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Caterpillar Tractors Ltd

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 8 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further meetings he has had with representatives of Caterpillar about the future of its Glasgow plant; and if he will make a statement.

Our main objective is urgently to explore possibilities for retaining manufacturing operations and employment at Tannochside. In this connection officials of the Industry Department for Scotland are in regular contact with Caterpillar management.

Will the Minister now accept that the people of Scotland want action, not just words, from the Government to secure an industrial future for the Caterpillar work force? Will the Government now take the plant and equipment into public ownership, either directly by nationalisation or through the Scottish Development Agency? Having done that, will the hon. Gentleman accept that he may well be in a position to negotiate constructively with Caterpillar about a future for that plant, perhaps supplying spare parts to the Caterpillar operation? If that fails, at least the equipment will be there to be used by other industrialists for the benefit of the Scottish people. It would be outrageous if that equipment, much of which has been substantially paid for by the taxpayer, were allowed to be moved out of the country.

I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to secure a future for the plant, but nationalisation has never solved any industrial problem in the past and I cannot see it as being appropriate in this situation either. However, I should like us to be able to gain access to the plant in order to help complete the profile that the Scottish Office is compiling through the SDA and Industry Department so that we can try to market the facility on a worldwide basis.

When my hon. Friend or his officials next meet the management of Caterpillar, will he tell it that Scotland expects it to co-operate in any way possible in order to find a way to maintain. manufacturing operations and employment at Uddingston? Will he tell the management firmly that it is simply not acceptable that it should try to cast the plant, its work force and the community aside like a soiled rag?

I share my hon Friend's views about the way in which the Caterpillar management has handled the matter from the outset. However, I am also anxious to secure the future of the suppliers, and I am glad to know that the management is keen to help maintain the suppliers' relationship with Caterpillar in supplying Caterpillar factories elsewhere.

The Minister is aware that Caterpillar is in my constituency and that some of my parliamentary colleagues and I have met him on several occasions concerning this closure. Will the Minister now take on board the suggestion that he should attempt some initiative to try to get the management, preferably at American level, to meet the shop stewards at the factory — despite the fact that they are sitting in — to try to resolve this pernicious problem? I am sure the Minister is aware that if he does not do that, unemployment—now 20·5 per cent. in the Motherwell district — will be tremendously increased. On that basis, the closure of the factory will be a tragedy for the area.

I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's close interests over a long period of time in the Caterpillar plant in his constituency. The hon. Gentleman may like to know that ACAS has approached the unions on this matter and they have agreed to attend a meeting. Caterpillar management has also been approached and it is considering the matter.

I know the Minister recognises—it has been illustrated in today's exchanges—that there is a sense of anger and outrage at the way in which the Caterpillar company has treated the work force at Tannochside. That work force has served the company loyally for many years. I believe that the House will be extremely pleased to hear that there is a possibility of mediation through ACAS. Will the Minister join me in urging the management to follow the example of the unions, to agree to that meeting, and to get talks started now? Such talks might remove some of the immediate difficulties about the position at the plant.

The hon. Gentleman is aware that my right hon. and learned Friend and I share his feeling of outrage at the way in which the whole business of the closure of the Caterpillar plant has been handled. I am anxious to see mediation succeed and I hope that the initiative now in train will achieve that end.