EAST Lancashire MPs today joined the chorus of protest over Lucas Varity boss Victor Rice's £17 million pay-off.

As hundreds of workers in their constituencies waited to find out if the latest changes in the company would cost them their jobs, Burnley's Peter Pike and Hyndburn's Greg Pope said they were stunned by the size of his golden handshake.

And the two men revealed they are to contact Lucas Varity bosses about the future of the firm's three factories in East Lancashire which employ more than 1,500 people.

Mr Pike and Mr Pope joined other senior politicians and union leaders in expressing outrage today after it emerged that Mr Rice, who has just sacked 750 people, is to get the £17 million for losing his own job.

The 57-year-old son of an Essex chimney sweep turned chief executive of the car parts firm is to pocket a personal fortune following a takeover by United States chassis maker TRW.

He will get four times his annual salary and bonus, plus share options worth £13.4 million.

Mr Pike, who has two Lucas factories making car parts in his Burnley constituency employing around 1,100 workers, said: "It is an absolute outrage. The LucasVarity saga over the last year has been a disaster.

"This is the man who wanted to move the headquarters to the United States for his convenience. There is still the question of other possible takeovers. "I think workers in my constituency worried about the future of their jobs and if they will be able to pay for their families will be outraged by this pay-off."

Mr Pope, who has 400 constituents employed by Lucas Rists which makes vehicle wiring systems said: "This is an obscene amount. It is excessive.

"I shall be contacting the company with Mr Pike to try and establish what the position is regarding the firm's operations and jobs in East Lancashire.

"There will be many families in Hyndburn worried about their future with the company who will be very angry indeed about this staggering pay off."

As the firm closed a factory near Swansea, Welsh Office industry minister Peter Hain said: "It is just obscene that this should happen at the same time as the callous treatment of the company's employees who have been consigned to despair."

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, described the golden handshake as "staggering": Surely it would have been better invested in creating jobs and improving training standards."

The Transport and General Workers' Union said: "This is blood money on the backs of British jobs and the dismantling of a world-famous British company which is now lost to the US."

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.