HC Deb 05 February 1952 vol 495 cc805-7
Mr. Maurice Edelman

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Supply whether his attention has been drawn to the dismissal notices issued to over 1,000 men now engaged in the motor industry in Coventry; and what urgent action will he take to ensure a continued supply of steel to this industry, in order to keep these men in employment.

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

Yes, Sir. I am aware of these releases of labour in Coventry, primarily from the Humber works.

There has been a certain amount of under-employment in some sections of the motor car industry for several months past, due to the nation-wide shortage of steel. In the case in question these difficulties have been brought to a head by the delay in the completion of the new cold rolling steel mills at Margam, upon which the firm had been relying for deliveries of wide sheet for motor bodies. Additional supplies of this type of steel could not for the time being be provided even if an increased allocation of steel were made.

I am informed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour that there are reasonable prospects of finding alternative employment for skilled and unskilled workers who become redundant in Coventry.

Mr. Edelman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these dismissals will mean a reduction of 25 per cent. in production in the motor industry; that this will put our export programme in jeopardy and mean the prolonged unemployment of highly-skilled men; and will he do what the late Government did and take urgent measures immediately for obtaining supplies of sheet steel both from public and private stocks?

Mr. Sandys

I thought that I had made it clear in my answer that the particular type of steel which is holding up production at the Humber works is not available. The immediate shortage which has caused this difficulty is due to the late coming into action of the new rolling mills at Margam; no amount of additional authorisations will provide that wide sheet which the Humber works need.

Miss Elaine Burton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is an experiment in mutual aid being made by the Coventry engineering firms, with a view to exchanging any surplus materials or tools within the licensing Regulations? Would he not agree that this is the first time any group in the country has tried such an experiment; and, furthermore, that any such effort on the part of one of our greatest engineering cities to avert redundancy merits the fullest support and flexibility of supplies which he is able to offer from his Ministry?

Mr. Sandys

The firm in question have, I am sure, examined the general prospects for their production in the period ahead. They have undoubtedly been holding on to labour for quite a long time and have accepted a certain amount of underemployment. They have now come to the conclusion that some workers have to be released—or dismissed, if hon. Members prefer that word. This would have occurred whether or not there had been a reduction in steel allocations. They assure me that even if they could count on a larger steel allocation in the next quarter, it would still be necessary for them to release labour on the scale now contemplated.

Mr. Frederick Lee

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister has just told the House that the rearmament programme will now be lengthened, which means that there is now not the same necessity to divert steel from the motor industry to the armament industry; and will he see that a programme which will obviate the necessity of throwing people on the scrap heap, if they cannot get work in the armament industry, is immediately announced by the Government?

Mr. Sandys

As I have explained, the shortage is of a particular type of steel. This is not a diversion of labour from this production to re-armament. It is part of the general policy; in so far as the hon. Member is referring to steel allocation, we are pursuing the policy of priorities which the Chancellor of the Exchequer outlined in his statement the other day, when he made it clear that in order to help exports there would have to be a reduction in the amount of steel which would be available for the home consumption of motor cars, and that the quota for home motor cars would have to be reduced. That is, no doubt, one of the factors which the firms in question have had to take into account in considering how much labour they should retain.

Mr. George Wigg

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that views are held throughout the Midlands that the redundancy in Coventry is part of a deliberate policy on the part of His Majesty's Government to create a pool of unemployment?

Mr. Sandys

That is quite untrue.