Orders of the Day — British Leyland Motor Corporation Limited

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th December 1974.

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Photo of Mr Raymond Carter Mr Raymond Carter , Birmingham, Northfield 12:00 am, 18th December 1974

I shall be as brief as possible as I am aware that other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. However, as 25,000 out of the 200,000 workers involved live in my constituency, not only did I want to take some part in the debate but I think that it would have been expected of me.

There will be no surprise at the present troubles of British Leyland. If there is any surprise, it is that they took so long to come about. I say that because over the past few years, particularly the past year, British Leyland has battled against some enormous problems. It has had in addition the structural problems to which the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) referred. But in the past 12 months it has had the three-day working week, the oil crisis, falling demand, and foreign competition, which in recent months has reached enormous proportions.

In my opinion, however, all those circumstances amount to the straw which broke the camel's back, and the real problem which British Leyland has faced over the past decade rather than two or three years has been the problem of investment. This has been referred to time and again by Lord Stokes and other members of the board of the company. That is the root cause of the trouble, and it has to be tackled.

The problems facing the company in that respect are now revealed by the fact that every car it makes it can sell, and there is not one in stock. If productivity had been higher, if production had been higher, the company, with all its difficulties, would probably not have been in the position it is in now.

In my view, whatever be the solution arrived at now, we must ensure that the crisis within the company is solved and, one hopes, solved for good. The car is with us to stay. What is more, it is our biggest export earner, and the industry is one of the country's major employers. In the West Midlands, one in four of all industrial workers works either in the car industry or in an industry associated with it. So it is no laughing matter for us in the West Midlands. Whatever happens as a result of the crisis and of the inquiry, we must find some long-term solution. Failure now could lead ultimately, I believe, to disaster.

What should the Government do? I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Edelman) and by others of my hon. Friends who intervened at various points in the debate. Complete public ownership, it seems to me, is the only way out. I say that because the industry appears to have been rejected by the private sector. If support from the private sector were still there, British Leyland would not have had to come to the Government.