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Mrs. Beckett: If I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, he must be as good at his numbers as the shadow Chancellor. I should be very surprised if my right hon. Friend will benefit from anything like the amount that the hon. Gentleman suggests. However, I see no need to
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): My right hon. Friend may have seen an exchange that I had yesterday with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Department of Trade and Industry and also early-day motion 249, tabled by a number of people with responsibilities in areas where General Motors operates.
[That this House deplores the decision taken by General Motors to close the plant in Luton; notes that the most recent profit figure for Vauxhall is £127.7 million in 1999, and that it holds the second largest share of the UK car market; notes that the UK will become a net importer of Vauxhall cars if the Luton plant closes, importing an extra 160,000 vehicles every year, worsening balance of payments by £1 billion; notes that Vauxhall received millions of pounds of British Government grant aid and employees accepted reduced wages and holidays in a successful effort to reduce costs since 1998 in return for job security; notes that Vauxhall has broken its agreements to both employees and the British Government and therefore rejects the company's decision to close Vauxhall at Luton; believes that the Chief Executive Officer of General Motors, Mr. Wagoner, should be called before the Trade and Industry Select Committee to give evidence; and calls on the company to retain production at Luton and deliver the new replacement model for the Astra to Ellesmere Port.]
Will the Leader of the House find time in the very near future for a debate on employment relations, with particular reference to the activities of multinational companies? We welcome their investment--the motor vehicle industry is critical to us--but we must get the balance right, and we cannot allow such activities to continue.
Mrs. Beckett: I have a great deal of sympathy with the constituents of my hon. Friend, and with those of other hon. Friends who represent Luton, in these difficult circumstances. I fully understand the concern expressed by my hon. Friend. He will be aware that the Government have long had a good and constructive relationship with the company, during which we have tried to ensure that employment can be maintained and opportunities fully pursued in this country. I fear I cannot undertake to find time in the near future for a special debate on employment relations--even in the context of Vauxhall--but I am sure that my hon. Friend, who is experienced and skilled at raising the affairs of his constituents, will find other ways to pursue the matter.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Commenting on the radio on yesterday's events concerning the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), the noble Lord Goodhart said that the Government were at their most vulnerable when large amounts of sponsorship were involved. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the dome and its sponsorship, especially during the period when the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for it, so
Mrs. Beckett: I always think that it is a bit dodgy when Conservative Members raise issues on funding; the words "pots" and "kettles" certainly come to mind. There is extensive inquiry and discussion about the history and future of the dome--no doubt there will be many opportunities to discuss that further--but I fear that I cannot find time for another special debate on the matter at present.
Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich): Will my right hon. Friend make time for a transport debate? I ask that in the light of comments, reported yesterday in The Sun, by the Tory Transport spokesman, the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin). He said:
Mrs. Beckett: Without getting drawn into the issue of what will happen to Conservative candidates at the next election, I understand my hon. Friend's request for a debate on what, as he says, seems to be yet another somewhat ludicrous idea from the Opposition. For once, however, I am in minuscule agreement with the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) in so far as I wholeheartedly agree that when one pays for a seat, one should get a seat; I think that the whole House agrees. As for whether people would be pleased to be given a voucher so that they could travel without a seat on another occasion--that is rather doubtful.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): I do not think it good enough for the Leader of the House to brush aside the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) when he said that we need a statement from the Prime Minister on the performance and behaviour of the Prime Minister's chief press spokesman. The Prime Minister's spokesman is in breach of the guidelines, clearly laid down for him by the Cabinet Secretary in evidence given to the Select Committee on Public Administration on which I serve. It was made clear that he had no authority to attack the Conservative party. It is clear to anyone who read The Daily Telegraph yesterday that he attacked Conservative spending plans. May we please have a statement from the Prime Minister? Only the Prime Minister can answer on this matter. The line of responsibility runs directly to the Prime Minister; no one else can answer.
Mrs. Beckett: First, I did not brush aside the right hon. Gentleman's question; I would not dream of doing so. I always treat him with great respect--he is a very senior Member of the House. I simply pointed out to him that
[That this House deplores the comment by Corus Chairman, Brian Moffat, that his company is 'in business to make money not steel'; notes that the first act of the Board of Directors of Corus after it was formed was to pay out £694 million to its shareholders; notes that Corus also appropriated unilaterally £863 million from a surplus in the British Steel Pension Fund and provided massive remuneration increases to former Dutch senior management, providing pay-offs of between £1 and £2 million to chief executives who were dismissed; further regrets that Corus, through acquisitions and mergers that can be identified from published sources, has spent £137.4 million abroad compared with capital investment in the United Kingdom, which can be identified from published sources of £3.6 million; and therefore rejects Corus' business strategy and calls upon the company to retain the current configuration of the steel industry and to prioritise investment in steel making.]
A number of my constituents work at the massive Llanwern steelworks just outside Newport. Many of my constituents are British Steel pensioners . The surplus of their pension fund has been pinched to the extent of £863 million. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite the best efforts of the Government, the company has treated its work force appallingly?
Mrs. Beckett: I can certainly understand the concern that my hon. Friend expresses on behalf of its constituents. The whole House understands, and sometimes with reluctance accepts, that no company can continue in business if it is wholly unprofitable or very badly managed, but we seem to have in Corus a company with considerable industrial and commercial success, to which the work force have contributed massively with high productivity and efficiency. It is a well-run company producing high-quality materials.
Although I understand my hon. Friend's regret and concern, I fear that I cannot undertake to find time for a special debate on the matter in the near future, but I am confident that he and others will continue to air their concerns.