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British Leyland

Volume 22: debated on Monday 26 April 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he last met the chairman of British Leyland to discuss investment in the industry.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I meet the chairman of BL, whenever the need arises, to discuss a variety of topics.

Is the Minister aware that in the West Midlands male unemployment is now almost one in five and that one in six jobs are dependent on the vehicle industry? What will the Minister do to reassure industrialists and workers alike in the West Midlands that the vehicle industry will not be destroyed?

I am fully aware of the employment implications of the hon. Gentleman's questions. The Government have shown their willingness to support the motor industry and British Leyland in particular. We have put £970 million into British Leyland since coming to office. Nobody can say that the Government have not made a strong commitment to the motor industry.

Is my hon. Friend aware that British Leyland now requires to maintain and increase its market share? With respect to the hon. Member for Newcastle under Lyme (Mr. Golding), British Leyland wants more customers, not more speeches.

I entirely agree. Last year British Leyland managed to increase its market share above what it had planned. New models have been introduced and the response both to the Metro and the Acclaim has been encouraging. Productivity is rising sharply in British Leyland, and at Longbridge, on the Metro line, it is comparable to the best in Europe. British Leyland's future will be secured by its becoming competitive.

Has the Minister discussed with British Leyland the question of buying British? I noted what the Secretary of State said the other day about buying British. It is proposed that British Leyland may buy steel from Brazil. That would be very much against the interests of our steel industry. Is there not a policy for nationalised industries to buy British?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that there is a Government public purchasing policy. British Leyland is well aware of that. The buying power of the public sector should be used to strengthen British industry. That is the Government's objective, although relations between the British Steel Corporation and British Leyland are a matter for commercial negotiation. We have certainly made the Government's public sector purchasing policy clear to BL.

Is my hon. Friend aware how much the taxpayer resents paying large sums into British Leyland when certain parts of it could be divested and financed privately? That particularly applies to the Land Rover part of the group. Has my hon. Friend plans to ensure that that is sold off in the reasonably near future?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), the former Secretary of State for Industry, made it clear in his statement on 26 January 1981 that the Government supported British Leyland's intentions to create viable businesses and to attract private capital into them. That remains the Government's intention.