Love Lane Lives

The history of sugar in Liverpool and the effects of the closure of the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, Love Lane

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Another Kayll Road Public Library Blog

Written by Ron Noon at 14:51 on Friday, February 18th 2011

Friday February 18th, Kayll Road Library   image


I knew before travelling up to Center Parcs, Whinfell Forest, Cumbria to meet up with our little grandchildren, Henry, Ralfie and Ruby, for a well earned half term break, that I’d have “problems” sneaking away from the rest of the holiday gang to do a blog on the 17th February! That was a key date for me as thirty years earlier, the House of Commons debated the Tate & Lyle decision to close Liverpool Love Lane refinery, but on the edge of the Lake District it was just another action packed day at Center Parcs.

I waited for the right moment, stealthily put on my anorak and sneaked out of the lodge we were staying in, to access any unsecured wireless network in the main village centre. It was the narrowest window of opportunity ‘cos I’d promised ar Ralfie, (three years of youth last week), that I’d go out with him later on that day with his Early Rider bike. What would my wife Gail, (Gail warnings are worse than yellow cards), ar Matty and his wife Sarah, Sarah’s mum Shirley and Sarah’s sister Laura think if I let the little man down? Not surprisingly in the frenzy of trying to do too much I had great difficulties uploading the important stuff I’d wanted to accompany the text and the site crashed and was far too slow. I remember the panic “freeze frame” moment, when I felt on the cusp of a Basil Fawlty like attack on my laptop machine, and only resisted such an inane act because of the compensating thought that internet access at Kayll Road public library Sunderland, would make up for all my frustrations as it had done before Christmas in snowy Cannyland. That was also a time when I’d been desperate to write up a blog but with the help of the great staff here and the facilities still on offer I did just that.

Anyway we left Center Parcs this morning and headed up to Sunderland to check out Gail’s 91 year old mum and here I am once again sat down in front of a computer in Kayll Road, the library that Gail used when she was a child. I can at a more leisurely pace than yesterday, add as many attachments as needed. I’ve also been very pleased to see that Warren Keith my website man has already uploaded the SAVE OUR SUGAR blog and film. Thanks Warren, the best young website designer in the sugar business!

So what follows below? First of all there is part of the debate in the House of Commons and the passionate contribution of Bob Parry whose constituency Love Lane Refinery was in.

Secondly a little more commentary on the Congress of Merseyside and the extent to which it was “merely” a “local side show” as indeed many of the efforts made earlier in the 10 year struggle to keep the refinery open.

Thirdly there is a great extract from the book written by Archbishop Worlock and Bishop Sheppard with references to our scouse Dickens ALAN BLEASDALE.
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HANSARD 17 FEBRUARY 1981 European Community (Sugar)

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill): Order. I remind the House that if the business motion is carried the debate will end at 11.30 pm. I should point out that 20 hon. Members wish to speak.

9.38 pm

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange):

My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has given the historical background to this debate and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) has touched on the question of the Lome agreement. I hope that the House will understand if I deal mainly with the proposed closure of the Tate and Lyle plant, which lies in my constituency. I wish to deal with the’ effects that that closure will have on the people of Liverpool, and particularly on those who live in the inner city areas. On Merseyside, more than 100,000 people are unemployed. In the special development area nearly 16 per cent. are unemployed.

The position in Liverpool is far more serious. In inner city areas-including my constituency - unemployment has reached 40 to 50 per cent. Those are official figures, given by the Under-Secretary of State for Employment just
before Christmas.

Recently, the Daily Mirror carried out a survey in a multi-storey block of flats in my constituency – Logan Towers - which is situated close to the refinery. That survey showed that 50 per cent. of the people living in those flats were unemployed. The deputation that met the Minister this morning included people from all strata of society. I think that the Minister was touched when the Roman Catholic archbishop. the Rev. Derek Warlock, said that only last Sunday he went to St. Anthony’s church, in the Scotland Road area, and found that. in a parish that formerly had 12,000 people, only 2,000 remained. Out of that 2,000, 250 worked at the Tate and Lyle, refinery. That gives some indication of the tragic consequences that will accrue in the inner areas of Liverpool. Mr. Runge, the managing director of Tate and Lyle, told the Minister that in his opinion the work force at Tate and Lyle was second to none.

We are pointing out that the closure of the Tate and Lyle refinery is due not to bad industrial relations or poor production but to the old question of the production of sugar beet in the United Kingdom. The Tate and Lyle workers are not opposed to the British Sugar Corporation producing more sugar. They insist - tbey have asked us to support them - that the 1.3 million tonnes of ACP sugar should be imported, refined and consumed in the United Kingdom. They say that if the British Sugar Corporation wished to refine more than the 936,000 tonnes that has been proposed the surplus should be exported. The cane sugar workers have never put forward any proposals that would lead to a loss of jobs in the beet industry.

Following an all-party meeting, of hon. Members, the Minister wrote to me last Wednesday saying:

“On the question of exports I made clear that if either or both companies” - That is Tate and Lyle and the BSC - “were able to export and hence maintain a higher throughput than could be absorbed by the United Kingdom market. I would welcome it. But exports are less remunerative than home sales and I could not require one company to incur the cost of exporting to ease the problems of the other.” Is there no way that a joint venture could be set up between the British Sugar Corporation and Tate and Lyle to export surplus sugar? I understand that the British Sugar Corporation is totally opposed to that, but I see no reason whatever why such a venture could not be set up. The Minister said that it would not be against the public interest.

Will the Minister of State consider the question of an increase in the regional premium from £7•50 to £20 a tonne? I understand that that would be borne by the EEC budget, and would cost £4•4 million a year gross. The net figure would be lower because the EEC budget would have to pay for absorbing the surplus sugar. That cost is very small beer when we consider that United Kingdom taxpayers and consumers have paid £ I billion over the last five years - 200 million a year. That is the highest contribution of any member State. Will the Minister really fight in Europe for the workers of Liverpool? Will he really put his shoulder in their corner?

Unemployment on Merseyside has reached such tragic proportions that we cannot face any more closures. There are 30,000 young school leavers under the age of 18 unemployed on Merseyside. Is the Minister aware that at Tate and Lyle there are more than 100 young apprentices serving their time who will be thrown on the scrap heap half way through their training? If the majority of people who are 50 years or more are made redundant. they will have no possible chance of finding any alternative employment.

The estimated cost of the closure of the refinery is £30 million. The bill for social security and loss of revenue that will follow will not be far short of £ 10 million a year. That does not take into account the degradation and feeling of absolute despair and despondency of the people in an area which has suffered so much. In the last year or so, even in the area where the refinery is situated. we saw the closure of Tillotsons, with the loss of nearly 500 jobs. Around the corner, we saw the loss of the CBS Engineering and Ship Repairing Company. Again with the loss of several hundred jobs. The cane workers have also suffered their share of losses in the industry. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley has already mentioned the number of jobs that have been shed there.

As I said earlier, in an intervention, Liverpool cane workers are carrying the can. They are carrying more than two-thirds of the total number of jobs which have been shed by the Tate and Lyle company.


I asked the Minister of State a question when I was dealing with the position at Tate and Lyle. He replied:  “One of of the tragedies of the situation is that this shouId be seen simply as a beet sugar versus cane sugar lobby. Cane sugar is important. and so is beet. Beet production holds an important position in British expenditure. We believe that there is a placefor beet sugar and cane sugar within our sugar refining capacity and we intend to keep a proper balance to the benefit of both.”
[Official Report. 5 March 1980; vol. 980. c. 488.)

Does the Minister of State fed that a proper balance has been kept? Over the past six years, the British-grown beet share of the home market has increased from 26 per cent. to 49 per cent. I am not opposed to the British Sugar Corporation’s growing more beet provided that it is exported, but I would be totally opposed to any further expansion of the British Sugar Corporation output at the expense of the workers in Tate and Lyle at Liverpool. I understand that the proposed merger with S. and W. Beresford is before the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and that the report is due in two weeks’ time. Labour Members of Parliament were advised by trade unions that if the merger were to go through - I understand that it would not be against the national interest - the Tatc and Lyle refinery would be saved, because the new company could then export cane.

The Minister’s point that the Tate and Lyle company has signed a five-year agreement with the ACP countries does not wash very much with me, because the .various high commissioners for the ACP countries have shown their grave concern over the closure of the refinery. They feel, as we do, that this is the thin end of the wedge and that the bridges have been taken down.

There were three preconditions for the British Government’s accession to the EEC, and the commitment to the ACP countries was one of them. The other two were the British contribution to the EEC budget and the imports of New Zealand dairy farm products. We know about the fights that have been put up by successive Governments in that connection, but they have not been very successful in defending the interests of the ACP countries. Those countries are rightly asking that their sugar cane should not have to suffer. They fear that if assurances given about preserving the cane markets can be breached once, they can be breached again.

The Minister has the right of veto on the new sugar regime on 1st July 1981. Will the right hon. Gentleman use his veto? If not, why not? Will he use it to ensure that Tate and Lyle will be able to remain open on Merseyside? If the closure takes place it will displace surplus home sugar from the United Kingdom. However, the United Kingdom taxpayer will still have to pay £ I .8 million.

The Government are pumping cash into Liverpool in the form of inner city area payments. I am sure that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) will refer to those payments if he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Liverpool is also receiving Government assistance in the form of activity by the National Enterprise Board and the urban development corporation. It is crazy that the Government are pumping money into Liverpool at one end when there is a constant outflow of jobs at the other end.

I was delighted to note that there were seven Conservative Members among the group of Members that saw the Minister last week. If they are so concerned about the loss of jobs on Merseyside, I hope that they will demonstrate their concern by abstaining when the Division takes place. I should prefer Conservative Members to vote against the Government. That would demonstrate the strength of their feeling about the loss of jobs in Merseyside constituencies. I voted against the Labour Government on issues on which I felt strongly, and I ask Conservative Members to think again.

I was disappointed by the Prime Minister’s refusal to meet an all-party delegation to discuss these issues. In the past, my right hon. Friends the Members for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) and for Cardiff. South-East (Mr. Callaghan) have met all party delegations from Merseyside. I shall be receiving next Thursday, a document produced by the three main trade unions involved-namely, the Transport and General Workers Union, the General and Municipal Workers Union, and ASTMS. I believe that the document will contain several options. If the Government are interested in saving the Liverpool Tate and Lyle refinery. one of the options could be the answer to the problem.

When I receive the document I shall present it to the Prime Minister. Tile right hon. Lady has given me an assurance that she will meet me. I wrote to her this afternoon and asked her to meet me next Monday or Tuesday. I shall advance the argument on behalf of the trade unions and Merseyside Members.

If there is no response from the Government. All these exercises having been gone through, I shall be convinced that the Government do not give a damn about unemployment on Merseyside,  and specifically in Liverpool. The company is not responsible, there is no depression within the industry, and the workers are not responsible. If the Government do not respond, I shall consider that they are washing their hands of Tate and Lyle, Liverpool, and are trying to blame either the EEC or the company for making a commercial decision.

If the Government decide to allow the Tate and Lyle refinery to close, the next time a Minister starts shedding crocodile tears from the Dispatch Box over job losses on Merseyside I shall call him a hypocrite.

9.53 pm

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The Congress of Merseyside was a local sideshow which was never given any national exposure. Tragically what happened on Merseyside for most of the previous ten years of closure threats was also very much a local sideshow. There were some national landmarks as in 1973 and the Party Political Conference season, again in 1974, but from then on the Brussels trips did not sprout at any time into concerted national action on behalf of the cane refineries that were threatened by the 1975 Food From Our Own Resources policy and the EEC’s inbuilt bias towards expanding sugar beet. There was a union structure in Britain that was split between the two competing sectors and on top of that a very powerful pan European sugar beet lobby. Was Tates’s at the end of the day really all that concerned about the junking of Liverpool? Did it really wish to take advantage of any more government funding to build a refinery in Liverpool on the waterfront for the sake of Liverpool?
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What I’ve typed out below is a great extract from a book entitled BETTER TOGETHER by David Sheppard & Derek Worlock. It was published in 1988 and this extract is from Chpt 7 “Gizza job” – The Indignity of Unemployment.

“The burden of unemployment in a nation like Britain does not fall evenly. It falls on predictable areas and on particular groups. In all parts of the country, for example, black people have poorer opportunities for jobs than the rest of the community. In the same way, Merseyside is always up near the top of any table of figures of unemployment or other forms of deprivation…Liverpool has many comparable problems with Glasgow and Belfast. Together they form what we call the North West Triangle. Even within these areas – and this is particularly true of Merseyside – unemployment hits some social classes much more drastically than others…Statistics in themselves cannot adequately tell the story of human hurt which results from unemployment, or indicate the nature of the poverty which goes with it…Poverty goes hand in hand with unemployment bearing with it all the obvious mental strains. ‘I worry from Friday to Tuesday (Child Allowance day) that I’ll run out of money,’ we were told by one housewife. ‘We have to spend so much time going to see officials, to the Social Security and Housing, asking for advice, it’s degrading. They ask you the same questions over and over and over again. We feel ashamed, so low, as if we are beggars.’

Alan Bleasdale, the Liverpool born and bred playwright, caught the atmosphere of the social security office with telling force, both from the claimant’s point of view and from that of the official’s, in his series of television plays…Many people from outside Merseyside believed that Bleasdale must be exaggerating. But those living in urban priority areas said quite simply, ‘He’s got us right’. Here was a latter day Charles Dickens enabling those with eyes to see to enter into the subterfuges which the system drove people to adopt, the fear of snoopers, the escapism of the redundancy celebration or party, married couples taking it out on one another…We often hear people speaking of the situation today as that of ‘relative poverty’. The term is used in comparison with conditions in certain parts of the Third World, or when today’s circumstances are set against the ‘absolute’ poverty and hunger experienced in this country in the 1930s. To compare the lot of the unemployed receiving the dole in this country with that of those abroad, whose loss of job means no relief for loss of income, is scant comfort for those facing long term unemployment here. We have found that those who speak of the grave hardships faced by their parents in the Depression of the 1930s, often come from the ranks of those who have climbed out of the urban priority areas. Those whose parents were not so successful recognise a remarkable continuity in their situation. Succeeding generations bear the same scars. In an age when television portrays the standards of the more fortunate, poverty, even if only relative, still hurts human dignity when the sharpest pangs of hunger have been assuaged.”


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