HC Deb 13 March 1978 vol 946 cc23-5
17. Mr. Litterick

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will now take unilateral action to restrict the importation of Japanese manufactured goods into the United Kingdom.

Mr. Meacher

Voluntary arrangements already cover about a third of our imports from Japan, including all the most sensitive sectors.

Mr. Litterick

Will my hon. Friend accept that there wil be great disappointment in Birmingham that the Secretary of State is still content to trust the Japanese and that a continuation of the present policy will merely mean that the Selly Oak labour exchange will become overcrowded? Will he accept a piece of advice and take it on board, namely, that he should bring forward a regulation insisting that all Japanese cars imported into this country satisfy the same technical conditions which they have to satisfy in Japan vis-à-vis environmental pollution?

Mr. Meacher

With regard to trusting the Japanese, they know that my right hon. Friend agreed to forgo certain more formal controls only if they made a clear commitment to restrain their vehicle exports to us in a manner acceptable to us. That is how the matter stands. If the Japanese do not keep to their side of the bargain—although I expect that they will—we are under no obligation to do so.

I appreciate the point my hon. Friend makes about non-tariff barriers. We are concerned about the reduction of non-tariff barriers in Japan and we are using the multilateral trade negotiations to achieve an improvement. But pollution in Japan is noticeably more damaging to health than it is in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Dykes

Does the Minister agree that the best way of getting the Japanese to co-operate fully is not through unilateral negotiations but by negotiation through the EEC, as he himself said earlier when he referred to negotiating pressure?

Mr. Meacher

Certainly the opportunity of gaining an improvement in the situation with the Japanese is aided by the fact that the United Kingdom is negotiating through the EEC, provided, of course, that we can get the agreement of other member States in the first place, which is by no means always the case. But a stronger trading bloc carries greater weight with the Japanese.

Mr. Park

Will my hon. Friend say what steps he is taking to monitor this understanding during the course of the year; or will he wait until the year ends and then, if it goes wrong, try to do something about it? With regard to a Japanese vehicle for disabled people—a point made by the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen)—will my hon. Friend draw to the Secretary of State's attention the fact that GKN has made a prototype vehicle? I should have thought that charity began at home.

Mr. Meacher

I shall look into the general position with regard to vehicles for the disabled, and I shall write to both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen). It is part of the agreement—this was stated by my right hon. Friend on 7th March—that there will be regular reviews to monitor the progress of shipments in relation to the development of the United Kingdom market. We shall therefore have a full opportunity in the early, middle and later parts of the year to see how the level of Japanese shipments is developing with regard to the objectives that we mean to see fulfilled.

Mr. Parkinson

Has the Minister tried to buy a British Leyland car recently? May I tell him that I have—last week—and was quoted four months to six months delivery for the model that I wanted? [HON. MEMBERS: "Which model?"] The model that I wanted. I am proud to declare my interest. It was a Jaguar. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] I am trying to keep up with Ministers and their chauffeur-driven cars. Does the Minister agree that unless we are very careful, and if he listens to his hon. Friends, British taxpayers will find themselves pumping hundreds of millions of pounds into British Leyland and yet be unable to buy a car? I am sure that the Minister would agree that that would be ridiculous.

Mr. Meacher

The alternative side of the coin is that if we do not pump several hundred millions of pounds into capital investment in British Leyland—which that company has needed for decades, particularly with regard to the production of Range Rovers and Land Rovers which are important to exports—no one will be able to buy a British car anyway. Clearly we must do a great deal more than impose restrictions on imports, but unless we have that degree of protection I do not believe that it is possible for the British car industry to survive.