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 William Wilkins Mr William Wilkins , Bristol South 12:00, 30 April 1959

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.