HC Deb 05 June 1945 vol 411 cc844-54

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major A. S. L. Young.]

10.51 p.m.

Mr. Oldfield (Manchester, Gorton)

I desire to bring before the notice of this House a matter of very great importance to the division I represent and to the city of, Manchester as a whole. This matter has been brought before the House on a previous occasion by Question and answer. On 14th February, I placed a Question on the Order Paper in relation to this particular works. The works are the West shop of the aircraft factory at Openshaw, Manchester. Arising out of certain news that was percolating throughout the division, I placed this Question on the Order Paper: To ask the Minister of Aircraft Production whether his attention has been called to the serious position arising out of the closing of certain parts of a new factory, erected in Openshaw, Manchester, for the purpose of storage, resulting in the stopping of skilled men and unskilled men and women; and why a new and up-to-date factory, with all modern amenities, should be used for such a purpose, in view of post-war reconstruction instead of a much older factory."—[Official Report, 14th February, 1945, Vol. 408, c. 211.] I got a reply from the Minister of Aircraft Production in which he indicated that these premises were going to be used for the purpose of the storage of component parts of aircraft and for the assembly of such parts. In view of the information which I had received that morning, I put a supplementary question. I said that three engineering firms were waiting to take over part of this factory and asked my right hon. and learned Friend to consider releasing the factory at once. The reply I received from the Minister was that the matter had been thoroughly considered by the three Departments, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and that the action taken was considered to be "in the best interests"—of the prosecution of the war, I presume. I want the House to know that the answer which I got was, in one sentence, that the accommodation was being used temporarily with the consent of the Board of Trade for the storage of aircraft components awaiting final assembly. It is upon this point of storage, arising out of the policy of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, that we cross swords. When I use the words "we" I include every Member of Parliament for the city of Manchester, without exception. Also let me say—arising out of the reeling within the Division and the feeling within the city—deputations have waited upon the Lord Mayor of our city, who, I must say, has been very active in this matter. Further, the Manchester city council itself discussed this matter for two hours in relation to the use of such a place as this, a new factory, for the purpose of storage.

What is this place? It comprises a part of an up-to-date factory. There are four workshops. There is a gun shop, a North shop, an East shop and a West shop, and it is the West shop which is under con- sideration. This place, which I have had the privilege of going over many times, is full of the latest amenities. It has rest rooms; it has canteens; it has, ambulance services. I am given to understand that it has cost £3,500,000.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

How many people are employed?

Mr. Oldfield

Four to five thousand

Mr. Stokes

In the West shop?

Mr. Oldfield

In the West shop, 2,000. Out of this sum I have mentioned, £700,000 was spent on the erection of buildings and £2,750,000 on the remainder—machinery, etc. That is very significant. The West shop under review to-night was erected at a cost of £1,000,000,of which £300,000 was spent on the erection of buildings, and the balance of £700,000 on the installation of machinery. Since this £700,000 was spent, a further £170,000 has been added. As a matter of interest, I may mention that these works were built upon the site of the old Armstrong-Whitworth's factory in Openshaw, which was demolished and which, at its peak production, employed some 9,000 people. My people and the people of the city feel that the dominating thing is fear. They have this fear because, during the period of the demolition of Armstrong-Whitworth factory, unemployment in the division was something like 21.1 per cent. I have briefly indicated the background of this question as it applies to the factory, and the intentions of the Ministry of Aircraft Production regarding it. What have the Manchester Members done to influence the Department to alter their policy? We interviewed the Board of Trade representatives upon this matter. We had a good assembly of hon. Members in one of the Committee Rooms upstairs, and I will give the House briefly, the report which we made upon this matter: Strong recommendations were made to the President that these works should not be used for storage purposes and that in the future if they were not required for the purpose for which they were built, then the works should be used to house other engineering works located in the Manchester area. It is impossible to emphasise the pressure that was brought to bear on the President of the short sighted policy it would be for any portion of these works to be used for storage purposes. I received a letter from the President of the Board of Trade in which he in- formed me that he would foe glad to reassure me that there was no intention of using any part of this factory for storage except for a strictly limited period in connection with urgent war production and that as soon as the situation permitted it would be turned over to civilian production. We, the Members from the Manchester district, say, in so far as that is concerned, that we are still protesting vehemently against the factory being used at all for that purpose. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production interviewed the Manchester M.P.'s headed by the Lord Mayor of our city and, let me say, that we were received very cordially and very courteously. Some of our Members came away with the idea that we had—I was going to say "hit the bull's eye"—that in a way we had scored. Personally I was not of that opinion. At any rate we received a letter from the Parliamentary Secretary the following week and the Members from Manchester discussed this letter at full length. I have here a copy of the reply we sent, in which we intimated in no uncertain manner, that we were completely dissatisfied with the letter sent by the Parliamentary Secretary. Arising out of that we received another letter from the Parliamentary Secretary, in which he intimated to us that we must see the First Lord of the Admiralty in relation to certain matters and that they were going to decide in a few days the course to be taken in regard to this factory. The Manchester Members of Parliament then interviewed the First Lord. We were told a day or two after the interview that the First Lord had no intention of using the factory and therefore as far as the Admiralty were concerned it could go back to civilian production.

I have received a letter to-day from the city of Manchester in relation to this matter. I am given to understand in that letter that a good deal of the storage which it is intended to bring in there is from disused cotton mills and worsted mills which are already being used for storage and that the reason for this storage of surplus material is because of the over-buying of A. V. Roe's. I am just giving the Minister an opinion from a most reliable authority. I am further given to understand that there was an intention, though I think that has been dropped, to spend something like £18,000 upon putting a crane and other accessories in to make it into a better place for lifting the articles brought into the shop. But what they are doing—and I saw this on Saturday moming—is to put down mono-rails to run into this West shop, which cannot be done without money. This is wastage of money for a shop like this in our opinion, and we are therefore appealing to the Minister to reverse this policy. The Members for Manchester, and the principal men in the area, say that it is almost verging upon criminality to use such an up-to-date place for such purposes. There are firms who want to take this place. We had it from the President of the Board of Trade that there were applications for this and for other factories. I appeal on behalf of the men and women in my Division who are afraid that once we get this place filled with storage of this type—which is some kind of steel and alloy—it will be years before it can be emptied and given back to the production, which we desire to see started at once.

11.7 p.m.

Major F. W. Cundiff (Manchester, Rusholme)

I rise to support briefly what the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Oldfield) has said. It is, indeed, unfortunate that the hon. Member for the Exchange Division (Mr. Hewlett) is not in his place to-night owing to illness, as he has taken a very great interest in this case. The hon. Member for Gorton has very fully covered the ground, but I may add certain facts to those already stated. This is a place of approximately 20,000 square feet, built for the special purpose of producing some type of armaments not now required. The cost in the first place was £965,000, and later, £131,000 was spent on it. I do not want to go into a description of the factory, but it is true that several firms, to my knowledge, are very interested in it, and would be willing to take it over at a fair price. But it so happens that the Ministry of Aircraft Production at the present time is in need of storage, and I believe that the idea is running in their minds that they should take over this factory.

Very briefly, one can argue from two points of view—from the local point of view, that is, the Manchester point of view; and from the national point of view—against the Ministry of Aircraft Production carrying out their ideas. This factory is situated in a densely populated area which, after the last war, had the greatest difficulty in finding employment for its people. Therefore, the Lord Mayor of Manchester and the city council and many citizens there, are greatly concerned about the future of this factory. But it does seem to me that from a national point of view there is much to be said for retaining it. I would like to remind the Minister of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech, when he explained to us that when we had our backs against the wall, good housekeeping had to be thrown to the winds. But happily that time has passed, and I would therefore ask the Minister to remember, in this case, the claims of good housekeeping. Finally, apart from any question of economics, if this factory is to be stripped and gutted merely to become a store tent, that would, in itself, be an act of commercial or industrial sacrilege. I do appeal to the Minister to consider Manchester and to consider Manchester's post-war policy, her employment in the post-war years. I also ask him to consider this from a national point of view so that this factory should not be gutted.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Rostron Duckworth (Manchester, Moss Side)

I do not intend at this late hour to keep the House long, but I do wish to associate myself with everything that has been said by the two previous speakers. The main reason that causes me to support them is that the factory was built for production purposes. There are other works, within a reasonable radius, in other industrial areas near Manchester, one of which I could name, which have 275,000 square feet, and would have been tremendously helpful for the purpose for which the Ministry are using this important factory. The factory to which I am referring was really built for storage purposes. It is Pine Mill, Sherwood Street, Oldham. It seems to me that when there are opportunities for the Ministry to take such places for storage use, it is quite wrong to devote a factory of this kind to storage. Furthermore, if places like this factory are not to be kept for production, we shall have trouble with regard to the employment of the men coming back from the Services; and also, we shall not be able to increase our export trade by the 50 per cent. which is so necessary if we are to carry out the big social reforms which we hope our people are to enjoy in the near future.

Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)

May I ask the hon. Member one question? This Pine Mill he mentioned—how many storeys has it?

Mr. Duckworth

I believe two. They have, I may say, suitable lifts for the large loads.

11.12 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)

This is eminently a proper subject to be raised on the Adjournment, and as the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Oldfield) has said, it is no party matter. We have been approached, and properly approached, by a number of hon. Members, and in particular by the hon. Member who raised this matter, by my hon. Friend the Member for Moss Side (Mr. Duckworth), the hon. Member for Clayton (Mr. H. Thorneycroft) and the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Manchester (Mr. Hewlett), who, I am sorry to hear, is prevented by ill-health from being here. They all quite properly, remember the experiences which we had after the last war. They are afraid of a return of that situation, when a long slump followed a short boom. As I know personally, there are men, employed hitherto in these works, who suffered continuous and cruel unemployment throughout the period of the engineering decline. This anxiety on the part of hon. Members is shared by His Majesty's Government who really intend to do all that is possible with wise planning to see that fine plant of this kind, in districts historically famous for engineering skill, is employed for productive purposes.

I should like very briefly to remind the House of the facts of the situation. The West shop to which the hon. Member referred has been used for Lancaster undercarriage production and Spitfire tail oleos. Last November, as a result of the changed conditions of the war—this is a matter for rejoicing and not for gloom—a new programme was agreed on, which led to a substantial decline in the demand for undercarriages, and I would like to stress the fact that these are economic changes that follow on victory in Europe and must not be regarded as unhappy in themselves. We do not want to go on all our lives making engines of war. We want to see these factories change to civil production. There is an obligation on the Government to see that wherever possible a proper civil productive use is found, and we must not be disturbed because changes in the previous occupation are rendered necessary by the advancing fortunes of war. This decline in the number of undercarriages that we needed led to a reconsideration of the position in this great factory at Openshaw.

We had a number of other factors to consider. In the first place there is, as hon. Members well know, a difficult labour situation in the North-West Region, owing to the shortage of highly skilled labour. That is no reflection on the district, but a compliment to the district. At the same time, we have got obligations, as part of our policy of doing what we can to maintain full employment, to see that work is given to the old Development Areas. We have in Newcastle a Development Area, another Vickers plant. That is a factor we have to bear in mind, when planning wisely for the nation as a whole, and that I am sure will receive the approval of my hon. Friends opposite.

At the same time we have an acute storage problem, in no way due to imprudent buying, but to the fact that the fabrication period for big aeroplanes like the Lancaster or the Lincoln is a very lengthy one, and it is necessary to have the materials assembled in advance. The need of assembling them in advance, became more urgent when invasion was pending, and the possibility of dislocation of home transport and the need to feed the advancing armies in Europe led us to collect, in advance, materials that normally might have been assembled at greater leisure. It may fairly be said that the "go slow" policy of some at the A. V. Roe works has led to an accumulation of raw materials that we hoped would be flying by June and are now assembled on the production floor of these factories. This led to an accumulation of raw materials for aircraft manufacture, which have been cluttering up the production shops at A. V. Roe, and actually holding up production, and I assure my hon. Friend that production has suffered because of the shortage of storage space. As a result of all these factors, we had to look again at our potential. We decided that the best plan, in the interests of the nation as a whole and of the war effort against the Japanese, was to stop under-carriage production at Openshaw, and to transfer from Openshaw to Newcastle—to the Vickers plant at Newcastle, in a Development area—Lincoln undercarriage work and the Spitfire tail oleos, and to use Openshaw for awhile for vital storage. We had to find somewhere, very close to the great A. V. Roe works at Chadderton, a place suitable for storage, and the suggestion of my hon. Friend that the Pine Mill might be used, I am afraid, falls to the ground. It has six floors and a number of other factors, which, despite our real desire to use it, makes it unsuitable for this particular purpose.

Mr. Oldfield

Is it not a fact that this is a very suitable place for quick storage?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am sorry but I have only got till 11.25. I must hurry over what I have yet to say. A new factor has now intervened. We have to release certain other plants in the Manchester area, in particular the Laurel Mill and the Shepley Lino Works and the Manchester Omnibus Company garage at Withenshaw, and so we shall be in a position to give productive work now being done in these factories to Openshaw. So there will be productive employment for a period throughout the whole tenure of the war against Japan. It will not in any way interfere with the long term use of this plant, and the Board of Trade are actively in touch with firms who are interested so that there will be permanent civil employment there when this temporary production work is over.

No promise can be given, but I think it possible that A. V. Roe may be able to give employment for 1,000 men at Open- shaw, which approximates to the number employed at the peak period of previous production in, the West shop, for the remainder of stage two, and afterwards nothing will be done to jeopardise the eventual use of this factory, which can and must be used for permanent civil work. We should, I think, be glad to have this productive work for a while, without the eventual use being in any way prejudiced.

It being half an hour after the conclusion of Business exempted from the provisions of the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), Mr. Deputy-Speaker adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order, as modified for this Session by the Order of the House of 30th November.

Adjourned at Twenty Minutes past Eleven o'Clock