My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister for repeating what is by any standards a desultory Statement. It seemed odd from where I was sitting to hear those words coming from his mouth in particular; they seem so mealy-mouthed. After all, 1,700 people are without work and communities will be ravaged. For all the task forces, which are starting from scratch since this has all happened so suddenly, there will be a huge period of thinking and reflecting. Some of the initiatives announced in the Statement pertain to the whole of the UK, and there is little for us to rejoice about in their specific application to Wales.
This is indeed a dark day. Since the 1980s and 1990s, when traditional industries folded up—with such great consequence to Wales, as the Minister will know—it is what has been happening down the M4 corridor that in many ways has kept the economy buoyant, brought hope and replaced those traditional heavy industries that have now gone.
We must just express our deep sadness and perhaps scratch our heads a little. After all, Bridgend manufactured 620,000 engines in 2017—one every 30 seconds. The plant makes a total of five different engines to support the production of seven Ford models. These engines are exported to Germany, Spain, Russia, the USA, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Mexico. Bridgend also makes V6 and V8 engines for the Jaguar XJ, XF and XK. I must apologise to the House: the recent removal of cataracts from my eyes places the reading of a document at this distance in no man’s land. With glasses I cannot see it, and without glasses I cannot see it. For all that, I want simply to say that the output from Bridgend has been considerable. Undertakings were given only recently that led people to suppose and hope that there would be better days ahead. All the activities that depend on the car industry will be similarly affected.
I think we will hear from all sides of the House some bewilderment at the blanket statement that this cannot be put down to Brexit. It seems to me that the uncertainty that has been created by this long and tedious process that Members all over the House have felt to be so damaging will bring sadness of its own kind. In Securing Wales’ Future, a White Paper from the Welsh Government that appeared within a year of the referendum in collaboration with Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party in Cardiff, emphasis was placed on maintaining and preserving work opportunities and conditions, on setting ways of achieving all that and on the necessity of maintaining confidence in the jobs market.
The uncertainty has clearly had its part to play. Ford has blamed global challenges for its decision, but, as highlighted by numerous manufacturers, falling diesel sales and the impact of a potential hard Brexit are creating a perfect storm for the sector. Today’s figures, we are told, are evidence of the vast cost and upheaval Brexit uncertainty has already wrought on UK automotive manufacturing businesses and workers—not just in Bridgend, but in other places, too. Prolonged instability has done untold damage. The Secretary of State for Wales has just recently endorsed the candidature of Boris Johnson for the leadership of the Conservative Party and our eventual new Prime Minister. No clearer exponent of a hard Brexit exists than he. Consequently, faced by the increasingly likely and to be feared hard Brexit, we will not see conditions improve or create what from this side of the House we have constantly asked for—better workers’ rights, greater security in the field of work and support for communities centred on industries such as the car industry.
This is, as I began by saying, a desultory Statement about a very sad situation. We are not convinced that the Secretary of State or Her Majesty’s Government have done all that they can, and we seek reassurances from the Minister that these task forces that have been put in place and this commitment to the future will benefit Wales as much as any other part of the United Kingdom. We were sold the promise that we would lose nothing in our economy as a result of leaving Europe, that our economy would remain buoyant and that the support from Westminster to Cardiff would not see us lose a single penny. Here is the mood music created by this sad closure impending in Bridgend. We can only regret it and ask Her Majesty’s Government to rise above the conflicts among their own numbers that currently mark this moment in their history and give greater attention to the needs of workers and communities in Wales and the United Kingdom at large.