Industry and Employment

Part of Orders of the Day — Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 6:58 pm on 18th November 1986.

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Photo of Mr Kenneth Eastham Mr Kenneth Eastham , Manchester, Blackley 6:58 pm, 18th November 1986

I am nonplussed by those remarks. The two largest manufacturing companies involved in power generation in Britain are privately owned. I do not understand the question. The customer, in the main, is the Government. When we talk about power stations, we are talking about billions of pounds. Therefore, it cannot be left to a small company or some board to say that it is prepared to buy a power station. It is beyond that. The dimension and scale of a power station depends on a Government making the decision.

I would be grateful if, for once, the Minister during his reply could find time at least to comment on the power industry and give some hope to the skilled men who are now losing their jobs through no fault of their own.

The Secretary of State mentioned how the economy was picking up. He said that everything was rosy. However, he did not mention mass unemployment. Things are not rosy at all. Unemployment is creating poverty in the major cities on a scale that has not been seen since the industrial revolution. I have a document which refers to poverty in Manchester. It refers to an area adjacent to GEC Manchester at Trafford Park. I am not talking about Greater Manchester or the 10 districts, but about one small area.

The document says: unemployment has increased from 11 per cent. in 1978 to a staggering 24 per cent. in 1985 … half of all Manchester residents are having to live below the poverty line … In October 1985, 45,700 residents were unemployed, that's 25 per cent. of Manchester's workforce … 43 per cent. of those are under 20 years of age and 37 per cent. of those aged 20 to 24 are unemployed. In all honesty, the Minister cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and tell us that everything is rosy in Britain when one can see the misery, poverty and unemployment in the city that I represent. I know that my city is not alone. The problems are the same in the north-east, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. It is one catalogue of events after another. I denounce and refuse to accept the statement that everything is so successful under this Government. In fact, it has been a disaster.

I remember the debate about Westland helicopters earlier this year. Hon. Members spoke about the bright future during that debate. I was particularly interested and took part. I was involved because, being an engineer, I have a special concern for the men on the shop floor. Unfortunately, the debate seemed to dwell on the trouble and difficulties of the Prime Minister and the resignation of two Cabinet Ministers. Other than my speech, very few people even mentioned the Westland helicopter engineers.

At that time, the management was soothing the workers and telling them that their jobs were assured. However, I can now tell the House on good authority that there are already serious closures in the experimental department. That means that there will be a loss of design capability. Until now, Britain has led the way in rotor head design for helicopters. We will not be the leaders if design and research are being cut. We will be dominated by America, as some of us felt at the time. It will be a screwdriver job. Westland will no longer have the initiative, drive and expertise to compete in the making of helicopters.

The Government have their greedy eyes on Rolls-Royce. They are waiting like vultures to take over. I can assure the Minister and the House that it gives the workers of Rolls-Royce no confidence to think that the company may be privatised. The Government think that the solution to everything is selling off and privatising. We should remind ourselves that Rolls-Royce was privately owned. It suddenly went into a crisis and had to be nationalised—not by a Labour Government but by a Conservative Government. Within a matter of days, that Government had to introduce legislation. They could not afford to allow the company to go under, so it was nationalised. It is now making handsome profits and is successful nobody can deny that. Because of that, the Government now think that it is timely to do the plunder job. They want to plunder the assets and take the profits, as if there was something clever about it. It is a disaster. I can assure the House that the work force recognises the dangers. If Rolls-Royce is privatised, hundreds, possibly thousands, of workers know that they will lose their jobs.

I am a Member of the Select Committee on Employment. A month ago, we visited Japan. We learned much from that visit. Both sides of the Committee recognise the great difference in the attitude to man management. For instance, there was far less brutalisation. The management was concerned about the work force and wanted there to be jobs. The management wanted the workers to share in the prosperity. That is the sort of thing we do not see. If one wants any proof of that, there is adequate documentation of the visit and there are hon. Members in the Chamber who witnessed some of the interviews that took place. There is far more co-operation between the Japanese Government, management and work force. There is also higher investment and twice as much research. That is why Japan has been so successful.

We went to a small company and spoke to a man who called himself a small employer. He employed 82 people. If Britain continues on its present course, that will soon be a big employer in this country. He told us that he could afford to buy a new robot which cost £250,000. He borrowed the money from the bank at a rate of interest of 4⅛ per cent. In Britain, the rate of interest would probably have been about 16 per cent. or 18 per cent. Is it any wonder that Britain cannot compete? The fact that we cannot compete with other countries is not due to a failure of the workers.

When the Government have been in office for nearly eight years, it is a great tragedy that they have learnt no lessons whatsoever. They can send people abroad who come back with all the facts. They can go and see the successful companies and recognise how they were successful, but they still refuse to learn the lesson. Not much has been said about this. At the moment we are faced with the prospect of a massive balance of payments crisis. That crisis is looming now, and the Government know it. Unless they jump and run quick for a general election, that crisis will be on their shoulders. Only politicians and the economists recognise how serious the matter is, yet the Government, again, are still ignoring the lessons. They think that it is far more satisfactory to have people on the dole, producing nothing and earning nothing, rather than doing productive work.

I conclude with a sincere and passionate plea. I wish that the Government would seriously take on board my remarks about the power industry. For goodness' sake, do not let us wait until after the Sizewell inquiry. The two new power stations could save the day. That is my plea.