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European Community (Motor Vehicles)

Volume 19: debated on Monday 1 March 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the balance of trade in motor vehicles with the European Economic Community Six in 1970 and for the latest available year.

Our crude deficit of trade in motor vehicles with the six original members of the European Community was £11 million in 1970 and £1, 290 million in 1980.

From those horrendous figures, is it not undeniable, despite what Lord Stokes told us would happen at the time, that Common Market membership has proved disastrous and catastrophic to the British motor vehicle industry? We negotiate limits on Japanese imports, which will allow in more EEC imports, but will the Minister accept any responsibility for the existence of the British motor industry? We are investing in the motor industry and seeking to build it up, but would it not be wise to negotiate import ceilings on EEC imports in the same way as we do with Japan, regardless of what the Treaty of Rome says?

I note the hon. Gentleman's last comment. If he is advocating that Britain should be outside the Community operating a tariff barrier against it, that would lead to massive industrial dislocation. On the hon. Gentleman's first point, those figures show an enormous increase, but they derive, in part at least, from the policies of companies, such as Ford and Vauxhall, which have Continental-wide manufacturing strategies which, in consequence, lead to high levels of imports, particularly from Belgium and Germany.

Is it not a fact that harmonisation and the role of non-tariff barriers has not gone far enough, particularly in the field of taxation? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that motor manufacturers and motor agents are disturbed that British cars can be bought more cheaply in other EEC countries? This certainly appears to be the case with cars manufactured in these countries which have similar costs of manufacture.

My hon. Friend's second point was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright). It remains the Government's policy to secure as far as possible the mutually agreed dismantling of non-tariff barriers throughout the Community.

Do not the figures show that a large part of the huge trade that we are now supposed to be doing with the Common Market consists of unnecessary car imports that are damaging British industry and employment?

Only someone with a monumentally narrow mind could describe as undesirable a car that had been manufactured in Italy, France or Germany. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to be an anti-Marketeer, he should not be a puritan at the same time.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures also show how desperately uncompetitive the British car manufacturing industry has been compared with the European car industry?