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Mr. Tom King: I hope the Home Secretary will allow me to say something about what might be described as a hobby horse of mine. People who may have had experience in a number of parts of an agency or department may never have been involved in finance. They may suddenly be promoted to the job of principal finance officer, although they have no expertise in that field. Not many companies could be found in this country that would entrust their funds to a financial director who had no financial qualifications.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury mentioned the risk of information being given to the Intelligence and Security Committee. He cannot have known this, but we give the ISC full information about the balance of expenditure not only between but within agencies. The issue has been whether the information should be provided publicly. My right hon. Friend and I are at one, in that we understand the argument for having a snapshot of only one year, but do not consider it to be sustainable.
Questions were raised about organised crime, NCIS and Customs and Excise. NCIS and Customs and Excise attend occasional meetings of the Joint Intelligence Committee, but are not full members of it. An increasing amount of the effort of agencies--not just the Security Service, under its specific powers, but the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ--is devoted to dealing with organised crime, and a great deal of effort goes into improving co-ordination of work across agencies. I see, directly, the work of the Security Service, the National Crime Squad and NCIS in dealing with organised crime, as well as that of the Met. Although there was a fair amount of suspicion initially, as often happens with law enforcement services, it is gradually being broken down, and the organisations involved are learning from each other.
The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) suggested that the Security Service should concentrate more on subversion. He implied that the problems that we experienced with two successive riots in the City could be blamed on a decline in the size of F5.
As is well known, there was a time when much of the effort of the Security Service was spent on investigating potential subversion in this country. That was the case throughout the cold war, and for as long as there were suspicions that many people might be fellow travellers and potential traitors. It goes back to the concerns of the Attlee Government after the war about the lack of vetting. Information gradually emerged about the extent to which various secret organs of the state had been infiltrated by the Communist party. As the cold war wound down, that was bound to change.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that if he thinks about what those organisations were doing, he will realise that they were mainly concerned with bodies such as the Communist party and those who might spy for the Soviet bloc. They had some involvement in industrial trade unions, but, for a similar reason, they were little concerned with general mayhem on the streets. One could think of plenty of examples of potentially violent and, in some cases, very violent demonstrations in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, including the poll tax riots, that occurred when there was a high level of activity by F5. Palpably, that activity did not prevent those demonstrations, because, even with the best intelligence in the world, one cannot prevent them. Furthermore, that is not what the organisation was there for.
The hon. Gentleman also slightly glossed over the situation as to those riots. There were serious lessons to be learned from the 1999 riots, and most were learned by the time of last year's May day riot. Yes, that riot occurred and damage was done, but it was controlled to a high degree by the Metropolitan police. I pay tribute to it for its direction.
Members of the Intelligence and Security Committee are concerned that staff of the agencies may sometimes think that they are mentioned only when their work is being criticised. Any member of staff who has listened to
One of the great delights of my four years as Home Secretary has been getting to know what necessarily secret organisations and people who cannot name or laud themselves do and witnessing their commitment, professionalism and esprit de corps. I have to add that they also show a great deal of personal courage. In thanking members of the Committee for their work and in paying tribute to the outgoing members, in particular the Chairman, I know that I express, on behalf of the whole House, our great debt of gratitude to the agencies and their staff.
Line 31, at end add--
'( ) The committee shall have power to appoint a sub-committee, which shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report to the committee from time to time.
( ) The committee shall have power to report from time to time the minutes of evidence taken before the sub-committee.
( ) The quorum of the sub-committee shall be three.'.-- [Mr. Mike Hall.]
Line 40, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 50, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 52, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]
Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise an important issue on behalf of many of my constituents. I should inform the House that Ravenhead Glass, which went out of business three weeks ago, has a long history in St. Helens--it has had a factory there for more than 150 years. In its heyday, it employed more than 5,000 people, but when it closed two weeks ago, it employed 200.
Many of those people, after 30 years' service, would normally have expected gold watches, enhanced redundancy payments or even good pensions. Most of the staff are aged over 50 and, as I have said, most have more than 30 years' service with the company. Three weeks ago they were made redundant and were told that they would receive only statutory redundancy pay, and that they would have their pensions reduced by about 20 per cent., as the pension scheme contained a £5 million black hole.
These workers are not numbers; they are people. An example is Mr. Dave Rotherham, who contacted me recently. He had worked in the plant for 30 years, and his father had worked there for 50 years. His life has been turned upside down in recent weeks. He has lost his job, he has no enhanced redundancy payments, and he faces a family crisis and a bleak future. That is after 30 years' hard work for the same company.
The Ravenhead company is owned by a parent company, Durabor, which is owned by the Belgian regional government. Ravenhead went into administration in November 1999. It had massive debts and an undervalued pension scheme. The Ravenhead plant at St. Helens is one of only two glass manufacturing plants in the UK. The other is in Chesterfield and is also, by coincidence, in receivership. It is quite possible, therefore, that within a few weeks Britain will have no glassware industry at all. That will be the end of another British industry. It will be lost for ever, thanks to the current problems that the industry is experiencing.
The Department of Trade and Industry has been very helpful with the recent problems that we have had, and I would like to pay tribute to Ministers and officials for all the help that they have given me. From day one, when we were trying to find a new buyer, they gave us every assistance with advice, and financial and moral support. I cannot criticise the effort made by the Department, and I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to pass on my thanks to his staff, especially those in the north-west office, for all their help.
The workers have now lost their jobs--some after 30 years--and they want to know why. I am having great difficulty understanding why the company got itself into such a mess. Many of the workers believe that responsibility lies with the management of the company. They want to know why the factory closed, why their pension scheme was so underfunded, and why Durabor forced the St. Helens factory to sell glass at well below cost price. Those people believe that forcing the company to do that led to the closure of the factory in St. Helens.
A large stock of surplus glass in the Ravenhead factory warehouses is now up for purchase as a result of the closure. Rumour has it that Durabor is in open discussion with a company based in America called Libby's, which is about to buy up those stocks. If it does so, it will buy them at very low cost, and be able to sell them at a fat profit. The workers at the plant believe that a deal has been struck between the American company and Durabor to gobble up the whole of the British and Belgian markets.
Following the closure of Ravenhead in St. Helens and Delmar in Chesterfield, there will be no glass producers in Britain. If the American giant were to take over the company, it would have complete control of the Belgian and UK markets. It would then be able to increase prices over a period of time and have a very healthy business. I believe that there is a case for investigating whether any anti-competitive practices have been carried out by that company, and I would welcome any such investigation.
My constituents who worked at Ravenhead have been told that there is a £5 million gap in their pension fund. Many of them worked there for 30 or more years. The company took a contributions holiday back in 1998. When the scheme was revalued in 1999, a deficit was found. It was agreed that the company would increase the payments over a number of years to make good that shortfall. Obviously, that will no longer happen now that the company has gone out of business, and the company pensioners have been left with a pension scheme that does not meet the requirements needed to maintain their pension levels. They want to know why the trustees and the company decided to take a contributions holiday and why the scheme went into deficit. I would welcome an investigation into pensions schemes. I know that that is the responsibility of the Treasury, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to contact Treasury colleagues about it.
There should be an investigation into the closure of the plant and into whether anti-competitive practices have gone on. We need an investigation into the relationship between Libby's and Durabor, as I believe that there is strong evidence that they have been working collectively for many months to destroy the competition in Britain and Belgium and to give themselves a dominant position in the market for years to come.
There is also a case for the Government to consider legislation on employment rights and pensions. It is totally unacceptable for workers who have given such loyal service to a company over many years to be treated in such a shabby way. British workers need to have better employment and pension protection and I hope that the Government will look at that in some detail.
I also want the Government to consider legislation on a company's ability to take a contributions holiday, and I wish to make some suggestions. No pension scheme, and no trustee of a scheme, should be allowed to take a contributions holiday unless the scheme has built up a buffer zone, which could be used if the scheme underperformed. There is a strong case for removing the employer from the pension scheme altogether. That would have made a major difference to the employees' scheme at Ravenhead. There is also a strong case for requiring pension schemes to be revalued every year, rather than every four years. Recently, we have seen how the market can move rapidly and revaluing pension schemes every four years is unacceptable.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will discuss with his colleagues how we can investigate those issues and make sure that people are held accountable for their actions. The very least my constituents expect is that a full investigation will be held into the allegations that they have made, which I have restated today.
Durabor, the Belgian parent company, is not a small operation; its majority shareholder is the Belgian regional government. That regional government may not have a legal responsibility to the employees at Ravenhead, but there is a strong moral case that they should make some compensation payments to my constituents.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to make representations on behalf of the workers of Ravenhead to the Belgian regional government, who must stand by their ex-employees and accept responsibility. They cannot walk away, leaving people who have worked in the company for more than 30 years with minimum statutory redundancy pay and an undervalued pension scheme. I would welcome any help and assistance on those issues.