HC Deb 12 March 1986 vol 93 cc932-4
16. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the current position of Leyland Vehicles Ltd.

Mr. Channon

As I told the House on 5 March, proposals relating to Leyland Trucks and to Land Rover, Range Rover and Freight Rover are being appraised by the BL board. Discussions in relation to Leyland Bus are taking place over a slightly different time scale from those concerning the other Land Rover-Leyland businesses.

Mr. Atkins

My right hon. Friend will be aware, because I have written to him, that there is some concern about property of a community nature rather than of an industrial or manufacturing nature in the town of Leyland, which is owned jointly by Leyland Bus and Leyland Trucks. Will he recognise that this community property plays a very great part in the community and that if it is not looked at carefully in the course of these negotiations this would generate hostility to any deal, which would be a pity? Will he look at this as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Channon

I shall ensure that this is looked at. It is primarily a matter for discussion by British Leyland with the interested parties, but I take careful note of what my hon. Friend says and will ensure that the matter is carefully studied.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

Does the Minister recall that before Westland was taken over by the Americans the Prime Minister and other Ministers repeatedly said that the workers' wishes must be respected? Can he give the same assurance in respect of the future of Land Rover, that before any irrevocable decision is taken there will be a secret ballot of those workers?

Mr. Channon

What the hon. Gentleman is saying about Westland is not exactly accurate, and I think that is within the recollection of the House. Of course the companies concerned are keeping the work force closely in touch, and I hope that all the usual prcedures will be followed.

Mr. Roger King

Will my right hon. Friend, in his negotiations with whatever interested parties there are for parts of the Leyland empire, pay particularly close attention to the future of an inner city company which is operating at a profit and providing 2,000 jobs for the local community? I refer to Freight Rover, at Washwood Heath in Birmingham. We place a great deal of emphasis on inner city developments and the creation of new businesses. We must ensure that we hang on to what we have and is trading profitably.

Mr. Channon

I know of my hon. Friend's very deep concern on that point. That is something that we shall naturally be considering.

Mr. Sheerman

Was the Secretary of State consulted by the chairman of the Conservative party before he made his extraordinary statements to Jonathan Dimbleby on the weekend television programme and compared the possible Leyland buy-out by American interests with the position of the tractor industry in Britain, which he said was 100 per cent. owned by Americans and no one cared?

Mr. Channon

I am in constant touch with my right hon. Friend and will draw the hon. Member's remarks to his attention.

Mr. Grylls

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the merchant bankers representing Her Majesty's Government in this proposed deal are not restricting the amount of information coming from the team representing the management buy-out for Land Rover that is made available to the House, which could be very serious? Will he do his best to make sure that no such restrictions are placed on the representatives of the buy-out team?

Mr. Channon

I am assured by my advisers that that is not the case. However, in view of my hon. Friend's concern I shall have the matter re-examined.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May I have an assurance that Mr. Graham Day, the new chairman of BL, who is also a non-executive director of Lairds, will not be involved when the decision is taken whether Lairds should be allowed to take over Leyland Bus?

Mr. Cannon

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, the time scale for Leyland Bus is different from that for the other parts of Land Rover-Leyland. I am trying to proceed with that with reasonable expedition—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May I have an answer to my question?

Mr. Channon

If I am allowed to answer the question, I did say to the House the other day that Mr. Day will take over as chairman when these deals have been concluded.

Mr. Bowen Wells

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the consideration of Leyland's future he will not deviate, in spite of the pressure brought to bear on him from xenophobic sources, from his determination to ensure that future commercial health and the jobs involved in Leyland are put at the forefront of his consideration?

Mr. Channon

We are determined that that should be the paramount consideration in the Government's mind. I am sure that that will be the paramount concern of all those who are involved in the negotiations.

Mr. John Smith

The Secretary of State will have seen from the latest figures that Leyland Trucks came top of the league sales in the year just ended. The prospects for the company are very good. Why should we sell the company to its American competitors?

Mr. Channon

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is seriously wrong in his forecast of the future of the truck industry in this country and in Europe. There is massive overcapacity and there are serious worries. The right hon. and learned Gentleman does no service to the work force or any of those involved in the industry by trying to minimise the difficulties or play them down.