Does my hon. Friend agree that these figures explode the myth that British companies cannot sell in Japan, despite non-competitive taxation in Japan on motor cars? Does he further agree that they augur well for Austin Rover exports and therefore for employment in the west midlands, and ultimately for the Government's intention to return the company to the private sector?
My hon. Friend is right. This is an excellent news story, because the figures have increased from 2,261 in 1985 to 6,445 in 1987. That is an excellent story and we should congratulate Austing Rover Japan on it.
Having heard his answer, I warn the Minister against complacency. Does he know that his Department told me this week that Japanese car imports to Britain amounted to 191,000, representing £569 million? What will the Government do about that wretched balance of trade?
The hon. Gentleman should know that the proportion of imported cars in this country is dropping year by year. We must take into account the fact that people in this country wish to buy cars, and we cannot stop them doing so. He must recognise that the figures given by the hon. Gentleman represent a small proportion of a large market.
Is it not true that many of the cars sold by Austin Rover in Japan are Peugeots and that many others are Rovers assembled in Japan? Is it not strange that, although we accuse Japan of protectionism, we have an 11 per cent. gentleman's agreement to prevent the Japanese exporting to Britain? France limits Japanese imports to 3,000 cars, as do Spain and Italy. Is it not the Europeans who are now the protectionists, because they have unfortunately lost the will to compete with the Japanese by making competitive goods?
As one who has always driven Austin Rover cars and found them absolutely excellent due to the great craftsmanship of the workers involved, may I ask the Government to begin to ask some of the motoring correspondents on occasion to write that these are good cars that should be sold abroad with our support?
I welcome any improvement for Austin— and even for Rover—but can the Minister tell us why, in his opinion, the production of cars of 2·8 litres and more, which constitute the major part of exports to Japan, is only three quarters of what it was in the early 1970s? Why are our exports of cars only half what they were in the early 1970s, and why has the import penetration of cars into our market risen from less than 40 per cent. in 1979 to more than 50 per cent. today?
I think that the hon. Gentleman and the House are aware that in past years there were question marks over some British manufacturers and the cars that they produced. Since then things have improved beyond all peradventure, and increasing numbers of cars made in this country are being purchased. None the less, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is in Japan at the moment, and everyone else will continue to push the case for an increasing share of the Japanese market.