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De Lorean Company

Volume 980: debated on Thursday 6 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the purpose and amount of additional financial assistance currently sought by the De Lorean Company from public funds; and if he will take steps to ensure that no such request is approved without the prior approval of Parliament.

Under the terms of the agreement between the Department of Commerce and the company, entered into by the previous Administration in August 1978, the company is required to approach the Department about any additional funding needed for reasons outside the company's control. Accordingly, the De Lorean company has approached the Government and, although for reasons of commercial confidentiality I cannot disclose details of the request, I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall examine this application most rigorously and critically before a decision is taken.

Is not my hon. Friend aware that there are many Government Members and, I suspect, one or two Opposition Members, who had lived in hope that one of the first actions of the Secretary of State would have been to demolish this piece of masonry from the foundations upwards? Before we lay on any extra saunas, sun-parlours, or anythink else, for this extraordinary affair, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that up to now responsibility has rested soley with the Labour Party? We should not contemplate landing ourselves with some measure of responsibility for it. May the House have an opportunity to discuss this matter before any further funds are committed?

As my hon. Friend knows, and as I have told the House on several occasions, the Government inherited an agreement and an arrangement which they now have a duty to honour. There can be no other way of proceeding with an industrial development policy, which is of such critical importance to Northern Ireland, than on the basis of the truthful acceptance of the situation as laid down in a binding agreement. I fully understand my hon. Friend's anxiety, but we have no intention of, as he puts it, dem- olishing this enterprise. It is our firm conviction that with effort and good will on all sides, we shall make the operation successful.

Could the Minister add just one sentence? What is the rate of unemployment in the area where this factory will be situated?

As the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) will know, the rate of unemployment in the Belfast area is now about 11·6 per cent. If this project is completed we hope that about 2,000 jobs will be created.

Will the Minister take it from me that, no matter what criticisms have been made of this project, it would be in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland for it to succeed? Will he confirm that this application is not for any advance in the project but is prompted by inflation rates? Is the amount in question in the region of £5·6 million, which is the amount to which I drew the Minister's attention at our last Question Time?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and the support that he gives to this project. As he will understand, I am not prepared to disclose the amount for which application has been made. However, I can affirm that under the terms of the agreement, matters of costs outside the Company's control include both inflation and currency fluctuations.

Will the Minister accept that one of the main reasons why the previous Government undertook to involve themselves with this company was the terrible scourge of unemployment in the immediate area surrounding West Belfast? Undertakings were given that the Government would set up training procedures so that people who had suffered longterm unemployment could acquire the necessary skills to enable them to find employment in this establishment. Is he further aware that there is a great deal of disquiet about the fact—this is confirmed in a letter I received last week from the Minister—that it is to be the policy of this company to employ people who already have skills, which means that the long-term unemployed will have no chance of obtaining employment?

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has received a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister of State about the unemployment problems in that area. I wish only to confirm that the policy of the company is to seek workers who are fitted for the employment that is offered. There are substantial training facilities available and everybody from the West Belfast area, or any other area, should apply as jobs are being advertised currently.

Will the Minister go further and join me in congratulating De Lorean on overcoming many of its initial problems and obtaining 42,000 advance orders? Nevertheless, and following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said, will the Minister reaffirm the commitment of successive Governments that one of the prime objectives of the project is to mitigate the high level of unemployment in West Belfast? Will the Minister declare that there will be no backsliding on this issue and so inform the House now? Will the Minister also join me in requesting that the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) should take a holiday from his characteristically unhelpful criticism of this project? Thirdly, will the Minister agree that when the Prime Minister described the hon. Member for Knutsford as potential Cabinet material she was merely making one more serious miscalculation?

Order. I must remind the House that supplementary questions are getting longer and longer. There were three or four supplementary questions there.

I obviously applaud the efforts made by the De Lorean company to make this project succeed. I recognise that the company will draw substantially on labour from West Belfast. We have been as good as our word by bringing to West Belfast several important new investment projects in recent months, including 450 potential jobs in a trim company with which De Lorean will be associated. As regards my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), the hon. Member for Pudsey is willing to take very fast rising balls outside the off stump any day of the week.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the nature of my hon. Friend's replies, I shall raise this matter again on every possible opportunity.

I gather that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) wants to raise this matter on the Adjournment.