HC Deb 28 February 1994 vol 238 cc653-4 3.31 pm
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order. No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent attention, namely, the passing into receivership of Levira Foods plc at Preston Farm industrial estate in Stockton-on-Tees, Cleveland. The matter is specific; it relates to a brand new factory, announced by the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), then a Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, two years ago this month. The factory was expected to create 700 new jobs with a further 100 being created in the company's suppliers. It is also specific in that it relates to circumstances causing the lay-off of more than 140 workers last Friday and the further lay-off of the remaining 300-plus early today.

The matter is important because the factory was announced as a specific response to the breach of the Government's four-year promise of relocation of the quality assurance facility at Woolwich to that site—a promise which, on several occasions, had excluded Cleveland from consideration as an alternative position for other governmental functions that were being relocated to the provinces. It was, we were told, the result of the Prime Minister's personal trawl of Ministries to find a replacement for the Woolwich disappointment.

It is important to note that, despite all the foregoing, the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) is reported in today's edition of the Evening Gazette as stating: The business was highly leveraged in the first place, and that it has had to be refinanced a couple of times"— and all in less than two years.

The matter is in need of urgent attention, for the development has already been held directly responsible for the collapse of the construction contractors, Jewitt Builders, due to outstanding bills estimated at £1 million. The House will need to know how much money from the public purse was expended on that abortive scheme. While hon. Members are calculating that, they might also feel the need to assess today's claim from the Teesside development corporation: It is a remarkable achievement for Levira Foods to have created the most advanced food manufacturing plant in Europe. It is indeed remarkable that a custom-made unit lies idle so early in its life; remarkable that 500 people starting on a flagship project with so much hope should be compelled to take to the boats quite so quickly; remarkable that such a flagship should be allowed to generate so much debt repeatedly; and remarkable that, after all that, a fellow hon. Member should plead for a less contentious financial background so that it might make a go of it To my mind, Madam Speaker, all the foregoing facts show clearly that those matters deserve urgently the closest scrutiny of the House—today.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. I have to respond first. I shall deal with points of order in a moment.

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) has said and must give my decision without giving any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider the matter that he raised to be appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20 and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Let me take first a point of order from the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), because he was mentioned.

Mr. Devlin

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I congratulate you on what I consider to be the right decision?

A temporary cessation of trading has taken place at the factory, which is in my constituency. Unfortunately, I received no notice from the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) that he was going to raise the matter in the House today. I can say, however, that the Teesside development corporation is taking urgent steps to examine the matter. The present position will not be made clear for a few hours, but, in any event, the Government, who have invested heavily in the factory, have done so quite correctly, as the asset remains available for sale—

Madam Speaker

Order. That is barely a point of order for me. The hon. Gentleman rightly raised a point of order because he had been mentioned, but I cannot allow a debate on a Standing Order No. 20 application that I have just been unable to grant.

Mr. Frank Cook

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker—

Madam Speaker

There can be no further points of order on that matter.

Mr. Cook

The accusation was made that no notice had been given, Madam Speaker. Notice was given.

Madam Speaker

That has cleared the air very nicely. [Interruption.] Order. I am not seeking to name hon. Members at this point, but, if they have something to discuss, perhaps they will do it outside while we get on with our business.