdom Competition Commission report was not a major factor.