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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 23 April 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Luke Lord Luke Shadow Minister, Culture, Media & Sport, Shadow Minister, Defence 5:00, 23 April 2009

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Astor for introducing this interesting debate. I do not know whether noble Lords are aware of what a great ally of motor racing he is. He has made an exceptional appeal today and I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us.

British Formula 1 racing should be entering a golden period in its history today, with British-built cars dominating and two British drivers as serious challengers for this year's championship. What recent discussions have the Minister and the Government had with Formula 1 authorities about the retention of a British Grand Prix. As my noble friend said, it would be an outright disaster if we were to lose the international and engineering challenge of a British Grand Prix which we have so successfully hosted for more than 50 years.

My noble friend has met the owners of Donington Park, as he said, and it is clear that they do not seek any free state aid or any handout. They would, however, like to secure constructive and positive support and encouragement from the Government to help them through these difficult economic times.

The relationship between the annual British Grand Prix and the Motorsport Valley business cluster is vital. The loss of one would undoubtedly affect the other very seriously, as my noble friend said, and any damage to our international credibility, such as a failure to hold our own Grand Prix, would have devastating economic effects. Does the Minister appreciate also that sponsorship of individual Formula 1 teams is likely to be severely curtailed as major UK-based businesses would almost certainly withdraw their support?

I have been following motor racing for over 50 years and the first British Grand Prix I attended was, I think, 50 years ago at Silverstone. Therefore I am extremely sorry at the turn of events which has occurred. However, that does not mean that I do not support Donington; of course I do. I believe that an up-to-date, first-class circuit, together with some extra facilities that undoubtedly Silverstone does not possess, will have the same, or possibly even greater, encouraging effect on the businesses associated with motor racing, which will, I believe, stay in the UK and indeed in the East Midlands.

Of course, there is also the ongoing effect of a successful British Grand Prix year after year drawing in more and more foreign companies in high technology and hugely benefiting the economy of this country and, specifically, the East Midlands.

A recent Royal Academy of Engineering Survey of over 400 engineering companies revealed that they are already finding it difficult to recruit graduate engineers and anticipate even more skills shortages in the future. What recent discussions has the Minister had with his colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families about encouraging the take up of subjects such as science and engineering? Does he accept that if we fail to achieve a change, the motor sport industry, which is worth some £5 billion to our economy, will be forced to relocate abroad regardless of whether we still have a British Grand Prix?

I want from these Benches to strongly support my noble friend's efforts to persuade the Government to give a clear and positive statement of support for the British Grand Prix at Donington and to use all their influence to ensure that Britain continues to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix. As my noble friend said, if such a statement is made, it will undoubtedly influence bankers, investors and overseas companies to confirm their investment plans, and we would very much welcome this.