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Ford and Visteon UK Ltd

Volume 572: debated on Thursday 12 December 2013

Before I call the mover of the motion, I should inform the House that there is a case awaiting adjudication in the courts on this matter. In view of the length of time for which the case has continued and the distance of the date on which it is next to be heard, Mr Speaker has agreed to waive the sub judice rule to allow reference to be made to the matter. However, I ask Members to make every effort to avoid direct reference in debate to the matters awaiting adjudication and to focus their remarks on the facts of the case and any non-legal remedies that are available. I hope that that is helpful.

I beg to move,

That this House notes that, when Visteon UK Ltd was spun off from the Ford Motor Company, employees transferred from Ford’s pension scheme into the Visteon UK pension fund on the clear understanding that their pension rights would be unaffected; further notes that, when Visteon UK subsequently went into administration, now over four years ago, former Ford employees suffered a substantial reduction in their pension rights; regrets that the resolution of any court action is still some way off; believes that Ford should recognise a duty of care to its former employees and should make good the pension losses suffered by those worst affected without the need for legal action; and calls on the Government to use the power and influence at its disposal to help ensure that Ford recognises its obligations and accepts voluntarily its duty of care to former Visteon UK pensioners.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for inviting me to open the debate. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group in support of Visteon pensioners, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for finding time in the schedule to allow us to discuss this important national issue.

I do not really want to be standing here, criticising one of Britain’s great institutions and highlighting publicly what I believe to be a scandal, but I must. I owe it to my constituents and to the thousands of former Ford employees who transferred their pensions from Ford to the new entity of Visteon to do so. An injustice has been done and it continues to be done. I therefore stand here more in sadness than in anger.

This is a truly national issue. The request for today’s debate was signed by more than 10% of Members of this House and by Members who represent all parts of the country and sit in all parts of the House. Although a good number of Members are in the Chamber, there are many others who unfortunately cannot be with us. I mention in particular my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), who have Public Bill Committee duties.

I commend the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members for securing the debate. There are other Members, like me, who were unable to put their names to that request, but who are here and who support the motion. He is right to say that Ford is a good company. It employs 2,000 people in the neighbouring constituency of Bridgend. However, people who transferred their pensions to Visteon are at a loss in trying to explain why, when they were given categorical assurances, time after time, that their pensions would be safe and protected, they have not been. All we are asking Ford to do is to step up to the mark and comply with its moral obligations as well as its legal obligations.

I could not agree more, and the issue transcends any legal debates that might be in a court of law. This is about trust and moral responsibility, and a fine company such as Ford has unfortunately blemished its character by not living up to the expectations of its former employees. That is the nub of the matter, and why I will address my remarks not so much to Ford in the UK, but perhaps to Ford globally. This is a global issue, and ultimately its resolution lies in Dearborn in the United States. I hope that Ford executives in the States are watching this debate, because it is they who are able to solve the issue.

I apologise for being unable to stay for the whole debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that restitution to the Visteon pensioners would be good not only for them but for the reputation of Ford?

Absolutely. As I have said, this is a stain on Ford’s character and it does not live up to people’s expectations of a blue-chip brand that has been in this country for more than 100 years. That is why I have taken up the issue with such passion over the past three and a half years. Ford is damaging itself as well as its former employees. I want those executives in the States to watch this debate and listen loud and clear to the message that comes from this House. Indeed, I would be very disappointed if they were not watching—particularly Alan Mulally, the chief executive, and Bill Ford, the executive chairman—and I ask them to step up and sort the issue out once and for all.

I had hoped—as, no doubt, had many other Members—that our debate last year would have sparked some progress and provided the impetus needed to get justice done and see our constituents’ problems solved. Unfortunately, however, that was not the case and it is sad that we have had to come back a year later to rehearse many of the same arguments and ask Ford, again, to live up to its responsibilities. The Visteon pensioners find themselves in the same position; progress has been slow, and their fight for justice continues. Because of that, much of what I say today will sound similar to what I said last year, but it is worth repeating and I and colleagues will keep repeating the same message until Ford listens. To do anything else would be doing a great disservice to our constituents and to the Visteon pensioners, and I place on the record my total respect for the way they have conducted this campaign. Their dedication and commitment have been extraordinary, and that is one reason why I have been pleased to support their campaign.

For those who are new to this topic, I will provide a little history. Visteon was the global parts manufacturer of the Ford motor company, and in June 2000 it was spun off in an attempt to reduce supply chain costs. Visteon employees were actively advised by Ford to transfer their pensions to the new Visteon scheme, and they were promised that in transferring they would still

“receive the same benefits as at Ford, both now and in the future for all their pensionable service.”

They were told in no uncertain terms that their accrued pension rights would be protected, and they were given no new contracts of employment. On the contrary, the new entity continued to use Ford’s logo, it remained affiliated, and people used the same identity cards as previously and received loyalty awards on Ford paper—the list is endless. The two companies remained intertwined, even after the spin-off.

One thing that stands out after the spin-off is that Visteon UK never turned a profit after 2000—not in a single year. It ran up losses of approximately £800 million.

I congratulate colleagues on securing this debate, and it is sad that we have to repeat the same arguments from last year. Does my hon. Friend remember reading the Detroit Free Press in November 2012, which I am sure is a common read in his office? Tim Leuliette was asked:

“Did Visteon have a chance when it was spun-off?”

He said:

“No. The labour cost issues and the burden and the overhead was so out of line with reality that it was almost comical. It just wasn’t going to work”.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Visteon was simply set up to fail?

With great sadness I must agree with my hon. Friend. When the chief executive of an entity the size of Visteon says that he could never work out how it was going to succeed, we can draw the conclusion that it was set up to fail. Someone somewhere must have known that the cost base was too high, and that Visteon did not have a bright future when it was spun off in 2000.

In his research, has the hon. Gentleman come across any other company of Ford’s standing, large or small, that has done what Ford did and set up a company almost to ensure that it fails?

I have not, but I have confined my research to this issue. There was a trend back in the late 1990s and early 2000s for large motor companies to spin off their parts manufacturer and create separate entities, but Visteon never had a chance, certainly in the UK, as demonstrated by its profit and loss. It never made a profit, and no company that never makes a profit can succeed. Inevitably, in March 2009 Visteon collapsed, shortly before the global corporation went into chapter 11 in the United States. Following the collapse in the UK, it emerged fairly quickly that the UK pension fund was underfunded to the tune of about £350 million. That required the pension fund to be placed in the Pension Protection Fund for assessment, which ultimately left former Ford employees with much reduced pensions. Some suffered cuts of up to 50% to a pension they had paid into and had earned. Indeed, my constituent Dennis Varney, who has been leading the campaign so vigorously with me in the past few years, told me his story and I would like to share it with the House.

Dennis joined Ford in 1967 as an apprentice toolmaker. He studied, worked, gained qualifications and got promoted. In 1973, he became a press toolmaker. In 1976, he transferred to the Basildon radiator plant and became responsible for maintaining press tools and related equipment in the manufacture of heat exchange components. In 1978, he was promoted again, with responsibility for the press shop. In 1986, he was promoted to senior manufacturing engineer and then to a management position in 1990. He went to university to study between September 1998 and 2000, and completed a degree course in engineering manufacturing. In 2000, he was transferred to Visteon UK after more than 32 years with Ford. At Visteon he held a management position in a simultaneous engineering group, and had 20 engineers reporting to him directly. In 2006, after 38 years of combined service, Dennis retired. He had worked a lifetime for a company he respected and trusted, and looked forward to a well-deserved and well-earned retirement. We can therefore imagine his dismay—I put it mildly—when Visteon collapsed and his pension was cut by almost 50%. What had he done to deserve this, other than provide decades of loyal service? This was Ford’s response to the plight of Dennis and the many others affected:

“While Ford recognises the severity of the situation for former Visteon UK employees, Visteon became an independent company in 2000 and was responsible for its own business decisions…Ford fully fulfilled both its legal and moral responsibilities to former Visteon UK employees.”

I, for one, do not think it did. I do not intend to comment on whether it fulfilled its legal obligations, as that matter may well go before the court. I remind Members of the words of Madam Deputy Speaker—to be cautious in what they say. Let me say, however, that in my view Ford has not met its moral obligations.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work he has done to try to secure justice for the Visteon pensioners. On that specific point and to avoid this situation in future, would he welcome the Government reflecting on the legal obligations of employers to employees who have their rights transferred to a spin-off company? One big weakness in this case is that the employees who transferred did not have access to good financial advice. We need to ensure that protections are in place for workers.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The root of the issue does not lie at the door of the Government, but the Government can do more to protect workers, particularly on how the Pension Protection Fund cap operates when long service is involved. The Government need to ensure that people receive proper, independent, sound financial advice when they are transferred to a new pension fund. That would be a good and sensible step forward.

This is not a personal issue and I have no particular beef with the individuals I have dealt with at Ford. I have great respect for those who have worked with me on this issue over the past three and a half years—the former Ford UK chairman, Joe Greenwall; Christophe Clarke from the government affairs team; and, most recently, the director of government affairs, Madeleine Hallward—but is time for Ford globally to face up to its responsibilities and to do the right thing. I, with colleagues across the House, have been campaigning on this issue for nearly four years and we want to see it resolved.

Some might argue, agreeing with Ford, that this has nothing to do with Ford, but I disagree. Yes, Visteon was an independent company, but as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), it never stood a chance, and someone somewhere knew it. I submit that Ford recognised it could source its parts cheaper from other companies around the world and needed to get rid of its expensive in-house manufacturing plants, so it spun them off. That is what Tim Leuliette said. He said it did not stand a chance: the cost base was too high, the overheads were too high, the labour costs were too high. It was totally out of sync with the running of a profitable motor business, so it was sent floating off on its own into the great blue yonder.

That is why I am calling on Ford to meet its moral responsibilities. It knew that Visteon had no long-term future and that among the casualties when it inevitably collapsed would be thousands of former employees who had given loyal service. Those employees have now suffered serious pension losses. They transferred their pensions from Ford to Visteon in good faith, on the basis of trust. People trusted Ford, so when it gave them its assurances, they took them at face value. Why wouldn’t they?

I would like to quote the words of John Hill, a former Ford employer, then Visteon pensioner, who unfortunately is no longer with us:

“I had absolute faith in Ford, and I trusted them. Although over the years we had our ups and downs, everybody had a great respect for the company and a degree of affection for being part of its traditional values and the ‘family of Ford’. A long heritage, and the fact that they had been around for so long formed part of that trust. I just cannot believe that this could happen, and we have been betrayed.”

Unfortunately, he is one of the pensioners who will never benefit, whatever the outcome of the court case and our campaign.

Trust is important, as is family, and Ford likes to talk about family. When Bill Ford celebrated Ford’s 100th anniversary in the UK in 2011, he said:

“I have always thought of Ford employees, dealers, suppliers and partners as members of our extended family. My visit here has confirmed that belief—it has felt like a homecoming.”

He also said:

“Ford of Britain has a proud heritage…The United Kingdom quickly became the most important market for our cars outside of the United States.”

There is no doubt that Ford UK is a vital cog in the global Ford machine and Ford family, yet “family” is probably not the word that Visteon pensioners would associate with their former employers any longer. Simply put, people trusted Ford, and now they wish they had not. That is sad. Ford is a great company and has the potential still to be great in the future, but it is allowing its reputation to be tarnished by not stepping up to the plate. I am asking, in all good faith and in recognition of Ford’s contribution to the UK, that Ford do what is right by its former employees and resolve this issue. Yes, times are tough for the motor industry, especially in Europe, but this goes further than just a financial transaction; it is about restoring trust in what should be a rock-solid brand and removing a stain from Ford’s rich history.

Finally, I can do no better than refer colleagues and the Government to the wording of the motion. That is why we are here and that is what we want—put simply: justice for our constituents.

I am pleased to take part in this critical debate, because the Visteon plant in south Wales is located in my constituency, and I do so on behalf of many of my constituents, many of whom have travelled to London today from Wales. I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) for securing this debate. As the chair of our all-party parliamentary group on Visteon pensioners, he is leading in Parliament the campaign to get justice for Ford and Visteon UK pensioners. I also pay tribute to my neighbouring MPs, my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea East (Mrs James) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who have done sterling work over many years on behalf of their constituents employed in the local Visteon plant. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East sends her good wishes for today’s debate. She is at home, convalescing after an operation, and I am sure everyone here will join me in sending our best wishes for a speedy recovery.

I want to place on record our thanks to the Visteon pensioners action group and the trade unions for their diligent campaigning over many years. I particularly thank Rob Williams of Unite, who was originally from the village of Glyncorrwg in my constituency. His grandfather, the late Glyn Williams, a distinguished president of the South Wales miners union, would have been very proud of him and the campaigning he is undertaking on behalf of his colleagues.

The case for justice for Visteon/Ford pensioners has already been made—and comprehensively so—by the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock, so I shall not repeat the unanswerable case that he made, other than fully to endorse what he said. What I would like to do today is to emphasise, as he did, the duty of care in the context of corporate social responsibility that Ford motor company needs to discharge to its former employees and their families.

I received this simple, yet poignant message yesterday from one of my constituents, Carl Kirby of Cwmafan:

“We hold meetings once a month and over the last year we have held a minute’s silence at nearly all for workmates that have passed on. This leaves their widows with a lower income, and I know a few have had to seek work to make ends meet. These men are not here to support their families now and their voices should still be heard.”

That is why we are here today—to articulate these concerns on their behalf.

Ford came to our locality in 1964—on to the site on the edge of Swansea that was previously occupied by the Prestcold refrigeration plant and that covered an area of 2 million square feet. It spent £20 million developing and expanding the plant to make it one of the largest and most modern car component factories in the whole of Europe. It grew rapidly from 2,000 employees in 1968 to 6,500 just over a decade later in 1980. Ford was therefore a major contributor to the Welsh economy, drawing its work force not just from Swansea, but from a wide area, encompassing neighbouring towns and villages across the whole of south-west Wales, often taking on the highly skilled labour that was leaving the declining coal mining industry.

Ford’s growth paralleled that of its neighbour, BP, in the petrochemical industry, with its nearby plants at Llandarcy and Baglan Bay. Their parallel growth in the same period was followed by a parallel decline of both companies in the region. There, sadly, the similarity ends. While the closure of BP’s local plants was undertaken in an orderly way, the opposite was the case with Ford. BP followed a clear exit strategy, engaging local stakeholders, developing a range of local legacies and ensuring proper pension rights. It developed a widely admired “Aiming for a College Education” strategy with local schools, helped to sustain and improve local sports and leisure facilities, helped to develop Coed Darcy, a new village in my constituency, and, most striking of all, contributed to the establishment of an impressive science and innovation campus at Swansea university that is to be opened in 2015 on the sea front—ironically, directly opposite the old Ford/Visteon plant.

We are speaking here of two world-class global companies: the one discharging its duty of care in an ethical way to its local employees and local communities, a model of corporate social responsibility over a long period; the other, sadly, retreating almost under cover of darkness, leaving employees, their families and their communities, desolate and in despair. It is not too late, however; Ford can redeem itself.

In the light of what my hon. Friend has said about the contrast between Ford and BP, does he think that viewers of this debate and those who read about it in the United States will be surprised, given what they are likely to think about BP after the oil spillage? In this case, it appears that BP does its best to do its best for its workers, whereas Ford clearly has not.

My hon. Friend has made a powerful point, and I agree with him.

On behalf of all my constituents—those who are directly affected and those who are not—I urge Ford, at this late hour, to discharge its duty of care to all Ford and Visteon pensioners throughout the United Kingdom by giving them their full pension rights before any more retired employees depart this world without receiving what is theirs as of right.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) for the tremendous work that he has done as chair of the all-party parliamentary group in support of Visteon pensioners since his election to the House, and the way in which he has led his merry band of warriors in keeping this issue at the forefront of people’s minds. We are not prepared to allow it to fade away with time and be forgotten. I think that the strength of feeling and the outrage over what is basically an issue of decency and morality have been obvious in the two speeches that we have heard so far today.

I, too, do not wish to use my speech to knock an international company that provides valuable jobs, expertise and innovation in this country. However, I am baffled by the fact that that it is seemingly being led by its north American approach to business—which is infinitely hard-nosed—and is not prepared to recognise what it is doing to a group of people who, although totally innocent, are being made to suffer ruined retirements, despite the assurances that they were given back in 2000 that their pensions would be looked after and would be on a par with the pensions of those who worked for Ford.

I am surprised at Ford’s intransigence in not recognising its moral duty to act decently. I know that business can be very cynical—Bob Dylan used to say that money shouts—but one would have hoped that there was still a sense of decency, and that this company would be prepared to consider the position of a small group of people who, although they have fought magnificently, will always be the Davids in this David and Goliath battle.

Like my hon. Friend, I find it sad that nothing has moved forward since the last debate, in which I was unfortunately unable to participate because I still wore the shackles of ministerial office. It seems that if we are not careful and if Ford is not prepared to regain its sense of decency, the matter may have to be resolved in the courts, which I do not think is in anyone’s interests, especially given the time scale.

It appears from all the evidence that even if, back at the turn of the century, Ford was following what other companies were doing and removing its suppliers from its direct control by creating new companies, the hands of Visteon, a company created to be independent from Ford, were tied from the outset. I understand that Ford had a virtual monopoly over the parts coming out of Visteon, and was thus in a position to drive down prices unilaterally. There was no proper, vibrant, functioning market, and that is not in any independent company’s natural interest. I also understand that Visteon had to buy its materials from the Ford foundry in Leamington, although they could have been obtained elsewhere at a more competitive and lower price. Once again, Ford seems to have kept Visteon’s hand behind its back and thwarted any opportunity that it might have had to develop as a vibrant, successful company.

I find it incredible that when Ford was keen to create Visteon and cast it aside, in effect, from Ford itself, those who worked for Ford and were going to be employees of the new Visteon were advised that the Ford European works council agreement guarantees that

“Visteon employees transferring their past service benefits to the Visteon Fund will receive the same benefits as at Ford, both now and in the future for all their pensionable service.”

Beyond that, employees were encouraged to join the Visteon scheme and transfer their pensions with statements such as:

“Your accrued pension rights will be protected.”

To me, and probably to all those people who were about to become Visteon employees, those were cast-iron, concrete statements of fact that gave them protection.

We also have to remember that this is not some plan to change pension arrangements in the future. I accept that many private companies over the last decade—as well as Government, and including Members of this House—have been changing their pension arrangements because it has been found that the existing arrangements are too expensive in the current economic climate. They are moving to salary-average schemes, but that is always for the future. They do not start tinkering with the commitments, the payments, the arrangements and the deals that have been done in the past. These changes are for the future. That is not what has happened to the Visteon pensioners, however. Their pensions—that they took out in good faith, and that they believed were safe and secure for all their pensionable life—have now, because of what happened to Visteon in 2009, been noticeably, and in some cases severely, cut by this cynical operation to create a new company independent of Ford.

The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point, particularly on this issue of the assurances that were given to Visteon pensioners. He, like me, will have received the Visteon action group briefing so he is clearly familiar with this quote:

“Your accrued pension rights will be protected.”

It was also stated that “not only” would their pension be “secure” but it would be in their best interests to “transfer” their pension and their pension benefits were “guaranteed”. People were not being greedy or stupid; they were acting in the best interests of their families and themselves on the best available advice, and it is morally repugnant for a company to walk away from those assurances now, when they were either delivered by that company or were vetted by that company before being delivered.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point because he is absolutely right. There were no weasel words. There were no cop-out clauses or any excuses that could be made that people had misunderstood what had been said to them or the commitments that had been given to them. They were, in so far as anything in life can be, cast-iron guarantees that those people, who in most cases had worked so loyally for so long for Ford, would have their pensions guaranteed. Having met a number of them, including constituents of mine, I have no doubt that they feel as though they have been kicked in the stomach because of what has happened to them and that they are having to suffer through no fault of their own.

That is why I say that Ford—and in particular Ford in the United States of America, which I believe is leading Ford in the UK on this issue—should sit down and quietly consider their conscience again. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) says, “If they’ve got one,” and I can understand why he says that because it does seem that they are without conscience. Of course companies have a responsibility to their existing work force and their shareholders to make a profit, but this is even more important: “You don’t make a profit if you don’t have a loyal, hard-working and decent work force.” If the company is prepared to see some of its work force treated like that, despite the cast-iron guarantees that it gave them, we have to wonder what kind of conscience it has.

I hope that the company will think again as a result of this debate and of the lobbying by Members on both sides of the House, by the trade unions, by the action group and by others, and that it will not consider drawing the matter out even longer, because, sadly, some of those pensioners will die during that time. I hope that the company will do the decent thing, the morally right thing, and restore those pensions to the people who should never have had them taken away from them in the first place.

I come to this debate with mixed feelings. I feel grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to Mr Speaker for allowing us to have this great debate in the mother of all Parliaments, from where it will be transmitted across the pond to the United States, where Ford’s ears will be pricking up, as will the ears of Ford’s consumers, who will be thinking twice about whether the Ford brand is whiter than white when they choose their next car.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) and others for the work they have done with me to keep this show on the road and to keep up the pressure on Ford. Ford might have thought that, after the early rumbles of protest, the noise would die down to a whisper. Instead, we are turning up the volume, and the lion’s roar from Britain will be heard in the United States today and in the future.

I am also grateful to the Visteon workers who are with us today, up in the Gallery, and to the many others who have come here on coaches at other times and who continue their fight in London, Cardiff, Essex, Liverpool and Northern Ireland. They continue to demand justice in all corners of the United Kingdom, and that demand is echoed today in all corners of this great Chamber by all the parties.

I come here with sadness as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) mentioned the fact that Ford came to south Wales in 1964. At the time, my father was heading up economic development in the Welsh Office, and he was critical in bringing Ford to south Wales. He is no longer with us, but I remember his story about the chairman of Ford turning up at the Welsh Office in Cardiff in a green Rolls-Royce—believe it or not—to talk about the arrangements and inducements to get Ford to the area. That was more than 30 years ago, and perhaps Ford had a different outlook and a focus on wider communitarian values in those days.

So I come to the debate with thanks and with sadness, and also with a degree of frustration and anger that we find ourselves here. We have been engaging with Ford UK, and it has been forthcoming in engaging in dialogue, but its hard-nosed American bosses, sitting in their directors’ boardroom, seem to think that this issue will just go away and that the workers of the UK can be treated as some kind of offshore group of people that they can forget about. It has been mentioned that many of the people who have suffered are now dead, and I believe that Ford is hoping that the issue will go away. I and other Members from all parties say this: “Ford, you can run but you can’t hide from your responsibilities. We will continue to fight for our constituents, year after year, until this matter is resolved.” Madam Deputy Speaker, you mentioned that this matter was before the courts and that decisions have yet to be made, but we are talking not about the legalities of the case but about moral responsibility and the duty of care that should be shown by this multinational towards its employees, in respect of pensions in particular.

Members will know that I introduced the Multinational Motor Manufacturing Companies (Duty of Care to Former Employees) Bill, which covers this ground, but the Minister might also wish to comment on the big conversation that is taking place between the global multinationals, sovereign states, workers and consumers. There have been debates in this House about the responsibility of multinationals, be it Amazon, Google or Vodafone, to pay their fair share of tax. Vodafone had the biggest share transaction in history, or at least this century, involving £53 billion, but not a penny was paid in corporation tax. How are we going to re-orchestrate things with other countries to ensure that global corporations are not globe-trotting away from their responsibility?

That is a bigger conversation, and I know that people are engaged on the tax side of it, but its other side is the fair treatment of workers. We have heard reports, for instance on “Panorama”, of what Amazon is doing, and I am following through on that, as it is a local company in my constituency, too. As with Ford, we are talking about big companies that provide big employment and are crucial to all our towns and cities, but that does not mean they can run away from their responsibilities on fair tax, fair play and the fair treatment of consumers and workers, be they current, previous or future.

I congratulate the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) on bringing the matter to the House for consideration. I have been told by one Belfast worker that the workers

“rights were guaranteed not for the lifetime of the Belfast plant, but for the working lifetime of the individual workers. Therefore, their redundancy rights were guaranteed for as long as the workers remained employed, and their pension rights were guaranteed until they reached retirement age”

and beyond. We can understand the anger of those workers and their disbelief and dismay at what took place. Is it not time that the big company in America stepped up to the mark and paid out?

The hon. Gentleman makes his point with typical focus and strength. The Belfast workers will be looking at today’s debate and asking how Ford will respond. The Ford directors cannot sit around with their hands covering their eyes, ears and mouths, pretending that this will go away. They may think it can be kicked into the long grass of the lawyers, where there is an army supported by a huge ammunition dump of money to keep it there, but their business ultimately depends on the good will of consumers.

This is not just about Ford manufacturing innovative, efficient and modern cars; it is about the brand being one that people can be proud of. It is about not hiding behind the brand name a predisposition towards running away from responsibilities to people who have spent a working lifetime, in good faith, making quality cars for people to buy, for a business that is viable. It is simply not acceptable for the people to whom those workers have expressed such loyalty to walk away and leave them near destitute. We will not accept it in our House, our community or across our shores. I believe that the ethics of American consumers and American workers, both in Ford and beyond, mean that they will share our sentiments that we are in it together, to use those immortal words, in terms of our future and how this works. People may increasingly make consumer choices for ethical reasons—various brands have ethical dimensions and do the right thing—and this could be one of those instances.

I am not going to dwell on the details of the case. I simply say that it appears, on the face of things, that various undertakings were given to Ford workers which, as has been pointed out, any lay person would interpret as cast-iron guarantees, whatever the legal beagles might construe, with massive expense, could conceivably have been meant. Almost everybody took those assurances as being cast-iron guarantees.

The Ford pension fund was initially set up £49 million light and by the end of the period of Visteon’s existence—the nine or 10 years in which it continued, when, as has been said, it lost nearly $1 billion and did not turn a profit—that pension fund had become underfunded by some £350 million. The knock-on effect for the more than 3,000 workers who have been affected is a savage cut in the future incomes they can expect into their retirement and their capability to sustain a future of dignity and enjoyment in older age that they deserve.

It has been pointed out that Ford was, in essence, manipulating the profit and loss account of Visteon. On the input side, it was able to demand a certain input of raw materials at specific prices that may have been above the market price, so the input cost was up. On the output side, 90% of Visteon’s sales were set by Ford, which consistently reduced the prices that it was given to squeeze the profit of Visteon, so it was no surprise that it was making a loss and that that loss was manifested in the pension fund.

Interestingly and coincidentally, if we look at figures for 2005-06, Visteon Europe lost £700 million and Ford Europe made £700 million in profit. The point I am trying to make is that their accountancy animal was woven together—that £700 million could have gone either way. In essence, Ford chose the loss to fall on Visteon and on the workers who had nobly and loyally served it for so many years.

I know that a number of Members want to speak so I will not go on. In the evidence we took in the all-party group, and before that, we heard stories of representatives from Ford who, after sitting on the board of Visteon pension fund trustees and then having a vested interest in the closure of the plant, transferred their own pension out of the Visteon pension fund into a specially created fund—another Visteon pension fund, the engineering scheme. Clearly, they had a different and conflicting interest. We asked Phil Woodward, who was a director of the trustees, to give evidence to the all-party group, but what do Members think happened? He did not turn up. What does that say about this whole saga? The more we scratch the surface of this story, the worse it gets.

I find it fascinating that people did not turn up to give evidence. If there were a Select Committee inquiry, could we not ultimately bring in those whom we want to give evidence from wherever they are, including the current Ford executives? Could they not be forced to come here in the same way that Rupert Murdoch was?

Yes, with pie on their faces! On a serious note, I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. That point has been made in the all-party group, and we have been trying to get a Select Committee to take on this matter. Possible options included the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. When we took it to the Welsh Affairs Committee, there were concerns that the matter was sub judice. However, Mr Speaker has now ruled that the matter has been trundling on for far too long. We are four years into the campaign and there will be another year at least before there is a court hearing. Clearly, we cannot wait for ever, and there is a role for this Parliament to express itself and to ask questions about what has gone on and the duty of care.

What I say in response to the hon. Gentleman’s excellent question is that we have thought about that, but as the momentum has been building and we have now reached this point—we have had questions, discussions, early-day motions, a Westminster Hall debate and now this major debate in the Chamber—we should be aiming, given that we have the implicit sanction of Mr Speaker, to take the matter back to the Select Committees and demand that those executives give evidence. If they do not want to come, they can be dragged here screaming and shouting.

Ford needs to think carefully about doing the right thing for the workers and for the brand as this rolls on and as reporters in America say, “Hold on. Why are all parties in Britain uniting to say things about the glorious Ford? What about Henry Ford? What a great bloke he was. Wouldn’t he turn in his grave if he knew what was happening?”

Other people might talk about more of the detail, but there are some difficult questions that the brand managers and marketing managers for Ford need to think carefully about. What does Ford mean now in a qualitative and quantitative group? What will it look like in a month’s time, or a year’s time? What will it look like against emerging competitors, whether they are Nissan, General Motors or whatever? How is this playing and what are people saying about it?

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) mentioned BP, which, of course, took an enormous financial hit after its environmental issues and also took a hit to its brand values and to perceptions of what it cares about. Those are enormous things for global players. If we, in an advanced western democracy—the seventh largest economy in the world—do not stand up for people and cannot get a global company such as Ford to come to here and do the right thing, we are setting an example for less developed countries where global players might go in and out and cause social, economic and environmental harm.

It is time to say enough is enough. We are one global community, so let us work together and play together for the good of all countries. We should bring something to the table and remember that democracies here and elsewhere will work together to ensure fair play for pensioners, for consumers and for workers, as well as good jobs and good cars. Let us work together for a better world. Come on Ford, do the right thing. Stop hiding and put your money on the table.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) not just on securing the debate from the Backbench Business Committee but on how he has led the campaign, which has been supported on both sides of the House, as demonstrated this afternoon. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who has also been tireless in pursuing the matter. It is notable that four parties are represented in the House this afternoon. Sometimes MPs put aside their party differences and come together when it is plain that there has been an injustice that needs to be put right. That is certainly the case with the issue we are debating this afternoon.

There is a danger in such a debate that one simply repeats the points that have been made. We have already heard some powerful speeches from both sides of the House, such as that from my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), who represents many of the Essex Visteon pensioners, as I do. As has been pointed out, it is particularly sad that it is necessary to have this debate a second time—I participated in the debate in Westminster Hall—because we all still have great respect and admiration for the Ford Motor Company. It has a proud history in this country and a strong reputation across the world, yet this is a terrible stain on that reputation.

It is perhaps because Ford has previously been seen as such a strong company that it was understandable that its employees, who had given many years of service, should believe the assurances they were given when they told that they were being transferred to the Visteon company and that their pensions could be transferred to a new Visteon pension fund. I will not repeat the quotations given by many hon. Members about how they were told that there would be no detriment and that their pensions would be guaranteed under the same terms and conditions. Of course they believed that, yet today they find that the position is very different.

It is particularly sad when one meets and talks to employees who gave many years of service to Ford that now seem to be ignored and forgotten because for a few years—or even, in some cases, for a few months—they transferred to the Visteon company. In particular, I mention Mr Steve Sharpe, my constituent from Heybridge, who spent 27 years working for the Ford Motor Company and three months working for Visteon, yet has lost 50% of his pension. On any grounds, that is clearly wrong and should be recognised as such by the Ford Motor Company. What makes it worse is that—we have heard reference to this—it appears that Ford knew perfectly well that the Visteon company could not succeed, and indeed took actions after its establishment which made absolutely certain that it was not viable in the long term.

Also, we know that the Visteon pension fund was underfunded right from the start. In the discussions that we have had as part of the all-party group, we have talked to the Pensions Regulator, for instance. It is perhaps a matter of regret that the Pensions Regulator was not in place at the time that this happened. It is perhaps worth speculating that had we had the Pensions Regulator, this situation would not have been allowed to arise. I am grateful to see on the Front Bench the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), who responded to the previous debate so is familiar with this injustice.

At that time we talked about the way in which the cap on the Pension Protection Fund affected some former employees of Visteon. That is something that the Government have sought to address, but it is still impacting severely on some pensioners of the Visteon company. Perhaps the Minister might touch on that in his response.

As we know, there is a legal case pending, and I of course hear the instruction from the Chair. We do not want to prejudice in any way the legal proceedings that are under way. It should not be necessary because ultimately it is not a question of whether or not Ford acted within or outside the law. It is, as Members in all parts of the House have said, a question of corporate social responsibility. It is a question of the reputational damage that this is doing to Ford across this country and beyond, and it is a question of morality and decency.

The Minister will have noticed the unity of Essex MPs. Does my hon. Friend agree that the legal skirt behind which Ford is trying to hide is shrinking all the time and the petticoat of morality is now around its ankles?

The hon. Gentleman puts it in his unique style. I think I agree with the message he is giving.

As I say, we will wait to see what happens in the courts, but I hope we do not have to, and that the Ford Motor Company will hear the message being sent from this Chamber this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) talked about the possibility of a Select Committee hearing. Whether or not we could force the Ford Motor Company to come to this country to a Select Committee is not entirely clear. I have had some experience of forcing people to come before Select Committees, and there is a problem if they are on the other side of the Atlantic. Again, that should not be necessary.

What should be apparent from hearing all the Members who have spoken this afternoon is the overwhelming moral case of the people who gave years of service to the Ford Motor Company and were told that they would be looked after in the future, yet now have suffered real loss due to the fact that they were transferred to the new company, which in a sense was almost bound to fail.

It is just a couple of weeks before Christmas. If the Ford Motor Company wanted to give a Christmas present, it should honour its moral obligations to the Visteon pensioners.

I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) for securing this debate and the spirit in which it is being held. We have all been at pains to stress our understanding and support for Ford as a major employer in this country, and I echo those sentiments. It has a proud history and plays a very significant role in our industrial base. Notwithstanding that, I do not believe that this House has ever been prevented from doing or saying the right thing when it matters, and I think we do so in that spirit today.

I do not wish to repeat the points that have already been made, but that does not mean I do not agree with them. I will highlight one or two specific areas, but before doing so I would like to say that I, like many Members here, am conscious of Visteon’s national reach, because it has reached into many constituencies. I compliment all of them on the conduct of their campaign, which at all times has been impassioned and powerful, but also courteous and respectful. I pay particular tribute to my neighbours and constituents in Enfield, whom I admire for their tenacity, of which I have had first-hand experience. I am delighted to be here to speak for them on the matter.

Ford, we are told, even on its website today, is a family of global vehicles and global employees. I think that they probably believe that, but today we have seen the evidence that that is not quite true.

I need to leave the Chamber for 10 minutes to give an interview to discuss whether or not Ford is a happy family across the pond, and how important it is for us to act to make it so for the future so that everybody has their fair share. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for having to leave, but I want to air that on the media.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and understand that he has to attend to pressing priorities, and rightly so.

I would like to highlight two points. We have talked about the possible lack of understanding at Ford in the US about the consequences of the decisions that were taken here in the UK. I have considerable experience—some might say that I have the scars on my back—of working in America, having worked with American businesses and set up my own business there. It is an extremely different culture, particularly when it comes to employee relations. I can speak only about my area, and of course the company was not a substantive corporation like Ford, but I know that the work force protection schemes in America are nothing like those in this country, and many say that we have some of the least onerous schemes, compared with the rest of Europe. In America, an employer can hire and fire almost at will without recompense. There are a limited set of protections for redundancy or sacking with or without cause, but it is a very different culture. We may speak the same language, but we are not necessarily united by it in our practices.

It may well be that people in the boardrooms in America do not understand the implications or the potential harm to their reputation of pressing ahead and distancing themselves from the issues facing the pensioners of Visteon. I urge them to listen carefully and to imagine themselves not in the boardrooms of America looking over here, but over here looking at it through the eyes of their UK allies and partners. They might then understand what has driven us to the Chamber today and what has driven the unrelenting cause of Visteon pensioners.

Does my hon. Friend agree that had the situation occurred in the United States and 3,500 employees who had worked for such an iconic corporation were banging on Ford’s front door in Dearborn because they had had their pensions reduced so dramatically, the issue might have been solved long ago? It is out of sight and out of mind over here.

I am afraid that I have to agree with my hon. Friend. I cannot give an example off the top off my head, but it is certainly true that companies are often preoccupied with what is happening on their own side of the pond, whichever side that is, and even for a global corporation it is still challenging to understand the dynamics that drive the worker-employee relationship and the customer relationship. He makes the point extremely well.

We have heard evidence today that Visteon was, to all intents and purposes, a captive supplier—of that there is little doubt. Given the choice of being a captive supplier or a partner, of course companies in these business environments seek to be a partner. As a supplier, they have to strive for a long-term relationship to guarantee the future of their business and employees. It is interesting that Ford’s supply chain strategy, which was started some considerable time ago, was to develop an aligned business framework with suppliers that recognised the need to work closely with it in a way that is, according to its website,

“designed to create a sustainable business model to increase mutual profitability”

and encourage a long-term partnership. That implies a deep and close understanding of the business dynamics at play in Visteon, including the financial accounts; it cannot mean anything else.

I was surprised to read that Ford spokesmen still stick to this line:

“While Ford recognises the severity of the situation for former Visteon UK employees, Visteon became an independent company in 2000 and was responsible for its own business decisions.”

That does not sit comfortably with the reality of working with a captive supplier or partner, or someone who aspires to be an aligned business framework supplier. That suggests that there are grounds for genuine doubts about whether the demise of Visteon was part of a strategy, first, to reduce a burden of cost on Ford’s balance sheet, and subsequently, to change its supplier base. I carefully say that it is perfectly legitimate to ask that question in the light of its strategy statements about how closely it works with its suppliers.

The moral case has been explored today, and I obviously add my weight to that, but let me add some perspective on the financial matters facing Ford Motor Company globally. Yes, it faced some challenging times. Certainly, the whole industry faced some challenging times, not least in the previous three to five years that we know about all too well. However, its record now is more than satisfactory. While its European business is still undergoing some financial restructuring, the last quarter saw a $1.27 billion profit. In fact, its operating basis was $1.82 billion for the quarter, but the notes to its accounts say that that was reduced to $1.27 billion because it was restructuring in Europe, including large pension lump sum payoffs. If my constituents and the other Visteon pensioners were part of those payoffs, this would be a far happier time for them and for the Members in this House who represent them.

I urge Ford in the US not only to challenge itself on the moral case but to look itself in the eye and say that this is a relatively small price for an exceptionally profitable company whose results have been delivered by employees who not only worked for it but then worked in its supply chain. Then it can live up to the values that it has until recently had cause to be proud of.

I, too, congratulate my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), on his outstanding work in chairing the all-party group on Visteon and on securing this important debate.

It is very sad that, in the year the Ford family is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its first moving assembly line, we are having a debate about how poorly it has treated former proud members of its family and about how best we can support them and—I think we are all united in this—persuade Ford to recognise its moral obligation following its treatment of Visteon workers.

Ford has a good reputation for looking after its staff, and those constituents of mine who still work for Ford speak very highly of the way they are treated by the company. They have a great attachment to the brand and genuinely feel part of it. I think that makes the situation rather more heartbreaking for Visteon workers, who used to wear the familiar Ford logo with pride, but now feel compelled, after the treatment they have received, to campaign with a blue oval “Fraud” logo on their hats instead.

When I first became aware of the closure of Visteon, I, like many others, may have initially mistaken it for yet another sign of the depressing state of the economy back in 2009. It was not until I met a substantial number of residents who had previously been Visteon employees that it became very apparent to me that its collapse and the subsequent pensions issue for former employees was down to something more sinister, some of the details of which have already been well covered.

At that first meeting in my office, I was struck by what a sensible and level-headed bunch of men they were. They were definitely not the kind of men, in my opinion, who would recklessly take any advice from or let themselves be conned by a flashy sales pitch that other people might have said sounded too good to be true. Put simply, they are men who had worked hard all their lives to provide for themselves and their families, and for what they hoped would be a decent standard of living in retirement. In political-speak, we would say they are people who have worked hard and done the right thing, and that is why we are all in unison in supporting them in their fight with Ford.

I hope they will not be offended if I say that they are not all of an age whereby someone could glibly suggest that they go and get another skilled career in order to rebuild their shortfall. As we have heard, some of the Visteon pensioners have already passed away and missed the opportunity to be recompensed, and therein lies the rub.

These are people who gave many years of loyal service to Ford prior to the establishment of Visteon. They trusted the advice given by Ford at the time—that their pensions would be safely protected in the new arrangements; otherwise, they would never have moved over to Visteon. I add my own admiration to that voiced by colleagues for the effective and downright dogged way in which they have run their brilliant campaign, including demonstrating outside the Ford dealership in Rayleigh Weir in my constituency every Saturday, come rain, snow, blistering sun or, on occasion, flood. I commend them for their determination.

Let me get back to the basics of the matter. Visteon was spun off by Ford in order to reduce its operating costs. It was never functionally independent because it relied on Ford for about 90% of its business. Ford was even in a position to dictate the price at which it could buy back its product. In fact, I understand that it agreed a pricing pathway with Visteon management at the establishment of the company, but that agreement was never stuck to. The staff who transferred from Ford to Visteon were never even given separate contracts with the new company. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight one might now say that a successful multinational such as Ford was hardly likely to create and spin off a company that would be respectably profitable in the future. Perhaps that was the only warning sign we had.

Given what we have heard over the past three years, the situation seems to have gone further than that. The House has heard the view that Ford set up Visteon to fail, and loaded the pension fund with a deficit that was never going to be sustainable. What is even more unforgiveable for the former Ford employees is that it would appear that Ford—the primary customer of Visteon products—had actively anticipated and planned for the shutdown of UK Visteon operations since way back in 2006.

The Visteon Pension Action Group has documents compiled by Ford management—which went to great lengths to keep them away from Visteon employees—that give details of plans for projects to allow other companies to seamlessly pick up the supply chain when the UK plants closed. The high-level project was apparently known as “Kennedy”, and was directly controlled by Ford Motor Company personnel who were responsible for agreeing new supplier sources and the cost and quality of new products, and for releasing those products into the Ford production system. Visteon UK, as the incumbent supplier, was responsible for identifying potential new suppliers and developing them to meet Ford criteria for cost, quality and supply logistics. I gather that such lower-level projects were known as Protea, Cummins D3 and Arrow. They do not mean an awful lot to me, but they do to the pensioners in the action group.

It should be noted that, depending on product complexity, normal resourcing action takes between 12 and 24 months to allow time for the manufacture of new tooling, initial production runs, quality and testing checks, and supply filling. It therefore seems quite clear that Ford Motor Company was directly involved in such resourcing actions. When Visteon UK stopped supplying Ford very abruptly on going into administration on 31 March 2009, Ford vehicle operations did not stop for one second due to any lack of parts. Stockpiling of Visteon parts had taken place and the new supplier parts were available immediately. As we have heard, it is of course completely reasonable for companies to put in place contingencies in case a supplier folds, but that eventuality was completely within the power and design of Ford Motor Company.

It seems to me that Ford was therefore involved in the deconstruction of Visteon at least three years before the company went into administration. Ford knew that the pension fund deal it had put in place, and which it had encouraged its workers to take—allowing them to trust it in moving on to that deal—would mean that thousands of employees would be left out of pocket. That is why I believe that Ford has a moral obligation to come to the table with MPs and the Visteon Pension Action Group to agree a fair and just deal for Visteon employees.

The cause of the action group has been greatly frustrated by the fact that tougher rules on pension regulation came in several years after the Visteon pension scheme was established. I welcome the Government’s announcement earlier this year that the cap on compensation payments from the Pension Protection Fund will rise to 3% for pensioners with a record of more than 20 years’ service.

It is my sincerest hope that executives watching this debate in the boardroom in the States take note of what has been said today, and of the damage that the whole situation is doing to their otherwise good reputation among their own employees and to their brand in general. Finally, I once more congratulate the members of the Visteon Pension Action Group on their campaign so far, and I assure them of my and my colleagues’ continued support in this Chamber for their fight, because they all deserve justice.

It is a great privilege to follow such an enviable group of MPs, particularly those from Essex. We started with eminent words from Basildon and then moved down the estuary to those from Castle Point, and we will end—I hope on a high point—in Rochford and Southend East. Several points have been made, and I will take care not to reiterate them, even to add emphasis.

Not in the last debate on Visteon but in the one before that, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) referred to Ford as

“a four-letter company, behaving in a four-letter way”.—[Official Report, 4 December 2012; Vol. 554, c. 182WH.]

Hon. Members will recognise that we normally speak in very temperate language, so people should bear in mind how strongly we all feel about this issue. Very rarely is there a debate in which such strong words are used as we have heard today from both sides of the House. It has been not so much a debate as a siren call for action. Points have been made from either side, but they have all pressed Ford in the same direction.

I must disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), who felt that the issue was a stylistic change between American and British business practices and some type of misunderstanding. If it had involved Baltimore rather than Basildon, or Seattle rather than Swansea, the same lack of duty of care and the same lack of moral responsibility towards employees would not have been tolerated.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) has travelled to the US and had informal discussions with several Congressmen. I hope that in the near future that can be formalised by making a request that the US Congress look at the issue alongside us, which will increase the pressure on Ford Motor Company.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend has seen the film “Made in Dagenham”, but it clearly brings out the very close relationship between Ford and the unions, and how the workers trusted it to give them the best deal. In that respect, have not the workers been greatly let down? They expected a deal to be made that was good for them and they had put their trust in the company, but they were sitting ducks to be misled.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Not only have I watched the film, but one of my constituents, Lesley Butcher, starred in it in a voiceover role. She is also an excellent parish councillor in Rochford, but that is her claim to fame. That goes to show what a close community we are. The community trusted Ford and was badly let down.

The motion has been signed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns). People who do not know his background might think that his speech verged on being anti-American. Given his strong passion for that country, I do not think it can be seen as anti-American. He will certainly be distraught that the project that allowed the supply chain to continue had the name Project Kennedy. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) made the very good point that this was clearly not an independent company. Project Kennedy allowed the continuity of the supply chain. Effectively, the directors and managers of Ford were shadow directors of Visteon. They were manipulating what went on in that separate company.

I hesitate to share with the House my ambitions as a young child.

I am urged to do so, so I will. I wanted to be a Conservative Member of Parliament and I have achieved that. I wanted to have a purple pool table, and I hope that my wife reads Hansard tomorrow so that she knows what to get me as a Christmas present. I have always wanted a Ford Capri Mk II. It saddens me that, even if I had the space and the money, I would not be prepared to buy a Ford now. I am not irresponsible enough to call on my constituents, many of whom work at Ford, to boycott Ford in its entirety. However, I am sure that there are many people like me who are proud of Ford’s heritage, like Ford cars and like the Mustang that is coming out, but who would not think of buying a Ford car because of Visteon.

Every Saturday, I go to mini-football with my son and I sit alongside somebody who works at Ford. I have discussed the Visteon issue with him. I am fearful that an organisation that has made such a mistake with Visteon may very well make it again. Are the pension funds of Ford safe at the moment? If I were a Ford employee, I would be very fearful of that.

I do not know what Ford executives consider to be normal behaviour within a family, but this is no way to behave. If we follow the analogy, such behaviour would lead to divorce, family breakdown and great woes. Ford has let us down consistently. There is a small window of opportunity between now and the court case for it to do the right thing morally by our constituents, six of whom have made direct representations to me. If it does the right thing kicking and screaming, only when forced to by the courts, it deserves to take no credit whatever. It needs to act now, before the court case.

May I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) on securing this debate? We have heard unanimity across the House on the issues at stake.

I have been struck by the strong sense in the contributions to this debate that Ford has a moral responsibility to take seriously the issues that have emerged since Visteon’s collapse. That point has been put across eloquently by Members from across the House. That moral responsibility comes from the fact that Ford workers, who had given many years of service, believed that their pensions were safe. Some of those workers are with us today. Members from across the House have made the point that Ford is a blue-chip brand with a long track record in the UK. For those reasons, this case has continued to arouse strong feelings on both sides of the House.

I ask hon. Members across the House to reflect on how one ensures that companies engage in and understand their responsibilities beyond the bottom line. Another way to describe a moral responsibility is to say that companies, corporations and those that employ people in our country have obligations beyond just the maximum profit they can make. That is certainly what the workers at Ford always felt, and they were assured—and felt assured—that in transferring their pensions to Visteon, their accrued rights would be protected.

It is important to add and iterate—I suspect the Minister will want to reflect on this—that at play here is the wider issue of what happens when occupational pension schemes get into trouble and it is discovered that they are sponsoring an employer that is going under. The previous Government, reacting to the Visteon case and to other well-known examples, created the Pensions Regulator and the Pension Protection Fund. I suspect the Minister will want to say something about the interaction between those institutions—not just the pensions landscape as it sits now, but as it relates to Visteon pensioners. Indeed, he recently proposed an amendment to the Pensions Bill so that the cap on payments under Pension Protection Fund regulations can be raised. I understand that there are Visteon pensioners who will benefit from that—those who might have retired before Visteon collapsed, but who have long years of service with Ford and then Visteon—but it is not a solution for all those pensioners.

A significant question that has been raised by Members across the House concerns what the Government can do and need to do to ensure and underpin occupational pension arrangements. The Pension Protection Fund and Pensions Regulator are central to that, and if I remember rightly, the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock said that the Government can do more on the cap and the need for proper independent advice on transfers.

Pensions are a complicated business, and during pension transfers from one company to another, employees inevitably depend on the advice they are given from what they understand to be expert sources.

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I should be grateful to know what his message is to Ford about this unacceptable situation.

My message would be the message that has come from across the House, including from the right hon. Gentleman, which is that we must engage seriously with the issue at hand and Ford must face up to its responsibilities in this matter. As has been said—again, by Members from across the House—Ford is a company with a strong imprint in the UK and has been here a long time. Unless the public are confident that Ford will play by the rules and treat people fairly, the potential damage to Ford’s brand is obvious. “Brand” can sound rather advertisement-like, but the position is very simple.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the brand and the customers, but it looks to me as if Ford has treated a supplier abominably. Perhaps there is a message that could go out to suppliers that is an unhealthy one.

We have to be careful, given the ongoing legal case, but the comments from both sides of the House on these issues have resonated with everyone in the House today, including with those in the Public Gallery. Both sides of the House are clear that Ford must engage with its responsibilities. The wider issue is that if companies have a responsibility, beyond the bottom line, to their employees and the countries in which they operate, the direction of travel for Ford in this case must be clear.

What more can the Government do to satisfy the demands of Ford Visteon pensioners? I would be delighted to hear the Minister outline what the changes to the PPF cap mean and talk about the wider issue of ensuring that such pension transfers do not end up being to the great detriment of employees.

On what more the Government can do, in my speech I explained that—doing my bit in my small way—I would not be buying a Ford Capri Mk II. The Government have a bit more purchasing power than the Duddridge household. How does the hon. Gentleman feel about the Government reconsidering purchasing Ford vehicles until this matter is resolved?

I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) on his work as chair of the all-party group and his perseverance over a number years in raising this issue, along with the officers and members of the all-party group, which is well represented today. Such unanimity across the House, across political parties and across parts of the United Kingdom is rare and is all the more telling for that. The House has spoken today with a single voice. Those who follow our proceedings, both in person and by other means, will have heard clearly the single view of the House of Commons.

As you will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, at the beginning of our proceedings your fellow Deputy Speaker relayed Mr Speaker’s guidance. We respect that guidance, of course. I am particularly conscious of the need to avoid saying anything that would in any way undermine or prejudice the case being brought by Unite the union and by individual former Visteon workers. We want to see justice done through due process. I hope the House will understand that my remarks are slightly more guarded for that reason.

We discussed this matter almost exactly a year ago in a debate in Westminster Hall that raised many of the same issues. In the course of that debate, I said that I was particularly conscious of the Visteon workers ending up in the Pension Protection Fund and, as hon. Members have said, finding that the pension they receive is not much more than half the pension they were expecting. With my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock, I met members of the Visteon Pension Action Group in summer 2012, and it was their individual case studies that made me acutely aware of the impact of the PPF cap on their entitlements under the scheme. As I explained at the time, the thinking behind the cap was to ensure that what I loosely call the “fat cats” of the scheme, the people right at the top, could not manipulate matters and still receive a full pension. That was why the previous Government introduced the cap. It was my judgment at the time, and it remains so, that the cap was having an unfair and adverse impact on people who had relatively large pension entitlements not because they had earned phenomenal amounts of money, but because they had given very long service.

During the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock referred to his constituent Mr Varney, who had about 38 years of combined service with Visteon and Ford, and my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) referred to his constituent Mr Sharpe, who had served for 27 years. These are the sorts of workers potentially caught by the cap, depending—obviously—on their wage. I said in last year’s debate that we were looking at whether we could do something about that, and I am pleased to confirm today that we have acted upon that promise. The Pensions Bill, which is now in another place, provides that for those who have been members of a scheme for more than 20 years, the cap should be increased by 3% for each additional year they are above the cap. Obviously I cannot comment on individual cases but, in principle, someone who has served for 38 years would have 18 lots of 3% so a cap 54% higher than the standard cap. If they were still capped at that point, as it were, their pension would be 54% higher than it is currently.

Sadly, these things take time—the Bill has not passed the other place and when it has we will have to produce detailed secondary legislation—but I can assure the House that we intend these higher rates of payment to be in place in the lifetime of this Parliament and to apply from that date onwards. They will not be retrospectively applied, but they will apply to schemes already in the PPF, such as the Visteon scheme. I am aware that probably only 60 or 70 Visteon employees will be affected by this measure, but I hope that for them, who have suffered the biggest proportionate loss, this will be of some benefit.

I fully support the payment protection being discussed, but if I follow the logic correctly, the Government are, in effect, paying for Ford’s failure to take moral responsibility. Will there come a point when the Government look to Ford to repay money they have paid out through the PPF?

It is not the Government who pay for the PPF, but the rest of British industry. It is funded partly by the assets of the schemes in the fund and the investment returns on them and partly by a levy on schemes with defined benefit pension liabilities. I realise it does not change the issue my hon. Friend raises, but it is not the taxpayer who funds the PPF; it is other firms with ongoing defined benefit pension liabilities. The PPF does not form a judgment on the rights and wrongs of a firm’s conduct leading up to insolvency. That is a separate matter that might come up during the court proceedings.

During the debate, we heard that Visteon was spun off from Ford in 2000, before the present architecture—the Pensions Regulator and the PPF—was in place. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) asked whether these sorts of things could happen again and whether a hypothetical future firm could structure its affairs with a view to minimising its pensions liabilities and passing them on to the PPF. I can reassure her that part of the remit of the Pensions Regulator is to protect the PPF and hence other levy payers. For example, firms considering a corporate restructuring that would have implications for the covenant of their pensions scheme can seek pre-clearance from the Pensions Regulator, and the latter has powers to act if a corporate transaction has been undertaken with specific intent to weaken pension protection. The situation, therefore, is considerably different from the one pertaining in 2000.

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) described the workers who accepted the transfer from Ford to Visteon. The hon. Gentleman said they were not greedy or stupid, which of course they were not, and my hon. Friend said they were sensible and level-headed. It was the natural thing to do at the time: someone’s employment is transferred from one employer to another, they are given assurances about their pension and it is suggested they transfer it across. There are different accounts of exactly how the conversation went, but it was an entirely rational thing for people to do. There is no suggestion that people who made that decision acted inappropriately; they acted in good faith on the assurances given.

One issue that arose about the point of transfer was that some were reaching the end of their careers within Ford but were still left obliged to transfer before—in one case, only three months before—they retired, only to find out later that they had been disadvantaged. Could the Government look at providing for those in the process of reaching retirement a buffer zone, whereby people do not have to transfer out of the fund into which they have put most of their earnings over their working lives?

It is worth bearing in mind that, in all these cases, we are generally dealing with a trust—a pension fund set up as a trust has trustees—and with private companies, scheme rules and so forth. It is difficult to see how the Government could write a law that interacted with all those different aspects in a rational way. I take my hon. Friend’s point, as I, too, have heard about folk who worked only a few months for Visteon, yet transferred across their life’s pension rights with Ford—with very adverse consequences. I appreciate that that happened. It is quite clear that no blame or criticism could possibly attach to the workers whose pensions were transferred across; they are clearly the innocent parties in all this.

Prior to this debate, I re-read the transcript of our debate of a year ago. I was struck by the tone, which was slightly different. I do not know whether this was co-ordinated because I was not involved in those conversations, but I was struck that a number of hon. Members said that they did not want to drag Ford down, as they recognised that Ford was a key employer for this country and that many people who worked for the company were proud to do. As I say, I was struck that hon. Members were not trying to denigrate Ford, but were concerned that, if the matter remained unresolved, Ford’s reputation would suffer. I think this striking tone will have been noticed.

It was made clear during the debate that although Visteon was spun off as a separate company, there were close links between Visteon and Ford. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) mentioned the nature of the relationship, drawing on his business expertise, while some hon. Members pointed out that new contracts were not signed. Reference was made to the fact that the long service award that Visteon workers received accumulated their Ford service, and there was Ford branding and all of that. Leaving aside the legalities, it is absolutely clear that the two companies were very closely interlinked; there can be no doubt about that.

During our discussions, the potential for Select Committees to look into this issue was raised. What Select Committees choose to investigate is obviously not a matter for the Government, but I am happy to repeat the assurance I gave a year ago that if any Select Committee—perhaps the Culture, Media and Sport Committee could find an obscure angle to get going on this—decided to take up this issue, we would be happy to put at its disposal the expertise of the Pensions Regulator, the Pension Protection Fund and my own officials to advise or guide in any such investigation.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont) asked what the Government could do. At this point, I refer back to the motion, which “calls on the Government” to do what they can and use what influence they can to bring matters to a “resolution”. The court process is happening, so the legalities will be resolved one way or another through that.

Prompted by today’s debate, I asked my officials to contact Ford UK, which they have done. We have agreed that I shall meet Ford UK early in the UK and I shall take up the concerns that have been voiced. Ford and I have agreed that the spirit of that meeting will be one of constructive dialogue. I thought the best way I could reflect the spirit of today’s debate and the many excellent speeches we have heard would be to relay in person to senior executives of Ford UK the tenor of our debate and the views of the House. Almost uniquely, we have spoken with one voice. I hope that that reassures hon. Members. In addition to what they have done by properly putting their concerns on the record again, I hope that, with our proceedings being heard beyond this House, further steps will be taken on behalf of these pensioners.

I totally agree that constructive dialogue will provide the right way forward. It is what everyone has been trying to achieve ever since the first debate on the issue. If that constructive dialogue does not produce the results we hope for, will the Minister consider seeking a meeting with his opposite number in the United States to see whether any political options across the pond could be explored to encourage everyone to do the right thing?

At the back of my mind is a feeling that I would not want to meet my hon. Friend in a dark alley at night. I am not sure why I have that feeling. [Laughter.] My hon. Friend put his point forcefully. Given that representatives of Ford have agreed to meet me in a spirit of constructive dialogue, I shall leave it at that for now, but we shall clearly have to reflect on what further actions could be taken.

Finally, let me reassure members of the all-party parliamentary group that I shall be happy to report the outcome of my conversation with Ford UK to their office. Obviously I do not want to raise any false hopes—Ford’s position is well known, and I do not want to pretend that it has suddenly changed—but I am trying to engage constructively with the company, and I hope that the company will engage constructively with the House.

Thank you for the opportunity to wrap up the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that the relationship between Visteon and Ford has been very well explored, as has the reason for the belief of members of the all-party parliamentary group that Ford has a moral responsibility to make good the losses that have been suffered by our constituents.

We have heard from a number of Members today. The hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) drew comparisons with the way in which other companies have dealt with this issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) described the differences between the ways in which business is conducted on the two sides of the Atlantic. We also heard from my hon. Friend—and I do call him a friend—the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who is the vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group, and whom I thank for his invaluable help. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) expressed the hope that the issue would not go to court, and that is probably the feeling of the whole House. I think that if the issue did go to court and Ford were victorious, it would be a hollow victory anyway, because the company would still not have met its moral obligations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) presented a strong argument about the links between Ford and Visteon and the continuity in the supply chain, and my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) referred to Project Kennedy, which was intended to ensure that the supply chain was continuous. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) described Ford as a four-letter word behaving in a four-letter way. I am grateful to all of them, I am grateful to the shadow Minister, and I am especially grateful to the Minister for the efforts that he has made over the last three years. I am particularly impressed to learn that he has been in contact with Ford UK, and that a meeting is planned. That is a positive step.

The final message that I want to send to all who have listened to the debate, inside and outside the House, is that this fight will not go away. We see an injustice that has been done to our constituents, and we will carry on fighting until justice has been done.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House notes that, when Visteon UK Ltd was spun off from the Ford Motor Company, employees transferred from Ford’s pension scheme into the Visteon UK pension fund on the clear understanding that their pension rights would be unaffected; further notes that, when Visteon UK subsequently went into administration, now over four years ago, former Ford employees suffered a substantial reduction in their pension rights; regrets that the resolution of any court action is still some way off; believes that Ford should recognise a duty of care to its former employees and should make good the pension losses suffered by those worst affected without the need for legal action; and calls on the Government to use the power and influence at its disposal to help ensure that Ford recognises its obligations and accepts voluntarily its duty of care to former Visteon UK pensioners.