HC Deb 05 June 1956 vol 553 cc876-8
46. Mr. G. Brown

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that the joint impact of the Government's economic policy and automation on large sections of British industry is giving rise to social problems which are causing great public anxiety; and whether he will state the Government's proposals to meet the situation.

The Prime Minister(Sir Anthony Eden)

The Government's policy is to safeguard full employment by improving our balance of payments and strengthening our reserves. It is only the failure to do this which should cause public anxiety and could give rise to widespread hardship. To achieve our object we must accept changes in the use of our resources and labour.

As successive Governments have recognised, full employment does not mean that every individual is guaranteed his particular job for as long as he wishes to stay in it. Changes in our pattern of employment are a necessary condition of full employment as a whole. Her Majesty's Government will, of course, do all they can to ease the process of transfer for the individual worker.

As regards automation, I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the full statement I made to the House on 10th May.

Mr. Brown

Is the Prime Minister aware that, while these general statements are all right, what is really worrying at the moment is that there seems to be no provision to enable men who may be displaced to become mobile and move somewhere else—there are no houses in which to live, no arrangements for travelling time or lodging allowances? Did the Prime Minister hear the replies of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade today, when we were told that new factory building is being discouraged at this moment, thereby giving people displaced or affected by automation the great fear that there will not be jobs to which they can move, even if they accept this principle?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman's fears in that particular case of automation are not justified. At present, all sorts of arrangements are being made in the Midlands, and in that area there is a great excess of demand for labour over the men available to fill the jobs. That is true in particular in respect of a recent dispute, upon which I do not wish to touch at the moment, where special arrangements have been made by the Ministry of Labour to ensure that anybody who becomes redundant shall be speedily re-employed.

Mr. Brown

May I press the Prime Minister on this issue? Setting up an office of the Ministry of Labour in a factory is mechanically the sensible thing to do, but it is not our information—will the Prime Minister check this?—that there are jobs or can be jobs available in Coventry. Of course, if this spreads to other towns—as it ought to do and must do very quickly—there will shortly be a run on jobs in many towns and men will have to move. If export figures continue to decline, there will be no jobs at all. [Interruption.] I am sorry but this is urgent, for we shall run into trouble unless we face this matter now. Will the Prime Minister consult industrialists and trade union leaders who are very worried about this and himself take some firm action?

The Prime Minister

I do not at all object to a series of questions on this topic. I fully realise its great importance. We have given it very careful consideration and will continue to watch it. There are certain things which the Government can do, but there are other things which industry is probably better left to do for itself without Government interference. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are conscious that there is a problem here, but I do not take as pessimistic a view as he does about the problem of unemployment in the area to which he was referring.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the Prime Minister help hon. Members on this matter which is causing some anxiety in all quarters of the House and outside? He spoke of the Government wishing to transfer men from industries where they are regarded as redundant to industries where they can find employment. Would he be good enough to set forth in a White Paper, or in the OFFICIAL REPORT, what the Government have in mind about this and what they think it is possible for the Government to do to ease the strain?

The Prime Minister

I will certainly consider that. As the House knows, the Ministry of Labour has certain responsibilities in this matter—for instance, in respect of retraining and so on—which it has to discharge and will discharge to ease these transfers; but I will certainly consider the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. J. Griffiths

In studying these questions, will the Prime Minister bear in mind that one of the gravest consequences is what happens to the skilled craftsman of 45 or 50 who loses his job? Will he consider that problem in the light of the information given earlier by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, that the Government are making a change in their policy for the Development Areas and in the building of Government factories? Does he rule out the possibility of Government factories being built so that these men who lose their jobs may find other employment?

The Prime Minister

We had some Questions on automation the other day. I agree that the main problem is of the older man, and that is one of the matters which the Ministry of Labour has particularly under its care. I can assure the House that we are conscious of this problem. At the same time, as a nation we have to be careful not to get so rigid in this matter that we cannot do the redeployment that we have to do.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is it not true that in the last few years thousands of men have moved into Coventry of their own accord and initiative and found accommodation? Is it not, therefore, equally true that these men will show initiative again and move to fresh areas where work is required and find accommodation once more?