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UK Automotive Industry: Job Losses — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:16 am on 22nd May 2018.

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Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Public Health) 10:16 am, 22nd May 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank my hon. Friend Matt Western for securing this important debate.

As many of my colleagues will know, Nissan has a large plant in my constituency, which employs about 7,000 people directly and 28,000 in the UK supply chain. It contributes significantly to the local and national economy. Nissan recently announced job losses at the plant, which was of course hugely disappointing news. Many people will have been concerned about the announcement, but I understand from speaking to Nissan at the time that, although it was unfortunate, the decision was due to anticipated drops in demand for vehicles currently under production. Based on business projections, it is expected that making the changes will allow for increased production of newer models in the future that will therefore provide more jobs in the long term.

With the uncertainty around the diesel industry because of Brexit, the move towards electric vehicles and drops in consumer confidence after the emissions scandal, it is easy to see how any loss of jobs can be seen as part of a wider concern. The motor vehicle manufacturing industry provided 7% of all UK manufacturing jobs in 2016, and it is only right to follow any changes closely and act to prevent further losses. With those points in mind, I want to talk about the Government’s target to ban all sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

The UK is in the grip of an air pollution crisis—the Environment Secretary was talking about it this morning—with pollutants responsible for 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK. I see two problems with the target however. First, it is not ambitious enough to deal with the environmental issue with sufficient urgency or to ensure that the UK maintains its leadership on electric vehicles. Research shows that bringing the target forward by 10 years could nearly halve UK oil imports, support a larger number of jobs overall in the automotive sector and reduce total cumulative carbon dioxide emissions in a shorter period. Is the Minister’s Department currently considering bringing the target forward?

Secondly, I do not see how consumers are being assisted in the industry-wide move away from more polluting cars and, ultimately, towards electric vehicles. Reaching any target will require a seismic change in consumer behaviour. In 2009, the Labour Government introduced a vehicle scrappage scheme designed to help the motor industry through the recession following the global financial crisis. It was co-funded by the Government and the car industry, and 400,000 claims were submitted. If we are now to expect consumers to move away from older and more polluting diesel and petrol vehicles, often at some expense, is it not right that the Government should assist them to do so, particularly when we consider that, historically, many consumers were encouraged to purchase diesel vehicles?

I had a lot more to say, but I shall leave my remarks there, to give other Members their moment in the sun.