HC Deb 15 July 1957 vol 573 cc759-63

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Minister of Supply if he will make a statement on the future of the Royal Ordnance Factory, at Bishopton, Renfrewshire.


To ask the Minister of Supply when he will be in a position to make a statement on the future of the Royal Ordnance factories.

58. Mr. H. FRASER

To ask the Minister of Supply whether he will now make a statement on the future of the Royal Ordnance factories.

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Aubrey Jones)

I will, with permission, make a statement in answer to Questions Nos. 52, 53 and 58.

While the Royal Ordnance factories will remain an essential part of our defence organisation, recent developments have reduced the capacity required, and a number must be closed.

First, closure of the fuze factory at Maltby and the filling factories at Swynnerton and Thorp Arch will begin immediately, though it will be several months before work comes to an end.

Secondly, the factory at Dalmuir will cease tank production on completion of the present programme, late in 1958.

Thirdly, the dismantling of the T.N.T. factory at Irvine will begin immediately. There is a programme at this factory of breaking down ammunition which will continue to provide employment until some time in 1959.

Fourthly, on present estimates of work available, it will be necessary to close down the shell factory at Wigan and the small arms factory at Poole some time in 1959–60.

With the help of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, I shall try to dispose of these factories to industrial concerns which can provide a fresh source of employment. I am happy to say that Babcock and Wilcox have decided, in principle, to acquire the Damuir factory and to feed in their own work as defence work comes to an end. I expect very shortly to complete with them the detailed negotiation of terms.

The factories that are retained will be kept equipped with up-to-date plant, and I shall try to bring increasingly to them appropriate work on newer types of weapons. They will be regarded as a preferred source for the sorts of munitions they are equipped to produce. In addition, civil work will be accepted when it helps to keep in being management and labour needed for defence, or when the facilities available supplement a shortage of capacity in industry.

In the process of relating Royal Ordnance factory capacity more closely to requirements there is, I regret, bound to be some disturbance to the men and women employed in the factories. To minimise this, as long notice as possible will be given of discharges and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will do his utmost to help those who are displaced to find suitable employment. It is to make the transition easier that I have taken the somewhat unusual step of announcing some of these closures so far in advance.

Mr. Gaitskell

The right hon. Gentleman's statement will, naturally, give concern to Members of Parliament who represent the various areas affected by the closing down and curtailment of production at these Royal Ordnance factories. I have little doubt that we shall wish to study the statement made by the Minister, and very probably to debate it before the Summer Recess. Meanwhile, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, as far as possible, the work available for defence purposes will be concentrated in the Royal Ordnance factories rather than in private firms?

Mr. Jones

I have no doubt that the question of a debate can be discussed through the usual channels. As to work in private firms and in the Royal Ordnance factories, I think that it was implicit in my statement that the Royal Ordnance factories will be given preference. For the rest, while recognising the disturbance to individuals, I think that the figure involved—7,000 people displaced over two-and-a-half years—should be looked at against a background of a percentage unemployment of 1.5 and a total force employed of 22 million.

Dr. Dickson Mahon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in my constituency, and in some parts of Scotland, unemployment has reached a substantial level? Is he aware that unemployment in my constituency is 6 per cent., and that there is little or no alternative employment? Will he give an assurance that there will be no redundancy at the Bishopton factory and that every effort will be made by his Ministry to ensure that the factory will be employed at full capacity?

Mr. Jones

It is implicit in my statement that the Bishopton factory will remain in being but, of course, I cannot give any assurance that the level of employment there will be kept stable.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Will my right hon. Friend consider that if there is any spare capacity in the Radway Green Factory it should be let to private enterprise, if the building is suitable, to work alongside the Royal Ordnance factory?

Mr. Jones

It is implicit in my statement that Radway Green will be required for defence purposes.

Mr. Swingler

Is the Minister aware that his statement will be regarded in my constituency as an unimaginative and doctrinaire decision? Why do the Government not create fresh employment in these areas? Why do they not, as the Labour Government did after the war, convert the factories to civil use where they are no longer required for defence purposes? What further redundancies are projected in North Staffordshire as a result of the decision to close all or part of the Swynnerton factory?

Is the Minister aware that there is 2½ per cent, unemployment in North Staffordshire already? What consultations has he had with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade about this?

Mr. Jones

To switch these factories over to civil work would entail the establishment of new design teams and new selling teams. In other words, it would duplicate work already being done in the private field. Surely it is a far more economical use of resources to integrate these factories in existing organisations than to set up new organisations.

I appreciate that the level of unemployment in the Potteries is somewhat higher than elsewhere, 1.9 per cent. as distinct from 1.5 per cent. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has this very much in mind.

Mr. McAdden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although an indication has not so far been given to him, there are many hon. Members who would like to feel that it is possible to reduce our expenditure on and our production of armaments of various kinds, and that there are many hon. Members who would not wish us to maintain employment in the manufacture of armaments when that employment might usefully be directed elsewhere? Would he suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is rather hypocritical of them to argue that there ought to be a run-down in armaments and then to argue that people ought to be continually employed on producing them?

Mr. Jones

Yes, Sir. The steps I have announced will, in fact, bring about quite a substantial reduction in the amount of money we now spend in maintaining in being facilities which are not used.

Mr. Lee

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in his reply to my hon. Friend's supplementary question he revealed that the Government are actuated more by ideological reasons than defence reasons, and that we feel that there is a great principle involved in keeping the production of armaments a public rather than a private matter?

The trade unions are worried because proper arrangements are not being made to keep together any of the teams of people who have been responsible for production and because a real effort is not being made to find them proper and alternative employment.

Mr. Jones

As for the hon. Gentleman's point about armaments from public or private sources, I would only repeat that the Royal Ordnance factories, for this purpose, will be regarded as a preferred source. For the rest, when unemployment is only at a level of 1.5 per cent. and when the economy is still expanding, there should not be any undue difficulty in absorbing the displaced workers.