HC Deb 28 November 1977 vol 940 cc13-8
10. Mr. Richard Page

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next will meet the Chairman of British Leyland.

11. Mr. Durant

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he will next meet the Chairman of British Leyland.

Mr. Varley

I am due to see the Chairman of British Leyland later today.

Mr. Page

I acknowledge my own interest. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the new chairman is fully aware of the vital necessity of having a planned range of models throughout the Leyland range, and, in particular, to work on progress towards a new fleet and a medium-size family saloon? To that end, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, if extra finance is needed, adequate parliamentary time and discussion will be made available?

Mr. Varley

As the hon. Gentleman concedes, the model range is a matter for British Leyland. I know that the new Chairman of British Leyland is fully aware of that factor. As for parliamentary debate and time, I shall give consideration to that plea.

Mr. Durant

I press the right hon. Gentleman further about the middle-range car. Is he aware that the distributors are very anxious to have a middle-range car? They are not convinced of the merits of the new Mini.

Mr. Varley

That is a matter for the British Leyland board. I shall draw its attention to the hon. Gentleman's interest.

Mr. Litterick

Will my right hon. Friend urge on the new Chairman of British Leyland the need to integrate his company's expansion plans with the investment and production plans of the British machine-tool industry? To that end, will he tell the House when he expects to have planning agreements with both British Leyland and the major British machine-tool manufacturers?

Mr. Varley

The need to relate British Leyland's plans to those of the British machine-tool industry is a matter that is already being considered by British Leyland. As for planning arrangements with British Leyland, my hon. Friend will be aware that there are participation arrangements. They were agreed during the time of the Ryder Report. Some of them have been successful, but, unfortunately, some of the trade unions have not been taking part in the discussions. I hope that they will do so.

Mr. Hal Miller

Would the Secretary of State explain to the Chairman of British Leyand that the House voted funds for British Leyland on the basis of the Ryder plan and that if that is now changed or overtaken by events it will be necessary to come back to the House for approval of funding?

Mr. Varley

The National Enterprise Board will receive British Leyland's corporate plan at around the turn of the year. It will be for the Government to decide how we make our views known to the House. I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman had to say.

Sir K. Joseph

In the light of the difficulties with British Leyland, steel, ships and aeroplanes, does the Secretary of State still believe in Clause 4?

Mr. Varley

The right hon. Gentleman should do a check list of the 1974 Labour Party manifesto. He would see that the only aspect of those manifestos which has not been fulfilled is that which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick). We have not made as much progress as we should have done on planning agreements. The Labour Party stands for the expansion of public ownership, and we are doing that.

17. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what further plans he has to hold discussions on future prospects for British Leyland with the group's management and with the National Enterprise Board.

Mr. Les Huckfield

British Leyland is preparing a revised corporate plan on the basis of which the National Enterprise Board will report to my right hon. Friend on the company's future strategy. Discussions will be held as necessary.

Mr. Dykes

I missed the first part of the answer but I thank the Minister for it. As the Government are inevitably involved, because of Government money, and as the Secretary of State said five weeks ago that time was running out for British Leyland, will the Minister add to his answer and say what is happening about future investment perspectives and the intention to put more money into the industry and the company?

Mr. Huckfield

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will realise that with a new chairman and chief executive the corporate plan is being revised. When that is presented to the NEB and to my right hon. Friend, we can comment.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Will my hon. Friend give details of how many people now employed in the industry and in components industries would be unemployed if British Leyland had failed? Will the Government take action to ensure that we have a "Buy British" campaign for the products of British Leyland?

Mr. Huckfield

I thank my hon. Friend for his very helpful attitude, which is certainly more helpful than that of the Opposition to British Leyland these days. I think that the original estimate, at the time when British Leyland was assisted with Government finance, in April 1975, was that the workers directly employed and the indirect dependants accounted for about 1 million jobs at stake. As for buying British, I take note of what my hon. Friend says. This is something that we continue to examine.

Mr. Norman Lamont

As the management of British Leyland has invested so much time in negotiating a common bargaining date and a new pay structure, which has now been vetoed by the Trades Union Congress, will the Government make it quite clear that they will back the management of British Leyland if that is what it wants?

Mr. Huckfield

This is a matter still under consideration by my right hon. Friend and by the Government. Obviously, what the TUC has said will be taken into account.

21. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he is satisfied that British Leyland now has a feasible programme for returning to commercial viability.

Mr. Varley

I am awaiting the report which the National Enterprise Board will make to me when it has received and considered British Leyland's revised corporate plan.

Mr. Arnold

What specific criteria will the Government adopt this time in assessing whether British Leyland's production targets are sufficiently precise?

Mr. Varley

It depends on the plan that we shall receive and the amount of resources that will be required. It is not only a matter of resources from public funds but what we hope British Leyland will be able to generate from profits. It is clear—and the House now realises it—that the market share position of British Leyland is extremely serious. The Ryder plan for British Leyland envisaged a market share of 33 per cent. and the present figure is much lower than that. But I have confidence that the newly-established British Leyland board will tackle this as quickly as possible.

Mr. Litterick

Would the Secretary of State now like to have a second try at answering the question as to when he expects to conclude a planning agreement with British Leyland, this time without confusing us with the abortive participation agreement between management and workers at British Leyland?

Mr. Varley

I am sorry if my hon. Friend did not understand what I was saying last time round. I am sure that he, like most of us on this Bench, regrets very much that the participation scheme is not being carried through, but I know of no constraints and no difficulties to prevent British Leyland and the work force from concluding a planning agreement if they want to do so.

Mr. Hal Miller

Does the Secretary of State accept that the commercial viability of the remainder of the British car industry rests on its being organised on a European basis? Has he thought about such an arrangement for British Leyland also?

Mr. Varley

The other British motor car manufacturers have integrated some of their operations within Europe. A protocol has been signed between British Leyland and Renault on technical assistance. I do not know whether it will be possible to build on that, but it is something that British Leyland is looking at.

Mr. George Rodgers

Will my right hon. Friend agree that the bus and truck section of British Leyland continues to operate efficiently and effectively? What is the prospect of funds being made available for the new foundry and engineering centre that is so necessary for the welfare of British Leyland?

Mr. Varley

I know that the bus and truck section operates effectively. I have no details about the foundry and the other matters, but perhaps I may write to my hon. Friend about them.