Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Wareing: I am fully in accord with that. Not only is it cheaper to lay off workers in this country: there is also the whole body of employment law in Germany.

Mr. Hargreaves: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wareing: No, I shall continue, because I want other hon. Members to be able to make their speeches.

There are works councils in Germany. In Saarlouis, one can see the management and the workers constantly discussing the problems of the company. Firms can also be taken before labour courts in Germany; in Spain, public inquiries have to be held, and there are local and regional labour authority controls.

I am not asking the Government to pick up the bill, because they will have to do that anyway. However, they have an option about the way in which they pick it up. One way would be to help the Ford workers by investing and giving encouragement to ensure that production of the Escort continues at Halewood. Otherwise, they can pick up the bill in another way--by paying out an estimated £50 million in redundancy payments, unemployment pay and other social benefits.

If the Government choose the second option, they will blow a huge hole in this country's foreign and gold currency reserves. The price, on top of the social costs, could be £2.8 billion. I ask the Government to weigh those options, and to ensure that they take into account the fact that a failure to support Ford will mean that about 10 per cent. of the economic activity on Merseyside will be affected. Not only the Ford company and its workers, but workers elsewhere on Merseyside, will suffer.

5 Feb 1997 : Column 930

10.18 am

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill): The hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) has rendered the House a service in so ably painting the depressing picture of what will happen as a result of the job losses at Halewood. It is for the rest of us to put some brush strokes on that canvas, to try to support the points that he has made.

During the 25 years that I have been representing the people of Liverpool--first as a councillor, followed by 18 years in this House--there has been a depressing litany of job losses. I have stood alongside the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) and others on many occasions when we have been to see Ministers and employers to plead for jobs.

All of us know that, for the past quarter of a century--almost since it was founded--a sword of Damocles has been hanging precariously and threateningly over the Halewood plant. In turn, that has sapped morale and led to a loss of confidence. Despite the corrosive effect of such prolonged uncertainty, the employees have delivered substantial improvements in output and quality. Their reward has been the loss of 1,300 jobs. It is no wonder that, not unreasonably, they want to know what they had to do to secure their long-term futures.

My late father, having left the Eighth Army at the end of the war, went to work on the Ford shop floor for the whole of his life. For that personal reason, and because I know that many Liverpool families depend on Ford, I am completely aware of how devastating the effect of this announcement will be--as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mrs. Kennedy) and others have said--on those families who depend on employment at Ford for their homes, their futures and their livelihoods.

Ford is a giant employer in an area which has always had a weak manufacturing base. The knock-on effect into the local Merseyside economy on suppliers and retailers is incalculable. What a mockery this makes of myriad job creation initiatives and the conferring of objective 1 status if jobs such as these continue to haemorrhage and flow away. I had assumed that objective 1 meant inward European investment. Instead, this haemorrhage in employment represents disinvestment and the export of jobs to much more affluent parts of Europe. There is no logic--and no sustainable or coherent strategy--to this, let alone any sign of social responsibility towards the people involved.

Even the most ardent European would be hard put to explain why--despite being specially designated as objective 1--Merseyside should end up exporting jobs rather than cars. It also makes a mockery of the Government's claims that the lack of employment protection through the non-application of the social chapter has made the United Kingdom a mecca or a honeypot for inward investment.

We have the worst of all worlds. We have a lack of minimum standards for employees, and when employers are choosing whether to make German or British workers redundant, they inevitably go for the cheaper British option. That doubly fails British working men.

Mr. Hargreaves: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Alton: I have literally five minutes. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I know that other hon. Members want to get in.

5 Feb 1997 : Column 931

It is no good the Chancellor of the Exchequer merely shrugging his shoulders and saying, "You win some, you lose some." Losing one's job is not like the roll of a dice--it is not like losing a bet. Unemployment means having nothing to do, and that very rapidly ends up meaning nothing to do with the rest of us. Unemployment leads to alienation, depression, isolation and suicide. These are the consequences that one sees in communities riddled and racked with high unemployment.

In the 18 years that I have been in the House, I have seen all too many job losses without commensurate job gains, and that has had a devastating effect on family and community life. It saps the lifeblood of the community. We have been promised--as the hon. Member for Knowsley, South has said, by "Greeks bearing gifts"--the prospect of a new model at Ford. That is all well and good, and the work record of the people at Halewood more than warrants the bringing of that new model to Ford. But what about the 1,300 jobs on which the hon. Member concentrated our minds this morning? What about the continued production of the Ford Escort on Merseyside?

There is no reason why those two things should not go hand in hand, or why the burden of job losses should not be shared across all the plants mentioned by the hon. Member for Knowsley, South. The Government must do whatever needs to be done to secure that opportunity. The workers undoubtedly feel anger, and one can understand their sense of frustration. What the Government and the House must do is to give them the opportunity they are looking for to use their talents, their energies and their dynamism to build cars--something that they are good at.

Merseyside's biggest problem has been its industrial image. Sometimes that has been unfair, but it has undoubtedly turned away some investment. The last thing we need now is a long-term crippling industrial dispute, and we must do all we can to prevent it. Leadership is needed from this House, the Government and all parts of the Merseyside community to ensure that a constructive solution comes out of this. We must harness and channel the energies and dynamism of the community, not negative and destructive purposes.

10.25 am

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): I declare an interest, in that many of my friends and those with whom I work in St. Helens are shop stewards and employees at Halewood. One can actually see the Halewood plant from St. Helens, South, as it is only just down the road, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara). People who live in St. Helens and Knowsley know what unemployment means, and it is not just the loss of a job.

In the 14 years that I have represented St. Helens, South, I have watched the Government wipe out the mining industry. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) knows about this, as his constituency has suffered in the same way. We have watched the glass industry shrink, and we have watched friends lose their jobs at 40, with no jobs to follow. They are on the scrap heap at 40--can one imagine it?

Now we are watching it all happen again at Halewood. It is more than a tragedy--it is almost the final act of desecration. It need not happen. In the north-west, the workers provide skill, hard work and a commitment to

5 Feb 1997 : Column 932

jobs. Many thousands of men will be sitting at home this morning watching television because they have nowhere to go and nothing to do. Those men are skilled in glass work, engineering and mining, and they have talents and training. All they want is an opportunity to use their skills. "Get on your bike," said Lord Tebbit many years ago, but if one rides out of Merseyside, one either goes into Greater Manchester or into the sea. But one will not find a job, because beyond us lies more unemployment.

What do we have on Merseyside? We have communications, and a road structure that is second to none. Funnily enough, we have the money. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) knows the saga of Vauxhall and about getting the company's money out of the Government. The DTI nearly blew the whole scheme because of its incompetence.

The Government do not give a toss about Merseyside--let us be truthful. Where has the objective 1 money gone? There are buckets of it--an ocean of it--left. Where has the RECHAR money gone? It has not been used. It is all there. I have spoken to local European Members of Parliament on the matter. All we want is a change in the rules so we can rely not on a Government who will not give us anything, but on third-party funding. Those discussions have now begun.

This is not just a tragedy: it is a disaster. We could re-tool and reinvest--the money is there. All we need is willpower on the part of the Government of the day--please God, the present Government will not remain "the Government of the day" for long. We need them to show willpower and to get in there, to do something about an area whose skills are undoubted.

I leave the Government with one interesting thought. They tell us that we live in a world of increasing prosperity, and that the British public are better off. I suggest to them that they read The Independent this morning, which shows that--contrary to all their comments--the average weekly wage has fallen from £228 to £225 a week. But on Merseyside and in the north-west, our prosperity has fallen by 12.7 per cent. Now this has come upon us, and it is yet more disaster. We have the money, but we do not have prosperity--we are not given a chance or a fair deal. It is time that the Government began to realise that millions people in the north-west of England deserve a chance.

Next Section

IndexHome Page