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Butler and Tanner

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2008

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, to debate a specific and important matter that requires specific and urgent attention, namely,

job losses at Butler and Tanner in Frome, a book printing company of national and international reputation.

Over the weekend, 287 employees of Butler and Tanner were sent letters, informing them that they had been made redundant with immediate effect and that the company would go into liquidation. In a town the size of Frome, the loss of 300 jobs is a serious blow, and it is not the only factory closure in the west country in recent days. Butler and Tanner is a highly respected firm that is more than 150 years old. It does the highest quality colour book printing, was awarded the title “Book Printer of the Year” last year, and in recent years it has printed books by Delia Smith, Nigella Lawson and the BBC “Planet Earth” series. A year ago, it was taken over by a venture capital company, Media and Print Investments. Mr. Mike Dolan, the chairman of MPI, in an extraordinarily intemperate press release, blamed the closure entirely on the threat by the trade union Unite, which represents two thirds of the work force, to take strike action in response to new contracts.

We need a debate to ensure that, first, staff receive their due pay and pension entitlements. Mr. Dolan says that suppliers will be paid, but that workers

“will be paid by the government.”

Secondly, we need a debate to ensure that all the appropriate agencies work together to find new opportunities for re-employment, and, thirdly, we need to investigate the circumstances of the closure. I do not know the details of the impasse between the management and the unions, but I know that ACAS talks were continuing in good faith. Meanwhile, Mr. Nolan was preparing to issue redundancy notices and, earlier in the week, he had already warned security staff that they would be needed over the weekend.

The staff of Butler and Tanner have been notably loyal for many years. They have made sacrifices: they took an 8 per cent. pay cut last year, and offered a 5 per cent. cut this year to keep the company going. They have been treated shabbily. I am also alarmed by the conjecture that, having closed the company, MPI might create a phoenix company using Butler and Tanner assets, but a non-unionised work force. That is more redolent of a Victorian mill owner than a modern industry, and I deplore the suggestion.

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I have to give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider the matter that he has raised as appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24 and I cannot, therefore, submit the application to the House.