HC Deb 27 November 2002 vol 395 cc301-2
3. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

If he will make a statement on the employment impact of the closure of Irish Fertilizer Industries' factory in north Belfast. [81601]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ian Pearson)

The loss of 207 jobs and some £11 million to the local economy has obviously had a devastating effect on employees and their families. I have asked Invest Northern Ireland to work with the liquidator to try to identify an investor for the Belfast factory, and the Department for Employment and Learning is advising the work force on employment and training opportunities and on social security matters.

Dr. Cable

Is the Minister aware of the problem arising from the fact that the workers have lost not just their jobs, but 60 per cent. of their pensions because the owners—the Irish Government and ICI—chronically underfunded the pension scheme? Will he and his colleagues approach the Irish Government on behalf of the workers who have lobbied us in London and appeal to them to honour their moral obligations to the work force?

Mr. Pearson

I met trade union representatives from the company and the local management last month. I have been in contact with both shareholders, the Irish Government and ICI, and I am seeing the chief executive of ICI tomorrow. I take a close interest in the issue. It strikes me that four pension funds are involved and the position remains unclear. I am committed to doing all that I can to ensure that the work force get their full entitlement.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North)

I welcome what the Minister is doing to deal with the problem. The workers have been treated in a shabby and despicable way by a blue-chip British company and the Irish Government, with whom there is supposed to be a special relationship. May I urge him to do everything in his power to ensure that pension rights and other rights of workers, and the rights of creditors, are protected?

Mr. Pearson

The Irish Government and ICI have put together a funding package of some €24.5 million for severance payments, and they have agreed to subordinate loans to ensure that creditors are paid. The important thing is that if jobs can be saved and a new investor can be found, we should be doing that. We must also make sure that the work force receive their full entitlement through pension arrangements and that the money owing to them in redundancy is paid out.