HC Deb 27 March 1985 vol 76 cc464-5
5. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he has had any further discussions with the Honda car company concerning its Swindon site; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Norman Lamont

My Department holds discussions with Honda from time to time, as with any other potential investor in the United Kingdom. Such discussions are commercially confidential.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister agree that it is inappropriate to hide behind the cloak of business confidentiality, because people want to know what the British content will be if a project is built at Swindon? What will be the effect on the fortunes of British Leyland? As a Welsh Member of Parliament, I should like to know whether Wales was seriously considered for this project. Alternatively, because of recent Government changes in regional policy, is Wales now so much less attractive to potential investors?

Mr. Lamont

I am not sure to what project the hon. Gentleman is referring. Honda has publicly stated that it has no firm plans for an engine-making plant or for full car production in the United Kingdom. It is not just convenient, but it is absolutely necessary to shelter behind the cloak of commercial confidentiality, as anyone will realise when discussing such matters with companies which might invest in this country. The hon. Gentleman has raised the same question as he raised last time. I wish that he would make up his mind whether he is against any project or whether he wants it in his constituency.

Mr. Coombs

Is my hon. Friend aware of the delight in Swindon at Honda's interest in that town, as well as the full-hearted support from all parties for the move that Honda is proposing? Will he give an absolute assurance that in no way will he be tempted by the hints of centralised planning from the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes)?

Mr. Lamont

I have noted what my hon. Friend has said, as, I am sure, has Honda.

Mr. Park

Inward investment is bound to be welcome, but is the Minister at all concerned about the loss of design, research and development capacity in industry? I hope he will accept that we do not want a series of screwdriver operations, thereby losing the skills and abilities which are so necessary to our future.

Mr. Lamont

Of course we are concerned about loss of research or design capacity, but in this hypothetical case we are talking not about a loss but about a potential addition. It is Government policy on any inward investment to take account of the effect on domestic industry.

Mr. Roger King

When discussing inward investment, and especially any proposals from Honda to produce vehicles or components in this country, will my hon. Friend bear in mind the problems identified by the Ford Motor Company—that, in view of the present state of the European market, there is too much production capacity, and that that company is seeking to eliminate some of its own capacity?

Mr. Lamont

If a company wishes to come to this country, using its own money, it is up to that company to judge whether there is overcapacity in this country. People may wish to invest here without any Government support or involvement, but if the question of Government support arises we certainly take account of the points raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson

We do not wish the Minister to betray any commercial confidences, but we would welcome any increase in research and development or production of motor cars in this country. Nevertheless, the terms must be right. Will he confirm that he will not consider any takeover bid by Honda for Austin Rover and that inward investment from abroad will not be regarded as a substitute for a continued heavy research and development and production effort by Austin Rover? Will he also consider further Government assistance to Austin Rover on merit, not on the usual Government prejudice?

Mr. Lamont

Any proposal for inward investment requiring Government assistance must be on the basis that the terms are right. We have regard to the local content, especially as there are conditions relating to the import of Japanese cars into this country. No proposal for a takeover of Austin Rover has been put forward, and I decline to answer such hypothetical questions. We shall, of course, consider carefully the impact on indigenous producers of any proposed investment by any vehicle manufacturer.