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7.50 pm

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): I want to say two things. First, I was distressed and saddened that the Minister, in his introductory remarks, failed to justify the terms of this particular motion. He could see that Members were troubled—they were rising on points of order—and he even told the House that he did not think that his remarks would be of much use anyway. He failed to explain to us the construction of the business now before us.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was entirely right to point out that, traditionally, this Adjournment debate has run for more than three hours. I totted up the subjects for debate had I wanted to participate in it—I still have not made up my mind on that. There are questions to deal with in relation to the Eurofighter, the lack of computerised tomography scanners in our local hospital, the state of the west coast main line, the state of agriculture in the north-west, some remarks on Uganda and India, the delivery of public services, the use of laptop computers in Committees of the House, and a matter concerning taxation. I could have happily occupied 100 minutes on those subjects. Given that only three hours may be available, I would not do so in the interests of other Members. As many subjects could be raised, however, I hope that when the Minister winds up this debate, he will explain the paucity of time and the mess of this motion.

7.52 pm

Mr. Bradshaw: I hope that I can help right hon. and hon. Members with the questions that they have raised. I did not mean to be rude to any hon. Member, as I thought that there would be an opportunity to make points anyway, and that I would reply to them in my answers now.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) asked, as did other Members in interventions, why this motion is necessary. We believe that it is necessary if Members on both sides of the House want to guarantee that there will be three hours for the Adjournment debate on the recess. The consequence of not passing the motion may be that we have longer, but it may also be that we have shorter, or even no time at all.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we were being over-burdened on Monday. We have two other main pieces of business to consider on Monday. One is the Mobile Telephones (Re-programming) Bill, which I hope

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that all Members accept is important. It is not terribly contentious, and it should not take up too much of the House's time.

Mr. Forth: It might.

Mr. Bradshaw: As the right hon. Gentleman rightly says from a sedentary position, however, it might, which is exactly why the Government are bringing this business motion to the House today. If the debate goes on for some time, the motion will guarantee that the Adjournment debate on the recess has at least three hours.

The other piece of business that we must consider on Monday is the debate on the restructuring of Select Committees. Again, that is an important piece of business, and I would expect Members on both sides of the House to feel that we need to get on with it, so that the Committees can get on with their work. It should not be too contentious, but one never knows. There has been debate on it in the past, and that is why the Government want to make sure that, in the event that those debates run on, we have three hours for the Adjournment debate.

Bob Spink rose

Mr. Bradshaw: If I do not address the point that the hon. Gentleman wants to raise, I will give way to him in a second.

Let me address the issue of the three-hour limit. It is not the tradition for the House to have an Adjournment debate that is longer than three hours. Between 1982 and 1995—so for the vast majority of the time of the previous Conservative Government—there was a three-hour limit on the debate.

Bob Spink: If I can correct the Minister, three important items will be discussed on Monday. The Adjournment debate at the end of our proceedings is on education in Castle Point.

Mr. Bradshaw: I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I accept that that is an important issue for him and his constituents.

Mr. Forth: For the sake of completeness, the Minister will know that the Leader of the House told us—rather unusually, but I am grateful to him—that there will be a statement on Monday on the Anderson report on foot and mouth, which I suspect the Chair will allow to run for some time. So there is a substantial statement, a Second Reading, which could be controversial—we never know in advance—and at least one political party will have a lot to say about setting up Select Committees because it is annoyed that it is not chairing at least one of them.

Mr. Bradshaw: We will face those issues on Monday, but they demonstrate why the Government are so keen to protect the three hours for the Adjournment debate on the recess. I know how much the right hon. Gentleman likes to sit late in the House and if the motion is passed we can sit into the early hours of Tuesday morning to 1.30 am. If we do not pass it we might have no debate on the Adjournment and the business will finish at 10 pm.

I have dealt with the three-hour limit. It was in place in the House between 1982 and 1995. It only changed when the Adjournment debate on the recess was moved

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to Wednesday mornings. Hon. Members will be aware that that has been discontinued because of the introduction of Westminster Hall debates. It is also not the case that the Adjournment debate on the recess has always taken place on the last day of Parliament. We have allocated time on Monday for it because we will be busy on Wednesday receiving messages from the Lords, which might mean sitting late into the night.

The motion is not about a conspiracy or, dare I say it, cock-ups. It is simply about trying to ensure for the convenience of hon. Members that the traditional end of term Adjournment debate, which they value so highly, is protected. I hope that hon. Members support the motion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): The Question is as on the Order Paper.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 24 July, pursuant to Order [28 June 2001].

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Garment Manufacturing (Wales)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Joan Ryan.]

7.58 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I was fortunate in securing the Adjournment debate tonight on an issue of great importance to my constituency and west Wales. I did not realise how prescient it would be, but just three hours ago it was announced that the Dewhirst factory, which manufactures ladieswear, was going to close. That has left 350 workers in Cardigan feeling utter despair. I share their despair and, as their Member of Parliament, I also feel helpless.

It is a private company that has decided, for profit reasons, to relocate outside the European Union. There is little that I or the Minister can do. Indeed, there is little that the National Assembly Executive can do. However, the closure raises wider issues that relate to manufacturing in Wales, especially the garment manufacturing industry, and to how we can provide a future for the skilled work force at Dewhirst in Cardigan. That is where I, as the constituency Member for Ceredigion, want to turn my attention. I hope to receive some words of comfort and support from the Minister.

As I have said, the announcement was made about three hours ago. The first inklings that we had that the Cardigan factory might be under serious threat came when Dewhirst shut its Fforest Fach, Swansea, operations a couple months ago. I immediately requested a meeting with the managing director of the Dewhirst factory in Cardigan to explore with him what the future would be there. That meeting took place on 14 June with Mr. Stan Liptrot, who is the managing director, and Mike Jones, who is the financial director.

At that meeting, I was told how dark and bleak the future for Dewhirst in Cardigan would be. It should be put on the record that this is no reflection on the workers, who have been magnificent in responding to the challenges placed on them. Mr. Liptrot told me that they were the best work force in the Dewhirst group—the most hard working, efficient, effective, flexible and adaptable, as well as the most skilled and the least wasteful.

One of the great ironies—a horrid and grotesque irony—is that many members of the Cardigan work force have been travelling to Morocco to help Dewhirst set up its factory there and to help train the workers, only to see their jobs being transferred wholesale to factories in Morocco and Turkey. We have exported our technology, as we might expect, and the knowledge of the work force to those countries outside the European Union, only to see our jobs being exported likewise, with the company coming face to face with the fact that it is cheaper to employ people in factories in places such as Morocco and Turkey.

I thought at the time that perhaps something could be said about this—something about the strength of the pound, investment, requests for guarantees; perhaps something that the National Assembly could do, or something on the wider political scale that I could do as a Member. But it seems not. The strength of the pound affects manufacturing, but in this instance it would make no difference if we went into the euro tomorrow.

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The manufacturing of jeans, which is what happens at Cardigan for Marks and Spencer, has changed because fashions change. Fashions come and go. Unfortunately, in fashion at the moment are jeans that are painted by hand, cut in a certain way, ripped in a certain way or decorated with sequins, stars or whatever. They are attractive, popular and trendy, but it takes time to make jeans of that sort. It involves not only machine cutting but adding things, and that is a hand job; and a hand job can be done very effectively and efficiently in Cardigan, but not cost-effectively for the company. It is cheaper to do it in Morocco. That is despite the fact that I was assured that the waste and lack of standards in Morocco and Turkey were much greater. Wastefulness is to be seen in those countries. Nevertheless, that has not helped the Cardigan work force.

I wish to put on record my sympathy and deep understanding of the future that the workers and their families in Cardigan face, especially given that the factory employs many women. The jobs are reasonably well paid for the low-wage economy that we have in Cardigan. Many of the women are the main breadwinners for their families. Many of them have family members who are engaged in agriculture or tourism, areas of work that do not have secure futures at the moment.

The factory was put on a weekly review, and I am sorry to see that that review has revealed Dewhirst's decision to close the factory. When I met the trade unions and the representatives, including Bridget Campbell of the GMB, on Monday, I was struck by their spirit and determination. However, they also knew that an announcement would be coming soon, but I do not think that anyone expected it this week. The announcement was couched in these words:

In many respects, that bald and bleak statement has ended 250 years of garment manufacturing in the Teifi valley. The Teifi valley was once known as the Huddersfield of Wales and was the centre of the Welsh woollens manufacturing industry. Dewhirst was the main inheritor of that tradition of manufacturing. The impact of the closure would be similar to the closure of a steelworks or a coal mine. Cardigan is a one-factory town in many respects.

The history of woollens and clothes manufacturing in the Teifi valley is even longer than the history of steelmaking or coal. It predates the industrial revolution, driven by steel and coal; it came from the earliest industrial revolution, driven by the water power of the river Teifi.

Some small niche manufacturers remain in the Teifi valley and some important museums remain there. I am sure that one or two jobs will be found for skilled machinists with those niche manufacturers. However, the vast majority of the 350 workers—I think it is slightly more than the 325 mentioned in the statement; until recently, 380 people were employed at Dewhirst—will go straight to the jobcentre.

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Current unemployment in the Cardigan travel-to-work area is 297, representing 3.2 per cent. That is the claimant count, not the measure of the non-employed or non- working part of the population. However, the loss of what I estimate to be up to 380 jobs—not including the knock-on effects—will mean that overnight the claimant count will rise to 677, a 7.3 per cent unemployment rate according to the claimant count. In other words, unemployment in the Cardigan travel-to-work area, which straddles both sides of the Teifi valley, will virtually double overnight.

I do not think that there are many jobs available. I heard a story on Monday about a young man who was made redundant by Dewhirst. For four days, he went to the jobcentre in Cardigan, only to be offered one job, working at night in a bar. That was all that was available to him in Cardigan at that time. What will happen when more than 300 people go to the jobcentre and make similar requests?

On Monday, I heard a story that indicates the shock that will come to the town shortly. The union rep, Bridget Campbell, was at the hairdressers in Cardigan, and was talking about the difficulties with Dewhirst and her fears for the future. The hairdressers blithely said that it would not affect her business. Bridget Campbell looked around and saw several ladies in the hairdressers, all of whom were employed by Dewhirst. She told me that one of the first things to go when one loses one's job is the luxury items, such as having one's hair done every week or month. Many businesses will see the effects of that shortly.

Mortgages will be difficult to pay, and hairdressers and travel agents will be affected. The factory is about to shut down for its fortnight's holiday and many people have committed themselves—perhaps through borrowing—to go away for the fortnight. They will face an uncertain future when they come back from holiday.

The Minister, who is from the south Wales valleys, does not need me to tell him how quickly some of our towns can die when a major manufacturer leaves. The flower shops, hairdressers and other upmarket shops close first. Grocery stores will experience difficulties next. I wonder what will happen to Tesco, the main store in Cardigan. Will the sort of goods that it sells get a receptive audience now with so many people reliant on benefits—if only for a short period of time, I hope? We can foresee our town entering a distressing spiral into difficulty with so many jobs being lost so quickly.

Having accepted the devastation in Cardigan, we must find a way forward to create and secure new jobs for those skilled workers. I am not asking for some sort of intervention to help a private company that was clearly going to go. It is a bit late to do that anyway because of the announcement, but I would not have asked for such intervention. The company decided that £23 million of profit last year was not good enough and that it wanted to make even more profits. What distresses me is that the company will still be listed as a UK company, even though the vast majority of its manufacturing will be done abroad. It also distresses me that Marks and Spencer—which has done so much to support UK businesses over many years—now makes as little as 20 per cent. of its goods in the UK. Marks and Spencer's profits have soared, but on the back of exporting jobs out of the United Kingdom.

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The Minister knows that I have described only the latest blow to garment manufacturing in Wales. The trouble started in 1998, when Dewhirst cut 300 jobs in Ystalyfera. Last year, 165 jobs were lost in Lampeter in my constituency. We barely managed to cope with that. Some of those affected in Lampeter came to Cardigan to work, and they face redundancy for the second time in two years. Recently, 435 jobs were recently lost in Fforest Fach in Swansea, and now the decision has been made to cut 350 to 380 jobs in Cardigan.

One company accounts for the loss of 1,200 jobs in the garment manufacturing sector in Wales in the past three years. That is disastrous. A sector that was once so important for manufacturing—one of the few genuine success stories of manufacturing in mid and rural Wales—is on its uppers and has almost ceased to exist.

Given that the Dewhirst decision is based on access to much lower labour costs, it is unlikely that the clothing sector will provide new employment opportunities. We should aim for that, and try to support companies that are involved in garment manufacturing. However, when I met the Welsh Development Agency to discuss what we could do for the skilled workers at Dewhirst, it said that it did not expect to place more than a handful of people with local garment manufacturers because the jobs were simply not there.

I want to conclude with some wider points. First, what are the Government doing to secure a UK procurement policy? It is a pity that we are running away from placing contracts with UK companies, such as garment manufacturers. For example, there was a recent outcry about placing Ministry of Defence contracts for boots and uniforms with a German manufacturer. What has been done to tighten up and improve access for our companies in procurement policy? I understand the European Community directive, but I also note that other companies, especially in France, get around that.

The Government will doubtless point to the taskforce approach that has been used in Fforest Fach to date. Although I would welcome the presence of a taskforce to help Dewhirst workers who have been made redundant to find new jobs, the position in Cardigan is different from that in Swansea, where there are other employment opportunities, manufacturers and large employers. There is no other single employer in the Cardigan area. Indeed, there is no other large manufacturer in my constituency. We have Aberporth, but that project is taking on no new people at the moment.

I should like the Minister to explore with Andrew Davies, the Assembly Minister for Economic Development, the possibility of adapting an idea from England to Wales. In Prime Minister's questions, we hear much about urban regeneration companies. I understand that the experiment has been successful and that the companies have been a good vehicle for regeneration in England. There is now talk in England of rural regeneration companies. Perhaps it is time for us to consider useful vehicles to regenerate the town of Cardigan and create new jobs for the workers who are now being made unemployed. We need a better vehicle for investment in the town than a piecemeal, agency-based approach.

The Minister has visited the Aberporth development and he knows that the proposals are exciting. However, he also knows that they are some way down in the line and that planning permission will not be determined till

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September. Objective 1 is a long process. I therefore hope that the Minister will give us some comfort by saying that, as a matter of urgency, he will work with the WDA and the Minister for Economic Development in the National Assembly to put a taskforce and resources in place to create the new job opportunities that are needed in Cardigan.

The union representative whom I met on Monday said, "As an Englishman, I say that your language is going to die unless you can get jobs in this area for your young people." That problem faces both me as a constituency Member of Parliament and the Minister as someone who represents the Welsh government.

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