§ 3. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what aid his Department and the former Department of Industry has given to United Kingdom battery manufacturers in the last three years.
§ 4. The Minister for Information Technology (Mr. Kenneth Baker)
For the three years ending 31 January 1984, aid totalling £10.66 million has been offered to British battery manufacturers.
§ Mr. Bennett
Can the Minister say how much of that has been accepted, and how much has gone to Oldham Batteries in my constituency? That company is extremely concerned about Japanese competition in the sale of batteries. It is particularly alarmed at the Government's apparent enthusiasm to encourage Japanese car manufacturers to come to this country, as a result of which battery orders are placed in Japan, instead of ensuring that Britain, which can produce batteries extremely well, gets the orders for the work.
§ Mr. Baker
The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot release details of grants to any specific company. However, I can assure him that Oldham Batteries has had assistance under the various schemes. In answer to what the hon. Gentleman said about car batteries in general and the type of batteries that Oldham Batteries makes, I can tell him that about £7 million of the £10 million went to support companies manufacturing car batteries.
§ Mr. Farr
Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the real fears of British battery manufacturers is over the dumping by Japan of batteries in Britain? As evidence has been submitted to his Department showing that Japanese car batteries are grossly underpriced in Britain, can he say what he is doing about that and whether the relevant anti-dumping legislation will be implemented?
§ Mr. Baker
I am aware of the problem. The British Battery Makers Society and Electric Battery Manufacturers Association have sought the advice of my Department about possible dumping and are now considering the possibility of launching a case on anti-dumping in conjunction with European battery manufacturers.
§ Mr. Williams
Is the Minister aware that, in addition to the problem of surplus capacity—arising in part, of course, from the Government-induced recession, and in part from technological change—this industry is taking a hammering not only from Japanese high-volume exporters but even from the French and the Germans? Does he realise that this high degree of import penetration, at a time of surplus capacity, is exacerbated by the Government's policy of insisting on maintaining an artificially high pound in relation to non-dollar currencies—a phenomenon that is complained about in industry generally? When will the Government take action on interest rates to bring down the nonsensically high rate of sterling?
§ Mr. Baker
A few days ago the right hon. Gentleman, who speaks for economic matters on behalf of the Labour party, advocated an economic policy which claimed higher Government expenditure and lower interest rates. I do not see how the two can be reconciled. He cannot chide the Government for maintaining a high level of sterling during the past 18 months, when sterling has fallen considerably against the dollar and even marginally against the European basket.