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The managing director of Dalgety UK Ltd has made it clear that the company is not prepared to reverse its decision. However, he has expressed a commitment to considering alternative uses for the Broxburn facility which would alleviate the unemployment consequences of the decision to cease crisp manufacture.
Will the Minister recognise that many of us find it distasteful that a new management which has owned the company for only three months should, without consultation, dismiss a work force, some of whom have served the factory for 20 years? In his discussions with Dalgety, will he make it clear to the company that if it does not intend to run the factory as a crisp-making centre, it would be wholly unacceptable for it to refuse any genuine offer to take the factory over as a going concern and thereby save 350 jobs in a travel-to-work area where unemployment is already over 20 per cent?
I shall happily relay that message to the company. Like the hon. Gentleman, I regret the lack of prior consultation which is always desirable in such circumstances. However, I am glad to be able to remind the hon. Gentleman that there has been a net increase of 3,000 jobs in the Livingston area in the past two years, and that manufacturing employment remains at the 1979 level.
Does my hon. Friend accept that although Dalgety has every right to rationalise its own manufacturing capacity, it has no right to attempt to stifle competition by refusing to entertain offers from potential competitors, particularly in an area of high unemployment? Has my hon. Friend had a satisfactory response from Sir Peter Carey, the chairman of Dalgety and a former champion of regional policy?
I have been in touch with both Sir Peter Carey and with Mr. Maurice Warren the managing director of Dalgety UK Ltd. I must say that I have not had a satisfactory reply. I share my hon. Friend's view that it is desirable that the facility should be made available to an alternative user who will maintain employment in the area.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Dalgety group also owns the Spillers factory in Barrhead which has an outstanding record in production, industrial relations and new investment? In his discussions with Dalgety, will he reinforce the Scottish Office commitment to the success of that factory and explore possibilities for expansion?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the successful factories also operated by the group in other parts of the country. Major companies of this kind have made notable contributions to the Scottish economy.
Is this not yet another case of a company in Scotland being closed down to facilitate company strategy elsewhere to the disadvantage of a Scottish work force? What industrial strategy do the Government have to deal with such cases?
Does the Minister not agree that it would be shameful if Golden Wonder was to block any offer for the factory as a going concern? Will he take it from the Opposition that it is not good enough simply to say that he will relay the message from my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook)? That is all right as far as it goes, but we want that same message to come very forcefully from Ministers. It is quite unsatisfactory that the fate of 350 employees at the plant should be passed around like a paper parcel between executives in the way that the Minister has described. Can he assure us that he is making the point strongly to the company that the Government will deeply resent any attempt to block any purchaser who wishes to maintain the factory in its present industry?
I am sure that the company is in no doubt about the Government's view of the matter. My officials and the local authorities remain anxious to consult the company on the best alternative use of the facility.