Motor Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:37 pm on 12th December 1983.

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Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 6:37 pm, 12th December 1983

It seems that the hon. Gentleman realised that he would not catch the eye of the Chair and felt that he had to make his mark on the debate.

We have heard another series of platitudinous reassurances on car tax from the Minister. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) for anticipating the next topic in my speech, about which we heard nothing from the Minister. Perhaps Conservative Back Benchers feel more sore about the Minister's performance than my hon. Friends and I.

I thank the Minister for his second positive reassurance. He said that there are no plans—this needs to be clearly and unequivocally set out on the record — for any outright sale of Austin-Rover to Honda. The Minister will have seen the newspaper reports and he has experience of ministerial contacts with managers and employees in the motor industry. He knows that the reports that have appeared in the press are probably without any foundation and are the products of journalistic speculation. However, they can have an enormously damaging and disconcerting effect on managers and employees.

Lastly and briefly, I turn to the vexed question of Jaguar. I had the honour and good fortune to succeed Maurice Edelman. Both Jaguar factories are located in our constituency, and I am proud to represent them. Although in some ways I wish I did not carry this distinction with me, I am also proud to have been for two years the chief executive of that great company. I welcome the success of the new management. I recruited Mr. John Egan into British Leyland. When I was financial controller of British Leyland, he served as my deputy controller. I would not have recruited him if he had not been a very good man.

I shall be delighted if the Minister of State is proved right and the sales figure achieved in 1973–75 is exceeded this year. In 1973–75 the recession was at its height and there had just been the explosion in oil prices. Everything is relative. Our achievements in those days were made possible by good industrial relations. Workers always prefer to work rather than to be on strike, and it is amazing what one can do if one carries the work force with one.

I am pleased that progress is being made. I can pay testimony to the outstanding work being done by management and work force together at Jaguar Cars at present.

The Minister's top priority should not be the privatisation of Jaguar or of Austin-Rover. His priority should be the health, strength and welfare of the British motor industry, as mine is a concern for Jaguar Cars, which is situated in my constituency. The company is being hawked around the City of London. Many doubts are being expressed, and the Minister himself is cautious about how quickly any sale could be achieved. There should be the widest consultation with the work force, hon. Members who represent Oxford, and many others who have some sense of the considerations that will determine the future success of Jaguar. There are doubts in Oxford, in particular, about long-term research and development.

There is a direct parallel with British Airways. There has been a massive injection of public funds. If a buyer cannot be found at a sensible price, will the Minister consider leaving Jaguar as an entity separate from the rest of British Leyland, with its own negotiating procedures and industrial relations practices, its own product development, and its own franchising plans in Europe as in the rest of the world? Will he also allow it to maintain a continuing link with the large-scale, long-term research and development facilities of British Leyland? That is a much better plan for Jaguar than what the Minister has outlined. If the negotiations with Jaguar prove as difficult as those with Nissan — and as those with British Airways, given stock market conditions, may well prove —I hope that the Minister will consider an alternative for Jaguar which might be far better than the plan being pressed upon the management against the advice of the board of British Leyland as a whole.