Inside Parliament: Minister says sale of car-maker not end of the road : Cook urges talks on national strategy for industry - Airport tax delayed - Speaker upbraids MP for using Commons' emblem

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Indy Politics
BMW may be the quintessence of German industry, but Minister of State Tim Sainsbury will continue to regard its Rover group subsidiary at Cowley and Longbridge as British.

What constituted an indigenous industry was one that operated in Britain, the industry minister told the Commons as Labour greeted the takeover of the last home-owned volume car maker as a 'disaster' for manufacturing industry.

'The ownership of the company seems to me to be not only secondary but far down the line of importance,' Mr Sainsbury said after making a statement to MPs. Rover would continue, but in the ownership of BMW which could contribute cash for investment and access to markets, he insisted. 'No company is going to invest pounds 800m to bring a business to an end.'

Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, recalled that the Government sold Rover to British Aerospace in 1988 for pounds 150m - or pounds 106m after the deduction of hidden 'sweeteners'. The sale to BMW at five times the original price was 'proof Rover was sold at a knock down price to BAe and at a rip-off to the British taxpayer'.

The decision had nothing to do with whether BMW was a better partner than Honda and everything to do with BAe's 'desperate need for cash', Mr Cook said. Since the beginning of the year BAe had announced five separate redundancy packages ctting 1,900 jobs in a most skilled workforce.

He urged Mr Sainsbury to accept the invitation of BAe's chief executive to talk about a strategy for the industry - and do so before he had to come to the House and announce the passage of the aerospace industry into foreign ownership.

Malcolm Bruce, for the Liberal Democrats, regretted that a company which had achieved such success was unable to find a British buyer. His reaction was typical. Despite Labour protests about job security, the underlying tone from both sides of the chamber was of resignation.

Peter Shore, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Stepney, said it was 'a shameful sell-out of major long-term British interests for short-term financial gain . . . The heart of the matter is that all future decisions affecting jobs, investment, export and other major policies of this great British company will be decided not here in Britain, but in Germany, according to the interests of that great German company.' Mr Sainsbury said decisions would be taken in the marketplace.

Jeff Rooker, Labour MP for Perry Barr, lamented the collapse of Britain's capacity to fund its own industries. But he preferred a European-based volume car maker to the 'creeping Japanisation of British manufacturing industry'.

Not so Sir Teddy Taylor, MP for Southend East, who would have opted for a future with Honda rather than 'an ailing German giant'. His Tory colleague Simon Coombs, MP for Swindon, urged the minister to 'learn the lesson from the fact that there is no potential British purchaser of this excellent company'. But he did not spell it out.

To laughter, John Carlisle, Conservative MP for Luton North, hoped BMW would preserve the Rover dealer network. The non-executive director of Bletchley Motors, said he had sold Rover cars through the company to both sides of the House 'and indeed taken inquiries for BMW from the opposition side on frequent occasions'.

In a rare piece of good tax news, Sir John Cope, the Paymaster General, announced that the introduction of airport departure tax is to be put back one month to November. Passengers face a tax of pounds 5 for flights within the UK and pounds 10 for flights elsewhere.

Sir John said Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, had agreed to a deferral because many tour operators had sold holidays up to the end of October. 'It would be unreasonable to expect tour operators to take the theoretical possibility of new taxes into account when they entered into guarantees on prices.'

Speaking as MPs began the committee stage of the Finance Bill, which will enact the Budget, Sir John said the one-month delay would reduce the estimated revenue yield for 1994-95 from pounds 115m to pounds 90m.

Andrew Smith, a Labour Treasury spokesman, said the tax would add to travellers' costs and put at risk jobs in the airline and tourism industries. Small island communities would be particularly hard hit with some fares maybe rising by 15 per cent.

Sir John said that, if anything, the tax was likely to have a small but positive effect on UK tourism. Even if some tourists were deterred from coming to Britain, more UK residents were likely to be deterred from going overseas. He acknowledged the concern about the effect on travel within the highlands and islands of Scotland. That was why exemptions for aircraft carrying fewer than 20 passengers had been granted. Labour claim this is of more help to jet-owning friends of the Conservative Party than islanders, since many of the aircraft concerned carry more than 20 passengers.

Jim Wallace, Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, said air travel was a 'lifeline' in remoter parts of Scotland. He hoped the door was not shut on an extension of the exemptions. But Sir John told MPs: 'We remain of the view that it would not be appropriate to provide exemptions for certain parts of the community.'

Edwina Currie has been admonished by Speaker Betty Boothroyd for unauthorised use of the emblem of the House of Commons on the cover of her book A Parliamentary Affair - where the portcullis appears on seam-stockinged leg.

Mentioning no names, Miss Boothroyd made a brief statement reminding MPs of their duty to uphold the dignity of the place. Any intended use of the portcullis must be submitted for approval, she said, 'and no permission will be given if the use could possibly reflect adversely on the House or be misunderstood'.

'Where's Currie?' shouted Bolsover's Dennis Skinner. The MP for Derbyshire South, his near-neighbour geographically speaking, was not present. Andrew Faulds, Labour MP for Warley East, suggested Mrs Currie should be 'open to some sort of penalty'. But after repeating that it was a general reminder, even Miss Boothroyd unwittingly joined the promotional effort. 'The case that Mr Faulds has referred to I have already dealt with,' she added.