HC Deb 06 December 1956 vol 561 cc1433-8
25 and 26. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Labour (1) what is his estimate of the effect that petrol restrictions will have on employment;

(2) what effect the reduced supplies of petrol and oil, arising from the Middle East situation, are having on the employment position; and what are the prospects during the next few months.

30. Mr. D. Howell

asked the Minister of Labour what information has been made available to him by manufacturers about short-time working and unemployment in the motor industry, following the introduction of petrol rationing; and, in view of the possibility of disputes arising from this cause, whether he will forthwith offer the services of his Department towards the securing of a satisfactory settlement between both sides of the industry.

31 Mr. Edelman

asked the Minister of Labour (1) whether he is taking note of the large-scale redundancies likely to arise in the motor industry following the closing of the Suez Canal; and what action he is taking-to re-allocate the labour force usefully;

(2) whether he has taken note of the considerable redundancy which is likely to be caused in Coventry as a result of the restrictions on petrol supplies; and what action he is taking to re-allocate the redundant workers usefully;

(3) in which industries he expects a curtailment of activity following the restrictions in petrol supplies; and what action he is taking to provide alternative employment to those made redundant.

35. Miss Burton

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware that the unemployment and redundancy position in Coventry is now serious as a result of petrol rationing; and what steps he proposes to take to provide alternative employment for those put out of work.

36. Mr. Lee

asked the Minister of Labour which sections of industry have shown the greatest increase in unemployment and short-time working since the imposition of cuts in oil supplies.

43. Mr. Allaun

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware that a Salford engineering firm making motor car accessories is having to go over to a four-day week; and, as the fuel shortage is likely to cause unemployment and short time in the motor-car industry, road haulage undertakings and factories using oil power, what steps he proposes to take to meet this situation.

The Minister of Labour and National Service (Mr. Iain Macleod)

Reports have been received that about 40,000 workers are at present on short time and about 1,500 have been declared redundant as a result of the restrictions on oil and petrol supplies. Most of those workers are in the motor vehicle and accessories industries.

The restrictions have been designed to cause as little disturbance to employment as possible, but some further effect is to be expected, particularly in motor vehicles and accessories and road haulage.

I hope that there will be full consultation between employers and workers about these developments with a view to minimising difficulties and avoiding disputes. The services of my Department are available if differences arise which cannot be settled through the recognised machinery. My local officers will give redundant workers every help in finding alternative employment.

Mr. Dodds

While thanking the Minister for his statement—[HON. MEMBERS "Why?"]—may I ask whether he is aware that there is a growing fear among the people that there is a likelihood that the bad old days of unemployment may return? Can the Minister, facing up to the realities of the situation with deep conviction, get up at the Dispatch Box and state that there is no cause for that very grave apprehension?

Mr. Macleod

I should not like to minimise the anxiety which one feels at present, nor would any member of the Government, but of this I am quite certain, that the sure and only guarantee of full employment is to have a sound economy. The measures that we have heard of in the last day or two from the Chancellor of the Exchequer are expressly designed to that end.

Mr. Howell

Is the Minister aware that in fact there is nothing to be thankful for in the statement we have just heard? Is he aware that there is growing perturbation in industrial centres, especially those like Birmingham, about unemployment, particularly in the ancillary industries apart from the motor manufacturers themselves? The Minister said that he hoped for consultations. What action does he intend to take, seeing that these matters arise from Government policy, to ensure that there is consultation before trouble arises? Cannot the Minister be much more positive in avoiding industrial disputes than he was on a previous occasion?

Mr. Macleod

The position in regard to industrial disputes—and I am grateful for it, as I am sure the House is—has been quite satisfactory for some time. But we cannot compel consultation in these sort of matters. I have no doubt at all that the unions and the manufacturers where short-time working becomes unavoidable will be in consultation from the beginning. I think that was one of the lessons that everybody learned from the events earlier this year.

Mr. Lee

While we agree that consultation will do much, is the Minister aware that this 25 per cent. gap in oil supplies cannot be bridged merely by consultation? Would he, therefore, appreciate the need for a differential allocation of oil as between certain industries which may well stop production altogether unless we do that? Unless the Government can now take an active part to try to get alternative oil supplies, we will speedily have defensive thinking by workers as they see their jobs in jeopardy, which will result in a run-down in production levels which will be detrimental to the nation as a whole.

Mr. Macleod

I entirely agree that some industries, more dependent either as a whole or for particular processes on oil, find this restriction more difficult than do others. I know that that is very much in the mind of the Minister of Fuel and Power and I, for my part, through the network of my regional offices, am keeping the closest and most detailed watch on all firms, even the very small ones, to see if and when dislocation shows itself.

Mr. Edelman

Whatever the feelings in Dartford, is the Minister aware that his thin and unsatisfactory Answer will certainly not be welcomed in Coventry, where there is grim anxiety in case the city becomes a new displaced area? Further, is he aware that the effects of the Suez crisis are likely to be felt for at least another year? Quite apart from consultation, should he not seek, in conjunction with his colleagues, to diversify industry in the Midlands in order that the men displaced may be put in useful and fruitful occupations?

Mr. Macleod

In answer to the first part of the supplementary—

Mr. Dodds

On a point of order. Will the Minister tell my hon. Friend that I have nothing to do with Dartford and that he might at least get the constituency right?

Mr. Macleod

There are many other things he might get right as well. The position at the moment—and I do not want to under-estimate the seriousness with which I approach it—is not one, through the fuel restrictions, that has caused widespread unemployment in any way. It has substantially increased the number of people on short time. At that stage the services of my Department in finding new employment do not come into play unless the workers themselves on short time wish to move, which, on the whole, they have shown little sign of doing. If they do, of course all the resources of my Department are at their disposal, but for the moment it is in short-time working and not in unemployment that the restrictions have shown themselves.

Miss Burton

Does the Minister realise that there is a great deal more than fear in Coventry; there is grim realisation? Is the Minister aware that the announcement of petrol rationing caused the cancellation of car orders on a very large scale? Further, is he aware that the trade unions expect 20,000 car workers to be on short time before Christmas? What can he do about that?

Mr. Macleod

I should not like to comment on that figure of 20,000. I am prepared to agree that it is not impossible with the trends that there have been in the motor car industry. The hon. Lady referred to unemployment. The male unemployment rate in Coventry today is 1.3 per cent., which compares almost exactly with the figure of 1.2 per cent. for Great Britain. I think that we should exaggerate the present position if we accepted the proposition that she puts forward, but I am entirely with her that the difficulties there are very real and it would be optimistic to hope that they will not get worse.

Mr. Allaun

What steps is the Minister taking to dispel the widespread fears of workers in oil-powered factories outside the motor car industry that many thousands of them will be out of work or on short time on 1st January, when oil supplies are to be cut by 20 per cent.? Secondly, although the blame for causing this unemployment does not lie upon the Minister but on his Cabinet colleagues, is it not his job to lessen the suffering involved?

Mr. Macleod

I will do everything I can to lessen any difficulties and to make easier any dislocations that come from this or, indeed, from any other cause, whatever it may be. It is very difficult in many of these figures to isolate petrol or oil rationing as a cause of short-time working or of redundancy. As far as the future is concerned, it is difficult to prophesy, because so many of the factories are scattered all over the country and are such small firms. It is believed that the present restrictions will not have a very formidable effect on redundancy, apart from the special case of the motor car industry. It may be that the future ones to which the hon. Gentleman refers will have a more difficult effect.

Mr. Osborne

Will my right hon. Friend use whatever power he has with the Minister of Fuel and Power to see that supplies of oil go to the exporting industries so that unemployment and redundancy there shall be at the very minimum, because it is upon the maintenance of the exporting industries that our future really lies in the next six months?

Mr. Macleod

Yes, that is the point raised earlier by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee). It is a very important one, and we are most closely in touch with it.

Mrs. Silverman

What is the use of continually appealing to the workers so to conduct themselves as to produce a sound economic policy if, every time they do it, the Government throw away the fruits of it by some new act of folly?