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British Leyland (Bathgate)

Volume 13: debated on Monday 23 November 1981

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4.48 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the motives for the proposed transfer of the British Leyland tractor assembly line and related rights from Bathgate to Gainsborough."
It meets your criterion, Mr. Speaker, of being specific for, without consultation either with the trade unions or with the management in Bathgate—with two arguable exceptions—the announcement was made on Friday. It meets your criterion of being important, Mr. Speaker, in that the Bathgate plant is a symbol of regional policy practised by Governments of both parties over 35 years, going back to the original decision of the Macmillan Government to put the truck and tractor division of Austin-Morris in Bathgate. It also involves 900 tractor-related jobs going before February in an area which already has 20 per cent. unemployment.

My task is to persuade you, Mr. Speaker, that the matter is urgent and that a debate should take precedence over the business for tomorrow. Mass meetings will be taking place later in the week and answers are required from the Secretary of State for Industry to a number of questions. For example, on what basis are publicly owned assets, created for the most part by public money, to be transferred or, as many would put it, flogged off in a cavalier fashion, possibly at knock-down prices? What is the future for the only British-owned volume tractor producer?

You will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that the atmosphere of rumour and counter-rumour, despondency and sheer fury is hardly conducive to cool decision making at the mass meetings this week. That is why it is desperately urgent that we get a statement from the Government—giving their view of the seemingly extraordinary decision to move to lovely, rural Gainsborough—before the atmosphere in industrial Scotland becomes any more putrid.

The constituency Members, my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) and for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart), would like to know details of the public money aspects of the transaction and to probe them in the Chamber to get answers before, and not after, the mass meetings take place.

The hon. Member gave me notice this morning before 12 o'clock that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the motives for the proposed transfer of the British Leyland tractor assembly line and related rights from Bathgate to Gainsborough."
The hon. Gentleman and the House know that industrial cases always cause me considerable anxiety. However, it is not my responsibility to decide whether they should be debated. As the hon. Gentleman said, I decide merely whether a matter should be debated tonight or tomorrow.

The House has also instructed me to give no reasons for my decision. Having listened with great care to the hon. Gentleman, I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

Currency Bill

Ordered,

That the Currency Bill be referred to a Second Reading Committee.—[Mr. David Hunt.]