Technological Change in Industry (Redundancy)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th March 1964.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Robert Edwards Mr Robert Edwards , Bilston 12:00 am, 16th March 1964

I understand my hon. Friend's point. However, it should not be accepted that one firm in Britain has produced the perfect agreement. Indeed, some of the agreements in our nationalised industries are among the best.

These agreements have not been granted to the trade unions without a struggle. All these agreements have been negotiated in the most prosperous industries. Let us not forget that. They have been negotiated in industries with expanding production, in industries where there is a shortage of labour, in some industries like chemicals, for example, that have never known a slump, industries which have vast sums of liquid capital, which can introduce new methods of production and new technical devices, which have the capital necessary to enable the introduction of these new methods that have increased the volume of production.

By negotiation with the unions, they have given advance information of their intentions to introduce automatic methods that will put so many men and women out of employment. By negotiation they have established methods for training the staff and workers who are likely to be made redundant, to enable them to do new jobs and create new products in the same factory.

Time is limited, and I want to raise one or two fundamental points rather than repeat what has already been said. In Soviet Russia, there is a Minister of Automation whose task is to establish training facilities to produce 500,000 new technicians skilled in the knowledge of automatic processes and electronics. In 10 years, the Soviet Union will have 2½ million trained technicians—more technicians than there are in the whole of the Western World put together. The Russians are dealing with the matter in a realistic way. In the United States, there is a permanent standing commission to deal with the problems of automation, the social, economic and technical problems, problems of leisure, the mobility of labour, wages and so on.

We have no such facilities in this country, yet we are the nation which started the Industrial Revolution, which was the cradle of modern methods of production. We have not started to deal with this massive problem yet. The future of our country is based on our ability to increase the production of wealth. If we fail steadily to increase our productivity in this country, the living standards of our people will be shattered. We shall have to introduce in most of our basic industries modern methods of production which will reduce the amount of labour power required and increase production very greatly indeed.

If we are to avoid economic crisis, we shall have to devise a method of improving the purchasing power of our people so that they can buy the products of mass production. These are vast economic and social problems with which the Government are not dealing.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford for his mention of the modest Bill which I tried to introduce in 1955, the Automation and Electronics Bill. All I wanted the Government to do was to establish a permanent committee representative of all sections of industry, the nationalised industries, the trade unions and the consumers, served by economists and technicians of repute, which would be responsible for a constant flow of ideas and reports on the requirements of technical training for new methods of production, the problems of the mobility of labour and the social problems involved, the problems of incomes, shorter working hours, training for leisure, and the rest. That is all I wanted the House to do, but I did not even get a debate on the Bill. It was blocked every Friday by some hon. Members opposite who thought that it was Socialism by homeopathic treatment, and that it was my aim to control the business of industrialists.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) wishes to speak, so I will conclude by once more thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford for giving us this brief opportunity to debate a subject which is of vital importance to the House and to our country's future.