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

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

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Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South 12:00, 30 April 1959

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.