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3.30 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke). We all remember that he found the right form of words to start the peace process in Northern Ireland. He chairs the Select Committee on Northern Ireland, of which I am a member, and does that in an excellent way that is a credit to the House and an assistance towards continuing the process. I wish him well when he leaves the House, as I do my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner).

I shall raise two constituency items. I had intended to raise only one, which is a matter that I have talked about previously and have raised at every opportunity. That is the closure of the former Biwater (Clay Cross) Ltd. works, with the loss of 700 jobs, and the devastation surrounding that. That is the main item on which I shall concentrate.

I was contacted a couple of hours ago by one of my constituents, Kevin Stevenson, from Wingerworth, whose wife went into the Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Royal hospital, and was sectioned five weeks ago. She got out of the hospital, and is now being looked for through co-ordinated police action with helicopters and divers at Stubbin pond at Wingerworth, her spectacles having been discovered nearby. We are fearing the worst but we are hoping for the best.

I stress that it is the Government's responsibility to examine the means by which Nichola Stevenson was able to leave the ward and the hospital, and put herself in an extremely dangerous position. There are some shortcomings at the hospital. It is being said that she had been released from the ward to go to Menzies, the stationers, in the hospital. If that occurred, that is disgraceful. She was sectioned and needed to be supervised. The matter must not be missed. A formal complaint has been put forward by Mr. Stevenson, and it must be ensured that there is a thorough investigation.

Unfortunately, a previous thorough investigation did not come up with the result that some of us had hoped for. It is the hospital which Anita Froggart attended. She, too, is one of my constituents. She had a breast removed in error, the wrong diagnosis having been made. The hospital has recently had a report produced by the Commission for Health Improvement, which points to shortcomings in that area. The Commission's role was to seek to improve standards. In other areas, the hospital has an excellent record and one to be emulated by others. The excellence of its accident unit is stressed in the report. However, there are shortcomings that need to be addressed.

When the Department of Health studies the clinical governance review, I hope that it will also consider the other serious matter that I have raised. As I speak, divers are searching the pond.

The main item about which I shall speak is the one that I have raised at every opportunity since we came back from the summer recess. Apart from contributions in the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs and two other questions in the House during that time, I have spoken in the House exclusively about this matter.

I was closely involved in the campaign to save the jobs, because we believed that the decision was wrong. The plant was viable; 80 per cent. of its production was for the export market. Serious job losses have occurred.

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The matter should have been referred to the Competition Commission, in an attempt to prevent the closure. It is a matter about which I have been in dispute with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and with the Director General of Fair Trading.

Now that the closure has occurred--there is a further stage tomorrow, after which very little will remain--we must move on and consider how to bring about the regeneration of such a devastated area. The problems are massive.

A valuable survey has been produced by Derbyshire county council, which shows that the figure for male unemployment in the area must take into account not only the redundancies, but the other jobs lost in service trades--many have already been lost in scrap yards, for example--and in the community, in shops and so on.

In Clay Cross, South, the ward in which Biwater is situated, as a result just of redundancies, male unemployment has risen from 8.2 per cent. to 14.5 per cent. In Clay Cross, North there has been a similar increase, from 8.5 per cent. to 14.7 per cent. In the surrounding area--Clay Cross plus Grassmoor, Holmewood and Heath, North Wingfield, Pilsley, Tupton and Wingerworth--the male unemployment figures increased by almost 60 per cent. because 75 per cent. of those who have been made redundant live within a five-mile radius of the plant.

The closure has been devastating. The area has not overcome past economic problems. It supplied many miners to the pits in north Derbyshire, and some former miners later worked at Biwater. An indication that the area was facing economic problems even before the closure is provided by the proportion of vacant shop units. In 1987, the figure was 5 per cent, and this year it is 18 per cent. The figures refer to virtually the same number of units.

Those figures give some indication of the plight that the Clay Cross area faces. Everything must be done to ensure that the area is regenerated. Some three weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and I met the Prime Minister to discuss the situation. At that stage we were still hoping to save the plant.

Although the Prime Minister did not accept that our objective could be achieved, he stated:

The Prime Minister supplied me with access to officials at No. 10 Downing street to try to work up a co-ordinated approach. The problem is that there are little bits and pieces and different types of legislation under which moves can be taken to improve an area. We need a clear overall strategy to be worked out and co-ordination to achieve it. There are Government agencies for doing that, such as the Government office of the east midlands, which I met this week to discuss these matters. However, at this level, the Prime Minister's office is very much at the centre in seeing that action is taken across all the different areas.

I want to mention one or two possibilities that can be acted upon. At the moment, a rapid response fund is operating and there are attempts at tailored training plans for the workers, although there is some dissatisfaction about how they are run and the agencies that are employed to operate them. Indeed, the agencies sometimes seem to benefit from their operations, rather than the workers

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themselves. There are also employment services and tax breaks. Coalfields taskforce money is available and bids can be made to the Coalfield Regeneration Trust in an attempt to change things. There is an argument about whether an enterprise zone should be established in that area. However, there have been job losses in surrounding areas in the east midlands, such as those at Coats Viyella, so everyone may be trying to go down that road. However, there is strong case for attracting firms in using tax breaks and other methods.

The district council has set up a Clay Cross regeneration project and is looking at several matters, such as re-opening the station at Clay Cross. What will happen to the former Biwater site, where a peculiar deal was in operation? Biwater kept hold of the land and the buildings, and Saint-Gobain, the international firm that came in to knock out a competitor and take over its order book, had only the plant, those orders and the work force. We do not yet know what Biwater has in mind. We need clarification of its ideas, and action is being taken to achieve that. We do not want a waste disposal operation of an objectionable environmental nature to be established. However, things could be done with the site that could help employment in the area.

Several schemes are already in place, as Clay Cross needed schemes to provide welfare advice services and tackle health issues, security measures, drug control and so on. The council has been involved in a development at Coney Green, and several measures that are being developed in surrounding areas, such as the reclamation of Avenue coke works. However, there is a need to centre on matters such as the single regeneration budget and enterprise and regional selective assistance grants, which will attract firms to make applications for them. There is the question of whether to establish an urban development corporation, which would have Government funding and operations behind it, but which might take over some of the district council's functions. We must also overcome existing problems, including poor funding for North East Derbyshire district council and Derbyshire county council. I have argued about that in the House for more than decade, so I will not go through all those arguments again. Under the Green Paper, it seems that we will now have to wait three years before those matters are put right. However, that indicates that something needs to be done.

The loss of objective 2 funding is another problem involving the Department of Trade and Industry. Objective 2 funding has gone from Clay Cross in those circumstances and the area also receives a lower share of lottery funding. What is required is the drawing down of best practice elsewhere, and the Prime Minister's office and others can help us to achieve that.

The local strategy on which people are working must be picked up and worked on nationally. When the Prime Minister says that he will do whatever he can, we want it to become reality. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said that he would do whatever he could to save the plant, but that did not work and we must now ensure that we get the proper responses. It is important for that to be put on the record before the recess.

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