Motor Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:06 pm on 12th December 1983.

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Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington 5:06 pm, 12th December 1983

Although I agreed with some of what the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) said, I am not sure about his diagnosis of the Japanese problem. I should have thought that British workers were under more pressure than their Japanese counterparts during the period that the hon. Gentleman mentioned because the British product was less attractive and of poorer quality. The result was the erosion of the British market by foreign competitors, especially the Japanese. Although financial considerations gave the Japanese an advantage, they vigorously achieved penetration of the British market. It will take a long time to regain the share of the market that we lost then.

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) on the way in which he moved this relevant motion. It gives the House an opportunity, albeit brief, to discuss the British car industry. His admirable summary of the past 30 years was right on the ball. I am sure that few people who have studied the subject will disagree with many of his conclusions. He was right to draw attention to the overcapacity which can be found on the continent. Some of our European neighbours are building up a great deal of financial trouble. Putting our house in order will probably pay off in the longer term.

I have always felt that we set too much store on the industry as an economic barometer. Ten or 15 years ago, when anything happened in the car industry there was a momentary pause and the Government's heart missed a beat. Although the car industry is still extremely important, it is perhaps no longer the most important factor in our economy.

I congratulate management and workers in the car industry on what has been achieved recently. Having almost touched rock bottom, the industry has modernised and reformed itself. Today, with a much smaller work force, it is making more reliable cars than before and becoming much more competitive with foreign products, which bit so deeply into its market. It has shown a refreshing sense of realism.

The arrogance that was shown in the 1950s and early 1960s by car manufacturers, when it was a "privilege" for the individual to part with several hundred pounds rather than the thousands of pounds nowadays to buy a product, and the scant attention paid by the retailer and the wholesaler were a disgrace. I am glad that those days are gone. There is a sense of marketing realism today which, I am pleased to say, compares favourably with that of some of the other more successful industries.

Intermittently, right back to the times of the Macmillan Government, it has been said that we need to "Buy British" and that as a country we should endeavour to buy British products. The time has come again when we need to instil into the people, as our economic recovery gets under way, the need for them to play a part. Many of our constituents and fellow citizens constantly criticise the Government, the work force and the whole of British industry without ever looking into their own hearts and deciding that they, too, can contribute by buying British products and helping to back the home market. When I go to foreign countries, I am amazed, as I am sure all hon. Members are, to see the preponderance of home-produced cars in the streets, despite the excellence of the foreign competition. That is largely because of the pride of the nationals who live in those countries and because they are nationalistic in their outlook. A little more pride and a more nationalistic attitude by us would not go amiss. If that happened, it would be a considerable contribution to the sales of the British car market.

Here we see far more foreign cars than in any comparable city on the continent. There is no excuse for that. Ten years ago we lacked in quality, service and the way in which the products were turned out. Today that does not happen. There is excellence, and it is improving all the time.

I am glad that reference was made to Jaguar Cars. I see that the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson), the former managing director of Jaguar, is present. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, it has improved a great deal since his time. I am proud that the current managing director of Jaguar is a constituent of mine. Many of my constituents work at Jaguar in Coventry.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Dagenham that one of the main reasons for Jaguar's success is the favourable financial balance with regard to America. The main reason why Jaguar has succeeded is that it has first-class management and a work force that at last has cooperated with the management, and which has been slimmed down and become more efficient. The product is incomparably better than anything that Jaguar produced in years gone by.