HC Deb 11 June 2002 vol 386 cc723-4 3.31 pm
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

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 announcement yesterday that Fisher Foods was closing immediately.

Three hundred and fifty-one redundancies will take place at once, and there will be a knock-on effect because a cold store next door to the factory will lose 84 employees, and it has been estimated that, for every job lost in the plant, four other jobs will be affected. That will have a profound impact on contractors and hauliers and, indeed, the agricultural sector in my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard). There may be as many as 1,500 job losses, which would double unemployment in our constituencies.

The Albert Fisher Group, the parent company, went into receivership a fortnight ago, and KPMG allowed just two weeks—an incredibly short time—for a buyer to be found for the business. We have a loyal group of staff, some of them third-generation employees, who are gutted because they have been treated with contempt by a heartless and arrogant receiver.

The company started business in 1965, and is a key, flagship local employer. It processes 84,000 tonnes of product; indeed, one in four packs of vegetables, including peas, rice, potatoes, carrots and beans, sold in our supermarkets are processed and manufactured by Fisher Foods. Since Albert Fisher took over the business from AGA in 1996, £30 million has been invested in a new packing plant and equipment. The infrastructure is superb, unique and among the best in Europe. Last year, £3.2 million was invested in a new pea-packing line. It would be a tragedy if that state-of-the-art business was closed and, even at this late stage, I hope that there is a chance of a management buy-out. I shall certainly ask to see the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to discuss with her any help that her Department can give by providing advice and expertise on MBOs.

There is a particular problem with peas. The firm's contracts with local growers for 24,000 tonnes of peas on 15,000 acres will be cancelled. The UK now has capacity for processing only 4,000 tonnes of peas, so 20,000 tonnes of peas will end up in the ground, which is another disaster. The contractors will not be paid on completion of their contract and will not be able to pay the farmers from whom they have rented land, which will have a profound impact on agriculture in my constituency and surrounding constituencies.

The problem is both immediate and urgent—obviously, it is a bleak, grim and depressing day for west Norfolk—and I very much hope that you will allow an emergency debate on it, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

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