Orders of the Day — Industrial Development, Bristol and South Gloucestershire

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30 April 1959.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Brooman-White.]

10.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

I am very grateful for the opportunity to raise in the House tonight the matter of the industrial development of the Bristol and South Gloucestershire area. It is something which is bound to be of very considerable concern to my constituents. The industrial part of my constituency must be considered as part and parcel of the wider area centring upon the City of Bristol. The rest of my constituency has a somewhat different character, and I shall not dwell on its problems tonight.

The south-western area is very much dominated by the aircraft industry. The Bristol Aeroplane Company, with its two subsidiaries, employs between 18,000 and 20,000 people in its factories at Filton and Patchway. Although many of these workers come from Bristol, just as many of my constituents work in Bristol, there are very large numbers of these workers who live in my constituency, both in Filton, Patchway, and elsewhere.

Last year, the Bristol Aircraft Company reduced its total working force by about 1,200. At the beginning of this year, the company announced that it expected to have redundancies of an equivalent figure between the beginning of the year and 30th June. That total of 2,400 compares with a total unemployed last month of just over 5,000, which gives an indication of the manner in which the problems of the aircraft industry now dominate the area, from the point of view of unemployment figures.

I am very glad to say that the 1,200 estimated surplus has not, in fact, materialised. I believe that, up to date, and we have gone more than half-way through the period, rather less than 300 have been found redundant. That is partly due to the fact that many of these people have found jobs for themselves. Some of them have transferred from the aircraft company, which is the main company affected, to the Aero Engine Company, which is now Bristol-Hawker-Siddeley, which has had considerable orders for engines for the T.S.R.2, and which has managed so far to meet its redundancies on a normal wastage basis.

Although I hope that at the forthcoming meeting, which I believe, is to take place in about ten days' time, between the company and the trade unions, it will be possible for the company to make a rather more cheerful forecast and to forecast a rather longer period before it will be necessary to reach anything like this total figure of redundancies, the fact remains that the whole of this problem is overshadowed by this feeling of uncertainty.

I know that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply keep in constant touch, and we all very much hope that it will be possible to allocate more work to the Bristol Aircraft Company on Government contract. It seems to me that, however much that may be possible, if there are no further orders for the Britannia, the nature of the aircraft industry is such that there is bound to be something of a hiatus—a period from the time at which work on the Britannia starts to run down and the time when any other projects, even if started immediately, can produce an equivalent amount of work on the floor of the factory.

We do not know how much work, most of whch is of a secret nature, it would be possible far the Minister of Supply to allocate to Bristol, or to what extent it will be possible to fit such work as there is into the overall policy of trying to allocate that work to larger units, or units which are prepared to come to some sort of agreement to strengthen their whole structure.

I do not want to overstate the case. The last thing I want to do is in any way to belittle the feelings of anxiety with which people who happen to be unfortunate enough to be unemployed are bound to be faced. I know that it is very little comfort to be told that they are part of only a small percentage, however small it may be, except in so far as that may affect their ability to be re-employed reasonably quickly.

At the same time, I do not want to underestimate, and I do not want my hon. friend to underestimate, the deep anxiety which this long period of uncertainty can produce for a larger number of people, who face the situation of threatened redundancy, when there is a much larger number of people than those who are actually likely to become unemployed who are overshadawed by this anxiety and fear.

In the long run, the area is likely to be an expanding industrial area with a great deal, if not everything, to offer to the industrialist, but it is this interim period which is a matter of great concern to all of us who are in any way involved in the affairs of that part of the world. I know that taking the long-term view, we have three nuclear power stations projected in the area and the one at Berkeley has made considerable progress. We are fortunate that the Berkeley work will continue much longer than we thought originally, because of the proposal to have a large-scale research station costing, I believe, about £1 million.

We keep hoping for the Severn Bridge, which, we have been promised, is definitely projected; the approach roads east and west thereto and, perhaps more important, the north-south road joining Bristol to the Midlands and Birmingham. All this will undoubtedly be a tremendous added attraction to the industrialist. In addition, we have the project for a big I.C.I. plant near Pilning.

Nevertheless, in that case there are problems to some extent similar to those of the aircraft industry in that I.C.I. is not at the moment able to see its way concerning marketing with sufficient clarity to go ahead immediately, although I understand that there is no question whatever of deciding not to go ahead eventually.

It is, however, the short term that is worrying. What I am most anxious about tonight is that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give an assurance that the area will not fall between two stools, that while he is expecting and hoping great things from his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, which may not come off, we do not then find that other industries have been diverted to areas which at present have a worse unemployment ratio, but may well be better placed if the worst should happen in the Bristol area.

I know that if we had an acceleration of the work on the Severn Bridge and roads that is not precisely the type of work to absorb the skills that become redundant in the aircraft industry. Nevertheless, it will produce jobs, and a number of fairly well-paid jobs. My impression of the workers is very much that if a definite apparent effort is made to help in this matter, co-operation will not be lacking.

I also hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will keep in close touch and be able to assure us that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation does the same. I believe I am right in saying that there is a statutory duty on my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation to consider questions of unemployment in deciding where work should be placed. There is no doubt that if work started—and I understand that plans for these roads are far advanced—it would be a great help in the meantime.

What is much more important is if my hon. Friend is in a position to give rather more reassuring news concerning the number of vacancies likely to arise from projects already in hand in the near future and to what extent they will match the expected redundancies. I also hope that he will be able to tell us something about the general inflow of other industries into the area in the past few years, with particular regard to the employment facilities that they have created.

I know that my hon. Friend is in some difficulty in that at present there are, regrettably, other areas with much higher percentages of men out of work. I beg him, however, to realise the great diffi- culties that overshadow the aircraft industry and the great uncertainties that that must produce. Until those uncertainties are cleared up, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to assure us that at least industry is not being diverted from this area to areas which at present may be rather worse off.

10.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Rodgers Mr John Rodgers , Sevenoaks

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) for having used the opportunity provided by today's debate for a discussion of the employment prospects to his constituency and in the Bristol area as a whole. I know that redundancies at the Bristol Aircraft Company are causing concern locally, and I have listened with great interest to what he has said about the area.

In reply, I should like to say straight away that the Government are well aware of the importance of Bristol as a centre of industry and of the changes which are taking place there. We are most anxious that these changes should proceed as smoothly as possible and with a minimum of hardship for local people. The Ministry of Labour will, of course, do all it can to help redundant workers to find new jobs, and I can assure my hon. Friend that, in collaboration with it and the other Departments concerned, the Board is keeping the area under close and continuous review. It seems to me, however, that, compared with many other parts of the country, the employment prospects there are not quite as bad as some of my hon. Friend's remarks might lead one to believe. I certainly agree with him that it is no consolation to an unemployed worker to be told that he is one of a small percentage, and not for one moment would I wish to minimise the grave anxiety caused by threats of unemployment.

Reference has been made by my hon. Friend to the local dependence on the aircraft industry. As he has said, his constituency is an integral part of the Bristol area and I think that I should point out that in this area the aircraft industry accounts for less than 10 per cent. of the insured population and well under 10 per cent. of the 250,000 insured workers in what might be called the Greater Bristol area. Of the two firms which constitute this industry, namely, the Bristol/Siddeley Engine Company and the Bristol Aircraft Company, it is understood that the former, which employs almost two-thirds of the total, do not expect any further redundancies in the near future and that they have been replacing wastage by recruiting men redundant from the aircraft company.

As my hon. Friend recognises, employment prospects at the second factory depend on the company's success in obtaining orders for the Britannia or for alternative work which might be undertaken at its Filton factory. We too hope that they will succeed and that the rundown of the labour force will be more gradual than was at one time anticipated. But this is a matter for the firm and more information about it will no doubt be available after the meeting with representatives of its works people which has already been mentioned.

Of the 2,500 workers who have lost work at both works during the past fifteen months, only 77 are still registered as unemployed. Of these, fifteen are over the age of 65. While it is true that the local rate of unemployment is higher than it was fifteen months ago, it has not risen by more than the national average and has fallen in the last two or three months to a figure of 2·2 per cent. in April for the Bristol area compared with 2·4 per cent. for the country as a whole.

This last month, the figure was down by 1 per cent. This does not suggest that Bristol is at present difficult from the employment point of view, and, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour told the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) in reply to a Written Parliamentary Question of 8th April, the employment prospect for the 1,200 aircraft workers whom Bristol's have announced as liable to be made redundant during the first six months of this year, are, we hope, now reasonably good.

Bristol is, of course, a thriving and well diversified centre of industrial growth, with good road, rail and sea communications. In what I have referred to as the Greater Bristol area, over 250 industrial building projects totalling almost 5 million sq. ft., were completed between 1945 and September, 1958, and, I might add, almost four-fifths of these have been completed since 1952. Together they were expected by the firms concerned to provide some 7,500 new jobs. Another 2,000 new jobs and 1 million sq. ft. should be provided in the area during the next two years by projects more recently completed, under construction, or likely to be started in the near future. In the longer term, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, the enormous I.C.I. project for Severnside may ultimately provide work for a further 5,000 or 6,000 workers.

As has been said, too, the nuclear power station at Berkeley is nearing completion. It has been announced that a £1 million research establishment is to be set up alongside the station and that a second nuclear power station has been proposed for Oldbury-on-Severn. The Severn Bridge should add to the prosperity of the area both during the constructional stage and after it has been completed and communications with South Wales have been improved. By this time the new strip mill at Newport should be well under way, too.

To the north, in the Gloucester area, there are important new projects for British Nylon Spinners, Thomas Wall, Bryce Berger and Daystrom, although the effect of these may to some extent be offset by a contraction of the aircraft industry in that locality.

While I do not wish to minimise whatever danger of unemployment there may be in the Bristol area, from what I have said it is clear that it has been and still is getting a very full share of the country's industrial development. There are a great many places in the country in greater need of new industry, and, as the House will appreciate, there is only a limited number of firms at this moment wishing to extend and prepared to consider new locations.

In the circumstances, the Board of Trade does not feel at present it would be justified in taking special action to attract new industries to the Bristol area or to extend to it the financial facilities which are available under the 1958 Act. I know that there has been some concern locally that Bristol is not one of the places in which She financial facilities provided under the 1958 Act are available. The reason for that is that this Act was designed to help those parts of the country outside as well as within the Development Areas where unemployment is particularly and persistently high. It will be appreciated by hon. Members that this assistance must be confined to those places where, on an objective criterion, unemployment is most serious, and that it would defeat the purposes of the Act if places such as Bristol were given the benefit of it.

In conclusion, I can assure the House that all the points which have been made in this short Adjournment debate are in our minds in the Board of Trade and that I am in close touch with my colleagues in other Ministries about those points which are primarily their concern. Moreover, as I have said, the whole employment position in the Bristol area will be watched closely, and if unemployment in the area should unfortunately increase we will not hesitate to take what further steps are appropriate to help the area.

I should like to assure my hon. Friend that we are mindful of the problems which may face Bristol in the future. We are watching the position most carefully, and if we think special action should be required we shall not hesitate to take it, but I should be less than frank with the House if I did not say that at this moment there are other areas which have priority over Bristol. I think that if the House, as it usually is, is fair-minded on the subject it will appreciate that the first endeavour of the Board of Trade must therefore be to try to steer industries to those areas where there is high and persistent unemployment while still watching most carefully the position of Bristol in the industrial scene.

10.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Wilkins Mr William Wilkins , Bristol South

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate initiated by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield), because, as you will know, Mr. Speaker, I have myself been balloting in the hope that I should get an Adjournment debate particularly on the question of the redundancies which have taken place and which may still take place in the aircraft industry in Bristol. Despite everything the Parliamentary Secretary has said here tonight, I can assure you there is very grave anxiety in our city about it. We are grateful to know that the number of redundancies threatened to occur before the end of June have slowed down. It is our earnest hope that ultimately the redundancies will cease altogether. We all wish to see this industry thriving.

I am concerned at the attitude of the Board of Trade. In 1936, when I was a member of the Bristol City Council—I had the honour of serving for ten years—there was a body of people, a committee of the council, called the Bristol Development Board. That board was highly successful in its efforts to attract industry to Bristol. There is every reason why industrialists should want to come to the city. There are good rail and road connections. We have an excellent dock undertaking, perhaps not as large as those at Liverpool and Southampton, but it ranks among the most efficient in the country.

The development board, which did excellent work for the city before the war, has given place to a committee called the Public Relations and Publicity Committee. It comprises people prepared to put in quite an amount of effort in an attempt to attract additional industries to our city. Already we have a highly diversified industry, and in that regard we are extremely fortunate. But according to the advice which I have received, this committee is restricted in its efforts to attract industry to Bristol because the Board of Trade will not grant the necessary licences.

It is now some years—I do not know just how long—since the Board of Trade decided that Bristol could not take in any more industry, at least for the time being. It seems to be something more than a coincidence, something which is bound to cause grave alarm, that the industries which are contracting, due in the main, as we say, to Government policy, are coal, textiles, and the aircraft manufacturing industry. We cannot understand why the aircraft industry should be contracting. Comparatively speaking, it is one of the youngest of our industries and everything would seem to point to a growing demand.

It is baffling, especially to the workers in the Bristol Aircraft Company, who are just as concerned for their colleagues in other parts of the country, why the decision has been made that this industry must contract by about 100,000 people. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the number of people employed in the industry in Bristol was under 10 per cent. of the total employable population, and that may well be the case. But the Government must be reminded that quite a lot of people employed in the Bristol Aircraft Company came in answer to the call during the war for workers to produce aircraft for the Services. They came from as far away as Glasgow and the north-east and north-west of England. They have bought houses in Bristol and have entered into other commitments, and so one can appreciate their alarm. We shall see that reflected on Sunday evening in the May Day demonstrations in Bristol. I am confident that there will be a massive turn-out from the Bristol Aircraft Company in an attempt to focus the attention of the people of Bristol on the serious difficulties which may arise in the ensuing months.

The Minister mentioned the Severn Bridge as one of the projects likely to bring relief to the city. I am heartily sick of hearing about the Severn Bridge. I sat on a Committee in 1936 discussing the Severn Bridge project. At that time it was in conjunction with a hydro-electric scheme. The reason I was on that Committee was that I was a member of the municipal electricity undertaking and we were brought into the picture because of the hydro-electric part of the scheme.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary once again try to bring some pressure to bear on his colleague the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and impress on him the urgent necessity of having this bridge. When I hear talk about Tyne tunnels and other things, I remember the pressure brought on us for over twenty years, not necessarily from industrialists in Bristol, but people right down the south-west who would save enormous sums—far more than it would cost to build a bridge—in road transport and freight charges and so on.

We admit that perhaps this is a problem which is not so serious in the City of Bristol, but if the Board of Trade would only let us have our head in this matter and indulge, as we did in years gone by, in encouragement of industrialists and manufacturers to come to Bristol, we might do something about resolving the problem. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give consideration to this point and see whether the Board of Trade can remove some of the restrictions it has put on the public relations committee. We now have plenty of land. We have been carrying out Government policy and have a very urgent slum clearance scheme—for which the members of his party in the city are castigating us. We are clearing the land and there are plenty of opportunities for expansion and to go ahead if only the Government will say the word.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes to Eleven o'clock.