Sport: British Formula 1 Grand Prix — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:22 pm on 23 April 2009.

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Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Shadow Minister, Defence, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development 4:22, 23 April 2009

My Lords, I declare an interest as unpaid honorary president of the Motorsport Industry Association. I always try to approach this subject in a totally non-political and non-partisan way. I very much look forward to the response of the noble Lord, the Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard. It is comforting to see sitting alongside him the noble Lord, Lord Drayson. On behalf of the whole House, I wish him the very best of luck in the upcoming 24-hour race at Le Mans.

The Prime Minister has said that we are approaching the greatest ever decade of sport in this country with the Olympics, Paralympics, Commonwealth Games and, possibly, the rugby and soccer World Cups. A world-class British-hosted event that the Prime Minister did not mention was the British Grand Prix, which we have successfully hosted for more than 50 years. BBC TV has gained a huge new audience for its Formula 1 coverage. The audience for this year's first two races increased by 300 per cent compared with ITV's audience last year. UK Sport, on its website, recognises that the British Grand Prix is a "mega" event in the UK which improves the image of UK sport worldwide and establishes the UK as a powerhouse of the sporting world.

Her Majesty's Treasury, in its Green Book, recognises the economic value of this event but also the significant "place marketing effect" on TV and in the media. This has considerable value, as it encourages visitors to return to the place of the event. The Grand Prix at Donington will deliver this effect in relation to East Midlands tourism.

In a show of significant commitment to the new venue, Formula 1 management and Mr Ecclestone have recently extended the agreement with Donington from 10 to 17 years. This is unprecedented. Mr Ecclestone has further helped by, uniquely, agreeing to the fee required being paid in pounds sterling and not US dollars, so giving even more stability to the owners of Donington. This demonstrates the importance that Mr Ecclestone places on retaining a successful British Grand Prix. I pay tribute to him and to another Briton, Max Mosley, the president of the FIA, for the way in which together they have built up international motor racing, from which the British motorsport industry has benefited enormously.

The Prime Minister says that sport raises aspirations in young people and influences society for good. I agree with him. UK motorsport victories around the world raise aspirations that deliver real, well paid British jobs in the engineering and manufacturing sector. These victories are gained through the supreme efforts of many suppliers, some of whom make the smallest part of an F1 car and whose employees celebrate victory just as joyously as the drivers or the team. These small British companies in Motorsport Valley need "their" Grand Prix victories to motivate and enthuse their employees, and their customers, during difficult economic times.

The success of the new Brawn GP team has brought many suppliers back from the brink of disaster. They rely on this team's continuing success for their jobs and future. I congratulate BERR on its proactive assistance, which ensured that this valuable opportunity was not lost from UK industry. The relationship between the annual British Grand Prix and the Motorsport Valley business cluster is vital. The loss of one undoubtedly affects the other. Businesses in Motorsport Valley are fighting very hard to retain their dominant position as motorsport becomes more globalised.

The new upcoming economies of the BRIC nations hold huge potential for small companies within Motorsport Valley, yet developed, advanced engineering competitors, such as Germany, Italy and the United States, are keen to take over this leadership and enter these markets ahead of British companies. Any damage to our international credibility, such as the failure to host our own Grand Prix, would have devastating economic effects.

British Formula 1 teams tell me that if there is no British Grand Prix, they will lose valuable sponsorship. Their major UK-based sponsors want to "live and feel" the Grand Prix. New FIA regulations allow at least two new F1 teams to start up with budgets of £30 million or so. It is vital that we attract these significant investments into Motorsport Valley, not into our competitors' countries.

The challenge to this successful British manufacturing industry is a global one. The MIA and the motorsport industry wish to work together with the Government to meet this challenge and emerge victorious, as we do in other motorsport competition. Silverstone has done an outstanding job for many years, hosting one of the very best Grand Prix in the world, and I congratulate those involved. The Grand Prix will move to Donington but, critically, remain in the United Kingdom. Each year, the British Grand Prix generates more than £50 million of spending and the equivalent of more than 1,500 jobs. The East Midlands region cannot afford to lose such a unique advantage as this.

The new Donington facility adjoins an international airport, a new railway station and a motorway. It is easily connected to both East Midlands and Birmingham airports by the M42 and will become a new international tourist attraction in the East Midlands. The unique race car collection of Donington owner, Tom Wheatcroft, shows the history and development of motorsport valley companies and their F1 cars and sits alongside a new conference centre. It would be a tourist's dream if this could attract some additional cars from the exceptional and rarely seen Ecclestone collection.

We are currently celebrating a young British world champion in Lewis Hamilton, driving for a British team and competing head to head with another outstanding British driver, Jenson Button. Last weekend another British-based team, Red Bull, scored its maiden victory in Shanghai. This is not just an issue of sport, although who can forget Ayrton Senna's wonderful victory at Donington in the rain in the 1993 European Grand Prix? To further showcase to parliamentarians British success in this global industry, which provides so many valuable jobs, the MIA is hosting a motorsport industry day in Parliament on 6 July when industry leaders can meet Ministers, shadow Ministers and other parliamentarians.

We are leaders in a global industry and yet we rely on outdated figures from 2000, stating that sales were £5 billion. Last year I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, to help the MIA and MSA to update their national economic survey of 2000. That would allow them to work closely with government departments to create a well informed development strategy for the industry and sport. I hope that the regions, local authorities and relevant departments will support the MIA and MSA to deliver this research.

The DTI motorsport competitiveness panel recommended that the Government should access appropriate resources to ensure that the UK continues to host key world-class motorsports events, such as the British Grand Prix. The Minister for Sport said categorically last November that the Government would give their full support to make certain that we keep the British Grand Prix in this country. That is much appreciated by the British motorsport industry. I know that the Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, is well aware of the importance of this. I have met the owners of Donington Park. They do not seek any free state aid or a government handout. They would like to secure constructive support and positive encouragement from the Government to help them through these difficult times. Mr. Ecclestone has made it clear in a letter that I have seen that should Donington fail to meet its obligations, the Grand Prix would be lost to the UK. With pressure from other countries to join the F1 calendar, South Korea hosting its first race next year and India the year after, it would not be relocated elsewhere here. There would be no British Grand Prix, which would be a disaster.

I urge the Government to give a clear, positive statement of support for the British Grand Prix at Donington and to use all their influence to bring together resources from the regions, central and local government and the respective tourist boards to ensure that Britain hosts for years to come the world's most prestigious motorsport competition. Such a confident statement will influence bankers, investors and overseas companies to confirm their investment plans to support the British Grand Prix and so bring welcome employment and job security to many in the regions and the wider Motorsport Valley business community.