Industrial Development, Blaydon

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th July 1964.

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Photo of Mr Robert Woof Mr Robert Woof , Blaydon 12:00 am, 13th July 1964

But in the present state of affairs, in this jet age, National Coal Board officials go along to the colliery office in their cars and inform the management and workmen that their colliery is to close on a certain day.

This kind of happening in my constituency can only be interpreted as staggering, and in taking cognisance of such facts every thoughtful person shakes his head in despair. The more I think of such courses of action the more I am reminded of Isaiah: They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof". The whirlwind of closures marks the end of an incomparable era, and as the disturbing insecurity besets many people we are able to draw up a balance sheet of their thoughts, because redundancy is now plunging into deep waters, and from the simple point of such reflections we must somehow contrive to plan for industrial reorganisation, to put back hope into people's hearts and give them a chance to show their willingness to accept changes of jobs. I mention coal mining, because its decline is expected to be permanent. Therefore, it is of prime importance to save an area when its principal industry declines, and this can be done only by the establishment of new industries.

Amazement always remains one of the keenest reactions to our sense of sensibility, yet it is always advisable to know how far we should allow ourselves to be carried away, but we seem to be swept along the torrent of economic influences with the closure of other industrial establishments in the constituency.

For example, the Co-operative Wholesale Society's soap works at Dunston-on-Tyne has been forced to close down. Its programme has been hindered by the fact that many of the conditions of industrial methods and distribution are constantly changing. We cannot avoid recognising the undercurrent of economic change in its extreme form, as transitional stages in the soap industry since 1945 have meant an ever-growing trend towards powders and detergents, and this has reduced the demand for hard soap, but because the position has continued to deteriorate, the Society was left with no other choice but to close the factory.

I do not want to be didactic, but while I am dealing with economic change I cannot resist mentioning another tragic gap that has been left in the ups and downs of economic activity. I refer to the closing down of Smith Patterson's works in Blaydon after nearly 100 years of operation. From the standpoint of competition, it is well known that the introduction of a new and more efficient process by one company compels others in the industry to make similar changes, and failure to keep pace with technological improvements in the process of manufacture may cause companies to pass out of the competitive arena. But because of the present adverse trading position, involving losses over the last two years, the Smith Patterson Co. has explained that, for the foundry to continue in business, an expensive modernisation programme involving capital expenditure would have to be undertaken. With consideration of conditions prevailing in the iron foundry industry, it is claimed that such expenditure cannot be justified. Therefore, the company has decided to cease operations and close down the factory.

When we enter more thoroughly into an objective account of such internal changes we find it hard to sustain any lofty enthusiasm. If it were in the terms of imagination, we would see everything as a theatrical climax, but we have arrived at a period when the need for new industries must outweigh any clouded imagination.

What, then, can we expect of the future? What should we seek? What can we do and what ought we to do if economic progress is to move along the right lines? Unlike King Charles II, who, for his own amusement, gave large tracts of England to his mistresses who pleased his roving fancy, we can at least console ourselves nowadays that the power to dispense wealth has passed into the hands of a large number of organisers of useful industry who are rendering a service to society. But as movements between industry in certain areas have been somewhat extensive in recent years, such an area as Blaydon is grappling with the essential preliminaries to attract industry in order to adjust itself to several distinct needs and objectives.

I should like to have dealt with many other things related to redundancy, but one is limited in time. Among the many problems that confront us, none proves more challenging than the position of school leavers. In the transitional period from school to work, we always wonder what they will make of their powers and what constructive interests will occupy their time since responsibility for their protection and finding work for them will always be with us.

Work is an important feature of the life before them. It plays a substantial part in the scheme of things. But we cannot confidently say that there is enough employment ready waiting for them to fulfil their aspirations and expectations. Some new thinking is clearly needed about the ways and means of encouraging reasonable ambitions, as the range of choice of jobs is very limited because of failure to achieve a proper distribution of new industries to which we are still groping in the dark.

While I have restricted myself to the economic and redundancy side, there is another picture facing us. The outstanding characteristic of the constituency is the development of villages at the end of the last century. They have grown to a substantial size, which was bound to be accompanied by a rapid growth of population in which requirements have become numerous and varied.

While the population has reached 50,000 in the constituency, consolation can be gained by looking at the new surge of redevelopment of residential areas. Both the local authorities and private agencies have taken on the responsibility for planning and carrying through intelligent housing programmes. The process has been of carefully controlled change, in which pride is fully justified in being capable of coping with modern needs. This has arisen from a combination of circumstances, but it becomes apparent that such planning is not an end in itself but only a means to practical change. As a consequence, the disproportion of the opportunity for employment can be seen against this background, which must be judged by the absence of any development for openings of new employment.

I agree that there is no foolproof solution to our economic difficulties, but it is publicly acknowledged that there has not been much industrial movement in Blaydon constituency. Stagnation can be attributed to the misfortune of the old foundations of livelihood without putting in their place any new foundations on which people can be given a chance to satisfy their impulses for work compatible with their happiness.

I clearly remember that, when the Secretary of State for Industry and Trade paid a visit to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in January this year, he coined a catch phrase for everyone concerned with carrying out the Government's plan for reviving the prosperity of the region. It was, "Think ahead and think big". Now that is exactly what the local authorities in Blaydon are trying to do, and I think that it would afford the gratifying sensation of playing a part in shaping a new industrial structure in the constituency.

The Secretary of State went on to announce that a big new Government-financed industrial estate would be sited on Tees-side. He said: To enable this development to go ahead quickly, the Government has decided that we must be prepared to buy the land compulsorily if necessary. In this respect I would say that reason in general has the mission of understanding things as they are, and as a physical science it has to be understood what is reasonable. It may therefore follow that what is good for Tees-side should be good enough for Tyneside. In the event of the local authorities thinking ahead, there should be some perceptible standard which subscribes to the desire for more indulgence to more fundamental economic needs and the acquiring of land for industrial development. Would not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that local authorities should be encouraged to do what the Minister himself implied to be a valid reason for concentrating on the location of industry?

There is a well known statement—the end sanctifies the means—but in so far as every action is accompanied by other actions, it is true to say that our existence is the condition or premise of all our understanding. Our interests are always innumerable, inexpressibly great and we sometimes find conciliation in the determination of what is right and reasonable.

Despite all the circumstances in relation to cause and effect which I have tried to elucidate, I am bound to say that there are no more hard working or industrious people than those I have the honour to represent. There are no people more independently minded. There are no more people more devoted and wedded to the area where they were bred, born and reared. If rational fears, anxieties and apprehensions are to be removed, then more must be done. Not enough has yet been done in this respect. The major responsibility lies with the Government and I hope that tonight the Parliamentary Secretary can give some indication of future prospects which will show the full effect of a turn for the better, constituting a common use of resources for the promotion of common standards and the conception of future human happiness.