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Mr. Hurst: As a constituent of the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), I hope he will accept what I have to say. Does he agree that the Eastern arts board has, for many years, discriminated in favour of the Mercury theatre, Colchester and severely against the Palace theatre, Southend in matters of grant funding? It is not solely a question of the amount of funding the board has at its disposal, but of how it distributes it.

Mr. Amess: I am delighted to have given way to the hon. Gentleman. I do not want any discord between me

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and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell)--actually, I would not really mind if there was such discord. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) is quite right about the unfair level of funding: our receiving only £48,000 is an utter disgrace, and if we had had parity with Watford, Ipswich and Colchester, the lights would not be out on the Palace theatre, Westcliff.

In my time as a Member of Parliament, I have never heard any hon. Member say anything original about crime--we all have crime in our constituencies. I realise that the Home Secretary--a former Essex lad--does not accept this point, but it is an utter disgrace that my area is to suffer underfunding after the latest announcements, because the increase of only 1.7 per cent. does not keep pace with inflation. Civilians now have to do jobs that policemen did previously, and that is not good enough. Southend has lost its four police horses and that is a disgrace.

Will the Minister find out what is meant by the response that is given whenever we submit our bid for closed circuit television funding? We are told that our bid is not good enough. Visitors to Southend will see the graffiti that is spoiling our sea front. It too is an utter disgrace. We cannot rely on Southend's struggling businesses to fund CCTV projects: we need specific funding. If cameras are installed by Chalkwell station and along Marine parade, I am sure that we will capture on film those disgusting individuals who think it is a good laugh to paint graffiti everywhere--including on the underground. Southend will open for the summer season next month, and I hope that the Minister will explain before then why our bid is not good enough.

On roads, Southend has a Liberal-Labour controlled council and the Government have cut local roads funding by £600,000. The council understands that, while the Government are not supporting extensive new road building projects--which I think is absolutely barmy--they will make additional funds available for the maintenance of existing highway infrastructure.

I do not mind the Government's having it in for me as an individual, but it is a bit tough when they have it in for Southend. Why has Southend suffered that funding cut? All other areas in the eastern region have had funding increases, but we have had a 12 per cent. reduction. When the Queen visited my constituency two weeks ago and travelled down Southbourne grove and Westbourne grove, she saw at first hand--despite her outriders--the traffic congestion in Southend, West. The A127 has been improved somewhat, but the A13 certainly has not.

The Deputy Prime Minister suggested in the education White Paper that parents should walk their children to school. The right hon. Gentleman should visit Southend, West where parental choice has vanished as a result of the Government's decision to reduce class sizes to 30 and below this September. It is an absolute disgrace. I draw the Minister's attention to what has happened to voluntary aided schools. There will be parental choice in Southend, West only if Our Lady of Lourdes school, which a number of my children attend, is allowed to expand.

I do not wish to cause trouble in the House, but two Labour Members of Parliament who represent constituencies in the London borough of Havering and I are seeking a meeting with the Minister to discuss the

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matter. I have a copy of all the relevant correspondence. We have not been able to secure that meeting and the House goes into recess for Easter tomorrow. The situation is completely unsatisfactory. The diocese of Brentwood has not received a clear steer from the Government. It is not a matter simply for the trustees, because Our Lady of Lourdes school is being forced to expand as a result of Government initiatives that clearly have not been thought through properly. It is all very well telling schools what to do in key stage 1, but that impacts on key stage 2. Parents in Southend, West must walk all over my constituency or travel half a mile or two miles because the sibling rule no longer applies to the allocation of school places. It is absolute chaos.

I hope to be lucky in the ballot and to initiate an Adjournment debate about assisted area status for Southend, West. However, perhaps the Minister will have a word in advance with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about regional selective assistance for my area. Fourteen companies in Southend wish to benefit from that initiative, which offers particular assistance to manufacturing industry. Unemployment in Southend is approximately one and half times the national average and about twice the average for the east of England. Unemployment in Southend is 2 per cent. higher than in Luton and is about the same as in Brighton and Hove. Total employment in Southend over the next decade has been forecast to decline by 6.8 per cent. I hope that the Minister will do what he can to persuade the Department of Trade and Industry to grant the area regional selective assistance.

I am sick to death of writing to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors. Under this Government, we read about new policies in the newspapers. An article in The Times of 25 March entitled "Swifter justice for victims of bad lawyers" stated:


I had absolute proof that a particular solicitor was guilty of entrapment--I will not detain the House by recounting the details. The case went before the Solicitors Complaints Bureau three times and the ombudsman found in favour of the complainant three times. Yet the Solicitors Complaints Bureau threw out the case.

A few weeks ago, hon. Members were invited to a reception in this place. We were told that our constituents would be able to call a dedicated telephone line and have their legal matters dealt with immediately. However, there is a backlog of 32,000 calls at present, and it is obvious that Government have not funded the service properly. I am not having a dig at any solicitors who are in the Chamber this morning--[Interruption.] Perhaps I am having a gentle dig at them. It is unfair that the adjudication panels should contain a majority of three or five solicitors.

My final point is about modernisation of the House of Commons. I do not care where we are on life's journey: everyone's life is of equal value. I am sick of all the garbage that we are being fed about modernisation. I think the House is being treated with contempt. We all know what is happening on the Floor of the House--which is why I have had to raise seven items--

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Eight.

Mr. Amess: That is why I have been forced to raise eight items this morning. According to the report of the Select Committee on Modernisation, hon. Members will soon conduct debates in the Grand Committee room.

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The so-called experiment on Thursday mornings is not working. I am a member of the Select Committee on Health and my colleagues are suffering withdrawal symptoms when I must attend debates in the House on Thursday mornings. They believe that the Committee process is weakened because I am not there to question witnesses, and the Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), is finding it impossible to rearrange meeting times. I think that the whole modernisation process is absolute garbage. Our constitution is being destroyed, and the wonderful opportunity we have to raise issues for three hours on Wednesday mornings is more valuable than the time we spend debating many other matters in the House.

10.28 am

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am delighted to participate in the Adjournment debate this morning. I assure the Minister that I have only one issue that requires his attention: the closure of a printing works in my constituency.

The works has been operating for 50 years and used to be known as Carlisle Web Offset. It had some problems in the 1960s, and was saved by a then Member of Parliament, Robert Maxwell--some hon. Members may remember him. All sorts of things have been said about Mr. Maxwell, but the reality is that he saved workers' jobs in my constituency and the company has been viable ever since. It became part of the British Publishing Company and was later subject to a management takeover.

Recent events, however, have proved rather disturbing. On 13 March last year, Richard Warner from Investcorp wrote to me to say that the company was making a bid for the British Publishing Company, to which the printing works in my constituency belongs. He asked me whether I would support the bid in his dealings with the Office of Fair Trading. I was not happy about it at the time and I suggested that we should meet to discuss the issue.

I met Mr. Warner in the House on 24 March last year, when he gave me assurances about job security at the Carlisle plant and future investment in the plant, which had old equipment and needed modernisation, as printing works regularly do these days. He asked me again if I would support his bid to the Office of Fair Trading. I declined to do so but assured him that I would not oppose the bid.

On 4 April, the Financial Times carried an article about Investcorp's promises to the Office of Fair Trading. It quoted Mr. Richard Warner as saying that there would be no more than 350 redundancies over the next four years and no more than 140 redundancies in the first year. On 16 April, The Independent carried a similar story saying that the only redundancies would be due to the merger of the two headquarters. I have a copy of a press release from Mr. Warner in which he gave assurances that there would be no manufacturing job losses if the takeover went ahead.

On 26 February this year, the work force received an ultimatum from the managing director of Polestar, which is a subsidiary company of Investcorp and runs the printing works in this country. The ultimatum was that the plant would close unless there was 100 per cent. acceptance by the work force of a deal that meant that there would be no future investment in the plant;

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52 redundancies, leaving a work force of 169; an immediate pay reduction of 10 per cent., and a reduction in overtime rates. The company wanted the answer within a week.

To summarise, the workers were told that they had to increase productivity by 25 per cent. and take a pay cut of 10 per cent., and if they did not agree within seven days, the plant would close. The management knew that the proposals would be totally unacceptable, and the entire work force rejected it. Not one member of the work force could bring himself to vote for those proposals.

The first that I knew about that was when I was contacted by the local media--in stark contrast to the lobbying that was done when the company wanted my support for its bid to the Office of Fair Trading.

I understand that the Department of Trade and Industry approved the bid last April, but because of the serious situation at the factory, I agreed to meet a member of Polestar's senior management, Mr. Tony Rudston, at his office last week to try to negotiate a rescue package. I was told that there was no chance of the decision being reversed. He said that the printing work done at the Carlisle factory was being sent to other Polestar plants in the UK and that the redundancy package offered to the work force in Carlisle was considerably less than that offered to the workers at a similar factory in Milton Keynes which had been closed. Mr. Rudston said that that was because the Milton Keynes work force were not to blame for the redundancies.

I know that the Graphical, Paper and Media Union was anxious to negotiate with Polestar to try to save the plant, but Mr. Tony Rudston refused to negotiate. I understand that he is difficult in negotiations and that the union finds him difficult to work with. Having met him, I can understand the union's problems.

I raise this matter in the House to put on record what has happened in my constituency because of Investcorp. That is not a British company; it is an asset-stripping company and its money comes from Bahrain. Investcorp lied to me, to the work force and, I suspect, to the DTI and the Office of Fair Trading. If that is the case and the Government were misinformed, we need to know whether there is any possibility of the Government taking legal action against the company to find out if any redress can be made. The company has robbed my constituents of their livelihood and is cheating them on their redundancy money.


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