HC Deb 28 July 1982 vol 28 cc1046-7
7. Mr. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he is taking to improve job prospects in Levenmouth.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

The Levenmouth and Methil employment office area remains a development area eligible for all forms of Government and European regional assistance.

Mr. Henderson

I thank my hon. Friend for the personal interest that he has taken in the complex problems of Sybron-Balfour. If Henry Balfour is to be left out of the deal between Sybron and Sohio, are the Government satisfied that no one else will be prevented from taking over and operating the glass lining operations at Leven? In the wider context of Levenmouth, will my hon. Friend urge the SDA to respond positively to the proposals made by the local authorities for an integrated project in the Levenmouth area?

Mr. Fletcher

We shall examine carefully the local authorities proposals. I know that the SDA will do likewise. As to the agreement that is being negotiated between Sybron and Sohio in the United States, which is still not completed, we are closely involved with the parties concerned. We are doing our best to ensure that the business at Henry Balfour is retained.

Mr. Gourlay


Mr. Harry Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If some of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches wish to catch your eye, perhaps—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call those hon. Members who rise, but the House must bear with me, as I thought that this was a constituency matter for the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson).

Mr. Gourlay

Levenmouth covers my constituency as well, Mr. Speaker. Is the Minister aware that Henry Balfour Ltd. has about 75 per cent. of the glass lined vessel market in the United Kingdom? If that business were to go to West Germany, as is anticipated, it would be a major loss to Scotland generally and the Levenmouth area in particular. Therefore, what do the Government propose to do to try to prevent this tragedy?

Mr. Fletcher

I agree that it would be a tragedy if the glass lining business were to be lost, not just for Levenmouth but for the United Kingdom. That is why we are doing everything possible to persuade the parties making the contract to agree that the business should be allowed to remain at Levenmouth. At this point, however, I cannot predict the outcome.

Mr. William Hamilton

A number of my constituents are deeply worried about this matter, as they are employed in Sybron-Balfour. Does the Minister realise that there is already 28 per cent. male unemployment in that area and that if these jobs are lost—about 500 of them—it will be a disaster?

Mr. Fletcher

I have already said that this is a serious matter, but the Government are not in a position to interfere in the negotiations. We are doing our best to influence the parties by pointing out to them the serious position that would arise if the proposed deal were to go through.

Mr. Ewing

The Minister's answers are abysmally complacent. The Minister must understand that Sohio American is a subsidiary of BP. Has he made any direct approach to seek to influence BP to stop it taking those viable jobs away from Balfour at Leven? Does the Minister realise that we are talking about a company that has been successful in attracting orders and has a full order book? Contrary to what the Secretary of State has said, all 600 jobs are to be exported to Germany and the EEC. Does the Minister understand that he must make much greater efforts to help Levenmouth?

Mr. Fletcher

I refute the charge of complacency. I have been in direct contact with BP, which owns 53 per cent. of Sohio and we are in direct contact with Sohio and Sybron. Talks are taking place at the moment, but there is no complacency in the Scottish Office about Henry Balfour or any other project in Scotland.

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