HC Deb 22 June 1994 vol 245 cc217-8
1. Mr. Peter Atkinson

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the prospects for the British car industry.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Needham)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I explain that the President of the Board of Trade is in the land of the midnight sun, and the Minister for Industry is attending the Industry Council in Luxembourg. I am sure that they would like me to pass on their apologies for not being here.

Prospects for the British car industry have never been better. The industry is in the healthiest state that it has been for a long time; new car sales and new car production figures have both shown increases during the last year at a time when other markets, particularly in Europe, have been depressed.

Mr. Atkinson

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, and congratulate him on his appointment.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there has been a revolution in the fortunes of the British car industry in the past 15 years? That is well exemplified by the experience of Nissan UK in the north-east of England: last year, it exported more British-built cars than any other car manufacturer in the country. I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that that is a tribute to the company, the commitment of its workers and, in particular, the flexible industrial and labour-relations policies introduced by the present Government.

Mr. Needham

In 1979, the United Kingdom's car industry was on the way out; now, it is on the way up. In 1979, when the Labour party was last in office, just over 1 million cars were produced; now, production is up by some 30 per cent. Employment is now at 132,000, as against 290,000, so productivity has doubled. Investment in the car industry is now three times as great as it was in 1979. Furthermore, by the end of the decade, the British car industry will be back in surplus on the balance of trade. Other parts of British industry can learn a wonderful lesson from that; another lesson to be learnt is what a Labour Government will do to people, and what a Conservative Government actually achieve.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth

As well as congratulating the British car industry as a whole on the success enjoyed by Nissan, will the Minister recognise the efforts made by Jaguar of late, and the fact that it is now re-employing staff whom it had laid off during the past few years? Will he recognise that the biggest problem faced by such firms as Jaguar over the years has been the lack of a decent supply base in this country—along with gross fluctuations in the currency, largely as a result of the economic policies pursued by his Government? When will he take measures to enhance the industrial base and to supply a stable economic policy leading to the long-term benefit of the car industry?

Mr. Needham

The biggest barriers to the success of the British car industry over the years—until this Government came to power and changed the laws on industrial relations—were the antics of the trade union movement. I am delighted to say that the trade union movement has now accepted the need for the unions themselves to be able to show that they are responsible and respectable partners with industry. That is one thing that the Government have achieved. I commend "The Dawn of a New Era", introduced by the president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. That fundamental change would never have taken place without the legislation passed by the Government.

I do not believe for a moment that the position of Jaguar has anything to do with the factors mentioned by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth). Furthermore, our automated components suppliers are now some of the most efficient in Europe. They are starting to export all over Europe and the rest of the world, and they will play a vital part in increasing our manufacturing and engineering exports in the next few years.