HC Deb 10 May 1956 vol 552 cc1412-5
45. Mr. Edelman

asked the Prime Minister what account he has taken of the effect of automation on the prospects of full employment; and whether he will state the Government's policy towards investment by industry in automatic transfer methods.

47. Mr. Lewis

asked the Prime Minister whether he will move to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into all matters pertaining to automation in industry, and make recommendations to Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

The Government already have a Report on the technical, social and economic implications of automation and it will be published this month. This Report is being studied by the Government and discussions will be held with both sides of industry. In these circumstances I do not favour the appointment of a Select Committee.

I have no doubt the House will agree that a continual and steady improvement in our own industrial techniques is necessary in order to preserve our competitive position in the world, to maintain full employment, and to ensure a continuous rise in the standard of life. These developments are, therefore, to be welcomed, including those which have become known under the general heading of automation.

These developments are bound to be gradual, but the Government hope that industry will invest in the new types of machinery to the fullest possible extent. At the same time there must be joint consultations within industry at an early stage, so that the introduction of new methods may be brought about without friction. Plans must be concerted in advance to reduce the difficulties and fears which many people understandably feel about the consequences of technological changes.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, made clear on Tuesday last, the Government recognise that they also have their responsibility, both in their general economic policy and in ensuring that the educational and employment services take full account of these developments.

Mr. Edelman

While thanking the Prime Minister for that reply, which I think will be widely welcomed, may I ask whether he will bear in mind that peaceful transition to automation can only come about if the men in industry believe in the sincerity of the Government's full employment policy? Also, in the changing phases of this new industrial revolution, will the Prime Minister make sure that not only the trade unions but the men's representatives on the factory floor itself are consulted in advance about changes which are to be introduced? Finally, will the Prime Minister bear in mind that the hire-and-fire methods of certain old-fashioned employers in the present stage of delicate relations and in a changing situation like this should be discouraged?

The Prime Minister

In answer to the first part of the question—our sincerity about a full employment policy—I do not think there can be any doubt in the minds of the nation about the view of this House as a whole—I do not wish to make a party point of this; I think that everyone in the House wants to see that policy upheld.

On the second question, about what should be done on the floor of the shop or the factory, I should feel some hesitation; I should like to consider that. That is a matter where I think the trade unions should be given the handling of the issue. I would say, in general, that we have this Report, which is a very full and somewhat technical report. I have read it myself and I am arranging that it should be made available to hon. Members in the Vote Office. That is an unusual procedure in the case of these Reports, but I think it is necessary so that all hon. Members can study it. We are doing our best to see that it shall be available next week.

Mr. J. Griffiths

We shall welcome the Report and give it full consideration, but may I ask the Prime Minister to bear in mind how very important it is in all these matters that there should be fullest consultation with the trade unions at a very early stage? May I ask the Prime Minister to bear in mind that, from my experience, one of these problems is destruction and rendering redundant of old skills and old crafts of men over 50 years of age—that is one of the most important things and, secondly there are the possible dislocations which may follow from the redistribution of industry? May I ask him to realise that the country expects that the Government will speak with a really effective voice in this matter?

The Prime Minister

I think my Answer shows clearly that I understood what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman about the older men in industry. When I referred specifically to the fact that the employment service should take account of all these developments, that is one point I had in mind. I am talking about the policy of the nation in this respect. I want our policy to develop in collaboration, and I do not want the Government to step in and say that this or that should be done. The first and most important consultation is within industry. We shall give all the reasonable help in our power.

Mr. Lewis

The Prime Minister, very rightly, said that he is emphasising the necessity of joint consultation at the commencement at the highest level. I am sure we shall all be pleased about that. Will the Prime Minister suggest to the National Advisory Production Council that, as during the war, when a number of new customs and practices were introduced, there were rightly set up national, regional and local production joint councils, there should now be set up national, regional and local joint automation councils so that the problem can be discussed in all its aspects, from the factory level right to the top?

The Prime Minister

I think there is a great deal of machinery already available. My right hon. Friend has the National Joint Advisory Council and I do not think that putting machinery on machinery would necessarily help us. The important thing is to see that what machinery we have works smoothly.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Will my right hon. Friend say who is responsible for making the Report to the Government?

The Prime Minister

It is a D.S.I.R. Report. I hope it will be available to hon. Members next week.