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Motor Vehicles

Volume 938: debated on Monday 7 November 1977

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15.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the trading balance of the British motor car industry with Japan, France, Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America for the year 1976 and to date.

In 1976 and January to September 1977, there were deficits with the countries mentioned except for the United States of America, where we had a positive balance. With permission I will circulate the detailed figures in the Official Report.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the low morale of workers in the car industry? Will he say what action the Government intend to take, and when they intend to take it, against the penetration of foreign cars into this country? Does he not realise that the future of jobs and the British-based car industry is in danger while the present situation continues?

I am well aware of the intense concern in the industry on that matter. As my right hon. Friend said, he has already made clear to the Japanese Ambassador the concern that would be felt if the import of Japanese motor cars were to be significantly higher than last year. We have received assurances about that.

The main thrust of imports otherwise comes from EEC countries, where we cannot now impose restraints because Article 135 of the Treaty of Accession cannot be invoked after 31st December this year. Our main concern is to ensure that home production is increased. In 1973 we produced 1·9 million cars. This year and last year it looks to be about 1·3 million cars.

Does the Minister agree that the long-term health of the British motor industry will not be helped by artificially controlling imports of foreign cars from Japan and elsewhere?

Our concern primarily is to increase the production of British cars. There is no doubt that if we were able to produce nearer to the levels which we achieved three or four years ago the share of foreign cars imported into this country would be reduced.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the reason for the positive balance with only one country—the United States of America—is due to the excellence of the cars produced in my constituency? Will he make every effort, therefore, to ensure that, although the Metzenbaum amendment has been defeated in the American Senate, no action will be taken against exporters of British cars such as Rolls-Royce which is likely to damage their exports?

I am well aware of the important contribution which Rolls-Royce and, indeed, other high-quality car manufacturers make to the British export performance in the American market. We have expressed our concern about the Metzenbaum amendment and about any energy conservation measures which would unfairly discriminate against imports, because, although British imports into the United States account for about 1 per cent. of the American market, they account for about 25 per cent. of our exports.

Is the Minister aware that in both Japan and Britain motorists drive on the same side of the road, yet British Leyland puts the windscreen wipers on the wrong side of the windscreen on Marinas and Dolomites—over to the left—as if they were left-hand drive vehicles? How does the Under-Secretary of State expect cars made in Britain to appeal to British drivers when windscreen wipers are put in the wrong position?

I am sure that it would be useful if British Leyland were to appoint the hon. Gentleman as its consultant.

Does my hon. Friend realise that Chrysler United Kingdom, which is subsidised by the taxpayer, is not allowed by its American parent company to export motor cars to Japan? Is he aware that Chrysler's Japanese partner, Mitsubishi, freely exports motor cars to this country? Is not this a lunatic trading policy, and cannot he give my constituents and those in every car-producing town in the country an assurance that the Government will take some action against the multinationals which deprive us—unfairly in a discriminatory way—of employment?

We have a planning agreement with Chrysler, and I expect this to be one of the topics we shall discuss with that company.

Following are the figures:

Crude balance in value terms—i.e., exports valued fob compared with imports cif:
£million

1976

1977 January-September

Japan—155—169
France—182—157
Italy—80—97
Federal Republic of Germany—219—286
United States of America+169+120