HC Deb 22 October 1979 vol 972 cc23-5
22. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the balance for the combined values of trade in motor vehicles and components for the first nine months of the current year.

Mr. Nott

Trade figures for motor vehicle manufacturing in the first nine months of 1979 are not yet available. The balance of trade for the first six months shows a deficit of £461 million.

Mr. Miller

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a most disturbing development? For the first time there is an adverse balance on the combined products of the industry. Does he further agree that the answer to that situation lies not in import controls but in increased production and new models? Will he therefore consider lending his voice to those who are urging the British Leyland work force to accept the company's plan for new models and increased production, against the advice of their shop stewards?

Mr. Nott

I certainly share my hon. Friend's desire that the arrangements that are being suggested should be viewed favourably by the British Leyland work force. I do not wish to be drawn further into this question at present because it is clearly in a very delicate position. The deficit on motor vehicles and components is a most worrying development. We had a very substantial surplus in this area of industrial activity only a year or two ago. The turn around is very serious.

Mr. Cryer

Is it not characteristic of our membership of the EEC that we continue to have a deficit in virtually every area of activity? Is not the only solution to regulate our trade by some sort of quota arrangement so that we may make up the deficiencies of private enterprise of the past and invest in our motor industry and components supply industry so that we may effectively compete in world markets? Until that investment is made and until BL is given the green light to go ahead with investment we shall continue to see our motor industry sink in much the same way as our motor cycle industry.

Mr. Nott

It is not clear to me why the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) should imagine that putting up quotas and other controls against imports of goods would make our manufacturers more competitive. I cannot accept that argument. Such a move would also limit the choice of people in this country who want a choice of goods. It would put up the prices of goods in the domestic market. I remind the hon. Gentleman that a third of our gross national product goes into exports—a greater proportion than that of any other major country in the world? How can he imagine that we should continue to export a third of our GNP if we started putting up barriers against other people's exports to us?

Mr. Dykes

Bearing in mind that this country is committed by both philosophy and international agreement to free trade, will my right hon. Friend go further and confirm that the only way in which we can rescue ourselves from our industrial malaise is by increasing our productivity and our exports? Is he aware that 13 French cars are exported to us for every one of our cars exported to France?

Mr. Nott

Over the years successive Governments have looked at every policy option. Some Governments have looked at every gimmick. However, in the last resort the only answer is for there to be an increase in productivity and output here at home. There is no other solution.

Mr. Park

Does the Secretary of State agree that no Minister of the Crown seems eager to get involved in British Leyland at the moment? Does he accept that there is little point in asking Leyland workers to accept the massive sacrifices proposed by the chairman of the company when the Secretary of State for Industry will give no indication that if they make them they will then get the money?

Mr. Nott

It would be a strange world if people were to advance money for a project before the project existed. Until British Leyland makes up its mind on how it is to go forward in the next few years there is nothing for that company to discuss with my right hon. Friend.