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Motor Vehicles

Volume 885: debated on Monday 3 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he is satisfied with the contribution of the motor industry in providing employment in development areas.

The motor industry already makes an important contribution to employment in the assisted areas. But we keep under constant review how this might be strengthened.

In view of short-time working and dangers of redundancies in these areas, does not the Minister feel that the Government's tax and hire-purchase restriction policies are conflicting with his Department's policy of trying to secure employment in these areas for people working in the motor industry? What assistance does his Department think should now be given to this industry?

The relaxation of hire-purchase and credit controls is for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So far as we are able, we in the Department are trying to assist in what is undoubtedly a difficult situation in the motor car industry. On 20th January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to Mr. Riccardo, the president of the Chrysler Corporation in Detroit, asking for his analysis of the strategic situation facing Chrysler in all its companies, and especially in its United Kingdom operations. At present, this is the company causing most concern.

Is the Minister aware that the current imbalance in trade between this country and Japan in motor cars is having serious affects on both the short-term and long-term employment prospects of people in the motor car industry? In view of the seriousness of this situation, will my hon. Friend urge the Secretary of State for Trade to carry out an immediate investigation to discover why, in 1973, although we imported more than 80,000 Japanese cars, we could export only just over 1,000 cars to Japan?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this great imbalance, especially in Japanese cars. However, the proportion of the domestic market now taken by Japanese cars is still relatively small, although I agree that it is fast increasing and is based on an imbalance of trade with Japan. I shall draw this matter to the early attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency, which has a considerable investment in the motor car industry, there is some evidence that if the Ministry is to assist firms which are in difficulty it must do so not just in terms of paying cash but in terms of considerable financial advice, especially at board level? In view of the earlier remarks made by the Minister of State, may we have a clear statement of policy from the Ministry about its intentions where taxpayers' money has been invested in this industry?

We intend to provide assistance in response to applications which we receive under our powers in existing legislation, which, in effect, means Sections 7 and 8 of the Industry Act 1972.

It is our policy to monitor very carefully any previous input of funds. If my hon. Friend has a specific instance in mind, I shall be pleased to give it early attention.

With regard to exports to Japan, is the Minister aware that those of us who are concerned to see us maximise our trade with Japan are encouraged that the British Leyland export manager is going out to Japan? The Germans are able to export 23,000 cars to Japan a year, compared with our 1,000. I am sure that we can improve on that because it is a very lucrative market if worked upon properly.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that the visit which is being made by the representative of BLMC quickly produces the results which he foresees. On his return, we shall give any assistance which we are able to give in accordance with his findings.