My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have no intention of undermining the Alchemy offer. However, we are naturally interested in the best possible outcome for Longbridge and its employees. I am unable to comment on the proposed sale of Land Rover as that will be subject to consideration by the relevant competition authorities.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. On 16th December 1999, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, in the context of the take-over by Vodafone of Mannesmann, stated:
"the two companies themselves have said publicly that they would wish the market, rather than governments, to decide on the merits of the case".--[Official Report, 16/12/99; WA 63.]
Did Her Majesty's Government concur with that philosophy and do they still concur with it in the BMW/Rover/Alchemy context? Was it not an irresponsible "spun" smokescreen for Her Majesty's Government to raise the hopes of those at Rover by implying that the Government could, would or should intervene in what is entirely a commercial matter?
My Lords, the Government have not indicated that they could, would or should intervene in the issue of BMW and Rover at Longbridge. The Government have never said that. Naturally, the Government were disappointed at the speed and lack of notice with which BMW came to its decision. However, the Secretary of State, Stephen Byers, has been with Professor Milberg in Germany this morning. He has been pleased with the response of BMW to the urgings of the Government that BMW should seek to minimise the job losses and should co-operate with the task force that has been set up in the West Midlands to deal with potential problems.
My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend. Does the Minister agree that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who at present is in Germany, should be allowed to enter into discussions with the German company free of the rigours of any Questions that may be asked in this House? In regard to Land Rover, is it not a vitally successful company in all respects and, therefore, easy to dispose of?
My Lords, in no way do I want to imply that noble Lords should be restricted in Questions that are put to government Ministers. The visit of the Secretary of State this morning to BMW in Germany has been relatively encouraging. It is proper that I should say that to the House. Land Rover is, of course, a very successful company--and that refers not only to those who actually produce Land Rovers, but also to other companies that produce parts for Land Rover. That company is of great importance to the economy of this country.
My Lords, perhaps I may express my sympathy to the noble Lord that in addition to the Financial Services and Markets Bill, he is sent here also to answer this difficult Question while the Minister responsible for such matters who ought to be here is not. Can the Minister tell me how his right honourable friend from the Department of Trade and Industry is getting on with BMW today after he was so insulting to that company last week? How can the department have been surprised, given that weeks ago it was told that the company was making a loss of £2 million a day and that five months' back-production of Fords were lying in an airfield in Oxfordshire?
My Lords, I do not believe that there would be five months' back-production of Fords lying anywhere. This morning the Secretary of State had a constructive meeting with Professor Milberg. I have attempted to tell the House as much as I can of the results of that meeting. It has been agreed that BMW will do all that it can to protect jobs and to minimise job losses. It has also been agreed that BMW will co-operate and work with the task force that we have set up. The task force has been in existence for only five or six days, so it is not yet clear what assistance BMW could give, but from the reports that I have I believe that it was a productive meeting.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the present debacle at Rover shows how unwise and wrong it was for the previous government to support the buying of Rover from British Aerospace by BMW, so reneging on a perfectly good working agreement that it had with the Honda motor company? Does the Minister agree that Honda UK should be praised as it has just announced that it is to extend its factory at Swindon, provide 1,000 jobs for my former constituents, and increase production to 100,000 cars? That company has not whined about the strength of the pound; it is getting on with the job of building cars.
My Lords, it is dangerous, with hindsight, to criticise past decisions. This week in the press I observed that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, regretted that he had not sold BMW to General Motors. He said that he was prevented from doing so by his own Back-Benchers. I should have said "Rover". The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and I are now quits! Of course, there are those who say that British Aerospace should have sold Rover to Honda rather than make a bilateral deal with BMW without considering other offers. We are way beyond that and we have to look at the future now.