HC Deb 07 December 1954 vol 535 cc919-28

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kaberry.]

10.11 p.m.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

Last October, Messrs. Ford announced a £65 million five-year development plan of expansion in Essex, and I should like tonight to ask the Board of Trade what action it is proposing to take to try to deal with the various difficulties which seem likely to arise should that plan be carried out.

Under that plan, according to the Press statement, there would be four million extra square feet of factory space, mainly in Essex, and about 9,000 or 10,000 extra workers are to be employed. The various schemes which are to be carried out include taking over, at Woolwich Arsenal, factory space which would be about 180,000 square feet in extent, building a factory in Aveley of about 400,000 square feet, another near Basildon of about 250,000 square feet, and small extensions to works at Leamington. Over three million square feet of new factory space would appear to be contemplated at Dagenham or adjoining in Hornchurch, to employ at least 5,000 workers, or possibly 7,000 or more extra persons.

This scheme has aroused a great deal of disquiet in Dagenham. First, the Borough Council unanimously expressed its disquiet; both the Labour majority and the Conservative opposition joined together in doing so. The Trades Council expressed its fears, and all the various important trade union branches to which Ford's workers belong have also expressed their opposition. Representations have been made to me, the Mem- ber of Parliament for the area, by many prominent local people.

This is a very remarkable departure from the past attitude. It is rare that people in a locality should come forward to protest at the possibility of extra work being provided there, and certainly nothing of that kind happened between the wars. In many parts of the country today, new factories would certainly be welcome and the possibility of employment which they might bring, but it is widely felt in Dagenham at the present time that, under existing conditions, it is highly undesirable that this expansion should take place.

Dagenham is the centre of the South Essex industrial area, and 60,000 people are employed, half of them living there and the other half coming in from round about, from towns like Hornchurch, Romford, Barking, and Ilford. Some come from long distances; 10 per cent. come from 10 miles or more away from Dagenham. More than half of the industrial labour force in Dagenham is already working at the various Ford works; 31,000 are employed at Ford's, Briggs, and Kelseyhayes. Forty-eight per cent. of them live in Dagenham, and the rest come in from outside.

At present, most of the work in this industrial area is for adult males. There is very little work there for women and juveniles. Only 21 per cent. of those employed are women. There is an enormous influx of labour into the town, but it is accompanied by an equally enormous exodus of labour from the town. Some men work at the docks, others work in the City, and many women and juveniles travel in large numbers to East End factories. Dagenham at present is a thriving town. Never has unemployment there been so low as at present.

If there is to be this large extra labour force coming to the town, where are those people to live? That is the first problem which the local authority has to face. There is certainly no housing available for these extra workers. At present, there is only room for 1,200 houses to be built in the borough, and nearly 5,000 people are on the local housing list. Three thousand families on the list were recently told by the borough council that they would be well advised to look elsewhere for a house.

Of the existing houses, two-thirds belong to the London County Council, and when any vacancies occur they go to Londoners, and not to local people. The result is a tremendous feeling of frustration. Young men and women born and brought up in the area have little or no chance of making a home there. Naturally, they feel extraordinarily outraged when suddenly it is announced that a large extra labour force is to be brought into the area, for that would have the effect of worsening still further the very bad housing conditions that at present exist.

The surrounding boroughs also have very similar housing problems. Houses for these extra workers would have to be found seven or 10 miles away. Transport facilities are far from good in the area, and, during the rush hours, travelling conditions both into Dagenham and to and from the City are really quite unbelievable.

Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)

I hope that when my hon. Friend refers to the surrounding boroughs he excepts the Borough of Woolwich, where we very much welcome the arrival of Ford's, especially in view of the reorganisation of the Arsenal.

Mr. Parker

I fully agree with my hon. Friend, and I hope to come to that matter later.

As far as the north side of the Thames is concerned, it would be quite impracticable to house workers some way away and then try to bring them into the area by public transport, or even in their own cars without completely upsetting all the existing travelling arrangements.

I think it is highly undesirable that other firms in the area should be forced out of the district because they cannot get the necessary labour. That is already happening, and it means that we are steadily moving towards the position, in which one firm becomes more and more dominant locally. That is a thoroughly unhealthy position.

We have to face the fact that a trade recession may come in the future. At the present time, the younger generation, owing to the fact that there has been no unemployment since the war, do not think this a very important matter. It is, however, a very serious danger in an economy such as ours, which depends to such a large extent on foreign trade. It is particularly important in an area like Dagenham, where a large part of the production is for export.

I think it would be generally agreed on both sides of the House that it is the Government's job to do their best to try to stimulate employment. Of course, there are bound to be differences between both sides as to what the Government should do if bad times should come. However much any Government, of whatever political complexion, might try to neutralise the effect on our markets of a recession overseas, I do not think that they would succeed in overcoming altogether the bad effects on a town like Dagenham.

The motor car industry, in particular, is especially open to the influences of depression in other parts of the world. The experience of America and ourselves between the wars showed the enormous rise and fall in output in this industry resulting from world conditions. If bad trade came again we could not expect that Dagenham would not suffer.

We are fully in favour of expanding our export markets, and of the Ford Company doing its best to get a bigger volume of exports. We wish, however, that the risks should be spread. Woolwich and other nearby places should take their share of the risks. We in Dagenham feel that we have our full share already.

I should like to make one slight reference to the only voice in the area which is in favour of the Ford scheme. The voice is that of the "Romford Times." It dismisses all danger from a slump on the ground that this is "an argument from the economic text books." It does seem that only a cub reporter who had no knowledge of the problems of unemployment between the wars, or of our present serious dangers, could utter such words of wisdom.

What do we desire in Dagenham? We welcome the idea of a five-year plan of this magnitude, and we welcome the attempt to capture export markets, but we believe that such plans must be related to local conditions, and should take account of local difficulties.

We are all in favour of rebuilding existing plants, if necessary. The foundry at Dagenham certainly needs rebuilding. Working conditions there are very bad, and there is an enormous turnover of labour. We are, of course, in favour of better working conditions throughout the works, and any reconstruction to bring that about, and to make for larger output, would be welcome.

But we do want to insist that, in any reconstruction, the labour force should remain stable and should not be increased. We are in favour of the suggested new extensions at Woolwich, Aveley and Basildon. They would draw on new labour supplies; it would be possible for Dagenham workers, who could be replaced by local men as they grow up, to get houses there. But we would like rather larger schemes in these places than those suggested by Ford's.

A great advantage of Dagenham as a site for Ford's is that it is a deep water port into which raw materials can be brought, and finished products exported direct down the Thames. If we are not to extend greatly the Dagenham factory, I suggest that another site might be found on the Thames, say at Purfleet, or Grays, where there is also deep water, and where labour supplies from Aveley could easily be tapped. I should like to stress the point that, before decisions are taken all these problems should be discussed thoroughly. I should like the Board of Trade to take the initiative in that regard.

If we are to have useful discussions quite a different attitude must be adopted by Ford's. Dagenham is not an American company town, and there is strong local resentment at it being treated as such. The company should realise that it would get on much better with the people of Dagenham if it was felt to be following the British way of life in its behaviour. Last week, after the local council asked for a meeting, Ford's issued the following statement: Our plans were not undertaken without full consideration of these local difficulties, and indeed are designed so far as is within our power to relieve them. Towards the end of that statement the company says: There seemed therefore, no special reason to approach Dagenham Council. We shall, of course, be pleased to discuss our plans in detail with our friends on the Council. It is extraordinary for such a concern not to consult the local authorities in such a matter. If planning is to be successful it must be democratic. It cannot be a "dictat" issued by a big firm.

I should like to make a point about rating. Much as Ford's may contribute to national taxation, it is a fact that these various schemes would lead to a big increase in the local rates, which pay for education and all the other services. Under derating, Ford's would make a very small contribution to the cost of these services. Ford's have now stated that they mainly are building and expanding outside the Dagenham area. That statement seems to contradict their earlier statement. They went on to say that although the overall number of employees could increase substantially in the years ahead, they envisaged only a moderate trend in Dagenham which would arise from year to year. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean that they are not going to expand as they said earlier, or does it mean that they are going to have an increase of about 1,000 a year and call that a moderate trend? If discussions are to be successful, Ford's must place all the facts on the table; there must be no browbeating, and no soft soap.

I well understand that the Board of Trade is interested in the export trade, and wishes to see Ford's expand in overseas markets. Ford's have said that it is not economical to have factories scattered all over the place. All costs are cut by producing at one location. That is probably true from "the economic text book point of view," but other considerations must be borne in mind. We have to consider the community point of view as well as the point of view of the firm. May it not be more costly if we put all the plants together, and then provide for extra transport and other services than it would be if the plants were scattered about?

Then, again, there is the welfare of the workers to consider. If they have to travel long distances, they will be far less efficient than they will be if they live near their work. Present labour relations in Ford's are far from satisfactory. There are continual disputes, and If we are now to have a big expansion in employment, and the people have to travel long distances, it does not look as if labour relations will be better in the future.

I understand that new factories or extensions have to get Industrial Development Certificates from the Board of Trade. Before such certificates are issued, account is taken of local housing and labour conditions, both present and future. Has the Board of Trade given Industrial Development Certificates for all or any of these schemes? I understand that the Essex County Council, which is a planning authority, has so far received only one scheme, and that for a foundry just across the Hornchurch border. If and when the Board of Trade gives Industrial Development Certificates, then the Essex County Council can decide whether it should give permission for these schemes to go ahead. If it refuses, there will have to be a public inquiry, and the matter will have to be thoroughly investigated.

We do not want to go through all these different procedures. It would be much better if the Ministry would now take the initiative, and get the Essex County Council, the Dagenham, Hornchurch and other interested authorities together with Ford's to thrash out a workable scheme, advantageous to all. I am certain that the firm would then gain very much from the good will which will result from carrying out an agreed scheme. I hope that the Government will take a lead in this matter.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) has said, part of this scheme is to be carried out in my own constituency, and, therefore, the House will perhaps excuse me if I speak in support of what my hon. Friend has said.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that there should be a meeting of the local authorities. I do not want to make a party point here, but in Horn-church we have been severely limited in our housing. We have been prohibited from building as many council houses as we would wish. If, at the same time, we are expected to house the people who are brought in for a new foundry, obviously a new situation will arise.

One of the biggest capital expenditures we have to face is that on sewerage, and one of our particular problems is the drainage against flooding of an area, where the foundry is to be situated. All these may or may not be major problems, and all I want to urge now is that we should reach an arrangement so that there should be an amicable discussion between the council where the foundry is to be built, the council from whose area the people are coming — Dagenham — the Essex County Council and the Ministry, so that we can solve all these problems.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that at least he will consult the Hornchurch Council, in whose area the foundry is to be placed, as to what will be the social consequences of this action.

10.31 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Henry Strauss)

I can say at the outset that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) have raised an important and difficult subject. I would say at once that on this point I agree with them; any large extension of industry within the Greater London area clearly raises many problems such as those which have been described and which are also in the mind of the local authority.

May I clear up one small point? It falls to the Board of Trade to decide whether it is proper to issue what is known as an Industrial Development Certificate, but if that certificate is granted, the Board does not decide the subsequent fate of any planning application which may be made. As both hon. Members realise, questions of physical planning and of housing do not fall within the Board of Trade's sphere of responsibility.

Having regard to what I have said, I will not differ much from what the bon. Members have said about the difficulties and the importance of the topics raised but I would remind the House—and this is important—that the distribution of industry is not an exact science, nor one which always lends itself to an ideal solution to a given problem. We have to satisfy many needs, none of which can safely be ignored. On the one side are such important questions as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Dagenham—the proper size of towns, means of transport and access, the desirability of diversification of employment, amenities and the rest. I agree that all those matters are important but we must not ignore, on the other side, another set of needs—the needs of industry to expand and prosper and, not least, to conduct a great export trade.

In the problem raised tonight we are dealing with a great industry already established at Dagenham—where it was warmly welcomed in the 1920s—which is now making a great contribution to our exports and which is seeking to increase its competitive efficiency by the most modern developments involving a vast capital expenditure.

The United Kingdom industry, of which Ford's form an important part, is the largest exporter of motor vehicles in the world. Exports of motor vehicles and parts in the first 10 months of this year were valued at £190 million, compared with £177 million in the same period of 1953. Our motor vehicle industry is determined to meet the increasing competition not only of North America, but of the Continent. It is impossible to keep a great industry in a strait-jacket, or to ignore its existing location, as I believe both hon. Members will agree. I am sure the House should never make the mistake of assuming that we can drive an industry to another area merely by refusing it permission to expand where it wishes to expand. An industry which has proved itself efficient is not the worst judge of the conditions of success.

If the House agrees with me so far, I think we can probably agree that what is clearly desirable in cases such as this is that there should be the maximum co-operation and the earliest consultation between the Government and industry. The House may like to know that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has seen the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman of the Ford Company and discussed matters with them. The company knows and recognises the importance of putting as much of its expansion as is economically practicable outside Dagenham.

I think that the hon. Member for Dagenham, who wrote a thoughtful letter to my right hon. Friend on this subject some time ago, recognises that the Ford Company has taken some steps in that direction. Three examples have been mentioned tonight, the new developments at Basildon New Town and at Aveley in Essex, and the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) intervened, rightly I thought, to point out that Ford's were taking over some existing buildings on the other side of the river to help to relieve that same problem.

We certainly recognise the importance of the matters which the hon. Members have raised, and we shall bear them in mind, but I ask them and the House to remember the equally exigent requirements of competitive industry on which our livelihood and future depend.

Mr. Bing

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has mentioned Dagenham and Woolwich, but has not seen fit to mention Hornchurch, where the foundry is to be situated. Would he add to the exhortations to the Ford Company the suggestion that it should at least confer with the Hornchurch Council about the situation which will be created?

Mr. Strauss

If I did not deal so fully with Hornchurch it was 'because that was not mentioned as the subject of this Adjournment debate. I ought, however, to say to the hon. and learned Member straight away that the Board of Trade's task is solely to consider the question of whether a particular development is consistent with the proper distribution of industry. Further questions of housing, and so on, are more for the planning authorities, probably the county council in the first instance and, ultimately, for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-one Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.