HC Deb 23 February 1970 vol 796 cc810-2
33. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Technology in view of the further disputes and stoppages affecting motor car production, increases in steel prices, wage and salary advances and continuing Government restraints on home market production, what estimate of motor car output and prices he has now made for 1970, both for export and home markets; and whether he will make a statement.

57. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Technology what is the latest estimate he has made of United Kingdom production of motor cars for home and export markets during 1970.

Mr. Benn

I expect production for both home and export markets to reach at least the lower end of the range forecast by the Motor Manufacturing E.D.C., i.e., an increase of about 10 per cent. in total production over 1969. As to prices, I would refer to the reply given to the hon. Member on 16th February. On the general situation, I have nothing to add to the very full statement which I made in the House in the debate on 11th February.—[Vol. 796, c. 30–1; Vol. 795, c. 1280–94.]

Sir G. Nabarro

What level of stoppages due to strikes has the right hon. Gentleman taken into account in formulating the estimate which he has just given? Secondly, what does he think about the increase in prices of up to £100 per motor car, due to the inflationary policies of the Government, all announced last Friday? What influence will that have on the future trend of export sales?

Mr. Benn

I can only repeat that the forecast was made by the E.D.C., which is made up, of course, of representatives of the manufacturers and the unions and independent people, as well as the representative from my Department. The forecast is for a 10 per cent. increase this year on the basis of the existing economic environment. Beyond that, all forecasts are bound to be uncertain to some extent; but this forecast is very encouraging.

Mr. Biffen

In view of the highly arbitrary and selective nature of credit control which is contained within the present hire-purchase restrictions, will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his rather disappointing earlier attitude and give the motor industry some go ahead by relieving it from these restrictions?

Mr. Benn

I have not changed my view from that which I expressed on 11th February. However, the hon. Gentleman does less than justice to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has been developing credit measures which are rather more general in character and offer some reasonable hope that the selective measures which the motor industry has found difficult to meet will in future be less necessary to the management of the economy.

Mr. Robert Howarth

Would my right hon. Friend say whether there were any price increases for motor cars during the period of the Tory Government and, if so, what the reasons for them were?

Mr. Benn

This is what makes it difficult to have discussions about economic planning decisions across the Floor of the House. To hear the questions of hon. Members opposite, one would think that there had never been any strikes or price increases under the Tory Government.

Sir K. Joseph

We are glad to know that the Minister expects at least the lower end of the E.D.C. bracket to be reached. He will know that that bracket refers to registrations. Does he expect imports to rise and, therefore, erode the domestic producers' share of that bracket?

Mr. Benn

That depends on how competitive the British motor industry is. It remains true that our percentage of imports grows, but it is still much lower than some of our main competitors, including the Germans. It is tending to rise, but that is inevitable as people buy more in a worldwide sense and do not limit themselves simply to the home market. But we should not leave out of account the fact that the forecast also shows an export record of 5 per cent. higher than last year, which was itself a record.