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With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement about Nissan in Sunderland. Last Thursday,
The decision is a massive win for the 7,000 direct employees and 35,000 total British employees in the plant and the supply chain. It is a stunning tribute to the local workforce, which has made the Sunderland plant, in the words of the chief executive of Nissan, “a globally competitive powerhouse”. We are immensely proud of it and proud of them. Of course, the decision is great news for the people of the north-east more widely, for our world-class automotive sector and for the whole British economy. This is but the latest in a series of exciting investments in the United Kingdom, which is proving to the world that we are open for business. Indeed, it is hard to think of more unambiguously good news.
My colleagues in the Government and I have been vigorous in ensuring that the Nissan board had no doubts about the importance of this plant and this industry to the British people. Through the many conversations I and my colleagues had both here and in Japan, it became clear that four reassurances were important to securing the investment for Britain. Three were about the automotive sector generally and one was about Brexit.
The first was that we would continue our successful and long-standing programme of support for the competitiveness of the automotive sector, including Nissan. This support is available to firms for skills and training the local workforce, research and development, and innovation, in line with EU and UK Government rules. Since 2010, the Government have invested £400 million in the UK automotive sector in this way. We will continue to invest hundreds of millions more over the coming years. All proposals from any company must be underpinned by strong business cases and tested against published eligibility criteria. All proposals are also subject to rigorous external scrutiny by the independent Industrial Development Advisory Board and are reported on to Parliament.
The second was that we would continue our work with the automotive sector, including Nissan at Sunderland, to ensure that more of the supply chain can locate in the UK and in close proximity to major manufacturing sites. In a previous post, I established the local growth deals and city deals, which, working with local enterprise partnerships, have provided a way in which local councils, businesses and the Government can upgrade sites, especially those brought into use from dereliction, and provide the infrastructure for the small and medium-sized businesses that can supply these major companies. I can confirm that this programme will continue, and with vigour.
The third that was we would maintain a strong commitment to research and development, in particular the take-up of ultra-low emission vehicles. The opportunities presented by bringing the Department of Energy and Climate Change together with the Business Department make us ideally placed to build on Britain’s strengths in low-carbon energy, the automotive sector, science, research and many other areas.
The fourth was that in our negotiations to leave the EU, we will emphasise the very strong common ground, especially in the automotive sector, that exists between ourselves and other EU member states in ensuring that trade between us can be free and unencumbered by impediments. A good deal for the UK can also be a good deal for other member states, and that is how we will approach the negotiations. Whatever the outcome, we are determined to ensure that the UK continues to be one of the most competitive locations in the world for automotive and other advanced manufacturing.
Last Thursday was a great day for Sunderland and for Britain, but the best is yet to come. Over 30 years, Nissan has invested more than £3.7 billion in our country and has created excellent jobs for a whole generation of world-beating British workers. Last week’s announcement means that a new generation of apprentices, technicians, engineers, managers and many other working men and women can look forward to careers filled with opportunity and success. This Government will always back them to the hilt. I commend this statement and Nissan’s welcome decision to this House.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for responding to our repeated requests for clarification on the events of the past few days. I join him in warmly welcoming Nissan’s decision to keep production in the UK. It is fantastic news for Nissan’s 7,000 employees and the 38,000-plus employees who rely on its supply chain. It is fantastic news for Sunderland, and it is fantastic news for the whole country. It is a testament to the skill, productivity and ability of the workforce and management that Nissan has such confidence in its Sunderland operation.
Without detracting from that, we still have some concerns. The right hon. Gentleman has denied giving Nissan special treatment, but he has refused to be transparent about what he has offered to it. As our most productive car factory, Nissan’s Sunderland plant epitomises the strengths of the UK’s automotive industry. He knows that we simply could not afford to lose it. That is why, despite the assurances that he has given now and in his tantalising television appearances over the weekend, the nagging question remains: are we really to believe that Nissan is risking millions of pounds of investment and the success of its newest models on the basis of the Government’s good intentions alone? If that is the case, why have they kept their good intentions to themselves?
The overwhelming impression until now has been that the Government have no strategy for Brexit. Are we expected to believe that the Government now have not only a strategy, but a strategy so convincing that they have persuaded Nissan to stay without the need for any special guarantees? If so, why will they not tell us what it is? We are told in the media—the media is where most of last week’s revelations transpired—that the Government gave a commitment to Nissan that Britain would be as attractive after Brexit as it is today.
It would seem that the Secretary of State has discovered the Brexit equivalent of the Philosopher’s stone: tariff-free market access with no concessions, readily agreed by all 27 EU countries, including Wallonia. Surely, that is a feat worth sharing. So can he tell us whether he is committing to full single market access or to a customs union or to something else entirely—or do the Government simply not know? We all want all car manufacturers to keep their production in the UK—[Interruption.] Yes, we do. So why are they not privy to the same assurances as Nissan, and what about the many other businesses up and down the country—businesses that, like Nissan, are currently deciding whether to continue investing in the UK? Surely, they, too, should be told.
I have acknowledged that the automotive sector is hugely important to our economy, but it is not our only strategically important industry. Where were the Government during the crisis in the steel industry? They were blocking the EU from taking action against Chinese steel dumping—that is where they were. What are the Government doing for the aerospace industry, or for pharmaceuticals, and what about the service sector, which accounts for more than three quarters of our economy?
It seems that the Government are giving private reassurances to particular companies, while leaving the majority of businesses, the public and their elected representatives in the dark about their intentions. Piecemeal, back-room deals will not provide the active industrial strategy that Labour has long advocated and to which the Government now claim to be signed up. We Labour Members want the economy firing on all cylinders, not spluttering along on one or two.
As we embark on Brexit, Britain needs a Government who are visionary, not reactive, and strategic, not shambolic. As a start, we need a Government who are transparent and accountable, instead of secretive. Why not start now? If the right hon. Gentleman did not offer Nissan a sweetener, what has he got to hide? Show us the letter. If the assurances he gave to Nissan apply to all the automotive sector, surely all that sector should be given them? Show us the letter. If, contrary to appearances, the Government do have a strategy for Brexit, why will they not tell us what it is? Show us the letter!
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box, but if that is the kind of spluttering old banger of an approach to these issues, I think he should upgrade to a new model. I would recommend a Qashqai; they are very good cars. I find it surprising that, in response to an announcement that has thrilled Sunderland and the north-east and provided a big boost to the economy, the Labour party’s demeanour is so miserable. Is it beyond the hon. Gentleman to put party politics aside and just celebrate and congratulate everyone involved on a success that is in all our interests?
I seriously ask the hon. Gentleman to weigh this issue up carefully. When I met Nissan, one thing it commented on was the continuity over 30 years of a very successful participation in the UK economy, with cross-party support and consensus over the Sunderland plant—reflected in what both Conservative and Labour Governments have done. It would be to take a wrong turn if the Labour party lurched away from the bipartisanship that has been so successful there.
As for the conversations that we had, one of the things that I have learnt over the years is the importance of getting to know, over time, the companies that are in this country and those that invest in it, and understanding what their investment decisions will be based on. We have taken the opportunity to do that, and the four reassurances that I was able to give Nissan and that have resulted in this investment reflected what Nissan had said to me.
I said that I would aim for the best possible ability to trade with other European Union countries. I said that I would pursue the negotiations in a positive and constructive spirit, mindful of the substantial common ground that exists between us. I said that whatever happened, we were determined to keep Britain’s world-beating motor industry competitive. Do Labour Members share those intentions? If they do, why on earth do they think that I would play games with the livelihoods of 35,000 working people in this country, the pride of the world in their industry, by not stating them clearly and transparently to Nissan? I welcome the decision that Nissan has made.
The hon. Gentleman asked me whether I would publish the correspondence. I have set out the information that I gave to Nissan. My responsibility, on behalf of the Government, is to encourage and attract investment in this country. When companies of all types and in all sectors share with me investment plans that would be of interest to their prospective competitors, it is important for them to be assured that those plans will not be disclosed to their competitors to their disadvantage. My objective is to obtain the investment, but I shall be happy to answer questions about every aspect of it, today and when I appear before the Select Committee—which I intend to do, at the Committee’s invitation.
The hon. Gentleman is a relatively new Member, and I hope that he will have a distinguished tenure here, but Members in all parts of the House—from Newcastle to Newquay, from Liverpool to Lowestoft—will know that whenever I work to attract success to our regions, towns, cities and counties, I do so on a cross-party basis. Party politics never feature in the way I work. I hope that, in future, we shall be able to work together on such common interests.
Order. There is much interest in this subject, and I want to accommodate it. Single, short supplementary questions—preferably a single sentence without preamble—and the Secretary of State’s customarily pithy replies are required.
The Secretary of State is to be congratulated on his announcement, which is clearly very good news for Sunderland, but I think that he will understand Parliament’s desire to understand the terms on which these and other negotiations are conducted. May I ask whether he has discussed this matter with the International Trade Secretary, and whether he will be in the driving seat of future trade negotiations? We all think that he is rather good at it.
I, too, thank the Secretary of State for his statement, although I think he may have said a little bit more to the BBC yesterday than he has to the House today. I hope that he is not joining the ever-growing list of Secretaries of State who have been slapped down by the Prime Minister for expressing their personal opinions.
I think it important that action has been taken to protect parts of the economy from the potential negative impacts of Brexit. It may constitute more than just a quarter of the issues that were on Nissan’s agenda, but that is for the Secretary of State to answer. He said to the BBC yesterday that
“our objective would be to…have continued access…without tariffs and without bureaucratic impediments”.
That has not been said today, but I think that it is correct. If that objective is not realised, however, what will be the cost to the taxpayer of a deal with Nissan? How much will it cost to make good those tariffs should they be imposed? That is the key question.
SNP Members will welcome the fact that an area of the country that voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union has been given a special deal, and we look forward with gusto to the deal that will be given to Scotland in recognition of the fact that we voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. The Government are giving a flexible Brexit to the City of London and the north-east of England; I hope the Secretary of State will bring forward a flexible Brexit to protect Scotland’s economy and the 80,000 jobs that rely on our access to the single market.
The Secretary of State must recognise that the game here is a bit of a bogey: “Brexit means Brexit” will not cut it while he is going behind closed doors cutting deals with others without making this House or the public aware of what they are. While Nissan received a letter of comfort, the devolved Administrations got a hotline—a hotline that is so hot to handle that it does not get answered for 36 hours.
The approach I have set out to the House and stated previously simply reflects what I would have thought is common sense: in an area—we have been talking about the automotive sector—in which there are substantial exports that come from Britain to the EU and from the EU to this country and components go backwards and forwards, there is a clear common interest in having arrangements that are free of tariffs and the bureaucratic impediments I mentioned. So it seems to me that when we embark on any negotiation, it is about finding the common ground and having a positive volition so to do. That is what I set out and that is what I described to Nissan, and indeed would do to any other manufacturer. It is on that basis, along with the other points I have made, that Nissan felt able to make this fantastic investment not only in the north-east, but in the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister surely has not slapped down my right hon. Friend, but has slapped him on the back as a gesture of congratulations on a remarkable deal. I ask my right hon. Friend to come clean on one other issue he left off his list, which I am sure he mentioned to Nissan, however. He will have reminded Nissan that the UK outside the EU will be able to set its own new trade deals—and guess which car manufacturers will benefit from free trade deals with the rest of world.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s endorsement. As the Prime Minister said, we are going to make a success of Brexit, and we want every sector of our economy, including the automotive sector, not to be disadvantaged by Brexit, but to reap the benefits and be more competitive in the future.
I commend the Government and the Secretary of State on this piece of great news; it is a welcome example of targeted Government commitment to a successful company in a strategically vital sector in the most important region on earth. However, will the same sort of targeted investment be available to other firms and sectors? If so, how will these be selected in the context of a proper industrial strategy, and will such companies and sectors be given similar reassurance and support to that provided to Nissan?
I am grateful for the generous compliment the Chairman of the Select Committee pays me. I am certainly not going to disagree with him on what he said about the north-east, but I should say that Kent ranks equally. I am looking forward to coming before his Select Committee, not only to answer questions but to talk about the industrial strategy. The approach I not just intend to take but am already taking is to take time to meet the firms in our economy and understand the different needs of different sectors, so that we can be informed by them as we form our negotiating mandate. Those needs will obviously be different from sector to sector, and my commitment, which we will share when we meet in his Committee, is through our industrial strategy to make sure that we have confidence both for individual sectors and for individual places, because there is a very interesting confluence there. Investment in Nissan is good for the sector and good for Sunderland and the north-east.
I should declare an interest as a driver—albeit not a very good one—of a Nissan Qashqai. For years, we have had calls from across the House for an activist, interventionist Business Secretary who is prepared to do everything possible in order to secure jobs for working-class people in disadvantaged parts of the country. Now we have one, can my right hon. Friend explain why Opposition Members will not take yes for an answer? Was Oscar Wilde not right that there is only one thing worse than not getting one’s heart’s desire and that is getting it?
“the Government must not show their hand in detail” —[Official Report,
Vol. 616, c. 27.]
to Parliament in advance of the Brexit negotiations. At the very same time, however, we now know that the Secretary of State was telling Nissan the Government’s detailed negotiating stance for the automotive sector, including that there would be tariff-free trade and no bureaucratic impediments. Will the Secretary of State explain how those two positions are consistent?
The right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a high personal regard, exemplifies what my right hon. Friend Michael Gove was saying: he looks so glum at this news. What I set out to the House, to Nissan and to any firm that is in this country is what my colleagues have said repeatedly: there is a great common interest among other European Union nations and ourselves in having a deal following the negotiations that maximises the benefit to both sides. That seems so obvious that it is hardly worthy emphasising. That is the demeanour with which we will approach the negotiations. It is the approach that I have always taken in negotiations, and it seems as though that is something that people are glad to hear.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on providing a great deal for the north-east. His clarification that the Government wanted continued access to the single market without bureaucratic impediments is a significant extension and exposure of the Government’s negotiating position. Does the Secretary of State agree that the rules of origin that the UK would face outside the customs union would certainly constitute bureaucratic impediments?
This goes beyond any discussions that I have had with any company here. Why would we not aim to avoid bureaucratic impediments as a matter of negotiation? That seems to be common sense and that is what I set out.
We all welcome the Nissan announcement, but Nissan is only one company that is making decisions now about its future investment in the United Kingdom. Given the persuasive reassurance that the right hon. Gentleman was able to offer the company, can he tell the House whether his offer of tariff-free access to the European market will be available to all other parts of our manufacturing sector? If I heard him right, he indicated a moment ago that the Government might take a different approach for different sectors. If that means that some might not benefit from tariff-free access, they would like to know pretty quickly.
The right hon. Gentleman is wise enough to know that it is not in my gift to offer tariff-free access to the single market. I was describing what would be a positive outcome from the negotiations, which therefore relates to the demeanour that we should take in those negotiations. My right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan paid me a personal compliment, but my team shares my vigour in talking to companies up and down the land to ensure that we understand what is important to them and to inform our negotiations. That seems an eminently sensible thing to do.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister on securing this fantastic new deal with Nissan, which will benefit not only the good people of the north-east. Thanks to the supply chain, the benefits will extend throughout the whole country, helping many tens of thousands of people and their families.
I met a constituent on Saturday who runs a small IT business employing 14 people and he, too, wants certainty on tariffs. He told me that if tariffs are imposed on his business, he will have to get rid of it, meaning that 14 people will lose their jobs. Big companies, small companies and huge companies from all sectors need certainty. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that this House has a debate and a vote on the underlying principles of our negotiations as we leave the EU in order to give the Government a true mandate?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what she said. When she was a Minister in my Department —or its predecessor—she was vigorous in engaging with businesses and understanding what they need. I regularly meet small businesses and their representative organisations, having done so many times since my appointment. She rightly says that it is important that their views help shape our negotiating mandate. On the debates in this House, the Prime Minister and my Cabinet colleagues have said repeatedly that there will be many occasions to debate and have these things scrutinised in this House.
I warmly welcome the Minister’s statement and the kind words about my home city of Sunderland from somebody from Middlesbrough. There was palpable relief in Sunderland on Thursday at the announcement, but concerns remain about the supply chain, because if there is an automotive sectoral deal, these firms will not necessarily be included, as they supply other types of industry. There are also concerns about the wider manufacturing base in the north-east as we move forward with the Brexit negotiations.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for what she says. Middlesbrough has been doing a bit better in football terms than Sunderland this season, so it deserves a break when it comes to Nissan. The supply chain is incredibly important, and across the automotive sector, whether in the north-east or the west midlands or other parts of the country, there are businesses that are currently overseas that could locate close to the main plants. If sites can be remediated where, for example, they require better road access, it is in everyone’s interest if we work on that together. That was part of the discussions, and will particularly benefit the supply chain.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I am happy to answer any questions that the House has, and I am looking forward to appearing before the Select Committee. I have been pretty candid, describing each of the four aspects of the reassurances that I was able to give, but if companies that are considering an investment here describe commercial plans that they may not want to fall into the hands of their competitors, it is reasonable that they should have that confidence when dealing with the UK Government.
As a fellow north-easterner, I am sure the Secretary of State will know that Thursday’s news buoyed not only Sunderland, but the wider north-east. Even I got a little teary-eyed at the plant on Thursday evening, knowing that the announcement had secured the livelihoods and future aspirations of so many families, who were all that night breathing a sigh of relief. The details of the letter are important, but may I, as the local MP for the plant, and on behalf of the workforce of almost 46,000 people across the UK, whose jobs are now more secure, just say thank you?
I am touched by the hon. Lady’s statement; it is very kind and very good of her. When we were having these discussions, I always had in mind the fact that this is not a theoretical investment, and that we are talking about real people who work hard and do brilliant work. They are the best regarded in the world in the international system; they are the most productive in the world and go to Japan to help train some of the auto workers there. I am proud of that, as is she; the whole House should be proud of the workforce there.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend. How can his reassurance to Nissan that there will be continued access to the European market without bureaucratic impediment be assured if Britain is outside the customs union?
As I have said to other hon. Members, what I was able to say is how we would go into a negotiation, which seems to me to be to find common ground. We certainly did not get into any discussions of particular models, as my right hon. Friend would expect. One can overcomplicate these things; to be clear about one’s intention to find common ground and to pursue discussions in a rational and civilised way is not a bad thing to be able to convey.
I wholeheartedly welcome Nissan’s decision, which will protect thousands of jobs and many of the people whom I represent. May I press the Secretary of State again on the issue of the supply chain? He has talked about the supply chain of the future, but what more can he say by way of reassurance both to the existing supply chain and to the wider manufacturing sector in the region that he will do everything in his power to protect their interests and the medium-sized businesses that serve it?
I certainly will do everything in my power. I look forward when I next visit Sunderland to meeting the existing supply chain. The hon. Lady will know that we have already done quite a lot in that regard. I helped to negotiate the Sunderland city deal and to establish the advanced manufacturing park near the Nissan site, precisely to provide better facilities. She will know about the new bridge for which we secured funding to assist with that. I know very well the importance of not just the major sites, vital though they are, but of the whole ecology of business around them. That is one reason why this investment is so important. Important though Nissan is, the investment gives another big boost to the existing supply chain and to those competitors that will join it in the future.
This great news continues the work of this Government to rebalance our economy. It also provides an incentive to continue to improve skills and to encourage innovation. Does the Secretary of State agree that our catapult centres, including the Manufacturing Technology Centre in my constituency, have a big part to play in that role?
I do indeed. One of the enticing things that we can offer companies looking to locate here is the excellence of our research and our science, whether it is in universities or, increasingly, in institutions such as catapults that help translate those skills into the wider market. Through our industrial strategy, we want to increase the focus on this very important area of strength, so that other firms can invest and see Britain as the go-to place for advanced manufacturing and for other sectors, too.
The news about Nissan in the north-east is brilliant, but there are other strategic industries in the north-east of England. I include Hitachi Rail Europe in my constituency, which opened a £90 million factory last year, employing almost 1,000 people and hundreds more in the supply chain. Hitachi Rail Europe is here for the long term to have access to the European market. At the moment, it is building the Intercity Express Programme. Building the machines will take about three years, so it is here for the long term. In the spirit of this cross-party approach that the Secretary of State say he wants to take, will he meet me to see what we can do to ensure that the Japanese company will continue to invest in the north-east?
I will indeed. In fact, I am meeting Hitachi tomorrow, and have the privilege of presenting an award at Asia House in commemoration of the very long and positive association that we have had with it. On one of my previous visits to Japan in this role, I had the great pleasure of meeting many of the Hitachi directors and seeing their innovation and their continued commitment to this country—very important.
The desperate search for a commercial bung in this announcement by some Members of the Opposition is, frankly, insulting to Britain, Japan, Nissan and Sunderland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, rather than talking the country down, we should be celebrating the recent inward investment successes, not least from the far east, which demonstrate that the Government are living up to their commitment to making a success of Brexit?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words. I do believe in being active and vigorous and in meeting companies and understanding the challenges that they face; I make no apology for that. My whole ministerial team will be active in securing investments for this country.
This fantastic news makes us proud of British industry. Does my right hon. Friend agree that many factors make this country attractive to companies such as Nissan? A key one is our competitive rate of corporation tax. Will he ensure that in the coming autumn statement, our rate not only stays competitive, but perhaps gets even more competitive?
My hon. Friend needs to direct that request to the Chancellor—I will pass it on when I see my right hon. Friend in Cabinet tomorrow—but he is right to remind the House that there is a range of attributes and strengths that makes this country attractive to overseas and domestic investors. It is important that, across the whole range, we get them right.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. The news is extremely important to the north-east economy, including companies such as Nifco and Teesport in the Teesside area. Nissan is a massive buyer of strip steel in the United Kingdom. Earlier this year after the steel crisis, Nissan was hunting around for new suppliers, usually in the European Union, for that chain. We have had a disastrous experience in the north-east prior to this announcement, which stands in contrast to the SSI Redcar situation that has happened on this Government’s watch. Although it has taken six years for the Government to understand what new Labour-style industrial activism is, I very much welcome that and the statement today.
I am grateful for the backhanded compliment. I am not sure that I would agree that this is new Labour-style industrial activism. The hon. Gentleman will know that it was a Conservative Government 30 years ago who secured Nissan for the UK, and I am proud that it is a Conservative Government who have secured its future in Britain.
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on the announcement. Does he agree that the commitment from Nissan is good news not only for the north-east and Nissan’s direct employees, but for the supply chain companies and their employees across the country, such as those who work at Gestamp Tallent, which has a manufacturing plant in Cannock?
I certainly do, and my hon. Friend is right to point out the wave of benefits across the economy, one example of which was given by Tom Blenkinsop. The consequences of such positive news extend to other important sectors. That is why it is important that we should be active and vigorous in attracting these investments.
This is an extremely welcome announcement, but there is a worry that it could be an isolated deal, rather than a clear strategy for the regions. When the situation is contrasted with the redundancies announced by DB Cargo UK in Doncaster, with Brexit being citing as one of the reasons, does it not point to why it is so important for the Government to conduct regional impact assessments of Brexit, and to publish them to demonstrate that there is a clearly though out strategy that will reflect the needs of regions, as well as sectors?
It is nice to hear the right hon. Lady being able to speak from the Back Benches; she does so compellingly. As colleagues who know my interests in these matters would expect me to say, I believe that our regions, towns, cities and counties have an important role to play in our industrial strategy. I do not know whether she has been elected to the new Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, but I am sure she will be able to attend its sittings, because I hope that we will be discussing precisely this during the next few weeks.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has mentioned that. One of the great opportunities in industrial strategy is to combine our world leadership in offshore wind renewable energy with our commanding position in the automotive sector, and to bring them together so that when it comes to electrical vehicles and battery storage, we can lead the world, which is what we intend to do.
The Secretary of State deserves credit for a significant and substantial achievement, but special deals for the car industry or the financial services sector offer little comfort to the thousands of small businesses the length and breadth of this country—which, incidentally, goes north of Newcastle—that depend on exports for their livelihood. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that these small businesses, which are the lifeblood of so many of our communities, get the same access to him and his Department as has clearly been given to the big boys in the multinationals?
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman asks that question because one of my first visits as Secretary of State was to Aberdeen, where I had a very successful and important meeting with its chamber of commerce. Small businesses in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire were talking about what they wanted to achieve from the Brexit negotiations. I think that I am the first Secretary of State in the Department to have appointed Ministers with regional and national responsibilities in relation to the devolved Administrations, which reflects the importance of building small businesses and every part of the United Kingdom into the industrial strategy.
I am glad that Nissan is continuing to invest in the north-east. Can the Minister give me in Liverpool some comfort—I would accept a letter—that I can pass on to Jaguar Land Rover, Getrag and the other automotive supply chain industries in my constituency to assure them that they will be treated in exactly the same way?
I have been clear about maintaining the competitiveness of the automotive sector. The hon. Lady mentions some companies, and I am meeting Jaguar Land Rover again shortly—I meet it regularly. It is part of the development of our industrial strategy, and it is important that it should be. These are the companies, with their supply chain, that are succeeding and have contributed to our national success. We will work with them to build on that success and achieve even greater success in future.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what is undoubtedly a huge personal achievement, and the people of the north-east on creating in the Sunderland plant a globally competitive powerhouse. Is not this deal a signal to those remainers who have become remoaners that they should recalibrate their doom and gloom and become far more optimistic about the future of this country outside the European Union?
This is a day for celebration rather than debating such issues. We should all celebrate this big success, which shows that Britain is and can be competitive, and that some of the world’s biggest companies are backing us very vigorously.
The Secretary of State obviously said the right thing to Nissan. He knows that there are many manufacturing industries with international supply chains, such as Glaxo in my constituency, so when he is sitting in the Brexit Cabinet Sub-Committee, will he impress on his colleagues the value of staying in the customs union?
The approach that I have set out across our economy is to meet those businesses that are part of my responsibility and to have sensible discussions so that I understand from them what they need. That informs our negotiating mandate. That is my commitment to all the businesses—large and small—that I meet.
This announcement clearly shows the world that Britain is open for business. I hope that our supply chains will get a boost from this too, particularly UK steel. Will my right hon. Friend say a little about the wider involvement of the UK automobile sector in the forthcoming industrial strategy and how the announcement fits into that?
I certainly will. With any industrial strategy, we should build on our strengths and not be complacent, but recognise that in order to continue to be strong, we need to look at the underlying conditions for promoting that. The presence of a vigorous supply chain is important for the automotive sector. It is important to be at the cutting edge of research and development, and to have skills in the workforce on which expanding companies can count in order to fulfil their order books. Those are all important enabling conditions, and the Government have a role to play by working with companies to make sure that they are all met.
Can the Secretary of State confirm whether the arrangement with Nissan is a one-off or part of a wider strategy to protect the economy from the impact of Brexit? If it is part of a wider strategy, what other businesses and organisations has he spoken to over the past few months on similar terms?
It is certainly part of a strategy: it is part of our industrial strategy to make sure that Britain is competitive in the future, as it is now and it has been in the past. We are taking a strategic approach. As the hon. Lady might imagine, I meet businesses large and small almost every day of the week, and in all the conversations I have, we discuss what is important, what challenges they face and what their strategic ambition is, so that I can be informed about that.
I welcome the Nissan decision and congratulate the Secretary of State on his role in securing it. I especially welcome his comments about research and development, and innovation. Given that the developing industry-university collaboration is crucial to that, as is the role of foreign students and researchers, what assurances did he give the industry that the Government will reverse the drop we have seen in the numbers applying?
The hon. Gentleman seems to think that my discussions went broader than they did, but with everything I have said about research and development, our universities are key to that. As a former universities Minister, and now once again with responsibility for science, I will do everything I can to promote our research excellence and make sure it continues.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there will be lots of opportunities to discuss other aspects of the negotiations we will have—I think there is even a debate next week on these matters.
I also welcome the announcement by Nissan and acknowledge the work of the Government, Unite the union, and others who were involved in this decision. One of the reassurances the Secretary of State mentioned related to support for the skills and training of the local workforce and for research. Does he expect any cuts in research and development and skills support from the EU to UK regions and businesses? What reassurances has he given that could also be applied to other sectors and regions to assure them that they will not lose out?
As the hon. Lady knows, the Chancellor has already made a commitment to continue that European funding that has already been committed to but, of course, much of the support that we have given to training and skills development in the automotive sector is from our own resources, and one of the things that I was able to say was that we regard that as important and continuing.
We know that there are attempts to do a deal for the City of London and we now know there is a deal for Nissan. At the same time, however, the Fraser of Allander Institute tells us there is a threat to 80,000 jobs in Scotland. Why is it that, when our First Minister comes down here, she is shown the door? There is a deal for Nissan, but there is no deal for Scotland from this Government.
I have had the pleasure of meeting the First Minister at least twice since I took up this job. What I have said to her, personally and directly, is that, as we develop our industrial strategy, Scotland will have a big place in that. Of course it is important that all parts of the United Kingdom need to benefit from our industrial success in the future. The hon. Gentleman may know that, in terms of the city deals that have been negotiated between the UK Government, the Scottish Government and the various councils, we have, and I personally have—I think he would acknowledge this—a track record in making those discussions work.
I certainly welcome the news, and I am sure that the thousands of people who work at the Vauxhall car plant in my constituency would be equally delighted if a similar announcement could be made in due course. When the Secretary of State addressed the Chamber, he referred to different strategies for different industries, but does he also accept that, within the UK automotive sector, there are different challenges from plant to plant, and that a more specific approach may be needed from time to time? Will he agree to engage in an intimate dialogue with General Motors, as he has with Nissan?
I am not sure I would describe the dialogue as intimate, but it was constructive at any rate. Of course I make that commitment the hon. Gentleman.
Around 200,000 jobs in Wales are reportedly sustained by single market membership. With the UK Government so far picking the automotive and the financial sectors as their Brexit winners, how many of the aforementioned 200,000 Welsh jobs does the Secretary of State think will ultimately be safe after Brexit?
We are at a point where we have not begun the negotiations with the European Union, much less concluded them, but the demeanour I think we should take is one of looking positively to find common ground and interests. That, always and everywhere, is the basis of a good deal—identifying that common ground and, through civility and patience, establishing relationships that can lead people to conclude something that is in their mutual interest. That seems to be a good way to approach these discussions.
The Secretary of State said that employees of Nissan could look forward to careers filled with opportunity and success, yet millions of young people throughout the UK are looking at futures with significantly reduced opportunities as a result of Brexit. What reassurance can the Government give to young people about what they will do to protect those people’s futures?
We have been discussing a fantastic new investment that not only will safeguard jobs in Nissan and across the country, through the supply chain, but will, no doubt—especially with more of the supply chain coming to locate in the United Kingdom—create new opportunities. Those opportunities will be for young people right across the country. There will be apprenticeships, traineeships and careers available that would not have happened if we had not secured this investment, so the hon. Gentleman should welcome it.
Nissan’s decision is brilliant news not only for the north-east, but for the whole UK. May I suggest to the Secretary of State that the exchange rate is a major and crucial factor in Britain’s competitiveness, and that maintaining an appropriate exchange rate is fundamental to future manufacturing success and investment? Will the Government be taking steps to make sure that the welcome depreciation of sterling since
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have not targeted an exchange rate for some time. That policy is, first, not my remit and, secondly, not the way we approach the economy. However, it is true that there are many contributors to the competitiveness of the economy. What I need to do, and what I will do, is to take those things over which I do have influence and make them work for Britain.
The Nissan announcement is not, of course, the only announcement of a good investment decision in the UK since the referendum. From GlaxoSmithKline to McDonald’s, thousands of jobs have been created, despite the predictions of the doom-mongers on the referendum deniers’ side. The Minister has indicated that he will take a sector-by-sector approach. Does he also reckon that there needs to be a region-by-region approach, and what plans does he have to meet the Economy Minister in Northern Ireland to discuss the problems there?
I have already met the Economy Minister in Northern Ireland and had a very constructive discussion with him. I had that discussion to invite him to help us as we develop our industrial strategy so that it includes an appreciation of the different needs of different places to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
I welcome the news that so many jobs in Sunderland will be protected from the consequences of Brexit but, as an Edinburgh MP, it is Edinburgh jobs that I have to think about. Many thousands of my constituents are employed directly or indirectly in Edinburgh’s financial sector, and Edinburgh’s economy is more reliant on financial services than that of any other city in the UK, including London. These people are worried about the consequences of losing their EU passport. Will the Minister give me a guarantee that he will advocate a special deal for Edinburgh in Cabinet?
Of course financial services are of huge importance to our economy—to the UK economy and to the economy in Edinburgh. We need to make sure that, in all areas, we get the best possible deal by finding areas of common ground and negotiating constructively, through relationships that we have built up with our counterparts in the European Union, during the months and years ahead. That is the approach that we will take, and it is the approach that is most likely to succeed.
On Friday, I am due to visit the Ford engine plant in my constituency, along with my local Assembly Member, Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales. Can we be assured that we will be talking to Ford on the same lines as have been very successfully negotiated in relation to Nissan, and that the 2,000 jobs at the Ford plant and in the wider economy will also be secure following today’s statement?
I do not know what the hon. Lady is going to say to Ford, but I hope that she will reinforce the messages that I have given in saying that the Government want to maintain the competitiveness of the whole automotive sector. We want to build on the strengths that it has in every part of the United Kingdom, including in her constituency, so that it can prosper in the future. I hope that that will be welcomed.
As a former Labour Minister with responsibility for the automotive sector, I welcomed the investment by Nissan for the manufacture of the electric Leaf vehicle in Sunderland, although I did not give a statement from the Dispatch Box at the time because that was probably less of a surprise. How will the Secretary of State secure attendance in the emissions regulation discussions that are so vital to the low-carbon future of the UK automotive sector?
They are indeed vital, and I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman makes that point. One of the advantages of having responsibilities for energy and climate change within the business and industrial strategy set of responsibilities is that these conversations can be joined up. The Minister for Climate Change and Industry and I share an interest in making sure that we maintain our leadership in green technology to the great advantage of our industrial future.
How many of these unique, one-off, special, individual deals will have to be negotiated before the Brexit process is complete, and how many will it take before the Government realise that the better option for everyone would be to live up to their manifesto promise and keep us in the single market?
It was not clear from the hon. Gentleman’s remarks whether he welcomes this deal, which has been a good conclusion to our discussions with Nissan. I would say to hon. Members on both sides of the House that if we all approach the prospect of investment—either by domestic companies or overseas investors—positively, try to understand what companies need, and make sure that the economy provides the backdrop, whether in skills, infrastructure or research and development, to keep us competitive, we can all prosper together.