HC Deb 08 November 1976 vol 919 cc1-4
1. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what recent discussions he has held with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders on future prospects for the industry.

The Under-Secretary of State for Industry (Mr. Bob Cryer)

This Department is regularly in touch with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders about the future prospects of the industry.

Mr. Dykes

Are Ministers prepared now to set up an official inquiry into the disturbing allegations of corrupt payments in British Leyland?

Mr. Cryer

I understand that the matter is being investigated by the com- pany through the normal company disciplinary procedures. I understand that the AUEW, the union concerned, is anxious that the matter should be cleared up as soon as possible, but it is no part of the Department's duty to conduct an investigation and the matter is best left where it is, in the hands of the company.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Is not a more important factor the fact that foreign importers have now achieved a 42 per cent, penetration of the British market? Does not my hon. Friend agree that we now need something more than exhortation from the Prime Minister to get people to buy British? Do we not rather need curbs on these foreign imports?

Mr. Cryer

In the first eight months of this year, the total balance for car, car components and commercial vehicle components was £727 million as opposed to £595 million for the comparable eight months in 1975. I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety, and, of course, the Department is very much concerned that that level of imports should not be maintained. We hope that in future the British motor car industry will make a much bigger impact on sales in this country.

Mr. Stokes

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of the reasons for low productivity is the lack of incentive for skilled men and managers? Is he further aware that over 50 members of the tool-room of British Leyland at Longbridge have written to me complaining about the erosion of differentials? Surely the labourer is worthy of his hire.

Mr. Cryer

I am surprised at the direction in which some messages are sent these days by members of toolrooms. The Government recognise that the British trade union movement has made an enormous sacrifice this year and last year in contributing to the social contract. One hopes that that sacrifice is recognised by the management side of British industry by improving and increasing the level of investment in industry.

Mr. Heseltine

While on a purely personal basis one welcomes the Undersecretary on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box, may I ask the Secretary of State to understand that some of us are surprised that he did not himself choose to answer this critical Question about a critical industry? Will the hon. Gentleman take seriously the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes)? The allegations about British Leyland, about both union and management, are very serious. Does not the Secretary of State think that there should be an independent inquiry so that the allegations may be disposed of rapidly one way or another?

Mr. Cryer

We understand the seriousness of the allegations, but it is not for the Department to give credence to these serious allegations. We are satisfied that the company and the unions are co-operating in investigating them to the fullest extent. I should have thought that it would be better, since they are only allegations, for the Department to reserve judgment in this instance until we receive the sort of evidence that the Department of Trade received, for instance, in the case of Lonrho. When we receive that standard of evidence, we shall be in a much better position to make judgments.

Mr. Heffer

Is my hon. Friend aware that no one in the trade union movement would condone any such things as have been suggested, if they are going on? However, is he also aware that over the years, particularly in the construction industry, the docks and the ship repairing industry, many workers had to go to bosses in order to get jobs and trade unionists were excluded because they refused to accept that sort of prac- tice? What then did the Opposition do about that sort of practice?

Mr. Cryer

I take my hon. Friend's point, but I should like to reiterate that we would not wish to comment on the particular allegations, since they are entirely allegations and no evidence has been provided so far—[Interruption.] As far as we understand them, no evidence has been provided to the Department. We are satisfied that the company is conducting investigations in accordance with the correct disciplinary procedures.

Mr. Heseltine

Will the Undersecretary think again about his answer, particularly since the Department of Trade set up an inquiry into Lonrho and, therefore, the facts were independently considered? That is precisely what we suggest should happen in the case of British Leyland.

Mr. Cryer

The hon. Gentleman has taken a long time to think of that supplementary question. Whenever further substantial evidence of this sort of allegation is presented to the Department, we shall have to review the position.

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