Trade Minister Lord Jones of Birmingham has warned that Britain risks driving away car manufacturers employing thousands of workers in the West Midlands, after it emerged the Government planned to axe Jaguars from the Ministerial fleet.
Digby Jones, the former CBI leader who now sits in the House of Lords as a member of Gordon Brown's Government, insisted he won't give up his own official car – which is a Jaguar. He was speaking after it emerged plans to dump British-built cars for "green" Japanese alternatives had led to a major row in the Cabinet.
Business Secretary John Hutton led criticism of proposals to ensure all official cars used by Ministers and civil servants produced carbon emissions below 130g per km – ruling out Jaguars such as those built at Castle Bromwich, in Birmingham.
They will be replaced by low-emission vehicles such as the Toyota Prius, made in Japan. He was backed by other senior ministers including Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, and Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary.
But others, including Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, and Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, supported the directive.
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman yesterday insisted there would be no U-turn over the policy. He said: "Over the last two years, the Government Car Agency has shifted to green cars, and that has led to a 30 per cent reduction to average emissions.
"We will now accelerate the pace of transition to low emissions vehicles, taking into account operational and security requirements."
Officially, the only exception will be for Ministers requiring adapted vehicles for security reasons, but Lord Jones has insisted he will continue to use his 2-litre X-type Jaguar, made at the firms' Liverpool site.
Speaking to The Birmingham Post, he stressed he had the personal support of the Prime Minister in continuing to use a British vehicle.
But he warned: "I'm very proud to wave the Jaguar flag. Jaguar is a fantastic British car manufacturer and I want to wave it all I can. Going overseas in my role promoting British business, I see that there is a huge demand for brands such as Bentley, Aston Martin, Land Rover and Jaguar.
"They are selling around the world, and creating jobs and paying tax in Britain. It is important that we achieve a balance between encouraging these firms to develop cleaner vehicles and making sure they know they are welcome."
He added: "What we should not be doing is discriminating against them to the point at which they feel they are not wanted. It is very important in Birmingham particularly, because of Jaguar and Land Rover, that we put a big sign up saying, 'you are welcome, we want you to make your cars in Britain'.
"They are not going to stop making those cars, because there is demand for them all over the world. But if we put up a sign saying they are not wanted, then these manufacturers will go and make them somewhere else."
Jaguar and its sister business Land Rover, based in Solihull, employ 12,000 people in the region.
Labour MP Siôn Simon (Lab Erdington), whose constituency includes the Castle Bromwich factory, condemned the policy.
He said: "The fact that there are Cabinet Ministers who think it is a good idea to import cars half way around the world from Japan, instead of Jaguars which have the cleanest diesel engines in the world, made here in Birmingham, is very worrying."
"It is important to save the planet and it is important to save British jobs too, and we can do both. The job of Government is to support British jobs, not to import foreign gimmicky cars."
Jaguar was building state-of-the art diesel vehicles using the latest technology, he said.
A spokesman for Jaguar said the manufacturer had invested £700 million in developing new technology to improve the environmental performance of its products. He said: "It is important for the Government to fly the flag for its own industries."
Jaguar generated significant income for Britain through extensive export programmes, he added.
The Prius uses a hybrid engine, which generates electric power as the car travels and uses less petrol than traditional engines. This means it produces fewer carbon emissions linked to global warming.
However, critics of the Prius say that the complex production techniques required to manufacture the engine mean far more pollution is created building the car than with other vehicles.
They also claim that Prius enthusiasts fail to take into account the pollution involved in importing vehicles from overseas, rather than using home-built products.