The Department of Trade and Industry confirmed yesterday that Austin Rover was required to give confidential commercial information to its principal rival, Ford, at the height of merger talks last year. But officials refused to comment on Labour allegations that the former Trade and Industry Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, instructed Sir Austin Bide, the Austin Rover group chairman to hand over the market sensitive information , despite the opposition of the state car group ‘s senior management. Labour MPs told the Commons on Wednesday that during the merger talks Ford saw the production costs of every Austin Rover model.
They claimed that it allowed them to engage in a discount war in the showrooms last summer which gave the Ford Fiesta a 7.4 per cent market share compared with the Metro’s 4.5 per cent. Before the talks the Metro had outsold the Fiesta. Mr Terry Davis, a Shadow trade and industry spokesman, described the decision as amounting to industrial sabotage. He alleged that Mr Brittan had put pressure on Sir Austin Bide and demanded to know if that act had been authorised by the Prime Minister. The forceful disclosure of information to a competitor amounted to negligence of the national interest, complained Labour MP’s.
The DTI refused to comment yesterday on whether any government pressure had been applied on Austin Rover to enter into the reciprocal arrangement on the exchange of confidential information. But the Government did bow to pressure from Labour and Conservative MPs that the balance of British representation on the boards of a new amalgamated Leyland Truck and Daf lorry company ought to be reconsidered.