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 John Rodgers Mr John Rodgers , Sevenoaks 12:00, 30 April 1959

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.