Leaving the EU: State Aid, Public Ownership and Workers’ Rights — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:19 pm on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 3:19 pm, 11th December 2018

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. As you can hear, I am going to battle through my speech this afternoon. My hon. Friend David Linden has called me a “wee sowl”—all I can say is that interventions will be very much encouraged during my remarks. First, I thank Laura Smith for securing this debate, which is timely, given the game playing that we have seen over the past couple of days by the Government.

Yesterday I was expecting to address the House on the deal, but we found out that the debate was cancelled. Another reason why the debate is timely is that yesterday I was going to make the argument I made during the EU referendum campaign—to remain and reform. I understand the Lexit argument that the EU can be seen as a capitalist club, but my view was then, and is now, that the answer to neo-liberalism is not to leave for more neo-liberalism and deregulation. I fear that that is happening and very much regret that successive UK Governments, but particularly Conservative ones, have had a disgraceful record on applying for EU social funds. It is worth reflecting on that.

Stephanie Peacock, my friend and trade union comrade, made a point about people in lower income brackets—the same ones who would have benefited if former UK Governments had taken a more proactive approach on EU social funds. I am thinking particularly of the one for food poverty. However, the UK Government did not apply, so France and Germany got €450 million from the EU to help with food poverty, and because the UK did not apply it got the same amount of money as Malta, which was €12 million. Like many others who have spoken, I have a concern that we could end up with the UK leaving the EU and signing trade deals that would make the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership look moderate.

The debate is timely also in relation to the current Government’s direction of travel on public sector delivery and the management of the economy. Already, Carillion, which was providing public sector services, has collapsed. I have previously warned here, and in written questions, about issues with Interserve, which looks like being the next Carillion.

We are also in the ludicrous position where the current Government are considering privatising veterans’ services. This must be one of few nations that would even consider that. We know the current Government’s approach to workers’ rights because of—to correct my friends in the Labour party—the “anti-trade union” Act, which is what we should call the Trade Union Act 2016.

The Government, following the passage of the 2016 Act, were forced to consider e-balloting, but almost three years down the line they have done nothing to help with e-balloting for industrial action ballots. That is relevant to the present debate because if the EU referendum had been conducted according to the same rules as a trade union industrial action ballot, it would not have been possible to prosecute Brexit. The result would have failed to comply with the 40% rule that the Government insist on applying to trade unions in industrial action ballots. I shall take a sip of water now, Mr Hollobone —if no one is keen to intervene on me.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East has said, over the past few decades Westminster Governments have left key Scottish industries, and industries across the UK, without support. There is now a real fear that we face a Tory Brexit race to the bottom. In decades when Thatcherism, it has been said,

“swept like a wrecking ball through the mines, the steel industry, the car factories, shipbuilding and engineering and oversaw the demise of the communities which had built their livelihoods around them” it was the Conservative Government who referred to miners as “the enemy within”. It was often felt that the same sentiment was directed towards many working communities. That Government’s attitude to many of those communities can be summed up by the classic Proclaimers song “Letter from America”:

“Bathgate no more

Linwood no more

Methil no more

Irvine no more”.

Let us not forget that the period from 1981 to 1983 was the worst recession since the 1930s, destroying one fifth of the industrial base and doubling unemployment. That was before war was declared on the miners. The Linwood car plant in Renfrewshire closed in 1981 with the loss of 4,800 jobs. Plessey Electronics in Bathgate closed in 1982. Leyland’s lorry factory in Bathgate closed in 1986 with 1,800 jobs lost. Ravenscraig steelworks closed in 1992 with the loss of 1,200 jobs. Various Clyde shipyards wound down or closed, including Scott Lithgow in Greenock in 1988.