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Motor Industry

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 28 January 1975

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Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to have discussions about the state of the motor industry, in view of the American involvement, during his visit to the United States of America to see the President.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister, during his forthcoming visit to the United States, if he will discuss with President Ford the problems of the British motor vehicle industry, particularly those parts under the control of the American parent companies.

I have been asked to reply.

As my right hon. Friend explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Edelman) on 16th January, his talks with President Ford will provide a useful opportunity for a full exchange of views on the economic problems in Britain and the United States which are of concern to the motor industry.

Will my right hon. Friend indicate to the Prime Minister—although I am sure he does not need to be reminded—the importance of the prosperity of the motor industry and the fact that for every worker employed in it, 10 are employed on accessories or the servicing of cars? The country's prosperity is bound up with the motor industry, and many employees in the industry are very concerned about the investment policies of the American multinationals which dominate it.

I agree with the fears of many hon. Members, but with regard to Chrysler, my hon. Friend will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has written to the President of the Chrysler Corporation about its operations in this country. He has not yet had a reply. As my hon. Friend will know, Ford plans to increase its United Kingdom production in 1975 by about 50,000 cars.

Does the Lord President agree that, in relative terms, ownership of the industry is secondary to operating efficiency and organisation? Does he further agree that while discussions in America about these matters may be relevant, interesting and worth while, it is much more important to discuss them with the unions in this country, particularly the British Leyland unions?

In my political philosophy, ownership is not secondary. I believe that efficiency is improved by an element of public ownership. [Laughter.]

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that in the interests of the ongoing alliance between Britain and the United States, it is important that the Prime Minister should at least attempt to persuade the American President that he should use his good offices to prevent the very powerful multinational companies based in the United States making decisions based on their own present-day very difficult economic situation in North America at the expense of their subordinate parts in the United Kingdom, thereby disrupting the United Kingdom economy?

I am sure that this is the kind of consideration that my right hon. Friend will have in mind when he talks to President Ford. Regarding the hysterical outburst which followed my previous answer to a supplementary question, I think that if hon. Members compare the efficiency records of the publicly-owned industries and the privately-owned industries in this country they will see how true it was.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if, in his previous answer, he had used the words "employee participation" instead of "public ownership", some of us might have been disposed to agree with him? Is he not further aware that all the evidence is against his proposition, and that public ownership, as such, is incompatible with both efficiency and industrial democracy?

I am surprised at the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is usually so objective in these matters. If he looks at the facts and figures on productivity and efficiency generally he will find that publicly-owned companies in Britain are much more efficient than privately-owned companies. With regard to the first part of his question, I very much agree with him that an element of worker participation is desirable in both publicly-owned and privately-owned industry.

I should much prefer to hear the hon. Gentleman's point of order at the end of Question Time, if the hon. Gentleman would raise it then.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that with an American unemployment figure of 8 per cent. and with the Chrysler Corporation in the United States reducing its domestic output by at least one-third, it is quite laughable to expect either President Ford or the American motor corporations to make concessions to this country? Is it not time we started to prepare a strategy for the survival of the British motor industry, involving import controls and public ownership—otherwise, in 10 years' time we may not have a motor industry at all?

I did say something about Chrysler a short time ago. I pointed out that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has written to the President of the Chrysler organisation. As my hon. Friend will know, that organisation has been one of the hardest hit by the recession in the automobile industry in the United States, but it has given repeated assurances that it does not intend to withdraw from the United Kingdom.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider circulating in the Official Report the evidence on which he founds his quite extraordinary opinions?

I shall be very glad to publish and send to the right hon. Gentleman the evidence to support the answer I gave to a previous supplementary question.

Will the Lord President tell the House whether, in the talks in Washington, the subject of energy will be at the top of the agenda and whether part of it will be about oil in the Scottish sector of the North Sea? In the dispute between President Ford and the Congress about United States policy with regard to the pricing rights of oil-producing countries, will the right hon. Gentleman say on whose side the Prime Minister will be?

The Prime Minister, as always, will be on the side of Britain. I have no doubt whatever that energy will figure very largely in the discussions in Washington. I have no doubt whatever that those discussions will include the subject of British oil in that context.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the incomprehensible nature of the answers given by the Lord President to questions on nationalisation, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity. I hope that we shall have a full House then.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the Lord President say why he answered Questions Nos. Q3 and Q4 together but omitted to refer to Question No. Q12, which deals with the same subject?