Westlands (Redundancies)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 3rd December 1985.

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Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown , Yeovil 4:03 pm, 3rd December 1985

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the announcement by Westlands of a major programme of redundancies entailing the loss of 750 jobs, mostly in Yeovil. Westlands today announced redundancies amounting to 742 jobs of which the lion's share—461—will be from Yeovil. The redundancies will be a severe blow to the community that I represent and to areas such as the Isle of Wight. They will also be a blow to Britain's aerospace industry.

Unless there is a change of Government attitude and policy towards Westlands, the redundancies will prove to be only the first in a series. I have repeatedly warned the Government that, unless they stopped shilly-shallying, jobs would be lost, Westlands would be damaged and Britain's defence industries would be weakened. That has now happened.

The Government encouraged Westlands to take risks for the Indian order, but now refuse to provide temporary support until the order is formalised. The Government set up a competition for the new helicopter that the defence forces need so badly, but when Westlands won hands down against stiff international competition they promptly moved the goalposts and changed the rules. The Government have delayed decisions and strung out orders to save money for the Trident nuclear missile.

When the Government had their crisis in the Falklands, Westlands pulled out all the stops to help and was praised by hon. Members on both sides of the House for what it did. Now that the boot is on the other foot, all that Westlands gets in return is a kick in the teeth.

The Secretary of State for Defence is now, at the twelfth, or thirteenth, hour rushing round European Governments asking for help. I hope that he succeeds, but for 461 people in my constituency he is too late. We wanted action from the Secretary of State six or eight months ago. To say the least, it is ironic that the right hon. Gentleman is asking European Governments to do what he has refused to do. As all other European helicopter companies are nationalised, will the result of the negotiations be to put a representative of a foreign Government on the board of Westlands? Would not that amount to foreign nationalisation of Westlands while the Government have sat by and refused to do anything? Why did the chief executive of Westlands, a private company, not know about the discussions that could so crucially affect his company and shareholders until he read of them in a newspaper?

These are important matters that have serious implications not only for my constituency but for Britain's defence industry. I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will agree that they are urgent and specific enough to be debated as soon as possible.