12 July 2023
Automotive Industry

Jesse Norman, Minister of State (Decarbonisation and Technology) at the Department for Transport, responds to an Opposition Day debate on the automotive industry.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Jesse Norman)

It has been an interesting and absorbing debate, and I thank all those who have taken part in it. I must say that I take my hat off to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). It is interesting to know that he grew up in Sunderland, and I notice his great affection for the Black Cats—an affection I greatly share—Niall Quinn and the glory days of Peter Reid. Who but the hon. Gentleman could better hark back to the 1990s, and how much does he do so in politics as he does in football? It is a little unnerving to see him newly hirsute—at least in terms of the past year or three. He is getting an unnervingly close resemblance to His late Majesty King George V, which creates a somewhat unnerving impression across the Dispatch Box when one is trying to respond to the important points he makes.

The hon. Gentleman came, as did the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), with a clear agenda for this debate, which was to tell a desperate story of a struggling industry and a country labouring in its automotive manufacturing. Unfortunately, they have both had desperately bad luck in their choice of debate, because those gloomy speeches are made, and the desire for optimism is expressed, and then it turns out that Geely and Renault have today announced a pioneering new investment to become a global leader in new engine technologies. Not only that: it turns out that we just laid the new charge point regulations, which will make it easier than ever to own an EV. Those were widely welcomed, I might add, by Mike Hawes of the SMMT, who was richly quoted today by Opposition Members, and with reason. Fascinatingly, only today, Tesla has announced its intention to become an electricity supplier, which will itself become an enormously important part of that wider systems infrastructure that has been rightly mentioned. What a day to choose to be gloomy on. What a day of good news, and how much that reinforces the picture of an industry that is dealing brilliantly with the challenges and changes to its own circumstances.

Sarah Owen 

Will the Minister give way?

Jesse Norman 

I would give way, but I want to respond to the many other points from Members who actually made speeches.

Sarah Owen 

I made a speech.

Jesse Norman 

I hope the hon. Lady will let me get to those points first. [Interruption.] We can go on, or Opposition Members can listen to what the Government are trying to say.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde talked about low business investment, and he is absolutely right that one should not pick and choose statistics but try to give a full picture. I was, therefore, slightly surprised that he ignored the fact that business investment has grown steadily since 2010. The Institute for Government published a report that tracks the crashing of business investment in this country to the Labour Administration and dates its recovery from 2008 to 2010. That is the picture of business investment that the hon. Gentleman asks us to get to.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans) rightly highlighted MIRA. What a great facility that is and what a great testing opportunity it will create for this country over the next few years. He is right to talk about grid connectivity and to mention Triumph Motorcycles, a business that I met only the other day, but he would have wanted to mention the strategic framework, which was announced last year, for electricity provision. If there is a report coming soon—he can speak from his knowledge of that in a Parliamentary Private Secretary context—I can only applaud that.

The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) worried about the roll-out of charge points. I hope she will be reassured by the new regs on charge points, which we have only just laid and which were welcomed by the SMMT and many other players across that industry. I also hope she will be pleased that ChargeUK, representing the charge point operators, has announced that £6 billion will be invested in charge points across the country over the next few years. That is a direct result of the ZEV mandate, which ties the creation of charge point infrastructure to the support for EVs in the systemic way that parties across the House, including the Opposition, recognise. It is those two things that will grow together. It is the ability to aim against that target of specific EV numbers coming into and being sold in this country that creates the priming for private investment, and rightly so.

I was pleased to hear the contribution of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood), who was absolutely right to raise the topic of apprenticeships. As an apprentice in this House, I salute him; he echoed the “Education, education, education” policy of a former Member of this House with “Skills, skills, skills”, which I completely agree are very important. Let me remind him that in my constituency we are pioneering a specialist STEM technology university—the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering—which is just the thing that can be used to build skills and to prime levelling up across the country.

What a wonderfully fresh and enthusiastic speech from the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson). I was excited to hear it, but tragically it turned out to be a tag-team “curse on both your houses” misery exercise, relitigating Brexit long after that horse has left the stable. That was rightly picked up by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, who did not want to be drawn on Brexit. I understand why: the country took a decision and we are working with the consequences.

The hon. Member for Gordon said that the speech by my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Economic Security—a brilliant speech it was, too—was the length of time it would take to charge an EV. At 35 minutes, that is not quite true, but that is absolutely the ambition that we want to get to for all EV operators across the country. We want people to be able to charge very rapidly while they go and pick up a cup of coffee in the usual way.

I thank the hon. Member for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith) for her comment. She asked for a renewable energy focus and was right to do so. I hope that I can reassure her by reminding her that National Grid reported that in 2010 less than 20% of our energy was renewable, while in 2022—last year—more than 50% was renewable in five months of the year. That is tremendous progress. She may also be pleased to know that coal, which was used for 43% of electricity generation in 2012, is now at 1.5%. That is tremendous progress on both those fronts.

Sarah Owen 

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Listening to the Minister’s response, I want to give him the opportunity to correct the record. Not only does he seem not to be living on the same planet as us, but he is clearly not in the same Chamber. He implied that I had not spoken in the debate, but I gave a lengthy speech on the issues we are facing in Luton right now. I invite him to correct the record at the Dispatch Box.

Jesse Norman 

I would be happy to respond to the hon. Lady. That is not actually what I said. I said that I wanted to respond to the speeches and therefore I would not take interventions at that time. I will of course—[Interruption.] If she would prefer me to respond not to her speech but to an intervention, I will let her make an intervention.

Sarah Owen 

I thank the Minister for finally allowing an intervention. He talked about optimism. Does he feel optimistic that the manufacturing industry now faces a 10% tariff on passenger cars and a 22% tariff on vans? Does he believe that we should all be optimistic about that future, or does he believe the reality—that the manufacturing industry faces a cliff edge?

Jesse Norman 

If that is the best the hon. Lady can do, she would have been better to wait for my response to her speech. No, the truth of the matter is that this country is engaged in discussions and negotiations with European partners about the circumstances—we export an enormous number of cars, which is an important fact from their point of view as it is from ours—and it would be futile to discuss those matters in public. We all know that none of these negotiations is ever done in public, and that includes commercial negotiations, which Labour appears to wish to be done in public as well.

Let me proceed a little more. The hon. Members for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) touched on new gigafactories. I invite Opposition Front- Bench Members to comment further if they wish, because this is a much-heralded part of the Labour strategy, and if the Labour party seeks to subsidise eight new gigafactories, perhaps they would like to put on record how much public money—taxpayer’s money—they propose to spend on that and how it would be funded. We very much look forward to seeing their plans. I will be interested to see whether they bear any resemblance to market conditions or show any signs of doing anything other than immiserating and impoverishing the British taxpayer.