HC Deb 02 April 1979 vol 965 cc918-21
7. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when a version of the British Leyland corporate plan will be placed in the Library.

Mr. Varley

I am today placing in the Library of the House a report by the National Enterprise Board on BL's corporate plan and performance in 1978. The Government have accepted the NEB's recommendations that we should continue to support BL's plans and that, on the assumption that the Industry Bill becomes law, the NEB should provide £150 million in new equity funds to assist in meeting BL's financial requirements in 1979.

Mr. Miller

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, but will he tell the House whether the corporate plan foresaw any collaboration with the Japanese in the production of motor vehicles in this country? Will he give us an assurance that any agreement so reached will be subject to approval by this House, in view of the extent of public funds involved? Will he also give us an assurance that the £150 million is for current projects of BL and is in no way connected with those which might be the subject of any such agreement with the Japanese?

Mr. Varley

I too have seen the speculative newspaper reports, but the NEB—in reports to this House last year and in the continuing reports—has always said that it takes note of BL's wish to establish co-operative ventures on a mutually convenient basis with other countries and with foreign companies. The Government share that view, as I made plain when we last debated this matter in the House a few months ago. It is for British Leyland to judge, in the first instance, which companies and which projects offer the best opportunity, but I give the House the assurance that, in the last analysis, it will be for the NEB and for the Government to approve any joint venture.

Mr. Litterick

Does the Secretary of State agree that, should there be a change of Government, the funds to which he referred would, as the Financial Times put it today, be at risk, and that therefore future projects such as the further development of the Land-Rover, the Range Rover, the super Mini and the Marina substitute project would be jeopardised, and with them the jobs of many thousands of British Leyland workers?

Mr. Varley

I am not at all sure about the Opposition's policy on British Leyland or the NEB. It is not very clear. For example, the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said on one occasion that he is very much in favour of the NEB and wants to support it. He gave a press interview in Birmingham at which he said he was in favour of British Leyland. I am not quite so sure about the attitude of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). I think that it is still official Conservative policy that the NEB should be abolished.—[Interruption.]—There we have confirmation from the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) will note that. British Leyland has made progress over the last 12 months. There is no doubt about that. The workers and management of British Leyland have improved their overall performance significantly.

Sir Keith Joseph

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember emphasising on many occasions that further cash from the taxpayer for British Leyland would depend upon rising output per man and a rising market share? Have output per man and market share improved?

Mr. Varley

The House will note that the right hon. Gentleman has not confirmed whether he and his party, if they had the chance, would continue to support British Leyland. That will be noted in such places as Birmingham and Oxford. The right hon. Gentleman knows that BL's performance has improved over the past 12 months. The future prospects of BL depend, of course, on improving performance, on ensuring that there is not an interruption in production and on getting the products into the showroom quickly. I have said that on many occasions and it is widely accepted not only in this House but in British Leyland.

Mr. Crouch

The Secretary of State has asked about the Opposition's policy on the NEB and on BL. What is the Government's policy? What is the Secretary of State's policy about advancing more and more taxpayers' money to BL? Already more than £600 million of taxpayers' money has been advanced to British Leyland, and now the right hon. Gentleman is talking of another £150 million. What is the limit in the mind of the Secretary of State as to how much taxpayers' money he is prepared to invest in British Leyland?

Mr. Varley

Our policies on British Leyland and on the National Enterprise Board are clear. They have been made clear on every possible occasion in the House. We shall want to see the NEB strengthened, because it has been one of the most helpful industrial organisations to be established since the war. The only doubt is whether, should the Opposition be elected to power, that organisation will continue. I am not sure that, if the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) were to represent British Leyland workers in any part of the country, he would take the attitude that he is adopting today. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller), who put down the question, has never taken that view. In fact, I think that he will be taking a contrary view from that of the hon. Member for Canterbury when he faces the electorate.

Mr. Madden

First, how many jobs would be lost directly if British Leyland were to collapse? Secondly, how many jobs would be lost indirectly, particularly among workers in component and other supplying companies to British Leyland throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Varley

I do not have the precise figures in my head, but about 200,000 people work directly for British Leyland. Probably twice as many work for the supplying companies. British Leyland is still our largest exporter, and that fact should be borne in mind by all hon. Members.