HC Deb 15 March 1973 vol 852 cc1483-6
Mr. Hattersley

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions his Department has had with BSA Ltd. about the future of the company and if he will make a statement on the prospects of that company.

The Minister for Industrial Development (Mr. Christopher Chataway)

I am having discussions not only with BSA but with Manganese Bronze, whose subsidiary, Norton Villiers, is the second largest British motor cycle manufacturer. Manganese Bronze has expressed an interest in taking over all or part of BSA and has put certain proposals to the Government. I will keep the House informed of the outcome of these further discussions.

Mr. Hattersley

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that 18 months ago 3,000 men employed by this company were tragically made redundant? We were told that their redundancy was a sacrifice which was necessary to make the company viable in future. In the light of that, I have three specific questions.

First, if the future employment of the present 6,000 BSA employees is dependent upon a temporary Government loan or a financial measure of some sort, can we be assured that it will be forthcoming?

Secondly, is it not about time that the entire British motor cycle industry was rationalised, with Government backing and support, into a single company which could provide some sort of security and stability for the employees of the new company?

Thirdly, notwithstanding what happened on the Stock Market yesterday, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that there is an international demand for the products of BSA and that prospective purchasers both at home and abroad can go on buying BSA in the certainty that their products will continue in being?

Mr. Chataway

I made clear some time ago to BSA that the Government were not able to accede to the request for support which BSA made. So far as the right hon. Gentleman's second and third questions are concerned, it is a belief that there should be one motor cycle company which has inspired the interest of Manganese Bronze. It is true that there are substantial exports by both companies.

Mr. Terry Davis

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when BSA approached the Government for support, when he gave the answer and when the Government received the proposals from Manganese Bronze? When will the Government make up their minds about this proposal?

Mr. Chattway

BSA first approached the Government towards the end of last year and was given an answer to its proposal at the end of the year. I understand that the proposal from Manganese Bronze was formulated in about the middle of February. We shall reach a decision on the matters which concern us as soon as possible.

Mr. Raison

What indications has my right hon. Friend about the future prospects of BSA production specifically?

Mr. Chataway

My Department has been involved for some months in a thorough study, in which outside consultants have taken part, of the British motor cycle industry and the prospects in world markets. Over 90 per cent. of the output of both companies is now exported, and there is the prospect of very considerable export expansion, since there is a rapidly expanding market, particularly in the United States.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge the co-operation of the trade unions in trying to keep this company going, particularly at Triumph Motor Cycles, where many of my constituents work? Will he also accept that the workers in this factory are not given much confidence by the kind of Stock Exchange juggling and bad management they have witnessed recently? If public money is to be put into the new corporation, should there not be an element of public ownership so that at least this House and the workers can have a say in the rationalisation of the industry and we could get a really secure and confident future for them?

Mr. Chataway

I do not believe that the answer to the company's problems lies in nationalisation. I certainly accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the substantial part that has been played by the trade unions in the attempts made over recent years to pull BSA out of the very substantial difficulties in which it was in the late 1960s.

Mr. Stainton

Has my right hon. Friend, through his inquiries of BSA, been able to ascertain whether the problems arose particularly under the heading of management, of finance, or of marketing and design?

Mr. Chataway

I think that there have been and still are problems in all three areas.

Mr. Milan

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the cooperation of the trade unions, is it one of the major aims of the Government to maintain the employment of the 6,000 men involved at BSA at the moment? Secondly, since the announcement today was the first we heard that the Government had turned down BSA's request for assistance under the Industry Act, it appears on the face of it that the decision was leaked and that there was insider dealing on the Stock Exchange yesterday, regardless of the consequences for the survival of this firm and the employment of the several thousand men involved. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to look into that aspect as well?

Mr. Chataway

As I made clear, the answer to BSA was given a long time ago—towards the end of last year. If there were any leak of information to people on the Stock Exchange, that would be a matter for inquiries by the authorities of the Stock Exchange. The objective of any new company, if such does emerge, or of any takeover obviously must be to make the British motor cycle industry competitive in an expanding world market, and it would be wrong for me to offer any guarantee that current employment levels could be maintained.

Mr. Biffen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if Manganese Bronze has concluded that there is a profitable potential in the export of motor cycles to North America, I—and I suspect that I am not alone—would rather that it backed that commercial judgment with its own money than treated our constituents as captive shareholders?

Mr. Chataway

Manganese Bronze has already shown considerable capacity in the North American market. The proposals it has discussed with me involve a very substantial investment by Manganese Bronze in an expanded company. It would be deeply committed.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether, bearing in mind his statement that there is a considerable and expanding export market for the products of this company, the Government recognise an obligation to see that we do not lose our capacity to share in that market?

Mr. Chataway

Certainly the Government have a strong interest in ensuring just that. In the North American market in the 1960s, there was a strong national marketing effort by Japan, which captured a very large share of the market. Manganese Bronze has shown a capacity for expanding its share over recent years.

Mr. Cormaek

Does my right hon. Friend know the degree of Japanese Government involvement in Japan's success in the American market?

Mr. Chataway

As my hon. Friend knows, there is certainly a very close relationship between Government and industry in Japan.

Mr. Hattersley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I rise to ask your advice on what I believe to be a genuine point of order. I understand your reluctance to take a Private Notice Question and a submission under Standing Order No. 9 on the same occasion on the same day, but we are presented with an unusual situation.

We have discovered this afternoon for the first time that Government money is not available to BSA, and it would seem superficially that we are presented with a classic Standing Order No. 9 situation in which there is the urgency of the prospect that 6,000 men may become unemployed in a situation related to Government policy, which today we have heard for the first time. Are you prepared to consider a submission under Standing Order No. 9?

Mr. Speaker

Yes. I do not think that I can stop the right hon. Gentleman from making a submission under Standing Order No. 9 at the proper time.