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Domestic Content Of Motor Vehicles

Volume 77: debated on Wednesday 17 April 1985

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4.14 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish domestic content requirements for motor vehicles sold or distributed in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The objective behind the Bill is to strengthen employment in the motor and component industries. A strong motor industry is absolutely necessary for any industrial nation. The motor industry is about not just the basic industries, important though they are, or about the steel, glass and rubber industries, but the high technology industries such as the electronics industry. It is about the fitting of mini-computers into motor vehicles, new materials, ceramics which can be used in motor engines and plastics which can be used in bodywork. Without a strong motor industry, we cannot enter the realms of high technology, and that is vital.

In the early 1970s, the motor industry, either directly or indirectly, employed 1·2 million people. That figure has now declined to 450,000 —a shocking condemnation. In the 1970s, the motor industry accounted for 11 per cent. of industrial output and 17 per cent. of the export trade. Today it accounts for only 4 per cent. of industrial output and 7 per cent. of exports. Under this Government, we now import 1 million vehicles and export only 220,000. Nationally, the balance of payments for the sale of motor vehicles went into deficit in 1982, and it now stands at £2·3 billion. We ought to be trying to retrieve the situation.

Motor imports now total 57 per cent. The multinational manufacturers—Ford, General Motors and Vauxhall—are now responsible for 42 per cent. of all motor imports. Many people now driving cars believe that they have bought a British vehicle, but in reality 50 per cent. have been imported and contain hardly any British components. Indeed, 25 per cent. of such imports come from Spain. To get a British vehicle into Spain, one must jump a 37 per cent. tariff barrier; yet, when Spain exports to the Common Market, the tariff barrier is only 4 per cent.

We cannot continue in that fashion. Harold Musgrave, the chairman of Austin Rover, has said that anything less than 80 per cent. British content means that we shall not be supplying high technology components. He said that was the minimum required if we were to preserve the British motor industry. This industry is in decline. While that decline has not yet become terminal, it will do so unless something is done.

We should find out how we can overcome that problem. We could do what we did for Nissan. We appear to allow Nissan to come to this country not to benefit us, but to jump over the barriers that have been erected in Europe. I hope that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is taking a tought line in Japan, but I doubt it. Many people, including Ministers, said that there would be between 60 and 80 per cent. of local content in Nissan vehicles. That includes everything — the on-costs, the sales costs and cleaners' costs. However, when they talk about local content, they mean European, not British, content. That has not been sufficiently spelt out. We should not accept such deals.

My Bill seeks not to interfere with choice or imports, but to ensure British content and employment in the United Kingdom for our people. The measure is modest. If the imported vehicles sold total not more than 20,000 there should be a minimum of 50 per cent. British content; between 20,000 and 50,000, there should be 65 per cent. minimum content; between 50,000 and 100,000, there should be 75 per cent. British content; between 100,000 and 250,000, there should be 90 per cent. British content; and for more than 250,000, as it is for major manufacturers, there should be 95 per cent. British content.

If people argue that even 90 per cent. British content does not include high technology, the Bill provides for the inclusion of one or more of six high technology components, and, in some cases, of all six. They are engine fully dressed, body panels, wiring harness, braking system, drive shaft and steering suspension. A minimum British content of 50 per cent. should include at least two of those six components; of 65 per cent., three; of 75 per cent., four; of 90 per cent., five; and of 95 per cent., all six. In that way we can ensure that we stay in high technology and bring employment back to the United Kingdom. I hope that the Government are prepared to accept this modest measure.

Does my hon. Friend share my surprise that not one of the eight Ministers—

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot intervene when we discuss a motion under the ten-minute Bill.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I introduced a ten-minute Bill on the question of the conduct of grasping Landlords when Viscount Tonypandy was Speaker, and he allowed an interjection and a speech to be made by the hon. Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall).

Order. I have neither recollection of nor responsibility for that. I am ruling now. Mr. Hoyle.

In the early 1970s I would have been able to say that I expected support from all quarters of the House.

Not one of the eight Ministers is present. That shows what they think about the motor and components industry.

In the 1970s there would hardly have been a constituency without a motor plant or companies that manufactured components for the motor industry. Today components are still manufactured in many constituencies. I hope that Conservative Members who represent such constituencies and want to retain their seats will therefore support my Bill. Despite the Ministers' absence, I hope that the Government will adopt my Bill so that we can preserve the British motor industry, bring back employment, and continue in the realms of high technology.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Doug Hoyle, Mr. George Park, Mr. Kevin McNamara, Mr. Ian Mikardo, Mr. David Winnick, Ms. Jo Richardson, Mr. Bryan Gould, Mr. Terry Davis, Mr. Robert Parry, Mr. John Maxton, Mr. Ernie Ross, Mr. Robin Corbett and Mr. Derek Fatchett.

Domestic Content Of Motor Vehicles

accordingly presented a Bill to establish domestic content requirements for motor vehicles sold or distributed in Great Britain and Northern Ireland: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 26 April and to be printed. [Bill 128.]