HC Deb 05 April 1976 vol 909 cc19-22
12. Mr. Lawson

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what objectives have been set for British Leyland against which further tranches of public money will be made available.

Mr. Varley

I refer the hon. Member to the reply my hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) on 26th January.

Mr. Lawson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that reply was wholly unsatisfactory? Is he further aware that it is fatuous to say that the next tranche of taxpayers' money will be dependent upon certain objectives being met unless those objectives are publicly and precisely disclosed in advance? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in the light of the company's lamentable performance to date, notably in the field of industrial disputes, it would be wrong to release the next tranche of public money——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have been the most patient man this afternoon, but a number of hon. Members are turning supplementary questions into little speeches.

Mr. Varley

Conservative Members—I do not necessarily say the hon. Gentleman himself—seem to think that there is some precise arithmetical formula that one can use to measure performance within a particular industry and that if that is not met the further tranche of money has to be stopped. We have made it plain again and again—and the Prime Minister made it plain on 24th April last year—that the further release of funds is conditional upon improvement in performance and industrial relations. I want to see British Leyland a success, and I know that that view is shared by those who work there.

Mr. Les Huckfield

In connection with British Leyland's export objectives, following the report that British Leyland is off the Arab boycott there is the possibility of increased trade with Arab countries, but will my right hon. Friend do his best to ensure that British Leyland sticks to the existing obligations and contracts that it has with Israel?

Mr. Varley

I have seen Press reports about this. As I understand it, there has been no change in British Leyland's policy towards Israel, and, as I think my hon. Friend is aware, the Government are opposed to any boycott that lacks international support and authority.

Mr. Hal Miller

Will the right hon. Gentleman reaffirm the statement made to this House by the then Prime Minister that the operating prospectuses and programmes of British Leyland, together with the comments of the National Enterprise Board, will be made available to the House before the next tranche of public money is supplied?

Mr. Varley

I do not know about the "then Prime Minister". The hon. Gentleman is jumping the gun a little. The change of Prime Minister does not take place until later today. I confirm that it is the Government's intention to give as much information as possible about the performance of British Leyland before the next tranche of money goes in.

Mr. Robinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that mistaken management decisions taken last year on a reduced vehicle build programme, on wasteful and unnecessary voluntary redundancy programmes and, indeed, on wasteful and unnecessary sales promotion programmes have done as much to damage production, sales and profits at British Leyland as all the strikes last year and this year put together?

Mr. Varley

My hon. Friend speaks with great authority on these matters. These are issues primarily for the NEB, which has a responsibility for monitoring the performance of British Leyland. I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's comments are drawn to the Board's attention.

Mr. Heseltine

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Ryder strategy was full of precise arithmetical formulae and that by suggesting, as he has done today, that these have been set on one side he will increase the impression that the Government will put more money into British Leyland regardless of any targets that may or may not be achieved? Will he further remember that the CPRS Report recommended that there should be specific targets and that——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The same rule about supplementary questions applies to the Front Bench as to the Back Benches.

Mr. Varley

I have not given the impression this afternoon that British Ley-land's performance will not be monitored by the NEB. It will be, and as much information as practical will be given to the House.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join those on this side of the House who want to see British Leyland a success. We get the impression from time to time that Tory Members are disappointed that British Leyland has not gone under. It is about time that, instead of criticising in the way that he does, the hon. Gentleman said he wants to see a substantial and internationally competitive motor car industry in this country. If he were to say that, he would be much better received.