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13 Jun 2006 : Column 220WH—continued

By close of business on 8 June, the total amount paid to claimants in full or partial payments was £1,331 million out of the total £1,500 million to be disbursed. The RPA is now focused on making payments to claimants who have not received any payment to date and whose claim value exceeds €1,000. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a good deal
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swifter at mathematical calculations than I am, and will realise that the particular claim that he brought to the attention of the House falls into that category.

Unfortunately, I am not able to give a summary of payments made in west Dorset. Experience has shown that it takes a disproportionate time to retrieve data on regions, and at the moment I am sure the right hon. Gentlemen would not want me—and I certainly do not want—to deflect the RPA effort from its focus on making payments as soon as possible, which we would both agree must be its priority. Looking forward, the Government are determined to learn the lessons from this year to help us to prepare for the undoubted challenges that will arise in delivering the 2006 scheme, with a view to reaching a stable position in 2007. The new ministerial team will, I promise, work extremely hard with the RPA and stakeholders to that end.

I have made a note of the issue about acknowledgment letters that the right hon. Gentleman raised. Although it is perhaps understandable in the present circumstances, it is an irritation and a sign that the system is not yet operating as it should. However, I reassure him that, although most of the RPA’s resources are focused, as I said, on processing outstanding 2005 schemes as quickly as possible, I am confident that it has sufficient staff to undertake data capture and to make a start on validating 2006 scheme claims in parallel with the 2005 scheme activity that is continuing.

Farmers manage nearly 80 per cent. of the UK’s land, and we believe that public money should reward farmers for the landscape and environmental benefits that they provide. It is now just over a year since the launch of environmental stewardship, which is a further key element in our strategy for sustainable farming and food. It enables all farmers to engage in simple yet effective environmental management and offers genuine financial support.

The opening year of the scheme has not been without problems. Nevertheless, more than 20,000 farmers have successfully entered new stewardship agreements, bringing about 2.6 million hectares of land under environmental agreement. In Dorset, nearly 500 farmers have entered the entry-level and organic entry-level schemes, and five higher-level scheme agreements are now in place. To date, more than £18 million has been paid to agreement holders in England, and I am greatly encouraged that we are providing real rewards to those who are prepared to commit to securing environmental gain through their sensitive management of the land.

Of course I recognise that what the right hon. Gentleman I think called little irritations occur in cross-compliance and the monitoring of that. As he said, the process in question—like all processes—needs a common-sense overrider. However, I am sure that he will welcome, as I do, the fact that in the first year of the scheme’s operation a real transformation is beginning to happen in the way farmers are reconnecting with their markets and people are reconnecting with their food and the countryside.

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The England rural development programme has had a major impact on rural areas around the country, and about £1.6 billion has been committed to projects over the past seven years. In Dorset, that has helped initiatives such as Local Food Links, an enterprise that aims to support a range of local food production and give local people—schoolchildren in particular—access to the products in question, thus supporting local farmers and growers, reducing food miles and supporting a healthier population. The Dorset “Chalk and Cheese” programme is supported by nearly £3 million of EU and public money under the Leader+ programme and has delivered a variety of community-led projects in the area, designed to support local farming. One of those is an internet-based radio service run by and for small farmers in the area to help producers to add value to their products and to develop sustainable tourism initiatives such as the Wessex ridgeway project and “Chalks and Hawks”—a wildlife tourism initiative integrating species conservation and rural tourism.

We are determined to continue those successes in the next round of rural development funding, starting in 2007. The consultation on the priorities for the next rural development programme in England closed on 22 May, and we received 280 responses, which I believe shows a good deal of interest. We want to use the next programme, which will continue to have environmental stewardship at its heart, to make a real difference in rural areas by safeguarding and enhancing our rural environment and fostering thriving rural communities.

In the time that is left to me, I do not want to miss the opportunity to deal with the issues raised by the right hon. Gentleman about bovine tuberculosis, because that is an important issue for farmers—and dairy farmers in particular—specifically in the south-west. It is there that the problem seems to be prevalent. It is the biggest endemic animal disease issue that we face, and I know that it will be of concern to many livestock farmers in and around the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, for the reasons that I have set out.

To help to address the situation we have recently introduced pre-movement testing in England to help to reduce the geographical spread of TB. We have implemented a new system of compensation to prevent overpayment for animals that react to the TB skin test and to speed up the removal of those animals from farms. Following completion of the Krebs trial, we have consulted on the principal method of badger culling to control TB in high-incidence areas of England.

No decision has yet been made on badger culling, but any decision needs to be based on all the best scientific evidence about whether it can be successful in the long term and whether a cost-effective, practical, sustainable and of course humane culling policy can be developed and implemented. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that those are fundamental and essential criteria.

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Manufacturing (West Midlands)

Janet Anderson (in the Chair): This is only a half-hour Adjournment debate, so speeches will be permitted only with the agreement of the sponsoring Member and the Minister, although interventions are perfectly in order.

1 pm

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): First, I thank the Speaker for granting us this debate at short notice. I think that he understands the seriousness of the manufacturing situation in the west midlands. Most people will know that the west midlands—be it Coventry, Birmingham or elsewhere—was famous for the motor car in years gone by. I want to concentrate on the situation with Peugeot in Coventry and particularly on how the company has handled the closures.

Over the past 20 years, the west midlands, and particularly Coventry, have experienced a number of job losses and closures. Only last year, there was the collapse of Rover, with the loss of about 6,000 jobs. About seven or eight years ago, Rolls-Royce in Coventry shed probably well over 1,000 jobs. Three or four years ago, Massey Ferguson closed in Coventry. Many years before that, as people will remember, there was the famous Standard Motor Company, which was also associated with Coventry.

That is to mention only a few of the closures and job losses, which also have a knock-on effect, and most experts suggest that for every direct employee in a motor car company who loses their job, two or three indirect employees are probably affected. We are talking about many thousands of job losses, not just a couple of thousand.

I am sure that my colleagues from the west midlands, in particular, will agree, therefore, that it is about time that the Government had a good look at their industrial strategy. Indeed, some weeks ago, we from the west midlands raised the issue of manufacturing with the Prime Minister. He suggested that he would be having a discussion with the Trade and Industry Secretary to look at the Government’s industrial strategy, particularly in relation to the west midlands, and at what has been happening in the region. Although lots of people tend to forget this, the west midlands is this country’s economic engine. West midlands MPs will therefore agree with me that we cannot just sit back and watch these jobs haemorrhaging without trying to bring the job losses to an end.

As regards Peugeot, this is one of the few occasions that I know of when a company has pulled out when it was profitable. Labour costs in this country are on a par with anything in Europe and the United States, so all the misnomers and red herrings that get drawn into this issue do not really stand up. The situation can be put quite simply: the company is going to the former Czechoslovakia, where wages are a lot lower than in this country.

We must also remember that the work force have done everything that they were asked to do, as the work force at Jaguar did: they were asked to improve quality,
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and they did; they were asked to run four shifts, and they did; they were asked to take on temporary labour, and they did.

In general terms, the trade unions have a proposal. Again, we must draw attention to how the company has performed, because it has not seriously sat down and looked at alternatives. The trade unions have been quite reasonable and have looked at the possibility of running one shift for the next two or three years to buy time and get a new model into the Coventry plant. Again, however, the company has refused to discuss the alternatives. Instead, it has been through the motions, as we have seen time and time again with employers.

It is not that many weeks since the company pulled out and made its announcement; indeed, it was the week when I introduced a ten-minute Bill on labour rights. I introduced it because we cannot go along with companies arbitrarily deciding that they are going to have a closure, giving people 90 days’ notice and saying that that is it. For some companies in this country, consultation seems to mean, “We’re going to tell you what to do, and that’s that.” Some people think that when a company says that it is going to have a consultation it is all about negotiation, but it is not. The company is just going to tell people what it is going to do, and although they can make representations, the decision has actually been taken.

About two years ago, Peugeot was offered a £14 million grant to modernise the factory in Coventry, but it delayed its decision. Then, just over 12 months ago, we had a debate about Jaguar in the House. I said that it was peculiar that a company that had been trying to get a grant to modernise its factory did not seem to be taking it up. The company gave all sorts of excuses about hold-ups in Europe so on, but the real test was whether it took up the grant. If it did, we knew that it was going to stay in Coventry; if it declined to, we knew that it was not. We then had a statement from one of the executives, who said, “We’ll draw the grant down as we need it,” but that was one of the company’s red herrings, and I remember the articles in the local newspaper.

Now, however, we have had the company’s answer—it never intended to stay in the first place. It has played ducks and drakes with the Department of Trade and Industry. I am sure that the Minister has had discussions with her officials and that they will tell her what I am telling her—that it was always difficult to have any meetings with the company. It is only recently that any dialogue has taken place, and that was about the closures, so we can see the company’s record.

The company still has a presence in Britain, but the point is that it will not be making motor cars here.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. He mentioned the other jobs that Peugeot provides in this country, and many of them are in the franchises in and around my constituency. It beggars belief that there is a campaign suggesting that British workers should completely boycott Peugeot. What is my hon. Friend’s attitude to that?

Mr. Cunningham: I am not the trade union or its negotiator, and it is not for me to tell the trade union how to organise itself. It is purely for the trade union to
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decide what sanctions, if any, it will put on the company. It is not wise for MPs to try to tell the labour force how to react, and nor can we negotiate for them—that is the trade union’s job. What we can do, and what we have been trying to do in parliamentary terms, is raise the issues when we can. Ministers are perfectly well aware of that, and I gave some instances, including our meeting with the Prime Minister and my ten-minute Bill.

We are doing what we can to assist the labour force because the closure will have a devastating effect on the workers and their families. People should bear it in mind that, at the end of the day, it is the families who suffer. When Rolls-Royce collapsed in 1971, people did not know whether they were going to have a job, and the families were worried about paying mortgages. Those are the things that drive the problem home to us.

In about 2001, we had the initial problems with Rover. Anybody who went there, as I did with the Trade and Industry Committee, would have been struck by the emotion and by the fact that whole generations of families worked at the factory. Some people ran small businesses, and we could see, five or six years ago, what the devastation was going to be. Eventually, the taskforce was set up to deal with the situation, and it is a useful instrument, but it cannot be a substitute for jobs. Although it finds people employment, we must remember that some of the jobs that might be available will bring in £2,000 or £3,000 less than the jobs that employees have at Peugeot now. That should be borne in mind when people say that there are alternative jobs.

We should also bear it in mind that the company produces about 280,000 vehicles a year, and it certainly has about a third of the market in Britain. We should not lose track of that. The problem, of course, is that the cars will not be made in Britain any more.

Informed opinion suggests that many years ago the company took over what used to be Chrysler only to get a toehold in the British market. Well, it has its toehold now; essentially, it has said, “We’re going to make these vehicles in Czechoslovakia. We want the right both to come into your country and sell them and to treat your labour force in an abysmal manner.” It is also asking the Government to stand back and accept it all. Ministers should look seriously at the situation in the west midlands. Over the years, a number of manufacturing companies, to say the least, have gone to the wall.

We in Coventry are also interested in another issue, on which the Minister could be very helpful. We had a meeting with the Chancellor about the closure and made some suggestions. For the longer term, there is the site near Walsgrave hospital. We have to look for the potential for new industries, and that site certainly has potential for developing what we would call a medical technological park.

People are familiar with the idea that medical science will create new jobs and technologies. We are seeing vast changes in the health service; I shall not go down that road, but there is that potential for new jobs. I am not an expert, but some who are reckon that 5,000 jobs might be created, and that gives us a clue about where we should be looking to create new jobs. Obviously, we have to diversify, and we should look at that area. We
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hope that Advantage West Midlands will, to use the proverbial phrase, get its finger out and get something done about that site.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, whom I congratulate on securing this important debate. He has spoken about the effects on his city, as other Members who represent Coventry would. However, will he bear it in mind also that in the black country area—certainly in Walsall—we have suffered a great number of redundancies in manufacturing? That has continued. In Willenhall—not the Willenhall in my hon. Friend’s city, but the one in my constituency—the lock industry has been substantially reduced for all kinds of reasons; obviously, losses in the motor industry have had an effect on that industry. I hope that my hon. Friend shares my hope that the Minister will speak about the larger and wider aspect of manufacturing in the west midlands.

Mr. Cunningham: I totally agree, and that is why I did not confine the debate to Peugeot. I have referred to the west midlands in general terms and said that we should have an industrial strategy and look towards the creation of new industries.

We have to look from a manufacturing point of view at the whole situation in the west midlands. We also have to look at the alternatives to manufacturing and what the new manufacturing industries are going to be. I have given a clue on that today. We must also consider labour law. For a long time, the trade unions have been agitating about how employees in this country are treated totally differently from those in Europe. Those are some of the issues that the Minister should consider. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson), who is about to speak, I hope that she can give us encouragement.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West)(Lab): rose

Janet Anderson (in the Chair): Does the hon. Gentleman have permission to speak from both the sponsoring Member and the Minister?

1.13 pm

Mr. Robinson : I do, Mrs. Anderson; I am grateful to have been called to speak by your good self.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) on securing this debate, as we all do, and thank Mr. Speaker for making it possible. This debate is important, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) made it clear in his intervention, it is about the whole of the west midlands, although my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South has talked and I will talk more specifically about the situation in Coventry.

This debate takes place against the background of the Massey Ferguson closure, when all the manufacturing was moved to France. The Jaguar closure followed, although fortunately we retained the bulk of the activity in the west midlands, and we are very pleased as Coventry people to see that it remains with us. Most recent, and still a matter of great current concern, is the Peugeot closure, with the work going to the Czech Republic.

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