B.S.a. Foundry Works, Cardiff (Closing)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th July 1959.

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

2.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I beg to bring the attention of the House to a matter of considerable importance in South Wales. The foundry of the B.S.A. has played an important part in the life of our industry ever since the first Industrial Revolution. Through past years it has accumulated a reservoir of skilled labour second to none in the world. The craftsmen in our foundry industry have filled a most important role in the development of the steel industry in South Wales.

For several years the Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers of Great Britain and Ireland has shown a deep concern about the future of the industry in South Wales. As long ago as February, 1953, the South Wales Council of the union met and submitted to Lord Lloyd a memorandum on the industry. The Council was told that it was unduly apprehensive and pessimistic.

I regret to say that time has justified its worst fears. Naturally, its greater fears have been for the foundries of West Wales, where the pattern of the steel industry has changed so dramatically during the past decade. The closure of the large foundry in Cardiff has been an ugly reminder that in the east of Wales, as well as in the west, there is new grave danger to this industry. This is the ultimate call for some urgent action by the Government.

I am deeply indebted to Mr. David Barrett, the district secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers, for the information which I have been able to amass on this subject. Mr. Barrett and his district committee have shown energy, initiative and ability in the way that they have agitated on this question. On Wednesday of this week the union and the employers' association waited upon the Cardiff City Corporation to make a desperate plea for help in obtaining work for the foundry industry in South Wales. I understand, and sympathise with, that move, but I fear that it is more of a gesture than anything else. The problem is fundamentally linked with the second industrial revolution through which we are now passing.

The Welsh foundry industry is facing the greatest crisis in its history since its beginning in the early eighteenth century. As we see the age of automation pressing new techniques upon the industry, we realise that it is idle to resist the march of progress. Nuclear power is bound to be the new fuel. Machine power is bound to replace manpower to a very great extent. The organised workers realise this. I have been told by the foundry workers' union that it does not wish to resist the automation of the industry, but it is asking, I believe reasonably, that we shall plan and organise the change in the industry as we move into the new industrial order.

At present the Welsh foundries employ about 5,000 workers of all grades—moulders, coremakers, dressers, electricians, fitters, labourers, pattern makers and the like. In all, they are employed in just over forty foundries. Those foundries are to be found from Aberystwyth, where there is one foundry, to Llanelly, where there are five; Cardiff, ten; Newport, three; Swansea, thirteen; Pontypridd, four; Ebbw Vale, one; Abertillery, one; Dowlais, one; Pontypool, three, and Ystrad Mynach, one. Pre-war these foundries were largely family concerns, but since then there has been a marked tendency towards amalgamation and monopoly.

Most of these firms report a falling off in orders, and a very bitter price war is being fought as the foundry firms are fighting to retain what work they have and to win new orders. There is not a foundry in Wales which has not over the past eighteen months suffered from short-time working, from redundancy or from reduced earning capacity. This is a serious picture.

What can be done? I wanted, first, to get on record the state of the industry as we find it in South Wales. I have some constructive suggestions to make to the Government or I would not have burdened the House with this Adjournment debate. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour is here to reply to the debate, because he knows a great deal about our problems in South Wales.

I suggest, first, that the time has come when the Government should set up a commission to inquire into the state of the industry and its future. The pattern is changing, and we ought to have an authoritative voice from the Government to tell us what their plans are for this industry in the years ahead.

I suggest, secondly, that no foundry worker ought to be dismissed without suitable alternative work being found for him. I realise that that is not the responsibility of the Parliamentary Secretary or of the Government, but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell me that his right hon. Friend will be willing to use his influence with employers so that an agreement of this sort might be reached.

Thirdly, the new automative foundries should draw their manpower from the present foundry industry. I am referring to the foundries that are now being established in South Wales.

Fourthly, whilst the modern foundry industry is being established, the available work ought to be directed to the old foundries.

Fifthly—and this is one of the most important questions that I have to raise—urgent attention should now be given by the Government to the question of apprentices. It is not reasonable to tell the trade union that it must allow apprentices to continue to enter a dwindling industry. We recently had a picture— to which I hope the hon. Gentleman will devote some time in his reply—of apprentices who have served two or three years and have then been cast adrift. It is wicked to take young people into apprenticeship schemes and then to cast them loose before their time is up.

The foundry in question is a subsidiary of the Birmingham Small Arms firm—a mightly concern with a worldwide reputation. It should know better, and it should behave better, and if my words reach those responsible I hope that they will feel a little ashamed of the way they have treated Cardiff youngsters.

There is an appeal from the union that in view of the restrictions and the closures that are taking place, a 40-hour week ought now to operate in this industry. I realise, again, that that is not a matter for an Adjournment debate, but I hope that the employers will realise the reasonableness of the union's demand.

These steps are urgently necessary to help the industry now. The foundry workers themselves are sensible, down-to-earth craftsmen. They are not opposing modernisation, neither are they standing against automation. They offer to cooperate, but not on a higgledy-piggledy basis. They ask that their elementary human rights shall be protected in an era of change. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will accept the responsibility of the Government, in this enlightened age, for the well-being of these craftsmen in an industry that is now undergoing a state of revolution.

3.2 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) for having given me notice of some of the matters that he wished to raise, and I shall try to deal with his points.

First, if he will allow me, I shall say something about the closure of this foundry and its likely effect on employment in Cardiff. The present unemployment rate in Cardiff, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is a little below the rate for Wales, but considerably above the national average for Great Britain. Moreover as he no doubt realises, this closure is the more sad as the employment situation in regard to men in Cardiff is considerably more difficult than for women.

The foundry that we are discussing employed 116 men. Of those, I understand that 77 were dismissed during last month and I should like to give the hon. Gentleman the latest details I have of those 77. This Department has placed nine of them, 32 others have found work through other means, and we have 24 on our registers at the employment exchanges, of whom we are at the moment submitting four for vacancies. I hope that we shall secure work, not only for them but for the other 20. There remain 12 of the 77 of whom we have no information. I understand that between 30 and 40 of the 116 original workers are to be kept in the foundry for clearing up, so they will not come into the employment market just yet.

This foundry, as the hon. Gentleman told us, belongs to B.S.A. who bought it in 1947 to produce iron castings for their machine tool factory which was close by, and which has also recently been closed. I have investigated this matter and I am convinced that the firm in question made every effort to keep this foundry going. The difficulty, as the hon. Gentleman has told us, is felt not only in South Wales, but in the country generally. The difficulty is the shortage of orders.

The hon. Gentleman has suggested that we should set up a commission of inquiry to look into this matter. My difficulty about this suggestion is that a commission of inquiry would certainly not produce more work. More work may be produced by other causes, but a commission of inquiry itself would not do so. I suggest that the problem here is not an absence of information. I think that the information is only too clear; the orders have fallen off. The difficulty, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, is that in this industry the conditions are changing in such a way that the volume of orders in future is unlikely to be sufficient to employ all those who have been employed in the industry in the past.

The hon. Gentleman is, naturally, interested in the prospects of additional work coming to Wales, and particularly to Cardiff, to take the place of these jobs and other jobs like them, which have disappeared or will disappear. As he knows, Cardiff is in the South Wales Development Area. Having seen a certain amount of Cardiff in the last year, I am very conscious indeed of what benefit to Cardiff that has been and of the enormous increase in employment which has resulted. Cardiff is not in the D.A.T.A.C. list because of its lower rate of unemployment. None the less, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade recently promised the hon. Gentleman that he and the Board of Trade generally would continue to bring Cardiff's available facilities to the notice of any industrialist who might be willing to go there.

One of the difficulties of this closure is that it comes on the top of a number of other closures to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention. I remember being present at an Adjournment debate which the hon. Gentleman initiated, I think, last April, on the closure of the ordnance factory at Cardiff. He has expressed this afternoon his very natural concern, which I found shared very generally in Wales and also on other occasions, in Scotland, that the skilled workers in the area should not be lost to the area, because there is a great deal to be said for the argument that an area which loses its skilled workers is less likely to attract later the industry which it so badly needs.

The hon. Member asked my right hon. Friend recently to try to make sure that skilled workers were not offered jobs outside the area. I hope that he accepts my right hon. Friend's thought on that point. He thought that it would not be helpful to give such an assurance, because, although most re-engagements are local, it still remains true that displaced workers are most anxious to know of vacancies in other areas in case they would like to take them.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of points which he recognised were matters for industry. There is the question of the undertaking that workers should not be dismissed until they are offered other work. There is the question of the re-engagement of workers, particularly when the new mechanised factories and foundries come into operation. There is, above all, this question of the 40-hour week. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that these are essential matters for the industry to discuss and thrash out among themselves. I do not think that they are matters in which the Ministry of Labour can intervene, although we should be delighted if the industry were to take the initiative in discussing these vital matters which are most important to both sides, and reach agreement upon them.

Another associated anxiety which the hon. Gentleman expressed, and which has often been expressed in the House, relates to apprentices displaced. He raised, too, the general question of the need for more apprentices.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary appreciates that I have a dual concern. I want vacancies for the youngsters in Cardiff who wish to enter this craft to have proper training, and I want them to have security when they enter it. I can understand the reluctance of the trade unions about it, and that is why I wanted to know the Parliamentary Secretary's view.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

It would be helpful, I think, if I said a word, first, about what has happened to the eight apprentices at the foundry, and then I will say something about the general question.

At the foundry we are discussing there were eight apprentices. Two of them were nearly at the end of their apprenticeship and they will, I understand, complete it with the B.S.A. company. Another two have been placed for continued training in the Bristol area. A further two have registered at the employment exchange. One of these, who is under 18 years of age, apparently decided himself to change to clerical work. The youth employment officer agreed that this was a suitable change. We are still looking for an apprenticeship for the other one who is registered at the employment exchange, and I hope that we shall be able to place him.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Will their time count?

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

No doubt an arrangement would have to be reached about that, but I imagine that in most of these cases the time already served would count. Of the remaining two apprentices, one of them, I understand, has a job with a painting firm. About the eighth, I can trace no information. I have been in touch with the company, but I do not know what has happened to him. Five of the eight, therefore, have had suitable arrangements made for them. I hope that it will be possible for the remaining one about whom we do not know and also for the one who is registered with us to be placed.

I come now to the general question. This is something which has been exercising the minds of a great many of us lately. We had a particularly useful debate about it at the end of April, in which, I think, the hon. Gentleman took part. There is a great deal to be said for the objection that, in an industry where the prospects of employment in future are, to say the least, rather uncertain, it is asking a lot to expect that both employers and trade unions should be anxious to increase opportunities for apprenticeship.

This is one of the difficulties in industries in which the employment power, if I may put it in that way, is declining. But one must take the matter as a whole and, side by side with the industries where the employment power is declining, consider the enormous number of new industries coming along which will employ many more people in the future and which will need, above all things, a great many more skilled workers than they have at present.

On the overall need, therefore, I am convinced that the total number of skilled workers will have to be far greater than it is now. If such industries as we are discussing this afternoon cannot increase their potential opportunities for skilled workers, then the skilled opportunities must be made elsewhere in industry. The objective of the Industrial Training Council and the recent initiative of the British Employers' Confederation has been directed towards just this end, to increase by about one-fifth the apprenticeship opportunities within the next two or three years.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

Over the country, yes. I am well aware, also, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is, of the great need in Wales for more apprenticeship opportunities.

Finally, I should like to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance, of which he is already aware, that we in the Ministry of Labour will do our best to get the various men who are not at the moment in jobs placed as soon as possible. I have already told him that the Board of Trade is anxious to draw to the attention of anyone who might go to Cardiff the possibilities which Cardiff offers, and which—I have seen them on my visits—are quite considerable.

The unoccupied foundry will be one of those places brought to the attention of industrialists, although I understand that there are already in Cardiff some less specialised buildings than this foundry which are already vacant and awaiting tenants. I understand that one of these is the B.S.A. tool factory, which is just next door. I understand that some of these premises, both the foundry and others, are in the hands of estate agents who will try to find tenants for them.

I trust that the economic expansion which, I hope, will result from the measures the Government have been taking will lead to greater employment opportunities, not only in Cardiff, but in other parts of Wales and England.

3.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I apologise for not being present at the start of this debate. I was in the House, but the debate began earlier than I anticipated.

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) on raising this subject again. It is of great importance. Also, without getting unduly out of order, I should like to congratulate him on his successful election as vice-president of the Methodist Conference this week, a post which everyone in Cardiff will be delighted he holds, although, of course, his circle of friends extends much more widely over Wales and throughout Britain.

I hope that tenants will take up, not the initiative of the Parliamentary Secretary, but his good will when he said that he trusted that the industry would consider the future so that the men and possible apprentices may know what is in store for them. Both my hon. Friend and myself have had representations on this matter, and we know the anxiety which exists in this area.

Although the Parliamentary Secretary is not specifically responsible on the general question, there is a general Government responsibility. Both my hon. Friend and I are becoming a little weary of the number of times we have to come to the House about the position of Cardiff. Whatever may be the tide of affluence and wealth flowing in other parts of the country, it is not true to say that the pattern of industry in Cardiff is expanding. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary has heard both by hon. Friend and myself dilate in the past about Cardiff Docks. As recently as this week I had to intervene when 120 men were suddenly thrown out of work, although timber was waiting to be discharged, because there were no railway wagons available.

Reviewing the last five or six years of Cardiff's history in the industrial world, the only conclusion which one can reach is that the pattern of industry is receding. We are becoming a commercial and administrative centre, but this is a lopsided development because the industry upon which we expect and want to rely is dwindling. B.S.A. Tools, the B.S.A. Foundry and the Royal Ordnance Factory are a few of the number of illustrations of this over the last few years. Not every young man leaving school wants to become a clerk or wants to go into a warehouse. Thank heaven there is a great deal of skill left in the fingers of our young men in this country, particularly, I am glad to say, in Cardiff. We do not want them to feel that as they grow up they have to leave our city and to come to London or to go to the industrial Midlands or elsewhere in order to find outlets for their skill.

The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that he was kind enough recently to intervene on behalf of a young man whose apprenticeship had ceased. I do not want to give his name national headlines again. He has had enough publicity. Too much publicity is not good for any of us. The young man's apprenticeship was broken because of the industrial recession. The hon. Gentleman intervened and did a great deal to find that young man another apprenticeship. Inquiries were made through a variety of agencies, but the young man has had to come to London and is now employed as an apprentice in a London factory. This is, in a small way, a repetition of the thirties in that we are losing our young men.

This is felt very much by those people in Cardiff from whose families the craftsmen have traditionally sprung. They now feel that unless their children have a talent with a pen or can play a guitar there is no future for them in the normal industrial field.

The Parliamentary Secretary says that the Government are starting up a pattern of expansion once again. But this situation has resulted precisely because of the Government's recession measures. It is because the Government themselves induced the recession that B.S.A. Tools and the B.S.A. Foundry, the Royal Ordnance Factory—for a different reason —and other factories have been closing down in Cardiff and that we have had the job of placing people elsewhere. I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary need feel that there is a great deal of enthusiasm for his suggestion that the Government now intend at this very late stage to start to expand what they have previously contracted, for in the meantime a considerable degree of hardship has been felt.

We have been feeling the pinch in Cardiff to a very great extent. I am sorry to detain the House, but it is not often that we get the chance to say so in this House, at any rate not at extended length. The ship repairers in Cardiff are undergoing considerable hardship at present. I have talked to them on many occasions over the last two or three months about the plight of the ship-repairing industry. It is difficult to imagine when we look at London and some of the other booming centres in the country that there are in these islands small pockets of men whose unemployment is not transitional, which does not exist for a week or two, but goes on week after week and month after month. We have more long-term unemployed in Cardiff in the ship-repairing industry than I can remember in the fourteen years I have represented that city.

I know that there are all sorts of reasons why the recession in the ship-repairing industry should have arisen, but the point that I want to hammer home to the Parliamentary Secretary is that when there are good booming times it is everybody but Cardiff who enjoys them and when there is a recession it is Cardiff that gets it all the time. We get that in the ship-repairing industry and in the foundry industry, and we get it when the Government close down their ordnance factories and when, for one reason or another, Cardiff Docks are not used. My hon. Friend and I want one day to be able to say. "Thank goodness, here is a booming new industry in the city". I am all in favour of Government blocks of buildings shooting up and clerks going into them, but we want industry in Cardiff. One can have a secure foundation for a city only if one has industry in it, and that is what we have not got at present. We have a steel works which has been doing fairly well, but that is about the one life-line that we have.

I have been saying what a great many people in Cardiff have been saying over the last two months, particularly over the last year or two. There is this feeling growing up, and if the House has one use, it is that we are able to say here what is being said in areas like Cardiff by those with whom we mix and to whom we talk. Cardiff is the capital city of Wales, and it is a great, important city. I do not want to give the impression that it is a depressed city, because it is not. We have coming into the city a great many people from the valleys. They come to the city because it is an administrative centre and a great shopping centre, and they spend then-money there. We want to be independent of other people for our good fortune; we want to have industry in the city itself so that we can feel that we have a live and thriving community.

I address this plea once more to the Government. My hon. Friend and I feel that on this matter and on a great many other matters we shall be constantly probing and pushing to obtain Government assistance to enable us to make Cardiff the balanced community that we want to see.

3.25 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

I shall not be more than a moment or two, but I should like to say, in reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), that I am very glad that at the end of his speech he slightly corrected the picture which he had been painting of Cardiff. If I may say so, it did not seem a particularly accurate one. However, he did say at the end that Cardiff is not a depressed city.

The figures which I gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), before the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East came in, show that there is about 3 per cent. unemployment. The other way of looking at it is that 97 out of every 100 are at work. As he knows, a very great deal of industry has come to Cardiff over the last ten, fifteen, twenty years—

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the question of the distribution of industry over Great Britain has been the subject of a good many debates in which I myself have taken a close interest in the last year, and hon. Gentlemen have been pressing these difficulties before. I do not think that there is any difference, except of emphasis, between the two sides of the House about the distribution of industry policy. I do not think that many of us suppose that we can force firms to go to Cardiff, or to go to any other place in the British Isles, if they do not want to do so. What we can do is make it a little less easy to go to good employment areas and to give them inducements to go to areas where unemployment is high. That is what we shall continue to do.

The hon. Gentleman poured scorn on the prospects of economic expansion, but it will be at a time of economic expansion, when the economy goes forward, that firms will be looking for areas like Cardiff which, as I said to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, West, have plenty of possibilities for their expansion. I hope that they will take into account the opportunities which Cardiff offers and bring a little satisfaction to the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Three o'clock.