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Amendment of the Law

Part of Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation – in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 21st March 2000.

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Photo of Ken Purchase Ken Purchase Labour/Co-operative, Wolverhampton North East 7:14 pm, 21st March 2000

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I worked for the truck and bus division of British Leyland, and the management there did not exactly cover itself with glory. My abiding memory is of building the chassis of trucks and buses. Management were confident that people all over the world would buy them and that no one would make them except us. It was a miracle; we survived for about 20 years believing that, before everybody overtook us.

It is hard to describe the track we worked on as a track because when the lads had got so far with a bus or a truck, they would say, "We'll have a tea break now, but somebody had better move the track along." It was not a moving track; someone had to wind the damn thing. We worked with that sort of kit in the mid-1970s. Management were amazed when suddenly we could not sell buses and trucks. Why were the buses in Latin America, the sub-continent of India and the far east suddenly gleaming and new when we no longer had the technology or the investment? We had genuinely lost the plot. As my hon. Friend said, much of that was due to lack of management drive, perception and vision.

Matters have improved, but we have deskilled massively. Part of the answer is education, education, education. However, a new co-operation and a new vision is also required to replace current activities at Rover and elsewhere.

My next point is not frivolous. Announcements were made about maternity pay and services today. They are most welcome. We should do as much as we can for women who have babies and return to work. However, the Chancellor made no mention of provision for paternity pay. I am worried that he might expect companies to make such payments for time off. The bad news is that, in my constituency, across the west midlands and no doubt in other constituencies, there are innumerable companies that have perhaps six or 20 workers, half of whom are young men with the engine running. They are bound to have more and more babies.

Imagine a press shop where a skilled fitter, a press setter and four or five operators work. Two of the lads announce, "Well, the missus is pregnant and I'm off for this month." That means that the other five will be idle. Small companies cannot sustain the loss of one or two young men for three, four and five weeks at a time. Neither is it possible for the state to pay. When we consider proper provisions for maternity pay, we should also consider the effects on small companies whose workers are predominantly male, where key workers such as tool setters may be off for a month. That will hurt, and we must be careful.

The Budget will be welcomed in the west midlands. We have considerable difficulties and I hope that the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will be able to tackle them in the coming days. Nevertheless, the Budget will be widely welcomed.