HC Deb 27 November 1968 vol 774 cc490-1
18. Mr. Newens

asked the Minister of Technology if he will take steps to ensure that international companies operating in Great Britain do not exclude, as a consequence of rationalisation, products made at their factories in this country from vital world markets which are then assigned to their foreign-based plants.

Mr. Benn

I am well aware of the problem here. I shall seek assurances where appropriate and watch the situation carefully.

Mr. Newens

Is my right hon. Friend aware of reports that the Ford Motor Company is planning to transfer the export market in North America for cars to Ford of Germany? Would this not have a very detrimental effect on our exports if it were carried out, and will he ensure that the interests of achieving a healthy balance of payments are put before the individual private interests of any such organisation?

Mr. Benn

This really encroaches upon the next Question that my hon. Friend has on the Order Paper, but I am happy to answer them together. The relationship between national interests and the rationalisation policies pursued by international companies is a very interesting one to which a great deal more thought has to be given. International companies own about 10 per cent. of our industry and do about 20 per cent. of our exports. Ford has had an £850 million net balance in exports in the last few years, and £200 million this year. We have done quite well out of the exports of these big international companies.

Sir G. Nabarro

Would the right hon. Gentleman resist any narrow and introverted blandishments from the benches behind him and recognise that West Germany is Britain's second largest export market after the United States of America and that we do not want to take action which is likely to diminish that important export trade?

Mr. Benn

Certainly I will note that, and I would agree with the hon. Gentleman that he would never be guilty of a narrow introverted blandishment.

Mr. Moonman

Putting on one side narrow extroverted or introverted blandishments, would my right hon. Friend say how many other companies since 1960 have been asked to honour their assurances? If this information is not available, will he make it available?

Mr. Benn

I will look at that. I was involved in two other cases. One was Chrysler and Rootes, and the other was Philips and Pye. I will see what others there were, if any.

Mr. David Price

Will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the logic of modern technological development is for the emergence of cross-frontier companies, whether American or British in origin? Will he ask his right hon. Friends, when making arrangements for immediate economic difficulties, to bear that fact more in mind than has been done in the case of the special deposits on imports?

Mr. Benn

I am aware of this. But the hon. Gentleman will be aware that, as the international companies develop, national Governments, including our own, will be reduced to the status of parish councils in dealing with the large corporations which will span the world. That is a real problem to which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will need to give careful attention.