§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
May I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your thoughtful and considerate words, in answer to a point of order yesterday, to those who have lost their jobs at Bathgate, and for allowing me to put a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, of which I have given him private notice—namely, if he will make a statement on the Government's actions in relation to Motorola in Bathgate?
§ The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Stephen Byers)
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will share with me and, I think, most Members of the House, the feelings of regret and disappointment caused by Motorola's decision to close its plant at Easter Inch in Bathgate. This is a bitter blow for hard-working people and their families. In considering our response to this an announcement, we need to be aware of the reasons for Motorola's decision and the steps that will need to be taken to help those individuals affected and the communities in which they live.
There is no doubt that Motorola is facing a difficult position with the sharp downturn in the market for mobile telephones. That was the reason given for yesterday's decision. As a consequence of this global decline, Motorola announced trading losses of £140 million for the first quarter of this year.
The closure of the Easter Inch factory is part of the wider rationalisation of global production capacity by Motorola personal communications sector—its mobile phones division. Since December, Motorola has announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs worldwide in this sector alone. It is closing two plants in the United States and cutting its work force in Brazil. In Europe, Motorola has sold its Dublin facility, with a major loss of jobs.
The Scottish Executive have bean in constant contact over the past few weeks with Motorola both in the United Kingdom and in the United States. The Government have backed the Scottish Executive's efforts. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary and I have all made representations to Motorola.
In the end, Motorola took a decision that it believes to be in the long-term commercial interests of the company. However, there is no doubt that this will be an extremely difficult time for all those affected by the announcement. It will be a devastating blow for individuals, the families and the communities in which they live.
The first priority must be to pursue with Motorola future options for the Bathgate site. We need to explore every possible future use of that excellent facility. There are a wide variety of options to explore with the company—ranging from sale as a going concern to, possibly, sale to a contract manufacturer or to another related business. The other alternatives include new employment for a new employer purchasing the site. Invest UK stands ready to assist the Scottish Executive in that task.
In order to assist the individuals affected, the Scottish Executive are setting up a taskforce, made up of Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian, the Employment 308 Service, West Lothian council, the careers service, the Benefits Agency and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. The taskforce will draw up an action plan to meet the needs of the Motorola workers. Subject to the agreement of Motorola, that is likely to include an on-site jobshop, business start-up workshops and other support to assist people to find jobs—[Interruption.] The Conservatives may joke at the measures that we are putting in place to help those affected by the decision, but Labour Members and people in Scotland know only too well what the Conservatives did in the 1980s: they did nothing for the people of Scotland—that is the reality of the situation.
Because those individuals need assistance, the taskforce has been set up and has already begun its work to help them. The action plan will meet the needs of those individuals. The Scottish Executive are setting aside up to £10 million to help fund the action plan. It has been made clear to Motorola that it will have to pay back the £16.75 million in regional selective assistance that it has received for the plant during the past six years. That will be the largest clawback of RSA grant in the history of Scotland.
Although the Bathgate decision is a real body blow, we must not forget that Motorola will remain a major employer—and the largest electronic manufacturer—in Scotland. The company has given assurances that its semiconductor operations at East Kilbride and South Queensferry are unaffected by yesterday's decision; we welcome that. The company remains committed to a software development centre at Livingston and to the planned next generation of semiconductor technology in Dunfermline. Despite the decision, towards the end of last year, to reconsider the timing of the Dunfermline plan, Motorola has emphasised its underlying commitment to that project.
We would expect that workers from Bathgate, affected by yesterday's decision, will have the opportunity to retrain and to apply for those new jobs being created by Motorola in Scotland. The company has confirmed that it looks forward to building on its 32 years' association with Scotland, and that it sees Dunfermline as the cornerstone of its future investment.
It is clear that, at a time of globalisation, many sectors of industry are going through major restructuring, and that there are bound to be implications for us in the United Kingdom owing to the slowdown in the world economy, especially in the United States. However, we should not overstate our difficulties. Most forecasters expect manufacturing output to grow this year. The medium-term prospects appear good with productivity having grown at 6 per cent. Exports are also growing, with manufacturing export volumes up by more than 10 per cent. in the last year.
No country can ever insulate itself from world economic events, but it is because of the decisive action that we have taken—introducing tough fiscal rules, reducing the national debt, making the Bank of England independent and delivering the lowest inflation for 30 years—that British economic policy is much better placed than it has ever been in the past.
We are on course to continue to deliver stability and sustained growth, but it is an extremely difficult time for individuals and communities when jobs are lost as industries restructure in the face of change. It is even more frustrating when, as in this case, those losses arise because 309 of global managerial decisions based on financial problems in one sector, despite the success and the profits coming from the plant that has been earmarked for closure.
This will be a difficult time for all those affected by the announcement. The Bathgate work force are productive and highly skilled. I know that, working with local and national agencies and the Scottish Executive, the United Kingdom Government will do all we can to assist them to find new jobs.
The closure of the Easter Inch plant will take place over six to 12 months. Motorola, the Scottish Executive, the Employment Service and the Government will work together to ensure that employees are found new employment before redundancy takes effect.
Bathgate has suffered from job losses before. In the 1980s, unemployment reached 17 per cent. but, through hard work and commitment, the situation has been turned around. As a result, the current rate of unemployment in West Lothian stands at 3.8 per cent.—a great success story. However, I am the first to acknowledge that those figures will be of little comfort to the workers affected by the announcement. Many hon. Members will understand the anger and frustration that they will feel. We must do all we can to help them through the difficult months ahead. By working together with the Scottish Executive, I am confident that we will be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead and, as a result, offer real hope to those individuals, their families and the communities affected by Motorola's decision.
§ Mr. Dalyell
May I thank my right hon. Friend for the tone and content of his statement? Does he sympathise—I do not doubt for a moment that he does—with those who are having to face redundancy, not for the first, not for the second, but in some cases for the third, fourth or even fifth time in their lives? Does he recognise that the majority of the 3,200 people losing their jobs are youngish people, who—thanks, in part, to Motorola's first-class and caring training policies and, in part, to excellent schoolteachers and further education lecturers in central Scotland—are eminently employable?
Looking to the future, should we not co-operate with Motorola in getting the best possible redundancy terms for those who are losing their jobs? Is not the company's offer of four weeks' pay for every year of service four times the statutory requirement, and confirmation of the company's decency towards its employees?
Does the Secretary of State recognise that Motorola has a 32-year commitment to Scotland at East Kilbride and continues to work closely and constructively with many organisations and, in particular, with the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), who endorses my favourable attitude towards Motorola?
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that Motorola has provided 20,000-odd person years of quality employment at Bathgate, which will always be appreciated throughout the central Scotland community? Will he do everything in his power to encourage Motorola to develop and expand research and software facilities in my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's constituency of Livingston and to go ahead with the proposed semiconductor development 310 at Hyundai in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's constituency of Dunfermline, East? Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry agree with Bill Speirs of the STUC that the Government must do everything to keep Motorola in Scotland?
Albeit that there are legally obligatory repayments under regional selective assistance, when my right hon. Friend considers such matters, will he take into account the point that Motorola should in no way be scapegoated? Is not the truth that West Lothian has been resilient since the days of James "Paraffin" Young in the industrial revolution and that it is a vibrant industrial community, which has the potential to absorb many of the 3,100 skilled work force? Incidentally, is it not a fact that, according to Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian, although 800 redundancies were declared by Continental Tyres at Newbridge in late 1999, only 31 people of those people remain unemployed? I know from my first-hand knowledge that there are explanations for some of the cases that are included in that figure of 31.
Do we have the assurance that my right hon. Friend—along with the Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Mrs. Liddell), who is sitting beside him and whose constituency is affected, and the constructive and efficient members and officials of West Lothian district council and the Scottish Executive—will make sure that the full resources of Government are brought to bear to ensure that customised training will help to place these skilled workers as quickly as possible into alternative employment? I cannot sufficiently emphasise the importance of customised training, especially against the backdrop of a continuing skills shortage in our area.
Does my right hon. Friend share a certain unease that part of the trouble has been brought about by young analysts, operating in Wall Street and in the City of London? They have no great knowledge of industry and they are concerned about getting a quick buck. They know very little about the lives of the people affected and on whom they have such a great effect.
Does my right hon. Friend share my unease about the culture of blame that has developed in relation to redundancies in high-tech industries? Hindsight is a marvellous thing, and we might all be better if we possessed perfect foresight. Is it not true that, until Christmas 2000 when every primary school pupil in the playground seemed to have asked for a mobile phone, demand boomed? In six short weeks, the mobile phone has become a product that we replace only when we lose or bust it.
Can we count—I am sure that we can—on the sustained and intense co-operation that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised at 3.15 pm in answer to the pertinent question of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne)?
§ Mr. Byers
My hon. Friend is a powerful advocate on this issue. For some time, he has been concerned about Bathgate's prospects and the possible decision by Motorola. He has set the right tone for the House. We need to be conscious of the needs of the individuals affected by the decision. They will be very uncertain about their prospects and need to know that their Government in Westminster and the Scottish Parliament and Executive want to put in place measures to assist 311 them. Motorola will remain a major employer in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. It is not a fly-by-night company; it has been in Scotland for 32 years.
We understand Motorola's difficulties. Some 21,000 jobs are being lost worldwide because of the downturn in the mobile phone market and Bathgate is paying a heavy price because of the industry's commercial decisions. We need to engage with Motorola and find a new owner for an excellent facility at Easter Inch. My hon. Friend mentioned the repayment of regional selective assistance. Motorola has been clear on that. It received the assistance subject to certain conditions and has been open in stating that if it does not meet them, it is only right and proper to repay the money. It said that in the last 24 hours.
I agree with the comments made by Bill Speirs of the STUC. This is an opportunity to work in a real partnership. My hon. Friend made an important point about the strengths of the work force in Bathgate. Many of the employees are young and have been through excellent training as a result of Motorola's efforts. It is true to say that education and training are probably the best economic policy that any community or country can have. Motorola's employees will be in a strong position to take advantage of the new opportunities that it is to be hoped will be available to them in the next six to 12 months. We have a breathing space to ensure that those opportunities exist for the people affected by Motorola's decision.
The Conservatives sneer when we talk about establishing a taskforce to help those people, but in the north-east, when Siemens closed its plant in my constituency and Fujitsu closed its plant at Newton Aycliffe further south, taskforces were set up and within 12 months the majority of people who were affected were in work. That is in stark contrast to the Conservatives' approach. They would simply say, "This is about market forces. Government should not intervene." We are following an active policy in which we make representations. However, if a decision is taken, of which we do not approve—as in this case—but which is in response to commercial realities, we want to work with the people and community affected so that we can be far stronger in addressing their needs and concerns. That is exactly what we will do in Bathgate. We will work with the Scottish Executive and Motorola to ensure that people affected by the decision will have new opportunities.
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)
The job losses at Motorola are disastrous for the staff and work force, especially in the constituency of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). However, the effect will be felt more widely, both in Scotland and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the losses follow more than 350,000 manufacturing jobs lost since the last general election. That compares with 69,000 extra manufacturing jobs created by the most recent Conservative Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm those figures and that contrast? Will he also comment on today's CBI industrial trends survey, which shows that orders, output and business confidence are sharply down? The terrible job losses may be the latest but not the last in the sector.
Most importantly, will the disaster at Motorola finally shake the Government out of their complacency on employment? Last-minute emergency telephone calls from the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry do not repair the damage caused by four 312 years of endless increases in business taxes and the piling on to British industry of more and more red tape and regulations, all of which has undermined our competitiveness. That will be particularly important if there is a worldwide economic downturn, which I notice the right hon. Gentleman is starting to blame for everything.
Will the Secretary of State today start to listen to what companies and industry have been telling the Government for four years about the need to retain competitiveness and the damage that will be caused to future jobs if that is not done? Will he start to stand up for the interests of British industry? Will he resist the endless Treasury demands for more and more revenue from business and industry which have reduced the Department of Trade and Industry to the role of a spectator as the job losses mount, month after month?
Finally, is it the case that Motorola was hit by the slow take-up and orders for its new GPRS handset, caused in turn by the £22.5 billion paid by the industry to the Treasury last year as the licence fee for the next mobile phone spectrum auction? That was a transfer of debt from the public to the private sector which weakened the telecom sector and threatened to put this country further behind in the whole technology sector.
§ Mr. Byers
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman got his last point totally wrong. He was talking about a second-generation capability mobile phone, and of course the auction related to third-generation capability. Perhaps that is the sort of detail that he does not want to go into.
Most importantly, we should look at the reasons that Motorola has given for its decision. Let us listen not to the right hon. Gentleman or me, but to Motorola, which has made it very clear that the decision was made because of a downturn in the global mobile phone market. That is why 12,000 jobs are being lost worldwide—not only in Scotland, but in America, Brazil and Dublin. We are in a global economy and we feel the consequences of that.
The right hon. Gentleman made a comparison with the loss of manufacturing jobs. He was very selective in the period from which he quoted figures. He said that some 300,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the past four years under this Government, but he failed to look at the record on manufacturing of 18 years of Conservative Government. Let us consider that period—1979 to 1997. The right hon. Gentleman does not like it because he knows that 2.5 million manufacturing jobs were lost in that time. That is an average loss of 150,000 manufacturing jobs every year for 18 years, not just one or two years. That is why Labour Members will take no lessons from the Conservatives about our commitment to manufacturing. In Scotland, there are now 100,000 more people in work than when we came into office. In the United Kingdom, there are now 1.2 million more people in work than in May 1997. Those are the true figures, which the right hon. Gentleman will not allow to get in the way of his prejudice.
It was interesting that there was nothing in the Conservative spokesman's remarks, not even a sentence, about the steps to help the individuals affected by the decision, because the Conservatives simply do not care. We know that because we have been here; we know their attitude to the loss of manufacturing jobs. In Scotland, hundreds of thousands of jobs in manufacturing were lost 313 in the 1980s. We all know what the Conservatives did; they walked away and did not discharge their responsibilities. We will discharge our responsibilities to the workers of Bathgate and the people of Scotland. We are an active Government working in partnership, ensuring that people have a far better future.
§ Mr. Joe Ashton (Bassetlaw)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the collapse of the mobile phone industry is affecting not just Motorola in Scotland but 950 jobs at Ericsson in my constituency? Is it not time that there was an inquiry by the Office of Fair Trading into that industry's marketing? It costs £100 to make each mobile phone, yet the networks—Orange, Vodafone, BT and so on—are putting them on sale at £15 to £20, hoping to make their money from the cost of calls. They have expanded the market into a fashion industry, as phones are given as children's presents at Christmas. Kids are given phones only to find out that they cannot afford the £5 or £10 vouchers to keep using them. Suddenly, virtually overnight, a major worldwide industry has collapsed.
There should be some inquiry, even if it is conducted by a television company, into how a high-tech industry can pull that sort of stunt and put hundreds of people—indeed, thousands across Europe—out of jobs while being irresponsible about marketing. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Office of Fair Trading to conduct an inquiry into how the collapse came about?
§ Mr. Byers
I do not think establishing an OFT inquiry would serve the purposes about which my hon. Friend feels strongly. If there is any evidence of anti-competitive behaviour, clearly that should be referred to the OFT. However, there are wider issues. I fully understand my hon. Friend's concerns about Ericsson's decision in relation to his constituency. We are working closely with Ericsson to try to identify a new owner for that facility and its other facility just outside Scunthorpe. There has been a lot of interest from people wishing to acquire those plants. I hope that there might be some good news concerning those individuals. There are therefore issues that need to be addressed, but starting an OFT inquiry now will not serve the objectives that my hon. Friend wishes to achieve.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. In granting this private notice question, I realised that we have an Opposition day and are eating into Opposition time, so I appeal to the House for brief questions.
§ Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)
May I add my sympathy to that expressed for members of the work force and their families, and welcome the taskforce? May I ask specifically whether the £16.5 million repayment will be available to the taskforce to help retraining and assist the work force?
In the Secretary of State's discussions with the company, how did it explain the fact that it is closing its Scottish installation, but not its installation in Flensburg in Germany? Is that because the company judged that the German manufacturing environment is more competitive 314 than ours for exchange rate or other reasons, or is it because the German plant is an R and D unit? Is not one of the lessons of the exercise the fact that our selective industrial policy has channelled large sums of money—a cumulative total of £6.5 billion in Scotland, I think—to subsidise jobs, rather than provide the added value and permanence of more developed approaches to regional policy?
Finally, since the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor have been speaking to company executives about that commercial decision, what was the basis of their representation? Did the Secretary of State resist the pressures from the industry to change retrospectively the terms of their auction licences and allow anti-competitive mergers in the industry?
§ Mr. Byers
In the conversations that I had with the company, the cost of the third-generation auction was not an issue that it raised. The debate was always about the relative costs of the plant in Germany compared with those at the Bathgate facility. Those were not employment costs. The company was examining the totality of provision. In that context, it felt that there were reasons—partly because of the different nature of the facility in Germany—why on balance it made greater commercial sense for the Bathgate facility to be the one that should suffer from this decision.
As for the repayment of regional selective assistance, the Scottish Executive have already indicated that up to £10 million will be available to support the work of the taskforce. I am sure that when the money is repaid, it will be examining how it can use the regional selective assistance in a way that will support economic regeneration and job creation.
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
As someone who lived in Bathgate during the late 1980s and early 1990s, I saw for myself the devastation of communities under the previous Conservative Government. May I express my deep regret to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and to the communities that are so affected by the decision on redundancies?
My constituency suffered 10,000 job losses under the previous Government but has seen successful regeneration under the policies of the present Government. I welcome the announcement of the taskforce, and I welcome Motorola's commitment to the Dunfermline facility, which is within my constituency. That creates much confusion. Does my right hon. Friend agree, as I am sure my constituents in Dunfermline and West Fife would agree, that it is to be hoped that when Motorola opens its new facility in Dunfermline, some of the new job opportunities will be available to people who are now working at Easter Inch as well as to the people of Dunfermline and West Fife?
§ Mr. Byers
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is worth reminding ourselves, as my hon. Friend has reminded us, of the number of jobs that have been lost in the not too distant past, including 10,000 in her constituency, and the change that we are seeing in the employment scene in Scotland. Although such figures represent the total picture, an individual on the production facility at Easter Inch will not derive great comfort from them if he is threatened with the loss of his job within the 315 next few months. That is why it is important that Motorola recommits itself to its Livingston facility as well as the one at Dunfermline, and provides, with the Scottish Executive and the Employment Service, customised training, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow requested, so that the vacancies that become available at these facilities can be taken up by people from Bathgate. They will be able to do so if they have the necessary training and skills.
That is how we must look forward. I know that it is especially difficult to do so within 24 hours of such a decision. We need to work together to provide new opportunities and skills and training for the individuals who are affected by Motorola's decision.
§ Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)
The worry for the families of those who have lost their jobs is evident. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was right to say that Motorola has been an extremely important inward investor into this country, and has tried to treat its employees well. There is no doubt that such inward investment showed merits under the Conservative Government as well as under the present Government. I hope that the Secretary of State will draw the right conclusion, which is that inward investment creates jobs, but there can be risks to those jobs in an open world market.
Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake not to follow the reactionary policies being introduced in France, which are more likely to deter inward investment into France? Also, the Australian Government blocked Shell's acquisition of Woodside Oil only this week.
Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the fact that one of the reasons why Motorola decided to continue in Germany rather than in Scotland is that there are significant tax advantages to the company through rolled-up losses in Germany, which shows that within a single market it is important to consider how one tax in one country relates to tax treatment in another country? Will the Secretary of State please put it on the record again that Sir David Brown, the chairman of Motorola, is not alone in British industry in understanding that the competitive problem of the United Kingdom is associated with the fact that we are not part of the eurozone?
§ Mr. Byers
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about the views of Sir David Brown, the UK chairman of Motorola, regarding the UK's membership of the single European currency. He has gone on record as saying that in his view, it would be beneficial to companies such as Motorola if that were the case. With regard to the particular announcement, UK membership of the single European currency was not an issue that affected the decision. Some 12,000 jobs worldwide are being lost as a result of the decision.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the nature of inward investment. We are an extremely favoured location within Europe for a number of reasons: one is the economic stability, another is our labour market regulation, and a third is the fact that we can attract companies to come to the UK as a bridge into the rest of Europe. It is important that we maintain that position and do nothing that would act as a disincentive.
The hon. Gentleman is right to flag up the difficulties that can arise. That is an issue to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred yesterday. At a time when world 316 economies are beginning to slow down, there is always a danger that national Governments will move to protectionism, close off markets and adopt policies that may be popular in their own countries in the short term, but which in the medium and long term create real difficulties for economic growth and prosperity. History teaches us the dangers of that. We must make sure that we do not repeat those mistakes—and we certainly will not.
§ Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Unfortunately, Motorola is well known for using employment agency workers, who are paid less and given fewer rights than others who work beside them. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that those agency workers will be given the same employment assistance as people employed by the company?
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
I support the creation of a taskforce for an area that I know extremely well. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether the figure of £10 million, which has been announced by the Scottish Government, is a ceiling figure, or will the financial commitment behind the taskforce be as much as it takes to deal with an economic catastrophe on a substantial scale? The right hon. Gentleman sounded very confident about the future of inward investment. Can he tell the House anything more about the reasons for that confidence?
Finally, 32,000 fewer people are employed in manufacturing in Scotland now than in 1997. Many of the job losses have been related to the exchange rate, and many have been associated with non-membership of the eurozone. Why, then, is the Secretary of State so confident that no aspect of the decision was related to the eurozone, despite the fact that the decision was made to retain a similar plant in Germany?
§ Mr. Byers
On the latter point, that was because of conversations that we had with Motorola, and its public statements since the announcement about the reasons for its decision. The hon. Gentleman should consider the company's decision to close its facility in Dublin, which was clearly within the eurozone but still felt the effect of the global downturn. Those are the reasons that have been given by Motorola.
As for the work of the taskforce, the Scottish Executive said today that £10 million would be available. That is not a capped figure. More will be made available if necessary to meet the needs of the individuals affected. It is important that they should be aware that there will be support and training, and that the necessary steps will be taken to put them in a strong position to get the jobs that will be created in a strong Scotland in the future.
With regard to the Dunfermline facility, since the announcement yesterday Motorola has made it clear that although it announced a slowing down in the timetable 317 last year, it is still committed to developing the facility at Dunfermline as a cornerstone of the new technology that it wants to develop for the future.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
I have to be honest, Mr. Speaker, and say that I missed the first two minutes of my right hon. Friend's statement. I was delayed in coming to the House.
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
I welcome the establishment of the taskforce. I have some practical experience, as I chair a taskforce in Dumbarton in relation to the J&B Whisky bottling plant, which closed three years ago with the loss of 500 jobs. With a partnership approach, fewer than 60 people out of the original 500 have not secured employment, and there are reasons why some of those who remain unemployed have not secured work. In the light of the experience of myself and others, does my right hon. Friend accept the fact that the private employer is the key to the taskforce? The private employer has to be committed, just as Diageo was in my constituency. I pay tribute to Diageo for its involvement. Motorola has to be centrally involved, so that it leaves the community an economic and social legacy as a result of its many years in Bathgate.
§ Mr. Byers
My hon. Friend, drawing on his personal experience, makes an important point about the role of the private sector. Given Motorola's 32 years of involvement in Scotland, and given also the nature of the company, I am sure that it will want to be involved in the work of the taskforce. I know from my experience in north-east England that, as my hon. Friend said, taskforces will be successful when the private sector is actively involved with the public sector. We welcome the fact that the STUC is a member of the taskforce. Partnership will often be the most successful approach.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)
Will the Secretary of State welcome the fact that the European Information Society Group, or EURIM—the all-party group that deals with Information Society issues—decided almost a month ago to set up a mobile working party? There is a meeting on Monday to deal with the issues. Will he consider carefully the fact that the payment of £22.5 billion by the networks has meant that they have not invested in current roll-out of the GPRS system? Motorola is the first company in the world to have made handsets available, but there is no network for them. That is a significant issue, as Motorola would have been manufacturing the handsets now if the networks could afford to make the investment and had not given £22.5 billion to the Chancellor.
§ Mr. Byers
I hope that the working party will deal with that point, as I think that the hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. The working party might be able to illuminate him about the exact consequences. I know that the Conservative Opposition have been trying to turn the proceeds of the auction—the £22.5 billion received by the Government for the third generation—into an issue. 318 Companies took commercial decisions at the time. We took the view that it was far better to let the commercial decisions determine how much people were prepared to pay for the licences. Opposition Members now seem to be suggesting that some of the money should be paid back because the companies got a commercial judgment wrong. That is the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but the proceeds of the auction are a red herring in terms of Bathgate and Motorola. I want us to use this opportunity to discuss the needs of the individuals and the reality of the position in Scotland.
§ Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I had an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall only yesterday on job losses in the electronics industry in Northern Ireland? I think that those losses are, in total, of the same magnitude per capita for Northern Ireland as the loss announced today is for Scotland. Is he also aware that I was somewhat surprised not only to secure that debate, but to learn that he was to speak on the subject today, as we have devolution in the two affected areas of the United Kingdom? I am gratified that the Government are indicating through him a measure of responsibility for resolving the difficulties caused by such job losses. Will he assure me that whatever is done with regard to Motorola and Scotland will be done in every other region of the United Kingdom where such job losses occur?
§ Mr. Byers
As you know, Mr. Speaker, because we have communicated about the matter, some aspects are reserved. For example, we have direct responsibility for social security benefits and employment legislation, whereas industrial assistance issues are devolved to the Scottish Executive.
However, I have always believed that devolution is about maintaining a partnership approach, and that we achieve far more together. Some people do not agree, but we achieve more together than by claiming that matters are not our responsibility. I was therefore more than happy to talk to Motorola, and the Prime Minister believed that it was also his responsibility to do that. We cannot instruct a commercial company, but we can make representations. Sometimes they are successful and sometimes they are not, and we regret it. However, it is far better to make the effort on behalf of workers wherever they are in the United Kingdom—Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland—than to stand to one side and do nothing.
§ Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
Motorola has a huge presence in Scotland and the closure of the plant will be a massive blow to the whole country as well as the immediate Bathgate area. Does the Secretary of State accept that it is a warning of a wider problem in the telecoms sector? Signum Circuits in my constituency in Selkirk has laid off a significant part of its work force, and although the company had begun to repair the damage that Viasystems did to the borders region, it is now on short-term working.
Will the Secretary of State make available, not only to the Scottish Executive but to whoever needs it, money to assist companies that are having difficulty because of the 319 world downturn in the telecoms sector and the consequences of some of the bids that were made for third generation licences?
§ Mr. Byers
I am acutely aware of the difficulties, especially in the borders, that were caused by Viasystems' decision. We held a meeting some time ago to discuss what we could do about it.
Some sectors—telecommunications is only one—are experiencing global difficulties for some of the reasons that we discussed this afternoon. The best thing that the Government can do is to ensure a climate of economic stability. We operate in a global economy and multinational companies can go anywhere in the world. It is therefore clear that they will go to countries where there is some economic stability.
Clearly, there is market pressure on the telecommunications sector, especially because of the dramatic downturn in the American economy. We must do all we can to support companies, through R and D and further assistance of that nature. We are more than willing to work with the relevant industries, sector by sector, to identify the steps that need to be taken to ensure that they are in a strong position to meet the challenges ahead.