HC Deb 21 November 2000 vol 357 c173 3.30 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the decision of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry not to refer the takeover of Biwater (Clay Cross) Ltd. to the Competition Commission, leading to the immediate loss of 700 jobs. The Clay Cross plant is a major manufacturer of pipes, employing 700 people and exporting 80 per cent. of its output. On 4 September it was taken over by the multinational company, Saint-Gobain, which immediately announced that the plant was to be closed at the start of December.

The Biwater plant at Clay Cross was bought, first, to close down a competitor, secondly, to grab order books for transfer to Saint-Gobain's overseas empire, and thirdly, to transfer the plant to India.

Biwater was commercially viable, with many of its exports going to third-world nations for the movement of water supplies. The loss of the Clay Cross plant, which was established by George Stephenson in 1837, will devastate the surrounding area. Seventy-five per cent. of the workers live within a five-mile radius of the plant. Fifty-six jobs went last Friday, and pipe production will end this Friday.

The means of saving the plant is for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to use powers under the Fair Trading Act 1973 to refer the takeover to the Competition Commission, and then for the commission to come up with a decent judgment. Unfortunately, the Office of Fair Trading and the Secretary of State have refused to call in the Competition Commission.

The voice of Parliament urgently needs to be heard, to discuss the situation and get the Secretary of State to reverse his disastrous decision. Already, 200 Government Back Benchers—that is, 75 per cent. of those eligible to sign early-day motions—have signed an early-day motion asking for this action by the Secretary of State. May we have a debate on this weighty matter, Mr. Speaker? Time is fast running out.

Mr. Speaker

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) has said. I have to give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24, and I cannot therefore submit the application to the House.