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10.29 am

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): I make two points. First, the Government appear to have been caught on the starting blocks by this decision, yet they have key responsibilities, not only because of the effect on the balance of payments and regional employment levels, but because their decisions on employment policies have made the United Kingdom a soft touch as opposed to Spain and Germany, when multinationals make difficult decisions about which plants to close.

This morning, I spoke to Andy Richards, the district secretary for the Transport and General Workers Union for Ford workers in south Wales. He told me of the sense of betrayal in the plants at Bridgend and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who is on the Opposition Front Bench and who would have liked to speak in the debate--his constituency adjoins mine. As he knows, the workers in

5 Feb 1997 : Column 933

south Wales have done everything that the Ford company has asked. Delegations have been brought from the United States and elsewhere to marvel at the efficiency of the plant. The workers feel let down.

Secondly, the decision does not affect only Halewood. We feel sorrow and anger on behalf of those at Halewood, but the decision will have consequences for the plants in south Wales. At Bridgend, the new Escort engine--the I4, I5 investment--is in question. If Halewood production is transferred to Saarlouis, engine production for the Escort at Bridgend will almost certainly transfer to the German engine plant at Cologne, and 700 jobs could be lost at Bridgend. There is no other product at Bridgend, the overheads would remain constant, and there is a real danger to the plant as a whole.

The Swansea plant produces drums and discs for the Escort and engine parts for Bridgend, and it has lost the air conditioner investment through the Ford decision. We are now seeking to produce the worldwide fuel pump for the Escort, and the scenario that is relevant for Bridgend also applies to Swansea. When production of the Transit axle finishes in 1998-99, or possibly a year later, there will be no programme at that plant, which could have disastrous consequences for south Wales.

The Bridgend plant employs 1,500 men, and the Swansea plant 1,200. Both plants are effectively tied to the Escort. Those jobs are high-wage, high-quality, London-wage jobs, and it will be disastrous for south Wales and for Halewood if the decision goes ahead and the Government do not fight it, even at this late stage.

The air-conditioning production plant that was promised to Swansea and Neath was lost to Portugal in the same announcement, because the Welsh Development Agency could offer only £6 million, whereas the Portuguese Government offered £49 million. That gives some indication of the auction that is taking place among European Union Governments and of the fact that multinationals can blackmail national Governments. I hope that that lesson will not be lost on the Government.

We need some agreement at European Union level--just as there is with export credits--to ensure that national Governments are not picked off in that way. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath and I share the concern about the dire consequences for south Wales if the decision goes ahead.

10.33 am

Mr. Joe Benton (Bootle): Much of what I wanted to say has already been said, so I will confine my remarks on behalf of the people of Bootle and the Ford workers to supporting the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara). I am glad to have the opportunity to do so. We are talking about the loss of 1,300 jobs in Merseyside--a loss that we can ill afford. My constituency will share that loss.

I had occasion to meet some of the Ford principals with other hon. Members at a meeting in the House. A number of hon. Members have mentioned the implications of the social contract, which figured highly at the meeting. I asked the Ford management a question about it, and it seems strange that there has been no reference to this in their written response to us. In my opinion, there is no

5 Feb 1997 : Column 934

question but that the non-existence of the social contract has worked to the detriment of the Ford workers at Halewood. I am convinced of that.

Another matter that has not been mentioned is the Ford company's moral obligation. I urge Ford to consider that obligation. The record of the work force has been mentioned, but Ford also has a strong moral obligation to the Merseyside community at large. As has been said, the decision will have a devastating effect across that community.

Ford has an obligation because the records will show that the work force, the local authorities and the community have supported the company on Merseyside and have made it a highly successful operator, despite the current profit and loss indications. It is time for Ford to say that it will reconsider the matter and come back with something better to support the people to whom it owes a debt of honour.

I take this opportunity--it is probably the last one I shall have--to ask Ford to reconsider. There must be a way around this. Life is not all about profit. I would advise Ford to read a little booklet called "The Common Good"--the recent statement by all the Churches on what profit and loss is all about. That is the key. Profit is fine and Ford is entitled to expect it, but we are entitled to expect from Ford fair and just treatment for its workers, particularly those who have worked so hard and long, and have co-operated with all the adaptations in working practices that the company has suggested. The company owes a debt to those people.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South that the severance terms are generous--they are certainly far better than what the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company is offering the dockers, but that is another argument--but severance is not everything. The company has another duty--to secure the common good, and the good of the Merseyside community.

10.38 am

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston): I have only a few minutes to make my case, and the issue that I want to raise is as important as the Ford decision. Merseyside Members of Parliament will know that the economy of the area has been based for the past century and beyond on the port. Think of the factories along the dock road in the last century--Tate and Lyle, Silcocks, the British American Tobacco company--and the host of ship repair yards on both sides of the Mersey. All that has gone.

When Ford and other parts of the car industry first came to Merseyside, it was hailed as a new dawn for the area: we were moving from a port-oriented to a broader industrial economy. In the 1970s, there was a similar situation to today's, when two plants in my constituency left Merseyside, along with other industry.

The Government must consider the alternatives. The fact that Liverpool happens to be on the wrong side of the country and is therefore affected by the European Economic Community means that the Government have a responsibility to consider areas such as Merseyside, and the north-west as a whole, and to ensure that industry goes where it is needed. They have failed absolutely in that responsibility.

The work force at Ford have been as good as any set of workers in the Ford companies here and abroad, and there is no reason whatever for the decision.

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The uncertainty will be devastating for Merseyside's future. Ford's decision is a blow to the area, a blow to Merseyside and a blow to the north-west. We hope that the Government will turn their attention to the problems facing areas such as Merseyside.

The economy of the port has changed dramatically. At one time, 20,000 people were employed on the docks, but today there are fewer than 500. There are no companies left along the dock road. The whole economy has to change, and the Government's influence should be seen on a daily basis. They should not leave the place to rot. Government intervention is of prime importance. The Ford workers have done all that was required of them, and it is a scandal that they should be left in this situation.

10.41 am

Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) on securing this debate. He has done us all a service. All who spoke in the debate did so passionately and constructively about the immediate and long-term effects for Merseyside and other places in the United Kingdom of Ford's plan for Halewood. They were right to record the dismay and anger of those directly affected by the announcement of the 1,300 job losses, and the added uncertainty about the remaining jobs. They were also right to spell out the impact of such job losses on the already fragile manufacturing base of Merseyside.

If the decision remains and the worst scenario comes to pass, it will eat into the very heart of the community, and undermine attempts to regenerate Merseyside's regional economy. The redundancies have not been brought about by a lazy, unco-operative and unproductive work force; on the contrary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South and others so graphically showed, the workers responded positively to every new idea and work practice introduced by the company.

Indeed, there is evidence that the unions and the work force have been ahead of the local management in accepting and promoting new manufacturing techniques. The productivity increases and the high quality of product at Halewood bear witness to that. Cars are being produced to the highest standard set by the company.

It is significant that not one Conservative Member spoke in this debate other than by way of intervention. I suspect that that is because they were, and are, embarrassed about the policies that they advocated through the 1980s and into the 1990s. Those policies were predicated on the belief that manufacturing industry was of secondary importance to this country. They clung to the view that Britain had a great future based on the service sector alone.

Over the past 17 years, Conservative Members have argued that we need a low-wage, no-skill economy, with minimal protection for those in work and reduced support for the millions who have been thrown out of work with no hope for the future.

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