Honda in Swindon

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:23 pm on 19th February 2019.

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Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 1:23 pm, 19th February 2019

For over 30 years, Japanese companies investing in our automotive sector have been able to count on a bipartisan commitment to talking about the advantages of investing in Britain: our skills, our commitment to innovation and the efficiency of our operations. Members on both sides of the House know that I and my colleagues have worked intensively, including with trade unions, to ensure that we get investments that recognise those advantages. I hope that we can send to companies considering investment a clear determination, across both sides of the House, that we will continue to keep faith with that tradition of stability.

I think it was evident in my remarks that I share the dismay of Rebecca Long Bailey at the decision and the consequences for the excellent workforce in Swindon and their suppliers. We will do everything we can to ensure that they have good opportunities in future.

The hon. Lady asked about Brexit. The company said that the decision was not about Brexit and clearly we must accept that. She asked about its market share. In truth, it has a small market share in Europe compared with the markets in which it said it was expanding. Those are the reasons that it has given. However, I have always been clear with the House that the motor industry, Japanese investors and particularly Honda have made it clear for many months that Brexit is an additional worry at a difficult time. They have been instrumental in shaping the deal that has been negotiated. If there is one message all of us in the House can give that they want to hear it is that the deal should be ratified.

Ford Motor Company said:

“A no-deal Brexit would be a catastrophe…It’s important that we get the agreement ratified that’s on the table at the moment.”

Aston Martin said of the deal,

“it’s obvious that…
it meets the needs of all the requests we put forward as an industry and as Aston Martin”.

McLaren said that the withdrawal agreement would

“provide urgently-needed certainty and an implementation period that allows us to plan for the future”.

Toyota said:

“We welcome the announcement of a deal. It would provide business with the certainty” that it needs. I could go on. The clear message from the automotive companies is that we should get on and ratify the deal.

The hon. Lady asked about the industrial strategy. She will know that our commitment to it, and through it to the future of mobility, has been at the heart of our policy and has been widely recognised. The £250 million investment in the Faraday challenge to make Britain the best place in the world for new battery technology has resulted in the national battery manufacturing centre being established in the west midlands. We already have the biggest-selling electric vehicle in Europe—indeed, one in five electric vehicles in Europe is made in Britain. The fact that Honda’s R&D facility will continue to be in the UK and that companies such as Ford are moving their R&D to the UK underlines the strategy. The London Electric Vehicle Company is making taxis powered by electricity, not just for London but for export around the world. Aston Martin has invested £50 million in its new electric engine facility in Wales. Cummings is investing £210 million in its R&D in the automotive sector.

The hon. Lady asked about the charging network: £200 million is being invested in new, fast-charging networks for electric vehicles. Our reputation for automotive innovation and exports is strong and growing. That is one of the reasons why it is particularly frustrating that Honda has made this decision, when other companies are recognising the fruits of those investments and investing in Britain.

The announcement comes at a time of disruption and change in the industry. Veterans of the industry say that this is the biggest period of change in most of their careers. That reinforces how right we are to invest in the future and in promoting Britain as a place to develop the next generation of vehicles. I hope that in the weeks, months and years ahead, the whole House will support us in promoting those advantages, not just for Honda, but for other companies that can invest in this country.