§ 1.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Anderson (Whitehaven)
I represent a constituency with part of a national park in it, and I am sure that my constituents will read very carefully what has been said with regard to rare birds. I want now to come to the question of unemployment in my area of the Whitehaven Parliamentary Division, which is generally known as the South Cumberland area. It comprises a part of the development area, and it also comprises some beautiful lakes, beautiful countryside and also the sea. The reason why I am calling attention to this matter today is because of the fact that the number of unemployed, in my particular area, has appeared to remain static for some considerable time. We should not however forget that the figure of unemployed today is nothing to what it was prior to 2266 the war. In some parts of my area we had 43 to 45 per cent. unemployed. Today the total is much below that figure, but the unemployed feel that they have not much to which to look forward, from their knowledge, as a present published, as to what the future has in store for them. If I take the unemployment figures, they may not seem to be a great number when compared with those of places like Liverpool and South Wales, but I venture to submit that the figures are, on a percentage basis, much higher than in some of those districts such as Liverpool and South Wales.
The latest figures which I have for 5th March, 1947, covering the three exchanges in my area, total about 1,600. Out of that number approximately 500 have been unemployed for six or more months. The unemployed in the area feel that whatever provisions might have been made they are not being made fast enough, or at least that those who have been unemployed for a considerable time have not been given a chance for employment which they ought to have had, and which they thought they would get as time went on. It is the view of the unemployed and of many others who are employed, that something more needs to be done. I propose to put a few questions to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to obtain information. In the first place, it is not because suggestions of a practical character have not been made to various Government Departments.
The unemployed cannot understand why there has been no reply to many of the suggestions which they have put up. In the first place, as far back as September, 1946, I spent several hours at White-haven with the regional officer of the Ministry of Labour from Newcastle. I also spent several hours with the chairman of the Advisory Committee for Substandard Men, and, at these two conferences many proposals were made, but I regret to say that, up to the moment, we have not known any result from them. What were the proposals? We made the suggestion that something should he done to clear the slag banks. I know it has been announced, in answer to a Ouestion, that it is intended that this should be done, but in one area only, so far as I am aware, work has not started on slag bank clearance in the Cleator Moor district. If 2267 it has, it must have been within the last 14 days.
Further, special proposals were made regarding the cultivation of the land. It was suggested that some of the slag banks and the areas around them could be usefully used for the production of food that would be suitable for use in our canning factories. There has been no reply to that suggestion. It was distinctly stated at that conference that the soil of West Cumberland was suitable for the growing of certain classes of foods which were suitable for handling by the canning factories in that area, and, prior to the war, some parts of that area were examined by well-known food producers from another country, and it was claimed that the land was most suitable for the production of food of this particular type. Nothing has been done in order to see how far this proposal might be put into operation. At the same conference, there were proposals put forward concerning the breaking down of munitions at ordnance factories at Bootle and Drigg. A strong plea was also made that, as there were a large number of men who went from Cleator Moor, Whitehaven and Millom to the ordnance factories at Bootle and Drigg, that breaking down should be stopped up for the absorption of the unemployed as a temporary expedient.
Another thing that causes consternation amongst the people in my area is the fact that it has been recently announced that the two ordnance factories, Bootle and Drigg, are to be handed over to the Board of Trade for the purpose of their use by private industries. In other words, it means that, sooner or later, these factories will be on the list for closing down. In addition to that, a proposal was made that a large number of acres of land at the Drigg ordnance factory should be cultivated. There is all that good land, which is producing nothing at all Why should it not be cultivated by some of the sub-standard men who are now signing on? This proposal has not been examined at all. It is a proposition for producing more food in that district.
I suggest that we are entitled to some reply indicating why the response to these proposals has not, at least, been communicated to me, since I acted as a member of a deputation to the Ministry of 2268 Labour on 27th September last year. Other suggestions were also made at the same time. There are quite a number of buildings at these two ordnance factories and, particularly at Drigg, most are suitable for occupation by light industries. We made proposals that, instead of timber being wasted from ammunition boxes, the labour and material could be put to much better use. A suggestion was put forward to the Ministry of Supply but, so far, there has been no response. We have also suggested that it might be possible, by proper arrangements, for a large volume of printing for Government Departments and for local education authorities, to be done in these establishments, if the printing machines were made available for use. It would help to relieve some of the overcrowding which at present exists, and some of the difficulties which we experience today in not being able to secure pensions forms and other forms which are badly needed but are in short supply. In my view, the unemployed have made sensible and practicable suggestions, to which no reply at all has been made.
There is another matter which has been under consideration for a considerable time. I refer to a well-known iron ore mine in Cleator Moor area, which, for the last 12 months, proposals have been under consideration for development on the application of the local authority, as well as the firm which is operating the mine. Representations have been made both to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour about the development of the mine, which involves the clearance of a large number of houses and business premises. This matter, I understand, is still under consideration, despite the fact that, nine or 10 months ago, the people in control of the mine stated that, unless something was done, they would have to close down, involving between 160 and 170 men in the loss of employment. We are still awaiting a definite decision with regard to that proposal and we feel that we are entitled to more consideration than we have received so far.
I know it is said that we are going to have Courtaulds coming into the area, but I was very much shocked to find, from a written reply which I received from the President of the Board of Trade, if my interpretation is correct, that the factory buildings cannot begin until the 2269 year 1949 or 1950 to ultimately employ 1,500 men. We have been told, I think quite rightly, that if only these jobs could be got going, the whole of our unemployed would be absorbed. Quite a number of public-spirited people are beginning to doubt how far the unemployed will be catered for and absorbed in my area. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to deal specifically with this matter of Courtaulds because it is causing very serious concern to the people in the district.
Various proposals have been put up with respect to roads. Demands were made many months ago for the by-passing of certain districts. Not only are these places a danger to the public, but the whole question is one of very serious moment to the unemployed. If those bypass projects could only be brought into operation, they would absorb quite a number of the unemployed and give them useful work, temporarily at least. There is also the question of opencast mining. My information is that a proposal was put up in 1946 in connection with 273,000 tons of coal which it is stated can be got from three sites between Workington and Whitehaven. That would find employment for a large number of men, but so far, while I have had a most respectful letter from the Minister, the Minister of Fuel and Power tells us quite distinctly that other areas require preference and precedence over the areas I have suggested to him.
There is a heavy pocket of unemployment, in my view. The number is static. We feel that something should be done on a big scale to remedy that position. I have appealed to various Government Departments. Probably the Parliamentary Secretary will recollect that when the question of roads was raised at one interview he said, "That is for the Ministry of Transport." Another instance I went to the Minister of Supply and said, "What about bringing some other industries to these two factories at Drigg and Bootle?" He said, "We cannot do that. That has to be done by the Board of Trade." When we go to Government Departments, they say that the matter is responsibility of another Department.
The time has arrived when there should be some co-ordinating body between the different Government Departments, the local authorities, and other 2270 bodies such as the Cumberland Development Council, in order to see how far the various projected schemes can be put into operation. I have a very strong complaint to make that we do not seem to get any co-operation from any of the Departments. They all refer the matter to another Department if it does not happen particularly to come within their sphere.
I will give one illustration of something which happened just by accident when I attended a Government Department many months ago with regard to a firm at Distington. A very useful slip was made quite accidentally. The matter raised concerned certain classes of work which were really required to be done. The Department's reply was: "What can you do about it?" I said, "What have you done about it?" They said, "All we possibly can." As a result of that slip today nearly 200 additional men are employed at that factory on the breaking down of engines for the recovery of certain classes of metals, etc. That has all been to the good of the area. Why should not that Department have had a co-ordinating body so that this could have been done without the help of individual companies or individual Members of Parliament? There is a real case to be made out for the co-ordination and co-operation of the various Departments.
My area has the biggest percentages in the development area of sub-standard men, and work is being provided for only 43 or 44 of these men in the near future. What will happen to the other men who are left? I have taken long enough. I could have said a great deal more but I recognise that we were late in starting. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to take into account these requests. Will he use his good offices to try to link up the various Government Departments so that they shall create a machine for the purpose of co-ordinating the work that requires to be done in the West Cumberland area? If that can be done, the projects that are waiting to be completed by local authorities, private enterprise and others will absorb a large part of the unemployed. I also hope that we shall be told something about the future prospects for my area. Will these men have to wait another two or three years before useful employment can be found for them, or is there likely to be useful employment for them in the immediate future?
§ 2.19 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Belcher)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the brevity and clarity of his introduction to this Debate. I am also very grateful that he took the opportunity to point out that while there is a serious unemployment problem in West Cumberland, it is very much better than it was in the inter-war years. I would claim that in very large measure that is due to the activities of Government Departments, including my own, in providing work for those unfortunate men and women who, at the present moment are unemployed. He referred to the conversation he had with the regional controller of the Board of Trade and with a representative of the Minister of Labour—
§ Mr. Belcher
Well, he referred to the suggestion which he put forward at that conference and, in particular, to the suggested clearance of the slag banks with a view both to improving the countryside and giving employment to the men who would be employed on that work. He suggested that nothing had been done about this. If I may occupy the time of the House for a few moments, I will say what has been done and what is being done. At Workington there is a site of 14.3 acres at the old West Cumberland Iron Works which has been completely cleared for industrial development. An average of 12 men were employed on this clearance while the work lasted.
§ Mr. Belcher
I know, it is adjacent. One of the difficulties about this clearance work is that it does not afford the amount of employment which we would like to see afforded to the men in the area. Nevertheless, the employment of a dozen men is better than the employment of none at all. When we come to White-haven, on the Newhouses site, clearance has been applied for a 20,000 sq. foot factory for a firm which is to manufacture perambulators.
§ Mr. Belcher
It is clearance of a derelict site, and to me it does not matter 2272 whether it is a slag bank or any other kind of derelict site provided it can be made useful and give employment to men by its clearance.
§ Mr. Belcher
Work is going on on an adjacent piece of land for a 10,000 feet extension of the factory, and there are 30 men employed on that work. Then there is the Brows site which is to be acquired as an open space. We are in touch with the Ministry of Health upon the question of the local authorities' powers, and as soon as we have completed our discussions with that Ministry we shall approach the Treasury for the appropriate grant.
§ Mr. Anderson
Is my hon. Friend aware that I was told those very discussions were going on in July, 1946, and will he explain why it is taking so long for accomplishment?
§ Mr. Belcher
The answer to the first part of the question is that I do not know whether or not my hon. Friend was told anything at all last July, but I am told that the discussions are going on. If there has been undue delay, I shall be glad to look into it and see that it is expedited. We are also having discussions with the Treasury with regard to a site at Cleator Moor.
§ Mr. Belcher
I was talking about a site at Whitehaven; this is a different site and we are in touch with the Treasury about this. It is a site of 37 acres and we propose to clear 17 of them for industry. Two factories will be built there, one for a firm who are operating under difficulties in that district, and one for the Disabled Persons Corporation who will employ silicotics. We shall clear the area by direct labour and we hope to employ about 100 men on that job, as soon as we have the Treasury's permission to go ahead.
§ Mr. Anderson
May I interrupt again? I am sure my hon. Friend has not been properly briefed, and I asked him particularly to be specific as to when these things are to happen. May I tell him frankly that these matters have been going on now for nearly 12 months, and that at a special conference at White-haven of organised people in June or July last year, we were told that that 2273 was being done? Surely it does not take nine or 12 months just to get the sanction for a site? This is what the men are complaining about.
§ Mr. Belcher
I am afraid my hon. Friend really does not understand the processes which have to be gone through, neither does he appreciate the shortage of the kind of skilled people who are necessary to survey these areas and to draw up plans for the work which has to be done. There have to be consultations with the local authorities, and there is the question of the acquisition of the site.
§ Mr. Belcher
And when that has been done, the machinery has to be acquired which is to be used after having secured Treasury sanction to spend the money. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no deliberate delay in any of these matters. Delay there may be, but it is not deliberate. It is always my boast, when such things are brought to my notice, that I expedite them to the best of my ability, and I can assure him that if any complaint of delay is brought to my notice, I go into it immediately and do whatever I can to speed up the process of giving employment to the people in his constituency and in any other constituency where there is an unemployment problem.
§ Mr. Belcher
And there are many of them, some where the unemployment problem is much more serious than it is in the Whitehaven district.
My hon. Friend mentioned the question of agriculture. I am quite prepared to speak to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, and to urge upon him the possibility of agricultural developments in this area, although I do not think from my knowledge of it that there is a great likelihood of considerable development there. There has been, however, considerable progress towards the development of forest roads, about which I will give him some information, under the scheme for forest road construction, following further discussions with the Forestry Commission. I am sorry discussions have to be entered into, but there is no alternative. It is not possible for 2274 one Government Department to go barging about on another Government Department's territory without first having talked to them, had their confidence, and drawn up an agreed scheme which will be economical and meet the needs. Advance notice was given on 19th March. The road engineer has already started with 100 men for Ennerdale, and arrangements have been made for a further 100 to start by the 10th April. A further 125 will be required by 1st June and these men will come from the Cleator Moor and Egremont offices. The first is in my hon. Friend's constituency, but the second is not.
§ Mr. Belcher
If my hon. Friend would not keep interrupting me, he would learn that I am telling him precisely what he is asking. On 10th April there will be 50 men from Thornthwaite and a further 50 on 17th April. A further 250 will be required by 1st June. These men will he drawn from the Maryport, Workington and Cockermouth offices. Further vacancies have now been found for 20 men for Ennerdale Forest. The forestry roads are in connection with those forests, and the figures of men to be employed on forest work are apart from those who will be employed on the forest road work.
§ Mr. Belcher
They are roads primarily intended to give access to woodlands in the forests, so far as I know, but this is not my Department. There is no intention, as far as I know, of making private roads and excluding the public from them, although I imagine they will not be capable of carrying large quantities of ordinary traffic. Also, I think there will be no likelihood of ordinary traffic wanting to use those roads which are for facilitating forestry development.
My hon. Friend then asked me some questions about the two Ministry of Supply Royal Ordnance factories at Drigg and Bootle. I well understand the desire of the people in this district to know precisely what will happen there. The first, the Royal Ordnance factory at Drigg, was built during the war for the making of explosives, and during the greater part of 2275 the war it was used by Vickers Armstrong for the purpose of filling ammunition. They ran it as an agency factory—
§ Mr. Belcher
I am sorry, but that happens to be the case. Whatever my hon. Friend may think, what I am telling him are the facts—I am sorry, I should have said the Bootle factory was run by Vickers Armstrong as an agency factory during the war for filling ammunition.
§ Mr. Belcher
Both of the factories are now being run under joint management from Drigg on the breaking down of ammunition. In Drigg, in addition, there are two sulphuric acid plants manufacturing sulphuric acid to the requirements of the Raw Material Department. Neither of these two factories is intended to be a permanent Royal Ordnance factory. They would have been declared surplus some time ago, but for the fact that the neighbouring Royal Ordnance factory at Sellafield had previously been declared surplus, and the Ministry of Supply accepted the obligation to keep a reasonable level of work at Drigg and Bootle, until such time as it seemed right to consider an alternative use. On 24th February this year, the Ministry of Supply declared both these factories surplus. The Ministry declared that to the Board of Trade, which has the task of disposing of the factories, and, in accordance with the customary procedure, the position was notified on 5th March to the trade union side of the Ministry of Supply joint industrial council.
There seems to have been some misunderstanding, in which, possibly, my hon. Friend shares, about the meaning of the notification. Both these factories have been used for explosives, which means that before they can be put to alternative use, they have to be decontaminated. I am informed that that process will take at least nine months. We were informed by the Ministry of Supply that the two factories would be made available for alternative use on a date nine months from the request by the Board of Trade that they should be made so available and 1st January, next year, was stated as the first possible date on which such clearance could be made. Unfortunately, it is too 2276 late to achieve that date. In effect, therefore, the notice from the Board of Trade amounts to this, that nine months after we have requested the factories for alternative use, we can make them available.
In the meantime, the existing work at the two factories will be kept going at about its present level, and sulphuric acid manufacture can continue throughout the decontamination period. There are a total of 834 people employed, 455 at Drigg, and 379 at Bootle. I am sorry that it has not been possible to decide the future of these two factories at an earlier date, but all kinds of considerations have -entered into the problem. A variety of alternative uses has been under consideration by Government Departments, and it is only now that we have reached the stage I have outlined.
The hon. Member made reference to the iron ore mine, and to the delay by the Government Departments concerned in making up their minds as to what was to be the future of that mine. He himself said that the extension of the mine involves the movement of houses and business premises. Surely, he would not suggest, and no hon. Member would suggest, that the shifting of houses and business premises at the present time is lightly to be undertaken. It requires consideration, and, unless there is an urgent need for this raw material, which I imagine does not exist at the present time—
§ Mr. Belcher
I do not think it does, not of iron ore. I do not think that it would be right for the Ministry of Fuel and Power, or any other Ministry involved, lightly to demolish houses or business premises.
My hon. Friend asked some questions about road development, and the delay in commencing road schemes in the region. He knows that the Ministry of Labour have made repeated representations both to the Ministry of Transport and the road engineer on the necessity to expedite schemes in order to absorb temporarily unemployed labour. They have also been in touch with the county surveyor, and have advised him of the labour available. He is the Ministry of Labour's regional representative with whom my hon. Friend had conferences. He was also 2277 told that preparatory work was being carried out for several road and clearance schemes. There are a number of difficulties. The Ministry of Transport have a very extensive scheme of road building all over the country and here, as in many other things, the difficulty is not so much the physical labour required to make the roads, as the technical staff without whose services it is impossible to contemplate schemes of this kind.
My hon. Friend referred to what is possibly the most important point in the whole of this discussion, and that is Courtauld's factory at Sellafield, and suggested there was an undue delay in getting on with the job. As long ago as last July, site clearance was started, and 35 per cent. of the site of 325 acres has been cleared. My hon. Friend will be as aware as I am that it has not been possible to do much site clearing during the major part of this year, as the weather has made it physically impossible, but the work will go on. A building licence has been applied for, and I am quite sure it will be received in good time for the building work to commence once the site has been cleared. I am as anxious as anyone to see the factory erected. It is to he occupied by a great firm which will give sure employment and produce the kind of goods our people need. My hon. Friend can rest assured that in the Board of Trade there is every desire to go ahead as rapidly as possible with this building scheme to afford employment, and to provide our people with the goods they require.
I wish to draw attention to what in fact has been a very considerable job of work which, in my opinion, has been very well done. Before the war, West Cumberland probably experienced more severe unemployment than any other area of the country over a long period. Between 1934 and 1938 there was an average unemployment figure of 33 per cent., and in 1935, out of the total insured population of 21,000, something like 12,000 were registered as unemployed, more than 50 per cent. Even in 1938, which over the whole country was a year of comparatively good trade, there was still 8,000 unemployed in that area. All the main industries were depressed, and all were men employing industries, coalmining, steel, iron ore. Out of the 12,000 unemployed in 1935, only 500 were women. As the hon. Mem- 2278 ber knows, that is one of our present difficulties in dealing with the industrial rehabilitation of this area, that there has been in the past such a little demand for female labour, and that at present there is a much greater demand for female labour than we can probably satisfy.
Against those very depressing figures of the prewar years, in 1946 there were only 3,000 unemployed. That is high, very much higher than the national average—it is 8.5 per cent.—and far too high. The male unemployment has gone up from 1,500 in January, to 2,300 in August. In January, 1947, there were still 2,285 men and 700 women unemployed. An attempt was made to deal with this before the war began. The West Cumberland Industrial Company was set up, and, prior to the outbreak of war, they had built or converted II factories employing 750 people. By the end of 1942 there were 16 factories amounting to 400,000 square feet in production giving employment to 1,700, and providing a very useful measure of diversification of industry. The wartime building, of course, included the two Royal Ordnance factories in the hon. Member's employment exchange area.
We have been talking about the factory which has been allocated to Courtauld's. That factory may well eventually employ, when in full production, 1,500 men and 500 women, and must be regarded as the outstanding development of the lot. When we are talking about short-term projects, we must bear in mind that it would be fatal to plan the building of such a factory as this to employ 2,000 people, three-quarters of whom would be men, if we were at the present time to lose our heads and over-plan against the number of men and women who are likely to be available. I maintain that, although it is not very nice to have a pool of unemployed people at the present time, it would be very wrong to suck away those unemployed into smaller less valuable industries and to find, when we have built this great factory for Courtauld's, that we have not the labour in the district to put into the factory.
I would like to go on speaking much longer, and to give detailed figures about the developments that have taken place, but it would be wrong of me to do so. I think my hon. Friend knows that I am 2279 as interested as he is in securing the development of industry in his area. I am as interested as he is in that, because I do not want human beings in the West Cumberland Development Area, in Whitehaven, or in any other Development Area, to have to face the kind of thing which existed between the two wars. It is the duty of the Government by all means in their power to expedite the clearance of sites, road development, the construction of buildings, and the provision of work in the shortest possible time. We are doing these things sometimes in the face of almost insuperable difficulties, and the difficulties have been added to during the last two or three months by the fuel crisis, by the weather, by the disruption of transport, and so on; but I assure the hon. Member and the House that we will do our utmost until we have broken the back of this dreadful unemployment problem. I am convinced that the measures we have been taking are the right measures and the only measures.
§ Mr. F. Anderson
Will my hon. Friend say something about the short-term projects? Am I to understand, from what he has said with regard to Courtauld's factory, that it is more or less a question of the sterilisation, or the freezing, of men in preparation for this factory coming into the district? Will he tell us what are the plans to cover the short-term position so that these men may be usefully employed in the meantime?
§ Mr. Belcher
It was out of deference to the House, and to hon. Members who wish to raise other matters on the Adjournment, that I did not give more details than I have done. I think that my hon. Friend knows what the short-term programme is.
§ Mr. Belcher
I will give details of the building programme in my hon. Friend's area. There is a factory at Hensingham engaged in the manufacture of toilet preparations which will employ 300 people. That factory is finished. The people are in it to some extent, but not the maximum number. There are, at the present time, 89 adults and 49 juveniles, but eventually there will be 300. That development is calculated to mop up some of the unemployment that exists at the present time. 2280 There is a factory nearing completion at Hensingham for the production of artificial silk piece goods which will employ 150 people. There is a factory at White-haven for the manufacture of perambulators that will employ eventually 350 people, which is at the steelwork erection stage. There is a factory in Hensingham for the production of artificial silk goods which will employ 175 people, where foundation work is in progress. There is a factory to be erected at Whitehaven for the manufacture of ties, which will eventually employ 50 people. Approval has been given for this, but it has not yet been commenced.
There is an extension to a factory at Whitehaven for the production of vegetable oils and a range of assorted commodities which will eventually employ a further 300 people, and, again, it has been approved, but work on it has not yet started. We cannot start work on all these things at the same time. There is under consideration another factory at Whitehaven for the production of paper bags, which would employ 135 people. In addition, there are the road schemes which I have mentioned, and which will employ a considerable number of people, and the plans for the clearance of slag banks, and other unsightly things. With regard to my hon. Friend's question about whether we are freezing labour for Courtauld's factory, the answer is that we are not doing anything of the kind. I have given examples of the provision of work now, but I say again that it would he wrong to over-plan. It is as bad to over-plan as it is to under-plan. If we were to over-plan the industrial development of an area and to build factories for which there would be no labour when the factories had been completed, that would be the reverse of sound government, and we do not propose to do it.