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12.30 pm

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): As I speak, hundreds of my constituents face continuing uncertainty about what the future holds for them. This is their 13th week of uncertainty since the textile and clothing firm Coats Viyella announced its intention to retreat to its original thread business and withdraw from clothing and home furnishing.

Coats Viyella in the east midlands has closed factories in Ollerton, Worksop, Shepshed and Scunthorpe, and redundancies were announced for other sites. The remaining work force at several sites in my constituency and elsewhere are still waiting to hear what will happen to them after the announcement earlier this week of a management buy-out of the contract clothing division. There have been agonising weeks of rumours, ups and downs, and not knowing what the future has in store and what they can look forward to.

The Queen's Speech properly reasserts the Government's commitment to pursuing the central economic objective of high and stable levels of growth and employment. There has been remarkable success since I made my maiden speech on employment in my constituency during the debate on the first Queen's Speech under the present Labour Government. To recap, long-term unemployment doubled under the Tories, but more than a million new jobs have been created under Labour. Unemployment in my constituency of Amber Valley has gone down by almost 40 per cent. in the past four years.

I have the pleasure of serving on the Select Committee on Education and Employment with one Opposition Member who is in the Chamber now and we have discussed the new deal. Whatever Opposition Members say, I am especially pleased with the way in which the new deal programme has developed. I am pleased that Ministers are prepared to engage in dialogue with Back-Bench Members to find out how the programme is working on the ground in our constituencies. They have also listened to the Select Committee's suggestions for improving the programme as it has progressed. A special buses programme in south Derbyshire ties into the new deal; it is a response to our comments about difficulties with transport. I look forward to the roll-out of the new deal programme intensive gateway, which is needed to assist 18 to 24-year-olds who have had particular problems. Those issues were raised by the Select Committee, and Ministers took them on board.

The Tories want to abolish the new deal. I challenge them to come and talk to the 350 young adults in my constituency who have found work through the new deal. Many more have received training and employment opportunities as a result of the programme. The Government have been adaptable and are prepared to look at positive examples of what is happening elsewhere, such as the Wildcat programme and the Strive programme in Harlem, which is now moving to Brent. However, those should be looked at as part of our unemployment programmes, and we must be careful not to learn from the major part of the American experience that is based on pushing "welfare mums" into work when their children are just a few months old, regardless of whether they want to go back to work.

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We can be proud of our successes in the field of employment. However, there are casualties inside every success story. My constituents at Coats Viyella face the awful uncertainty of not knowing how many jobs will be saved in their workplaces in my constituency. I should like to draw attention to a few issues arising from that industrial restructuring, and to the Government action necessary to deal with it. I shall then comment briefly on more positive issues relating to the flexibility needed in a modern economy. I particularly welcome yesterday's Green Paper on measures to help parents balance home and work life, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Ms Perham).

First, I shall go back to the clothing and textiles industry and the problems in Amber Valley and the east midlands. It is only two days since my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) was cut off in full flow at the end of the Queen's Speech debate on Wednesday. He was speaking about Biwater at Clay Cross, just a few miles up the road from my constituency. That pipe manufacturing works has been taken over by a multinational company, Saint-Gobain, and was immediately closed down with the loss of 700 jobs, despite the fact that it was a profitable company. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has spoken directly to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire and to local people about the company. I ask him to give special consideration to the speech made by my hon. Friend on Wednesday, which gave a highly critical account of events at Biwater and mentioned some of the potential dangers of the legislative action that the Government may be contemplating on mergers and company policy.

I do not want at this stage to comment on the saga of events at Coats Viyella or on how its management has acted, because discussions are still occurring and we are trying to save the maximum number of jobs in the company. Again, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is aware of the problems and of my concerns. I want to put on record my thanks to him and to officials in his Department, both nationally and regionally, for what they are doing to try to help save jobs. Whatever the outcome, however, I urge him to discuss what has happened with me, and to discuss events at Biwater with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire, so that we can learn the lessons necessary to ensure that future legislation and action will minimise the likelihood of recurrences.

As I said, I do not want to comment on those events in detail, but I should like to mention two issues that I find unacceptable. It is not acceptable for people to learn from the internet that they are losing their jobs as it has to be announced on the stock exchange first. Neither is it acceptable for the work force in a factory in my constituency to learn that they are to lose 200 jobs, only to be told two hours later that the company is sorry and that it made a mistake. Two hours after receiving a press release saying that 200 jobs were going, I received another press release correcting the position. I should like to discuss a number of other issues with Ministers before they embark on future legislation relating to mergers and company policy, but I shall not mention them now.

The second issue that I should like to put to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench relates more generally to the textile and clothing industry. More than a million new jobs have been created since the election, but I think that about half the jobs that have gone--industrial restructuring means that such losses will

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occur--have been lost in the textile and clothing industry. In the past year, 29,000 have been lost, 8,000 to 10,000 of which were in the east midlands.

I said earlier that I wanted to comment briefly on proposals to improve parental rights. Before any Opposition Members jump up to say that my anxiety about the loss of jobs in the textile and clothing industry is contradicted by my concerns about that issue, and that such rights price us out of the market, I ask them to consider the strategy document drawn up for the textile and clothing industry by industrialists, trade unionists--who have played a major role in being positive in difficult circumstances for the industry--and academics. The document was produced at the request of the Department of Trade and Industry and provides a range of action points on making the industry competitive and ensuring that, despite the problems facing companies such as Coats Viyella, it retains a place in the global marketplace. The strategy, which was drawn up by the industry, says that we cannot compete on the basis of the poverty wages and poor conditions that prevail overseas. It argues that we must compete through, for example, niche markets, quality products, design and e-commerce.

We have problems at Coats Viyella, but there are examples in the industry of companies that are doing well. Although we have a positive strategy that gives some hope for adapting an industry that will not be the same in future, but in which there is potential for the retention of future jobs and for movement into new areas, many companies are not being proactive enough to take the opportunities, the initiative and the help that is on offer. That is understandable, because they are stretched on a daily basis, and they need help and assistance to take such action.

I hope that the Secretary of State's programme will carry on the Department's good work in sending out the message and giving assistance to the industry. I welcome the fact that he made money available to the East Midlands development agency to promote such work and to help companies adapt to a changing world. That is a model of what could be done in other industries that face difficulties. The work that is under way with the money that is available until April in my region includes a mapping exercise of the industry, giving developing companies practical help to move into new markets and an examination of cluster developments, which make the Italian clothing industry the only industry in, probably, the western world that has any strength. The money has also been used to examine areas in which companies can be helped with, for example, development, design and marketing. They are developing business packages and examining new products, which may be able to compete in the world market, in areas such as technical textiles.

My request to the Secretary of State is that the programme of assistance that the development agency in my region is carrying out to help businesses and to give them some chance of surviving in the industry will be sustained beyond April. I hope that it will be allowed to continue and that the initiative will be extended into other regions.

I cannot resist highlighting the short-sightedness of the Conservative party. In its desperation to make savings on spending, it wants to abolish regional development agencies and cut the budget of the Department of Trade and Industry. That would involve cutting the help that is provided with regard to exports, although that is an important part of the strategy document that I have discussed in relation to the clothing industry. It would also

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involve cutting support in other areas, such as the help provided to small companies that find it difficult to develop e-commerce, despite the fact that that is a major way in which those companies could market themselves and compete.

Perhaps the Conservative party's short-sightedness explains why my Conservative opponent in the forthcoming election was quoted in the Derby Evening Telegraph as saying that her party would not assist the Derbyshire clothing and textiles industry. That remark may have been unwise.

I welcome the reference in the Queen's Speech to strengthening health and safety legislation. In passing, I want to discuss another area of industrial restructuring in my constituency, which involves the damaged health of ex-miners. That is a shameful overhang--it is shameful that it took court legislation to get the ball rolling and for miners to be allowed to start to claim compensation for bronchial diseases and vibration white finger. Yet again, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to continue to do all they can to limit the blockages that have resulted in such a long time being taken to settle the largest personal injury claim in this country. It affects thousands of people in my area and tens of thousands around the country.

Let me move to a more positive matter. I do not accept the argument that we must compete by pushing down rates of pay or conditions. I was delighted by the consultation document that was published yesterday, which is about balancing people's lives in their workplace and as parents. I very much look forward to our debate on extending those rights. The document contains a range of options and possibilities. It will be welcomed, and it would be invaluable if it were discussed--I am sure that it will be--by hon. Members in their areas with people at work, those who are not at work but who would like to go to work, and employers.

I make a bid for one proposal from what I regard as an excellent report on part-time workers by the Education and Employment Committee. I engaged in an extremely interesting debate to get my views, and those of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), included in the report. I was pleased that after two goes, we eventually persuaded Ministers who came before us to accept some of the definitions on the rights of part-time workers that would make the system more workable. I hope that they will also accept the proposal that women should have the right to return to work part time after having a child. The onus would obviously be on employers to explain why that was impractical. Such a measure would be valuable.

It is a question of efficiency. One of the interesting statistics in the report shows that, if only 10 per cent. of women who do not return to work after having children were to change their minds, employers would save £30 million in recruitment costs. I am not arguing that they should go back after three months, as the Americans want them to do.

I have a particular bee in my bonnet about efficiency. It is an issue that I have pursued for a couple of years. We have a shortage of nurses, yet 140,000 qualified nurses are not currently employed. The previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), urged health authorities and trusts to introduce work patterns that would enable nurses

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to be able to return to work, and the Government have continued that practice. However, I still get cases locally of nurses who are unable to return to work as they want to after having a child, even though they may be prepared to work rotating shifts in difficult work patterns. It comes down to local management. It should be simple to introduce various work patterns. People just need some certainty and some discussion about what system would work for them. That is a practical example of how combining work and domestic responsibilities can be efficient for employers and for people who want to work.

I welcome the document "Work and Parents". The theme running through it is about flexibility and adaptability. That is relevant to the traumas and difficulties facing the clothing and textile industry and the people in my constituency who are not sure what will happen to them and their jobs. It is one of the positive aspects of the document.

Industries must adapt to the modern world and look for new ways of doing things and for new products. We must also adapt and realise how people live their lives. It can be not only efficient, but the proper thing to do to enable people to combine their domestic and work responsibilities. That makes for a good work force, and ensures that we do not lose the skills of that work force. Adaptability, flexibility and engaging in the world as it is in this century will enable us to adapt efficiently and competitively to the modern workplace.

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