Ford Plant, Halewood
§ Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)
The House may be aware that earlier today the Ford Motor Company made a statement in which it announced the following:in order to bring Halewood vehicle operations' manned capacity in line with forecast demand, the company announced that it was opening a voluntary separation programme with special enhanced terms for approximately 1,300 employees"—a series of euphemisms which mean that 1,300 people will lose their jobs on Merseyside.
On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara), who unfortunately is fulfilling a long-standing commitment out of the country but is making strenuous efforts to return, I beg to ask leave to move that the remainder of today's business be suspended so that we may debate that issue.
The issue is specific to Knowsley and Merseyside, for several reasons. On Merseyside, unemployment currently stands at 11.5 per cent. compared to 6.6 per cent. for the country as a whole. However, unemployment is running at just over 13 per cent. in Knowsley and at about 22 per cent. in Halewood. For that reason alone, it is an important matter for Knowsley and the Merseyside region.
The urgency of the position hardly needs stressing. However, the Prime Minister's inadequate response to the question posed to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mrs. Kennedy) earlier this afternoon does nothing to lessen—in fact, it increases—the urgency of that situation.
I understand that this afternoon the President of the Board of Trade is meeting Mr. Jack Nasser, chief of automotive operations for the Ford Motor Company, and I believe that the House should have the opportunity to debate this matter urgently so that he may give a full report of those discussions and any conclusions that have been reached.
This is a momentous event locally, because of the effect that it will have on the local economy, and nationally, as a commentary on the sorry state of health of our manufacturing industry. I hope that, for those reasons, we may today have the opportunity to debate that devastating news and possibly have the opportunity to question the President of the Board of Trade as to what action he proposes to take, what discussions are being held and what can be done to reverse that disastrous situation.
§ Madam Speaker
I have listened most carefully to what the hon. Member has said and of course I have to give my decision without giving any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter which he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. I therefore cannot submit the application to the House.