HC Deb 28 July 1955 vol 544 cc1355-74

12.9 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)

I welcome the opportunity of raising, once again, the very disturbing question of redundancy in the aircraft industry and, in particular, at the Armstrong Whitworth factory at Coventry. Before I deal with the Armstrong Whitworth problem, I should like to make some general reference to the aircraft industry.

No one could doubt that the aircraft industry is sick. In reply to a Question which I put to the Minister of Supply— whom I am sorry not to see present today in spite of the notice I gave—on 12th July, he confirmed that during the three years from April, 1952, to March, 1955, nearly £500 million of public money had been paid out for aircraft. I am not sure whether the figure he gave referred solely to the production of aircraft, or whether it included capital investment in aircraft factories, but perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with that point.

In any case, the sum is a vast one and the fact remains that, despite this massive expenditure, the front-line aircraft which we require simply are not there. The nation has not had value for money and I believe that if the full story of the air- craft industry were told it would make the groundnuts story seem like chicken- feed. What we really need is a Select Committee to go into the question of the vast expenditure of public funds for aircraft which have not been developed. That is a matter of great anxiety to the nation as well as to my constituents in Coventry.

If this expenditure had resulted in the creation of a thriving industry, with the production lines steadily moving to build up a strong aircraft reserve, no one could complain unduly, but the record of production of the industry is notoriously bad, and I want to quote again some of the figures which the Minister himself mentioned only last week. In the last three years, four marks of Meteor, two of Venom, and one each of Baliol, Vampire, Canberra, Varsity, Dragonfly and Firefly were discontinued. The value of orders for these aircraft which have been cancelled is about £70 million. In addition, the Swift contract ceased, the order for the Mark 4 was reduced, and the order for the Mark 6 was cancelled before any were delivered.

I refer to these matters not to denigrate the British aircraft industry but merely to emphasise how for a number of years it has been living to a great extent, and with a few notable exceptions, on the deserved prestige which it accumulated during the war. With the exceptions I have mentioned, the aircraft industry today is one of prototypes and promises. As far as production is concerned, we have had very little. If one goes to any of the major aircraft factories in this country one will see full car parks and empty hangars. That, unhappily, is the story of the industry today.

Now I want to turn from these general considerations to the particular matter of redundancy at Armstrong Whitworth. The Minister cannot say that he has not had due notice of this problem, because I went to see him last May and I warned him of the redundancy that was impending at Armstrong Whitworth. I told the Minister then that, unless he took action promptly to provide interim work at that factory in Coventry, there would be steady and progressive redundancy. The Minister accepted the point I made but, unhappily, again he did nothing about it and now we find that the prospect is that, by next April, 3,300 of the 8,000 workers at Armstrong Whitworth will be made redundant. As we know that Ministerial anticipations in these cases are liable to err on the side of conservatism, the figure may well be higher even than 3,300.

When I emphasised to the Minister that we in Coventry were greatly exercised by the problem, he said, in effect, "Do not worry. Coventry is a city of high employment and there is no reason to believe that the redundant men in the Armstrong Whitworth factory will not be rapidly absorbed into the motor industry in Coventry." To do him justice, the Minister could not have anticipated the announcement made by the Chancellor the day before yesterday. He could not have anticipated the intention of the Chancellor to slim down the motor industry. It may well be that when these redundant workers who are leaving the Armstrong Whitworth factory approach the gates of Rootes or of Standard Motors in Coventry to get jobs, they may find themselves met by a stream of redundant motor workers leaving the motor industry because of the action of the Chancellor in cutting down that industry's total volume of production.

This is a serious matter. We know in Coventry how, overnight, the economic situation can change. Coventry depends in a great measure on the motor vehicle and aircraft industries. If, on the one side, through Ministerial inertia and incompetence, the aircraft industry is reduced in the way we are seeing it reduced, while, at the same time, by a deliberate act of Governmental policy, the motor industry is cut down as well, we may well find that the redundancy will soon be translated into real unemployment. What is more, it will be structural unemployment, because there will be no alternative industries where the skill of these workers can be absorbed.

This brings me to the major objection to the policy of the Minister in this matter. I say quite simply that his policy is both wasteful and uneconomic. It is wasteful because, by tolerating mass redundancy at Armstrong Whitworth, one of the finest aircraft companies in the whole country, he is ensuring a consequent tremendous loss of traditional skill; by allowing the teams of skilled men to be dispersed in the way he is allowing it, the Minister is ensuring that an industry which has been laboriously built up over a number of years will lose its strength and vitality.

There is even more to it than that. I charge the Minister and the Government with engaging in a policy which is seriously uneconomic. Here I must say, in parenthesis, that I find it extraordinary that at the time when these tremendous sums are being poured into the aircraft industry, the Chancellor should suddenly bring down his axe on the small business man who is trying to get an overdraft from his bank manager. I submit to the Minister that one of the most uneconomic activities in the country today lies in the operation of the aircraft industry and in the way in which the Government have been sustaining it without stint with public funds at a time when we are not receiving the goods.

Let me illustrate this matter of uneconomic work. There are today two factories producing the Hunter, the factory at Coventry and another at Blackpool. The factory at Blackpool is only four years old. A great number of workers have been assembled there to produce aircraft in that traditional seaside town. The Minister, in reply to the Question I put to him the other day, answered rather cautiously and warily that it seemed likely that the costs of production in Blackpool were somewhat higher per lb. of aircraft than in Coventry. Despite his caution, I suggest to the Minister categorically that the costs of production in Blackpool are inevitably substantially higher than the costs of production in Coventry. The reason is obvious. In Blackpool, only about 12 per cent. of the labour force of men are skilled in an engineering sense, whereas in Coventry the figure is about 85 per cent.

When we take as a test of the efficiency of the factories the amount of wastage in production, which is always a good test of efficiency, the potential wastage of the Coventry factory ranges from 0.9 per cent. to 1.5 per cent. That figure is the lowest that could be found in any comparable aircraft factory in the country.

It is obvious that at Armstrong Whitworth, in Coventry, we have a factory of traditional skill which has been built up over many years and which only recently was congratulated on having completed on time its production of aircraft for our offshore commitments. Armstrong Whitworth, by its nature, by its traditions, by the number of years in which it has been in operation and by the way in which it has assembled the cream of our skilled men, must be the most economic factory.

The Minister said that so far as he could see the production line in Blackpool had to be kept going, and then asked whether we wanted people to be made redundant in Blackpool. The answer, of course, is certainly not. What I have said about Blackpool is in no sense prejudicial to the workers of Blackpool, because workers have a collective interest everywhere. But, surely, when we are concerned with the economic working of the aircraft industry, it is right that the Minister should seek to keep in full production a factory which has such a long history of aircraft production, and that in literally half destroying the labour force of that factory he is doing wrong and harm to the industry.

One point which the Minister has made is that, because Armstrong Whitworth is a private enterprise company, therefore he has no practical responsibility. His interest stops at that point and the firm must stand on its own legs. My reply to that is that it is most unjust to consider any firm in the aircraft industry as a genuinely private enterprise company. All these firms are sustained by public money, protected, and, indeed, cossetted by public money. In good times money flows into the industry, high dividends are paid, the share values appreciate; but now, in bad times, what do we see happening?

What happens is that without consideration at all—and I emphasise that—either for the dispersal of skill, or perhaps, what is more important, without any consideration for the human problem involved, nearly half of the workers in this great factory are progressively being made redundant. The Minister's inertia is creating alarm and anxiety in Coventry. It is not enough for him to say that the firm should go out and find export orders. It is not enough for him to say that it should go out and design new aircraft.

As the Minister knows, that cannot be done overnight. It is his responsibility, as it was his Socialist predecessor's responsibility in 1946–47, in precisely similar circumstances, when there was a threat of redundancy at the end of the war. The Socialist Minister then stepped in and ordered Apollo aircraft to be made at Armstrong Whitworth's, and so today, I suggest, it is the responsibility of the Minister to keep the factory in production by putting in civilian aircraft in order to tide the workers over during the present critical time.

As for the export industry, I still do not think that it is enough for the Minister to say, "Go out and get orders." When the motor industry was in like case, Sir Stafford Cripps took very urgent action, despite all the hostility of the motor manufacturers. When he urged them to go out and get export orders, he took the necessary physical action to direct production into the export industry.

I want to do all that I can, with my hon. Friends from the Midlands and from Coventry in particular, to protest against the shameful drift to unemployment—let us call it by its real name—which is now affecting the aircraft workers of Coventry. On behalf of my constituents—the workers who are most directly concerned in the matter—I ask the Minister not only to explain the disastrous disintegration which is now taking place, but to stop it before it gets worse, and, finally, to take effective action to provide some of the most skilled men in the country with the security which is their right and the opportunity to use their labour in the way that the nation requires.

12.25 p.m.

Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)

I should like to emphasise, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), that we did not desire that unemployment should be transferred from Coventry to Blackpool, and I should like also to make the point that when we went to see the Minister we were asked whether we would suggest an increase in orders for military aircraft, so that Coventry might be kept fully employed. We all said to the Minister that, naturally, the hon. Members representing Coventry were very glad of any easement in the international situation which does, shall I say, damage us in one way in that the production of military aircraft becomes less essential but that in Coventry we thought it was the duty of the Government to help by every means possible the development and expansion of civil aircraft to take its place.

I would say that particularly in the case of Coventry, because we have established there, as I think the Minister will admit, a labour force of highly skilled and specialised workers, which, we believe, cannot be equalled and certainly not excelled in any other part of the country. We believe that the country can ill afford to disband or to lose that specialised labour force. We believe that, as this labour force was assembled in Coventry to meet the special needs of the defence programme, the Government have some responsibility for it.

We felt very much, when we went to see the Minister of Supply, that he was ready to wash his hands of this situation, and to say, "There is not this need for these military aircraft any longer, and, as Minister of Supply, my job is to see that the Services receive the aircraft ordered, and, therefore, in effect, I can do nothing about it." The Minister said at that meeting that nothing that took place there was private, so I am not giving away any secrets. I should like to say that we were not impressed. I can definitely say that we were not satisfied with the attitude of the Minister.

The Minister knew that we were going to the meeting, because my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) had obtained this appointment for us, and he must have known the sort of points which we would raise. I was amazed that when we asked him, in effect, why this had occurred in Coventry—we probed and probed—the Minister practically knew nothing at all about it.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. F. J. Erroll) indicated dissent.

Miss Burton

The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, but I shall pursue this matter, because we did ask him, first, whether the reason was, as he seemed to imply, that the production of similar aircraft was less efficient in Coventry than it was in Blackpool. Although I am speaking from memory, the impression I got was that the Minister believed that to be the case. He said that he had not got the facts, but he believed that to be the case.

Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)

Would it not be true that the Minister said that the company's view was that it was producing more efficiently in Blackpool? I think that is the verbatim of what he said.

Miss Burton

I gladly accept that.

The second point concerned the question of expense. The Minister said that it was his job to spend the country's money as economically as possible. We all agree. He then told us that if the work were transferred from Coventry to Blackpool, the country would lose money —it was not an economic proposition. When we asked him—because we then found out that exactly the same work was being done in Coventry as in Blackpool—what would be the relative cost between the two, I was flabbergasted to find that the Minister did not know. He said that he would find out; but he did not know. We were left in the position that in Coventry our workers were being made redundant, but we did not know that Blackpool was more efficient than Coventry, or that Blackpool was any cheaper than Coventry.

This was an astounding exhibition of ignorance on the part of the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North has mentioned unemployment figures which the Minister has since given us, but at the meeting the right hon. Gentleman did not know them. When we asked him how long the lag would drag on, he did not know. It seems to me almost inconceivable that a Minister should receive a deputation of hon. Members upon a specific problem and yet have no facts to give them. We got the Minister's good wishes, but that did not amount to anything.

I now come to the incredible statement by the Minister that if the men were out of work there were plenty of vacancies in Coventry. That is a mistake which the general public might have made, but surely not a Minister. We know that there are plenty of vacancies in Coventry, but they are not for this type of skill, and that is what is worrying us. I should have thought the Minister would have known that. Certainly in Coventry we have more jobs than we have people to fill them, but we have not enough jobs going begging for this type of skilled worker. The Minister calmly suggests that the lag might last until next March. I do not know what he proposes the 3,000 men should do between now and next March. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us.

In reply to a Question on 18th July, the Minister said not that production was more efficient in Coventry but that it was equally satisfactory in Coventry and Blackpool. We do not wish to belittle Blackpool, but we consider that the production of aircraft in an engineering city like Coventry must be infinitely superior to that of a seaside town.

We then find from a reply to a supplementary question on 18th July that production in Coventry, far from being more expensive, is "a little cheaper in Coventry." We were then given a most extraordinary reason, from the Minister's point of view, for this. He said that it was because …the Blackpool factory is less fully loaded …[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1955; Vol. 544, c. 5.] It seems to me that Coventry is being penalised for having a fully loaded programme which it is carrying out more efficiently and cheaper than anybody else. That seems to be an extraordinary method of saving the country's money. There is considerable disquiet over the Government's action. I do not want to be unfair, but it appears to me that not a single good reason has been advanced for the cutting down in Coventry.

I now come to my last point, and I should be glad if the Minister could clear it up. There has been considerable disquiet over the fact that the Gloster Aircraft Company has been advertising vacancies. I am sure that what the Minister of Supply said was true, but I should be glad to have his words confirmed. I understood him to say that the advertisements on behalf of the company would not result in a bigger increase than 40 in the present labour force and were for the purpose of covering that and wastage.

We appreciate that it is the responsibility of the Minister of Supply to order the aircraft which the Services require, but we believe that the Government themselves also have a responsibility in this matter. We believe that it is the duty of the Government to keep together the highly skilled labour force which we have assembled in Coventry, and we believe that that should be done through civil aircraft expansion. We see no reason for the Minister's action.

12.35 p.m.

Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)

I will not detain the House more than a few minutes after the very full speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) and Coventry, South (Miss Burton).

This is of more than local importance. It is a test case. The way in which the Minister handles the problem of the Armstrong-Whitworth Company, in Coventry, will be indicative of the way in which he will handle the much greater cut-back in defence which is likely to result in the next two years from the easing up of the cold war.

I want to emphasise something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South. There was a slight jeer, I thought, in the Minister's reply when he said: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1955; Vol. 544, c. 4.] That is true, but I should like to explain to the Parliamentary Secretary that the 25,000 Coventry workers who today are engaged in arms production are not at all happy that they depend on arms for their living.

When the war ended, in 1945, we had an even higher proportion of our working population dependent upon arms for a living. We then had the switch-over to peace production under the Labour Government, and it took place virtually without unemployment because it was planned. We are now telling the Government that they should try to do as well as the Labour Government did in 1945 with their gigantic switch-over. The present switch-over is a relatively small one.

We want to know how the Government plan to switch production from war to peace, what alternative peace-time production they are planning for the factories and for the labour which will be declared redundant for war-time production. This is the Government's direct responsibility, and the Armstrong-Whitworth Company provides their first test case.

I want, further, to ask about concentration. We know quite well that in 1951 the arms industry had to be rapidly expanded. We know the way in which it was done; it was done much as it was during the war. There was also the policy of dispersal. I can well understand that policy in 1951 and 1952, when we were seriously concerned whether these islands would be engaged in war. It may well have been defensible then to say that it was better to disperse the production to Blackpool, where it would be well on the western side of Britain and not to concentrate any more arms production in Coventry.

In 1955, we have an entirely different situation. According to the Minister, we are having a general cut-back in aircraft production. I should have thought that that meant we should cut back the inessential factories and concentrate the limited amount of production in the traditional centres of arms production where the skill exists.

What is the Minister doing? He is leaving alone the dispersal factory at Blackpool and cutting down in the heart of the arms industry. That seems crazy. What is the reason for it? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South that we have been baffled by the Minister's outrageous reply. Challenged by the deputation, he did not know the facts. He has said that: On a lb. for lb. basis the Hunters being produced by Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft Limited, may be a little cheaper than those being produced at Blackpool."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1955; Vol. 544, c. 5.] The phrase "may be" is a masterpiece; either they are or they are not. Of course they are. "May be" means "I do not like to admit it. I did not take the trouble to find out previously. I must now agree with you that production is equally efficient at Coventry and cheaper." The reason why production is cheaper at Coventry is that our line is in full production and the Blackpool line is not, yet the Minister is cutting down the full production line.

Our deputation had at least the effect of showing that the Government's decision was taken without bothering to compare the cost of production and efficiency in both places and that they decided in favour of the seaside resort against the traditional centre of production. What we say to the Government is that if this is the way they are going to cut back and switch over from war to peace in the rest of the country, there will be an organised stir of protest throughout the engineering industry. This treatment of the industry makes no sense whatever.

I must warn the Minister—I am sorry to say this—how the workers feel when they find that there is no rational reason for the Government's action. They begin to hear rumours about politics. People have noticed who the hon. Members for Blackpool are and that they are Conservatives, whereas the hon. Members representing Coventry are Labour. I do not say that there is a word of truth in this, but I only say it is bound to be thought, when it is seen that Blackpool has been favoured, that it has been favoured for straight political reasons. It will be very difficult for the Minister to deny that, if he can find no other reason why it should have been favoured.

I can see that hon. Members for seaside resorts should try to strengthen employment in their resorts and add something to the boarding houses, but we are bound to resist that sort of treatment, we who represent the traditional heart of the engineering industry. We want from the Parliamentary Secretary something a great deal better than he and the Minister, after pressure, gave us at his meeting with the deputation, after saying that he would look into it, knowing that we could do it cheaper, knowing our volume of production was greater.

The Government say that it is too late to change. It is not too late to change. The Government can decide to keep Armstrong Whitworth functioning if they admit making a mistake. Why not admit the mistake and keep this labour force going? It would be better to do that than to go ahead under the suspicion that this was a little piece of political subterfuge.

12.41 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. F. J. Erroll)

The hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), in whose name the Adjournment debate stands, intended, I understood, to speak solely about the unemployment situation at Armstrong Whitworth aircraft works, but he opened his remarks by making some points broader than those covered by the title of the debate, or by the Questions answered a fortnight ago, out of which the present debate arises. I am sure, therefore, that he will not expect me today to try to answer in detail those broader issues which he raised in his usual cogent way.

I should say, however, that the position is not nearly so bad as he made out, that various marks of aircraft have not been discontinued, but revised because of changing requirements. The figure of £500 million which he quoted has produced many types, Meteors, Venoms, Hunters, Canberras, Sea Hawks, Gannetts, and Vampires. The Swift and Firefly aircraft were rejected, because they were not up to requirements and in a rapidly evolving technical field there must be occasional failures in what is, in general, a programme of remarkable success and achievement.

The hon. Member for Coventry, North, the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) all made remarks about my right hon. Friend which I should like to take this opportunity of refuting straight away. I know how closely concerned my right hon. Friend has been with this whole question, and I know that he was most anxious to give the fullest possible replies to the deputation which came to see him. I can only say that, however well briefed a man may be, there may be questions raised orally at a meeting for which he cannot have answers ready in advance and, equally, as a result of the able speeches made just now, I do not expect to be able to answer every single point put to me, although I have tried a great deal over the last three or four days to be ready for every possible question that might arise.

The Minister has been particularly concerned with the redundancy question and I regret very much the remarks which have been made about his so-called ignorance, or lack of courtesy.

Mr. Crossman

I do not think that any of us wanted to suggest that the Minister was discourteous. We merely said that he was ignorant.

Mr. Erroll

I can assure the hon. Member that my right hon. Friend was anything but ignorant, but to make sure that everything he said could be used afterwards by those who came to see him, he had to be careful in measuring his words so that everything he said could be made public afterwards and what may have appeared to the deputation as his ignorance was, in fact, a desire to help them, so that they would not feel that they were in any way inhibited from using the information that had been obtained.

The hon. Member for Coventry, East regards this as a test case. He asked how the Government were to switch over from war to peace. That, of course, is a very big issue. I realise that this is an important case, but I do not think that it is possible to discuss, in the course of a short Adjournment debate, the whole issue of a change-over from wartime to peace-time production. So I hope that I will not be accused of ignorance, complacency, or inertia—although I see that, according to the hon. Member for Coventry, North, the name of the Department is to be the "Ministry of Inertia"—if I do not try to deal with some of the very wide issues which the hon. Member has very righly raised.

I should prefer to come straight to the subject matter of the debate, namely, the situation at the Armstrong Whitworth works. I should like to congratulate hon. Members opposite on the admirable constituency speeches which they have made. It is a matter of obvious and real concern to them that there should be this threat of redundancy. I know from the meeting which I had with the shop stewards at the works how very sincere and genuine are the feelings of doubt and anxiety which hon. Members have expressed this morning. I fully understand and sympathise with those feelings and believe that it is absolutely right that those views should be expressed on the Floor of the House.

Nevertheless, I should like to refute any suggestion that there is any politics in this and that Blackpool is being favoured because it is a Conservative constituency at the expense of Coventry, a Labour area. That is a very mischievous thing to say, and without any foundation whatsoever. In fact, it may be said by people in Blackpool that there was pressure being built up in the House of Commons by Labour Members for Coventry to create unemployment in Blackpool. That is the sort of thing which could be said by people if that line of argument were to be pursued. I should like to refute the suggestion that politics of that sort has played any part in the decision of the Ministry of Supply and I hope that that type of argument will not be pursued in public, for what in private may be a facetious or satirical remark may be misunderstood by the public at large.

The difficulty of explaining the situation at Armstrong Whitworth arises because it is complicated. It is not just a matter of the relative efficiency between one works and another. It is also a matter of programming various types of aircraft in the different aircraft works of the country. It will be best if I summarise the recent history of production at these works, as that will serve to explain the present changes in the programme.

Before the rearmament programme, launched after the outbreak of war in Korea, Armstrong Whitworth was employing about 5,000 people. As the rearmament programme developed, so the Armstrong Whitworth labour force increased to a maximum of about 8,000. The firm has had a long run of production of different types of jet aircraft, about 1,200 Meteors, Sea Hawks and Hunters. This production run will come to an end early next year when the present contract for Hunters is due to be completed.

There are likely to be no further requirements for Meteors, Sea Hawks, nor the Hunters with Sapphire engines which have all been made by A.W.A. The balance of requirements of Hunters with the Avon engine, for which A.W.A. was brought in to make 100 as a supplement to the production of Hawker's factory, will be well within the capacity of Hawker factories at Kingston and Blackpool. It is not just a question of Blackpool versus Coventry, but of the Blackpool and Kingston factories being an integral part of the Hawker organisation.

As regards the future of A.W.A., it had long been envisaged that when the orders for Sea Hawks and Hunters had been completed—and it was realised they would be completed in the near future—the company would switch over to Javelin sub-contract work from Glosters, the parent firm for the Javelin, which has received Ministry of Supply orders for this aircraft. Continuity of work was envisaged and is still intended. A.W.A. is beginning to make component parts for the Javelin and also assembling a certain number of completed aircraft towards the total current programme of Javelins for the R.A.F. On the basis of this programme alone, the amount of Javelin work available for A.W.A. was not expected to absorb the whole of the labour force of about 6,400 employed at the company's Baginton works. The total labour force of about 8,000 includes those employed at another works at Whitley, and also those employed in the final assembly and flight testing establishment at Bitteswell.

Right from the start there have been good reasons for expecting that substantial export orders would be obtained for the Javelin in addition to orders received from the R.A.F. If these export orders are received, they will either increase the peak production rate or, alternatively, the total length of the production run and in that way we hope that there will be more work for the employees of A.W.A.

Here, I must emphasise another point of great importance, particularly when hon. Members opposite are accusing the Minister of Supply of not doing enough. A.W.A. is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hawker-Siddeley group, and the group has a decisive rôle to play in the reallocation of work among its constituent members. On 18th July, the Minister said that the group are making every effort by reallocation of subcontract work to minimise redundancies. This is a matter primarily for the group, and the Ministry of Supply is anxious to give all the assistance it can within the limits which I shall shortly describe.

Production is only one part of the problem. The design team of the A.W.A. is a good one, and the production side of the firm, as hon. Members have said, is one of the best in the country. Although A.W.A.'s design team has shown considerable promise in designs recently submitted, it has not for some time gone into production on a successful aircraft of its own, and future opportunities are likely to be few. As hon. Members will appreciate, production to a particular design usually follows on in the same factory, unless requirements are so large as to necessitate setting up a second line of production elsewhere.

There are certain developments in the guided weapons field taking place at Armstrong Whitworth's Whitley factory, but the production stage is unlikely to be reached for some time. So the picture is of an important production organisation, with a design team which has shown promise but which has not succeeded recently in producing a successful aircraft, and the possibility of some work in another field.

On present estimates which the firm has made, it looks as though the labour force at A.W.A. will come down progressively to about the level at which it stood before the rearmament drive began. There is no question of the company going out of existence or being sacrificed in any way. It is simply that the peak of the rearmament production to meet particular requirements has passed, and that Armstrong Whitworth, one of the firms which helped to meet this peak requirement, must now return to something like its former level of activity.

I should like to deal with the question of the allocation of work to Blackpool as distinct from A.W.A. Here again, it is a complicated picture and not as simple as hon. Members opposite have inferred. It must be remembered at the start that orders for the Hunter are diminishing, and that in the next two years they will certainly not be capable of sustaining three production units. Hawkers is the parent firm of the Hunter and the Blackpool firm is an integral part of Hawkers. It is right, therefore, that Hawkers should have first claim to these diminishing orders. Furthermore, the Blackpool works produced the Hunter F.4, and should logically go on to produce the Hunter Trainer. This is a variant of the F.4, and an order for it will shortly be placed on Kingston for execution at Blackpool.

The Kingston works of Hawkers can, in fact, meet all future requirements for the F.6 Hunter, but, nevertheless, 50 of this mark were ordered for manufacture at Blackpool to fill a gap between the end of the F.4 production and the beginning of the Hunter Trainer production. This will ensure that the jigs and tools for the F.4 will be used at Blackpool, thus avoiding the considerable cost of transferring them to another works, which is a factor we must take into account.

It could be argued that the 50 F.6s placed on Blackpool should be transferred to A.W.A. But this would not solve A.W.A.'s redundancy problem, since the order would amount to only a few months' work, which Hawkers' Kingston works could, in any case, have carried out for themselves had they wished. The withdrawal of the work from Blackpool would create a problem there considerably greater than any alleviation provided to A.W.A. If the F.6 and the Trainer were both withdrawn from Blackpool, it would mean that this factory, which employs about 4,300 workers, would come to a complete stop. Present plans do not involve anything so drastic at A.W.A. While it appears, on the surface, that Blackpool is getting an advantage, in actual fact it will suffer far more drastically if the work is switched to A.W.A. and—

Mr. Edelman

The hon. Gentleman is producing a very subtle and complicated argument which I have endeavoured to follow closely. But his argument rests on what we describe as division of power, or authority, between the Ministry and the Hawker Aircraft Co. Is it not the case that, whatever term be used, the Ministry ultimately has to provide the greater part of the public money for the production of aircraft, and that the Ministry either has the last say, or should have, or the power to determine where the aircraft should be manufactured? But it is the case that they could be made more cheaply in Coventry certainly the F.6 could be made more cheaply in Coventry.

Mr. Erroll

I think it fair to say that, as a last resort, the Ministry, as the customer, could dictate where the aircraft should be made. But in assessing the cost, one must take into account the cost of switching production from one works to another, which can be quite considerable.

I wish to turn to the question of relative efficiency, because it is not solely a matter of the cost of one aircraft as against another made at another works. The Minister said, in answer to a question, that the Hunters may be produced more cheaply at the A.W.A. works than at Blackpool—

Mr. Crossman

That means that they are.

Mr. Erroll

The point is that it is not an exact comparison, because the reason for the difference is due almost entirely to the fact that the Blackpool factory is less fully loaded than the A.W.A. factory and we consider that—

Mr. R. Moss (Meriden) rose

Mr. Erroll

I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I have hardly time to complete my own remarks.

We consider that if both plants were operating at the same level, the price would be nearly the same at Blackpool as at Coventry, and that any switch of orders now from Blackpool would only increase the cost of such work as was left there and that would not lead to any overall saving in public funds. If I may anticipate what I think the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss) was about to say, we have gone carefully into the question of the relative scrap figures and the quality of the products from Blackpool and from A.W.A. is equally satisfactory. The percentage of scrap produced at each works is quite reasonable, and I can say that the figures at both factories are good when all factors are taken into account.

Mr. Edelman

What are the figures for scrap?

Mr. Erroll

I think that the figures would be misleading if looked at in isolation.

Mr. Moss rose

Mr. Erroll

I am sorry, I must continue.

The hon. Member for Coventry, South asked particularly about advertising for jobs by Glosters. I am very glad to be able to confirm once again that the firm is only advertising a few vacancies in order to maintain the balance of its labour force. The firm is advertising to meet normal wastage and to fill about 40 vacancies in certain departments, but there is no question of a large-scale recruiting campaign.

It is, of course, difficult to be certain about future labour prospects in the Coventry area, but I think that the hon. Member for Coventry, North was being unduly pessimistic when he spoke about unemployment in the motor industry. There is no sign of that, although, perhaps, a larger proportion of cars may be exported than is sold on the home market. Therefore, I think it fair to say that most of the redundant workers at A.W.A. will be able to find alternative work in the engineering industry in and around Coventry.

There are about nine jobs available for every person on the books in the Coventry area, so that there should be no difficulty in everybody being able to find another job. Indeed, there is such pressure for labour in Coventry that it attracts men from the surrounding towns of Rugby, Nuneaton, Wolverhampton and Birmingham, although these towns, too, have a labour shortage.

I think it reasonable to say that jobs will be available for most of the 3,300 men which A.W.A. might have to lose. Furthermore, the available work will be in the engineering industry, although not, of course, in exactly the same class of job that every man has been doing, and there may be some change in the size of the pay packets which they take home.

I can hardly deal with the wider issues which were raised in the course of such a short Adjournment debate, but, nevertheless, I think I have been able to make it plain that there will still be a substantial load of work for A.W.A., but that after the expected redundancies the level of employment will be nearer that of the years before the beginning of the present rearmament programme.

The completion of requirements for certain types of aircraft such as the Hunter, on which Hawkers has been chiefly engaged, is now in sight, and that must be accepted. The next generation of aircraft will not only be more expensive, but also more lethal, and we are unlikely to require them in such great numbers as those which have been in production up till now for the Services. We shall still be making heavy demands on our design and development resources, but we must expect defence demands on the production side of the aircraft industry to be lower in the future.

The Ministry of Supply, despite what has been said to the contrary, can only place orders in accordance with the stated requirements of the Services and within the limits of the moneys voted by Parliament. We cannot place orders for civil aircraft to satisfy the wishes of individual factories. Within these limitations, the Department will continue to do what it can to alleviate the situation which has developed at A.W.A., but the Ministry cannot place orders for aircraft merely to provide employment for workers in a particular factory in a locality where, as I have already mentioned, a large number of vacancies already exist; nor can we divert work from other factories the sole effect of which would be to create equal or greater redundancies in those factories.