§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on De Lorean Motor Cars Ltd.
As my hon. Friend the Minister of State told the House on 28 January, I commissioned reports from Coopers and Lybrand and from Sir Kenneth Cork on the current state of, and future prospects for, the De Lorean motor business. On the basis of these reports, it is clear to me that there have been some remarkable achievements in this enterprise in terms of constructing at Dunmurry near Belfast a modern and well-equipped motor plant, designing and developing a new car, recruiting and training a substantial labour force and getting serious production under way, and introducing the product into the American market.
The importance of this enterprise to the Northern Ireland economy in general, and to West Belfast in particular, is self-evident. In addition, the enterprise has underpinned substantial employment in a range of supplying and supporting businesses, in Northern Ireland, in Great Britain and further afield, I have had all these factors very much in mind during the last difficult few weeks. I have also had representations from creditors of the company who have naturally been anxious about the effects on their own businesses.
However, the reports made to me have shown that De Lorean Motor Cars Ltd is insolvent, and therefore cannot continue in business without the injection of substantial further finance. Mr. De Lorean and other directors of the company met me yesterday to tell me that, although a number of promising lines of discussion with private sector parties interested in investing in the business had been opened up, none could be brought to a successful conclusion in time to cope with the immediate cash crisis. For my part, I had to reiterate to Mr. De Lorean that, since the inception of the project under the previous Administration, the enterprise had already been supported to the extent of almost £80 million by public funds and there was, therefore, no question of further public money for the company. Mr. De Lorean had been in no doubt about this for the past three weeks.
On this basis we agreed that the company had no alternative but to go into receivership and at the company's request, the formal steps to appoint Sir Kenneth Cork and Mr. Paul Shewell as receivers of the business have now been taken by the Department of Commerce. The receivers, however, have already made it clear in a public statement that it would be their objective to secure, if possible, through a reconstruction of the business, a future for the Dunmurry enterprise as a going concern. They have complimented the skills of the work force and expressed an intention to carry on a limited programme of production. I very much welcome their statement of their approach; and I hope that it will pave the way to maintaining employment at the plant.
They have also asked that, to facilitate them in their approach, and in the light of an offer by Mr. De Lorean to put $5 million of new resources into the American company, we should agree to the withdrawal of certain guarantees made by the American parent company to the Belfast manufacturing company. To enable the companies to continue to trade and to maintain an orderly market for the cars in the United States, I have, on the advice of the 521 receivers, agreed to the withdrawal of these guarantees. Since the American company would be insolvent without the injection of Mr. De Lorean's personal investment, the Government would not be surrendering anything of practical value.
It is clearly a matter of concern to the Government that this position should have been reached. There can be no guarantee that, through reconstruction, a secure way ahead can be found. But the receivers have made it clear that serious negotiations with interested parties are under way.
I hope that all concerned will now work together to explore the scope for establishing a viable, realistic and financially secure basis on which the De Lorean sports motor project might survive and continue to provide much needed employment in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. The board of DMCL has assured me that it will do all in its power to assist the receivers in their task.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
I welcome the statement by the Secretary of State who has not left the matter to fester over another weekend. Together with the workers and the suppliers in Northern Ireland the Opposition welcome an end to the uncertainties of recent weeks. However, waiting until about six minutes to eleven o'clock before sending out the statement leaves unclear much that we would have liked to look at in more depth. I understand the situation and I am not grumbling about having the statement on a Friday morning, as we pushed the Secretary of State to make one at the earliest possible opportunity.
If there has to be a receiver I welcome the appointment of Sir Kenneth Cork. He knows Northern Ireland and the significance of the De Lorean plant to the Province in jobs and confidence, and to the political stability of Northern Ireland. As the House knows only too well, there are over 7, 000 jobs inside and outside the Belfast factory that hinge on continued production in the De Lorean factory. A constructive receivership, which I hope is what is meant by the statement, must work ceaselessly to preserve jobs at a time of record high unemployment levels in Northern Ireland.
The key word for the future must be confidence. The De Lorean car will be marketable only when dealers and consumers have confidence in the continuity of production and in the support of the House. I am not surprised that Mr. De Lorean is having troubles in America trying to raise the money. This is one of the effects of the Government's policies. The comments of some hon. Members have been extremely unhelpful and damaging over the recent months. The more that De Lorean is knocked—and I have done some of that myself—the more the sales are restricted in America. Restricting sales will restrict the jobs opportunities of the people in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
It is essential that we have a good working relationship between the Government and the board of the De Lorean Motor Cars Ltd. We want to see an end to personal antagonisms and more attention devoted to the product and the jobs that it can provide. There is a future for the De Lorean car in numerous markets throughout the world and we would like to see a more constructive and positive approach from Government and the House towards helping the company to sell the cars. Selling the cars is the only way to preserve the jobs.
On the wider front, will the Secretary of State now tell the House precisely what are the Government's economic 522 policies for Northern Ireland? The collapse of De Lorean is wrapped up with the economic policies of the Government in Northern Ireland. Surely, the Government must realise that security and political progress in the Province can be achieved only when there is visible economic and social improvement. Unless we can be seen to be improving the prospect for jobs in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State can forget about political initiatives.
We are hopeful that jobs will be saved, but the Secretary of State must now re-double his efforts to bring investment to Northern Ireland. He has an uphill task to convince overseas investors that the Government offer worthwhile incentives and support in the light of what has happened to De Lorean and other companies. He has a long way to go to get back to the position that obtained when the Labour Government left office, when there was a record level of employment in Northern Ireland.
Does the Secretary of State accept the recent estimate of the Manpower Services Commission that each new unemployed person costs the Exchequer £5, 000 per annum? If the 7, 000 jobs associated with De Lorean in the United Kingdom, in the constituencies of hon. Members, were to be destroyed, the cost to the Exchequer would be £36 million this year alone.
§ Mr. Prior
I am grateful for the remarks of the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) about the need to do all that we can to ensure that this is a constructive receivership. We all hope that Sir Kenneth Cork will be able to build a new company, which will be of interest to people willing to invest in it.
I apologise to the right hon. Member for the delay in letting him have the statement. Mr. De Lorean asked us to leave it until six o'clock this morning before making up his mind, because he was still hoping until the last minute for a cash injection to arrive from the West Coast of America. Therefore we could not finally go ahead until after 6 am, although all the provisional arrangements had been made.
I have had the question of employment very much in mind over the past few weeks and have considered how we could preserve the best of the project. But the Government have put £80 million into the project in the past few years. The time had come when we had to say "No". Had we taken any other course, we should have had no credibility left in respect of the other ways in which we are trying to help in Northern Ireland. It was a difficult decision. We also had to bear in mind the implications for a large number of small creditors on both sides of the Irish Sea.
The Government's policy is to do all that we can to bring fresh investment to Northern Ireland. We give top priority to funds for commercial development. But until we have political advance and stability and better security in Northern Ireland it will be difficult to attract industries that will survive and prosper.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it will be hoped that in this case, too, bankruptcy will produce its usual beneficent and, indeed, indispensable, effects and that it will be what it ought to be—the cause of securing genuine investment in genuine prospects? Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that the sums of public money that have in any case been lost would have gone far to provide Northern Ireland with a permanent energy connection between the Province and 523 the rest of the United Kingdom, on which firmly based industrial progress could have taken place? Will he bear that experience in mind in the formation of his future industrial and economic policies in the Province?
§ Mr. Prior
There are lessons to be learnt for everyone on these occasions. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about a receivership giving an opportunity for a proper reconstruction. That is right.
I do not go quite as far as the right hon. Gentleman about the east-west connector. It would have cost considerably more than £80 million and would not necessarily have resulted in a definite improvement in Northern Ireland's energy position. We must consider all the factors together and do our utmost for the Northern Ireland economy. No one should underestimate the real suffering of the Northern Ireland economy, with 20 per cent. unemployment and in many areas over 40 per cent. male unemployment. If we did not have a problem of security and violence in Northern Ireland for other reasons, we should be close to it because of current economic and social conditions.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Is the Minister aware that the question mark over De Lorean has had a demoralising effect in Northern Ireland, not only on the work force but generally? Will the remaining work force immediately be called to a meeting and told precisely what is happening? Is he further aware that we are appalled when we see on our television screens workers coming out of the factory saying "We do not know what is happening; we may not be in a job tomorrow"? Will he give us a firm assurance that the Government's instruction to Sir Kenneth Cork is that the factory should be kept going, as Sir Kenneth is on record as saying that it can be viable? Can the right hon. Gentleman give hope to the workers who have been paid off without the necessary 90 days' notice that they will have compensation?
§ Mr. Prior
I fully understand the great anxiety and uncertainty for the work force over the past few weeks. One would have liked to have said more to the workers to help them understand the position. Unfortunately, with so many commercial considerations involved and negotiations going on, it was not possible to give them further information. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has been in touch with the unions already this morning. Sir Kenneth Cork's statement at 9.30 am will have reassured the work force about the future in so far as he could.
The Government are not in a position to instruct the receiver, but Sir Kenneth has stated:Our objective will be to do everything possible, through a reconstruction of the business, to maintain in Belfast the operation to manufacture De Lorean motor cars.That is also our wish and intention, but it will have to be through the injection of outside capital. That is why it is so important that nothing should be said to make Sir Kenneth's task more difficult.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the opening paragraph of his statement and his complimentary remarks about the workers have completely vindicated the previous Government's actions in taking steps that were so necessary to bring the company to Northern Ireland to redress the awful unemployment? Will the work force 524 remain at its present level of 1, 500? Will the Secretary of State deny the statements in the United States that during the three years that the company has been in Northern Ireland it has been subjected to 1, 400 petrol bomb attacks, as that is a blatant untruth? Is he aware that all the people employed at the factory and living in the surrounding area wish to see the company continue with a work force of at least 1, 500 or double that number?
§ Mr Prior
I entirely corroborate what the hon. Gentleman says. It is a travesty of the facts to say that the factory was subjected to the fire bomb attacks that were suggested. It is extremely damaging to future investment in Northern Ireland, where the vast majority of people go about their daily business in the same way as people in the rest of the United Kingdom. The company has not been subjected to the actions suggested. They may have been used as an excuse for past failures in some cases.
I am in a generous mood, but with the benefit of hindsight there might be doubt about whether the project was the right one. The trouble is that when one is desperate to attract industry, to get employment in Northern Ireland, one may tend to go for industries that require a degree of assistance and may not be in a strong position. It is a difficult balance to strike. I do not wish to score party points.
The continuation of the plant will depend on the receiver making satisfactory arrangements with one or other of the people negotiating with him. The level of the work force will be decided by that. But from all the information and reports it seems that it was far too ambitious so early on to talk of sales of 18, 000 to 20, 000 a year; 8, 500 to 9, 000 would have been much more realistic. The fundamental management mistake was last July when a second shift was brought in. With a complicated sports car on the American market, subject to all the competition, all that I have seen shows that considerable management and marketing mistakes were made in over-estimating the likely level of sales.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
Since I received a particularly nasty letter from an official of the De Lorean Motor Company merely because I had raised in this House the matter of the expenditure of £15, 000 on Concorde travel for Mr. De Lorean and first-class air travel for the directors of the firm going to a meeting in New York—which the official dismissed as a mere pittance in relation to total investment—the Secretary of State's announcement should give a little hope to the punch-drunk Ulster industry. I was glad to hear his compliments about the skilled and hard-working work force in the factory.
Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the De Lorean Motor Company and the engineering industry in Northern Ireland, and all the other firms involved, will be treated no less favourably than BL in the Midlands has been treated? Will the Secretary of State also give an assurance that the companies in my constituency, and elsewhere in Northern Ireland, which are owed money by De Lorean, will be paid quickly, as their survival depends on the money coming to them?
Finally, will the Secretary of State ask one of the Japanese firms to consider taking over De Lorean?
§ Mr. Prior
I must make it absolutely plain that I can give no assurance about the position of creditors. It would 525 be wrong if I in any way sought to do so. I am afraid that they have to take their risks and stand alongside other people in this unfortunate business.
With regard to firms in my hon. Friend's constituency and other firms in Northern Ireland being treated no less favourably than those in Great Britain, firms in Northern Ireland are treated considerably more favourably than firms anywhere else in the United Kingdom. I shall go on defending that policy, because it is absolutely necessary that they should be. We should not underestimate the enormous amount of aid that Great Britain is giving to Northern Ireland. My concern is to ensure that the money is spent as well as possible.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I join other hon. Members in welcoming the earlier part of the Minister's statement, in which he acknowledged the achievements of the work force at the Dunmurry plant. Whatever criticisms there may be of management—some may be justified but some are singularly unhelpful—the work force deserves credit for its great achievements. May I tell the Minister that we accept his unenviable decision as inevitable?
The Minister spoke of an annual production of about 8, 000 cars. I understand that within the trade it is felt that the company would be more likely to be successful with an annual production of 5, 500 or 6, 000 cars. That has to be appreciated if the plant is to survive.
Is the Minister satisfied about the future marketing arrangements in the United States? Will the marketing still have to go through one of Mr. De Lorean's own companies?
§ Mr. Prior
The hon. Gentleman's last point would be one for the receiver to investigate. Undoubtedly, one of the most unsatisfactory parts of the whole structure of the business has been the relationship between the American company and the Belfast company. Certainly the receiver will not be satisfied to go on with the present arrangements—at least, I imagine that he will not, judging by the report that he has produced to me.
With regard to the level of car production, the company is very unlikely to be profitable at the very low figure of 5, 500 to 6, 000 cars. That is another of the problems. Production will have to get up to about 8, 500 cars if the company is to stand any chance of washing its own face.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Will the Minister clarify the position concerning the 1, 100 workers who have already been made redundant and any people who will be made redundant in future? Everyone has praised the workers for their contribution, but will the Secretary of State accept that the company is not in a position to make redundancy payments to workers who have been made redundant through no fault of their own? Should not the Government be making a contribution in that direction?
Will the Minister explain a little more fully what sort of reconstruction is involved? Will the Northern Ireland Development Agency be involved in running the company with the receiver? Two of the agency's directors have been on the board. Does the Minister think that, for example, Mr. De Lorean, as a helpful gesture to build up confidence for the future, will be transferring the right to manufacture the car to the receiver or to the new company?
§ Mr. Prior
The hon. Gentleman's last point is a very important one. I must now leave it to the receiver. It is a 526 point that the receiver will obviously have very much in mind. It is brought out in the confidential report that he has given to me.
The Employment Protection Act 1975 will cover those who have been made redundant. Redundancy payments will be made out of the redundancy payments fund to those who have already been made redundant and who up to now have not been paid redundancy money. Any further redundancies in a company which is in receivership will be treated in the same way.
The Northern Ireland Development Agency will have nothing further to do with the matter, for the simple reason that the receiver will have to set up a fresh company, and it will be the responsibility of the receiver to deal with that. Therefore, the NIDA arrangements will tend to fall by the wayside. I would not think that NIDA would have any further interest in the matter, other than the very considerable interest that we have in the property and in the working equipment, which is tied to the loans that we have made.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Those of us who have seen the factory and the men at work will feel particularly sad at this time. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the relief on the Conservative Benches that good money is not to be sent after bad? I admire the way in which my right hon. Friend has succeeded in directing funds to the relief of the distressed economy in Northern Ireland. Will he bear in mind—as I am sure he does—that future investment should be sound investment, as indicated by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)?
§ Mr. Prior
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. We need to look carefully at future investment, and to ensure that in any such future investment there Ls a larger input of private sector money to go alongside any money that is put in by the State. That is one of the lessons to be learnt. The other is that Northern Ireland has a very good work force, and we need to capitalise on it in every way that we can.
§ Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)
Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations and the congratulations of the House on the moral courage that he has displayed and on his dignity in making this very unhappy statement to the House today? Will he consider the effect that it will have on my constituency of Dudley in the West Midlands, where several firms are sole suppliers to the De Lorean Motor Company?
In the difficult negotiations with the receiver, will my right hon. Friend do everything in his power to create an air of confidence, and the sort of environment in which risk capital could be invested in the company?
§ Mr. Prior
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. One of the factors that I have had in mind is the number of small suppliers in the West Midlands, in my hon. Friend's constituency and in other places who, as things stand, are likely to be badly affected by the receivership.
It is important that a number of cars that are on their way to the United States, in the United States, or in the factory at Belfast, and which have not yet been sold, should be sold at the proper price. That is the way in which the creditors are likely to receive the biggest dividend. Therefore, in the interests of the creditors, nothing should 527 be done to knock the car, let alone the future of the company. That is why it is so important that we should try to get off to a reasonable start.
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, East)
Will the Secretary of State note that many of the small firms in this country, such as those in my constituency, have a large proportion of their production geared to the De Lorean company? While the reconstruction is taking place, will he have discussions with his colleagues in the Department of Industry and the Department of Employment to see what can be done to tide over the small firms until the position of the De Lorean company becomes clear?
§ Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham and Crawley)
Will my right hon. Friend confirm, apart from the waivers on the interest that he has announced, that the receiver has not called on him or the Government for any assistance in any reconstruction of the company that might occur in future? Secondly, in view of the substantial sums granted every year to Northern Ireland, will he consider whether that money is used in the best way or whether a regime of tax concessions—especially corporation tax—might not provide a better service to the people of Northern Ireland? Finally, does my right hon. Friend agree that the large-scale support that he and the Government give to Northern Ireland shows beyond any doubt the commitment of the Government and people of this country to Northern Ireland? That should not be held in any doubt in any quarters.
§ Mr. Prior
Everything shows that the people of Great Britain are prepared to do all that they can to help Northern Ireland and its people through a difficult period. I confirm that and I am grateful for my hon. Friend's final remarks.
Tax concessions I have under review and the manner in which money to help with investment is given to Northern Ireland. Many problems will be presented if we seek to go a different way in Northern Ireland from that which we follow in the rest of the United Kingdom. One of the attractions of my hon. Friend's suggestion is that it would bring us more into line with the Republic, which has been more successful until recently in attracting investment.
I confirm that there is no question of any further money or assurances being given by the Government to the De Lorean project, and that the only change we have made relates to the bond over the American company. Charges over the Belfast company remain exactly as they are and, of course, our royalties from the sale of each car remains as they are.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West)
Is the Secretary of State aware that his last sentences rather upset what we would otherwise have regarded as a very sensitive and realistic approach to this most difficult question? He has in Sir Kenneth Cork and Paul Shewell two of the most able receivers in the business. They have made a clear statement with a view to reconstructing the company.
528 I urge the right hon. Gentleman at this stage not to rule out any further possible Government aid under a new scheme. He made a precise statement concerning the De Lorean project. It may be possible, via ECGD, the Northern Ireland Development Board or even through the Government to provide further aid on a realistic new project, and I urge him to keep an open mind. It is silly in Government ever to rule anything out beforehand.
Will those who have been made redundant in Northern Ireland qualify under the Employment Protection Act? Can the right hon Gentleman give precise figures on that aspect? Lastly, I am sure that he is aware of the serious situation of the Unbrako factory in Coventry. Can he assure me that he has not ruled out Government help there? Is he aware that any Government help to tide the firm over a difficult financial period would be most welcome?
§ Mr. Prior
Redundancies are covered by the Employment Protection Act. However, the additional problem is that the company did not give 90 days notice, as it was required to do under that Act. That matter must go to an industrial tribunal and I believe that the unions have already made application. As I understand it-1 shall have to refresh my mind—if the industrial tribunal rules against the company and the company is in receivership, payments still come out of the redundancy payments fund.
The hon. Gentleman urges me to keep an open mind about the future of the company. I must make it clear that both the Labour and Tory Governments have done everything in their power to help De Lorean. It would be wrong, and certainly not in the interests of the receiver in trying to attract new money, if there were any suggestion that further Government money would be made available to it the company. I must keep to that point.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that economic and political progress and improvement of the security situation in Northern Ireland are indivisible and, for that reason, the location of the De Lorean plant alone justifies special measures being taken and might indeed justify special measures in the future? Does he agree that it is unrealistic for anyone to think that prosperity will bloom in Northern Ireland without continued strong Government support?
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
While one can be sure that Coopers and Lybrand have done work of their usual high standard, it seems an extraordinary anomaly that the Comptroller and Auditor General of the United Kingdom seems to have no jurisdiction in Northern Ireland and that this Parliament never decided that he should not have such jurisdiction. Will the Secretary of State and the Treasury consider that very odd circumstance?
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
Can my right hon. Friend tell the House a little more about the guarantees apparently surrendered? What were these guarantees? Why have they been surrendered? Is my right hon. Friend absolutely sure that those guarantees are presently valueless?
§ Mr. Prior
That was an overall guarantee given by the United States company—De Lorean Motor Cars—to the Department of Commerce and the Northern Ireland Development Agency for the loans they made to De Lorean Motor Cars Ltd. in Belfast. Mr. De Lorean said that he was prepared to invest $5 million to keep the New York company solvent. However, of course, he was not prepared to put that money in if on the first occasion, as soon as the money was put in, we whipped it out to cover the guarantee for the Belfast company.
Because the report in front of us shows that without that $5 million injection the New York company would become insolvent in a big manner and that we would therefore have been unlikely to get anything out of the company, it seemed to us that the benefits that the receiver said he needed to keep the marketing going in the United States, justified that action. I am satisfied that it in no way restricts the right we have on loans over the assets of the De Lorean Motor Cars Ltd. of Belfast.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I shall call other hon. Members, but I hope that they will bear in mind the Private Member's Bill that is being debated.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
While my right hon. Friend obviously has had to make a very sad statement and while I agree with him that all the money so far invested was invested with the best of intentions, perhaps my right hon. Friend could help those such as the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson), who ask for more direct Government investment in industry if he told us how much Government money has already gone for each job year provided by De Lorean.
§ Mr. Prior
I cannot do it in terms of job-years, but the amount of money Governments have altogether put into De Lorean is just over £79 million. Of course, part of that sum was in employment subsidies, industrial and regional grants, the original share capital, part on a loan, and a £10 million loan was a guarantee to the bank.
At its peak, De Lorean employed 2, 600 people. If one divides 2, 600 into £80 million, one gets a figure of approximately £32, 000 per job. Of course, that is spread over a period.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
Is my right hon. Friend heartened by the general feeling in the House of support for Northern Ireland and by the extraordinary agreement on both sides of the House that the solution to this tragic problem is not to throw even more public money at it? Does this show that the Government's economic message is beginning to get across, and is not that a most encouraging sign?
§ Mr. Gary Waller
(Brighouse and Spenborough): Will my right hon. Friend accept my appreciation for the realistic attitude that he has adopted in view of the state 530 of the market in the United States for De Lorean cars? Will he also accept my appreciation of his efforts to save the jobs of workers in Northern Ireland and those who are employed by component manufacturers in this country? Is he aware that for component manufacturers there is a disproportionate effect because of the specialised nature of the product that has been specified by De Lorean? Will he accept my good wishes for any encouragement that he is able to give with the reconstruction and future of the company?
§ Mr. Prior
We have in Sir Kenneth Cork a man who understands Northern Ireland and who is keen to help in every way that he can. He is firmly of the mind that there is a future for the company at a reduced level. He wants to see it prosper and he has taken on board the effect on component manufacturers in my hon. Friend's constituency and in other constituencies. I should be wrong to be too optimistic about the outcome. We have many difficulties ahead of us. However, the response of the House this morning has shown me that there is more good will over trying to reach a sensible position than one might have thought over the past few weeks.