HC Deb 18 July 1955 vol 544 cc2-5
3. Mr. Edelman

asked the Minister of Supply what action he is taking to maintain the production of aircraft at Armstrong-Whitworth, Coventry, and to avoid the dispersal of the highly skilled engineers at present employed by that firm in connection with contracts issued by him.

6. Mr. Moss

asked the Minister of Supply whether he is aware of the existence of redundancy at the Armstrong-Whitworth aircraft factory, Coventry, and that there is danger of a skilled labour force being broken up; and what steps he proposes to take to avoid this happening in connection with his contracts with this firm.

7 and 8. Mr. Bowles

asked the Minister of Supply (1) what steps he is taking to avoid redundancy of labour at Messrs. Sir W. G. Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft Company Limited, Coventry, in view of the termination of contracts for the Hunter aircraft;

(2) what he estimates the redundancy of labour will be at Messrs Sir W. G. Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft Company Limited, Coventry, at the end of September, December, 1955, and March, 1956, as a result of his cancellation of the contracts for the Hunter aircraft; and if he will place further contracts with this firm in order to prevent the permanent loss of this skilled labour which is essential to the rearmament programme.

9 and 10. Mr. J. Johnson

asked the Minister of Supply (1) whether he will place further short-term orders for aircraft with the Armstrong-Whitworth works in Coventry in view of the redundancy impending there;

(2) whether he will make a statement regarding the unemployment position at Messrs. Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft Works, Coventry, arising out of the termination of contracts upon the Sea Hawk and Hunter aeroplanes; and whether he will take steps to prevent the loss of this skilled labour from the aircaft industry.

Mr. Maudling

It has long been envisaged that the production of Hunters and Sea Hawks at Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft, Limited, under contract from the Ministry of Supply would come to an end by the spring of 1956 and that the firm, if unsuccessful in securing a project of its own design, would then turn over mainly to the manufacture of Javelins under contract from the Gloster Aircraft Company. For reasons which I have already explained to the House in answer to Questions on 11th July, the Javelin programme on Royal Air Force account has been rearranged; nor have export orders been forthcoming so far in the numbers hoped for.

I am informed by the Hawker Siddeley Group that they are making every effort by re-allocation of sub-contract work to minimise the redundancies that are arising. They are also seeking further export orders. The full extent of the redundancies will, of course, depend upon their success in these directions, but if no more work at all is obtained they may amount, by next April, to 3,300, out of the present labour force of about 8,000.

I am anxious to do anything within my power to assist in finding further work for Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft, but I should not be justified in either spending additional sums on military aircraft beyond the requirements of the Services or in transferring work within the existing programme with the result of causing equal, if not greater, redundancies elsewhere.

Mr. Edelman

Although the Minister seems to have washed his hands of the matter in his rather smug reply, is he not aware that the aircraft workers of Coventry feel deeply aggrieved by the fact that while the country is short of aircraft they are being made redundant? Will he not himself take responsibility for placing some temporary work with the Armstrong-Whitworth company at Coventry in the same way as was done by his Socialist predecessor in comparable circumstances shortly after the war?

Mr. Maudling

I have explained that I cannot order aircraft beyond the requirements of the Services. We are often pressed by hon. Members opposite to reduce expenditure on defence. It is not possible to reduce defence expenditure without reducing the amount of work in defence factories.

Mr. Bowles

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree with the principle that if the Government at any time get together a labour force of skilled persons and for some reason or other it is not needed for the purpose for which it was intended, there is a social obligation upon the Government to ensure that the workers are not dispersed?

Mr. Maudling

My responsibility as Minister of Supply is to order the aircraft which the Services require and to order in the best possible way. It does not extend beyond that.

Mr. Johnson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Midland newspapers are advertising in Coventry, Leamington, Rugby and Nuneaton for highly specialised workers similar to these men to go to such places as Gloucester? It does not make sense that Coventry men should be asked to leave their homes and buy new houses and take their youngsters from schools in the Midlands, and undertake all this expenditure for smaller wage packets than they were getting in Coventry.

Mr. Maudling

I am aware that the Gloster aircraft company is advertising for labour. I am glad to be able to make this point clear. It is advertising a few vacancies in order to maintain the balance of its present labour force and not to expand it.

4 and 5. Mr. Edelman

asked the Minister of Supply (1) how the cost, expressed per lb. of aircraft, of producing the Hunter aeroplane in Coventry compares with that of producing similar marks in Blackpool;

(2) how the product of the Armstrong-Whitworth Company in Coventry made for his Department compares with that of the comparable factories controlled by his Department in Blackpool.

Mr. Maudling

On a lb. for lb. basis the Hunters being produced at Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft, Limited, may be a little cheaper than those being produced at Blackpool. This is due almost entirely to the fact that the Blackpool factory is less fully loaded than the Armstrong-Whitworth factory at Coventry. Any transfer of work from Blackpool to Coventry would increase the cost of work left at Blackpool and would certainly not lead to any savings to public funds. The quality of the products from Blackpool and from Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft is equally satisfactory.

Mr. Edelman

If it is cheaper to produce a comparable aircraft in Coventry than in Blackpool—after all, Coventry is an engineering city while Blackpool is a seaside town—is it not senseless and illogical to make men redundant in Coventry and keep other men working in Blackpool?

Mr. Maudling

The Armstrong-Whitworth company is a very efficient production unit, but so is the Hawker factory at Blackpool. As I explained, to transfer work at the moment would create redundancies at Blackpool, help the Armstrong-Whitworth company for a short time only, and put a greater load on the public purse.

Mr. Moss

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House the percentage rates of scrap at Coventry and Blackpool?

Mr. Maudling

Not without notice.

Mr. Edelman

In view of the Minister's very unsatisfactory reply, I give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment at the first possible moment.