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Cars (Overseas Components)

Volume 84: debated on Wednesday 23 October 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what information he has as to which motor vehicles, by name, although seemingly British-made, have over 40 per cent. and over 50 per cent., respectively, of foreign-made components.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
(Mr. John Butcher)

Detailed information in the terms requested by the hon. Member on the imported component content of vehicles is, I regret, not available.

It is appalling that the information is not available; it should be available. Will all Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry come to Sheffield to see the vast ex-industrial area of the east end so that they may realise what havoc they have wrought in the past six years? Do they realise that many factories are closing and there is a major strike in a so-called privatised firm in Sheffield because the steel that we make in south Yorkshire, which should be going to the motor trade, cannot go there because of the importation of foreign cars? What will the Government do? It is incredible. Unemployment seems to be out of control and the Government have no plans to do anything about the steel industry.

The reason why it is difficult to obtain those figures is that the car companies would have great difficulty, after a long period of time, assembling the information in the form that the hon. Gentleman has requested. The performance of the steel industry depends on the performance of its users, and until such time as our car industry starts to make major inroads in its share of domestic and international markets, the steel industry will continue to have difficulty in getting volume production back to historical levels. Of course we are concerned about this, and that is why we have supported the steel industry over the last five years.

Instead of criticising General Motors in the way the Opposition Front Bench has done, ought not people to remember the extent of General Motors' investment in truck factories and component part factories here? Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is Government policy to do things that encourage more General Motors investment in this country?

The Government can do a number of things to encourage General Motors to increase its investment in the United Kingdom, but I am bound to echo the remarks of my right hon. Friend that the onus is on General Motors to increase the British content of its United Kingdom products and to increase the share of the British market which it satisfies from its British assembly plants. We welcome the great strides the company has taken in the commercial vehicles sector and in particular I should mention the great innovations it has made in electrically driven vehicles.

Does the Minister agree that one of the problems concerns the policy of the multinationals in relation to putting up "screwdriver" plants? Is he aware that many people buy Ford Capris and Granadas believing they are buying British-made cars? What are the Government doing to remedy this situation? Is it not true that they are soft in dealing with multinationals, and is it not about time they were tougher, in the interests not only of British workers and British consumers, but in the interests of the economy?

In the context of the original question and the question posed by the hon. Gentleman, we have some weaponry available to tackle this problem. The Trade Descriptions Act 1972 requires imports bearing a United Kingdom name or mark also to bear a conspicuous indication of their country of origin. I am advised that enforcement of the Act is via the local authorities. There are no central statistics on prosecutions, but three recent cases in the west midlands were taken up precisely to attack the issue of badged cars.