GKN Automotive Plant: Birmingham — [Dame Angela Eagle in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:28 am on 28th April 2021.

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Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 10:28 am, 28th April 2021

I thank all those who have spoken in what has been a powerful debate. We have heard about experiences from Luton to Birkenhead in traditional areas of engineering and motor manufacturing. My hon. Friend Grahame Morris made a powerful contribution and pointed out that the four directors of Melrose have done rather well out of what has happened in the last three years.

Let me go straight to the heart of the matter. This is a great plant with a great history that must not now become history. That would be a betrayal of the workers concerned, but also a betrayal of the British national interest. As the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Lucy Powell, said and the Minister acknowledged, there are serious implications if the remaining domestic producer of vital components for the industry closes and we become dependent on supply chains from France, Poland and beyond. There are serious issues in terms of the British national interest.

It is fascinating that today, in its interesting report, the Covid Recovery Commission talks about

“the Great British Supply Chain”.

A fundamental rethink is under way in terms of vital strategic capabilities, and certainly the Chester Road plant is an absolutely vital strategic capability for companies such as Jaguar Land Rover and Toyota.

Crucially for the next stages, as a former trade unionist I always used to say that ultimately it is about getting to an outcome, a result, for the workers and for the country. That involves three parties. First is Unite, whose work on a well thought through and creative alternative I applaud. Let us be clear: it stands ready to have whatever discussions are necessary. In my experience, they can be difficult discussions, but Unite stands ready to play its part.

Second is Melrose. As I think has become widely known, I am not its greatest fan in terms of how it has conducted itself, but it has committed to looking at alternatives to closure and we must hold it to that commitment. Third is the role of Government to defend the British national interest and unashamedly recognise that the loss of 519 directly employed jobs and all those in the supply chain will have devastating consequences for the industry in the midlands in one of the poorest parts of our country.

The Minister has said some interesting and helpful things about our preparedness to look at a range of options for capital equipment and skills. These things always go in two phases. The second phase—God forbid—I never want to get to, and that is what happens if closure takes place and we have to pick up the pieces. Believe you me: it would be absolutely heartbreaking, were that to ever happen. The first phase is the one that we must concentrate on, so that the plant does not close and so that creative, well thought through alternatives are found and negotiated with assurances given. That is eminently achievable.

The Minister is right that we both have strong backgrounds in the world of work, and I have been involved, sadly, in many, many workplace closures over the years, some of which we have won, such as Rosyth Dockyard. I know what it takes to get to a result; it is eminently achievable. Forgive me if I stress this for one final time: the role of Government will be absolutely key in holding Melrose to its commitments. If they do that, it is possible for a plant with a great history to have a great future. If we meet the workers or talk to car industry executives, we come to recognise just how important this is. It would be utterly heartbreaking, and a betrayal of the British national interest, were the plant to close. That must never happen.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the proposed closure of GKN Automotive plant in Birmingham.

Sitting suspended.