HC Deb 07 June 1957 vol 571 cc1652-65

3.8 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

I hope the Minister will be able to understand what I am saying. I am in some difficulty in speaking as I had four stitches inserted in my cheek only yesterday, which I find an unusual handicap when making a speech. However, I did not wish to lose the opportunity of bringing the subject matter of this Adjournment debate before the House and to the attention of the Minister, because it is a very serious matter for the men and women who are to lose their jobs in the two factories, Kraft Food Products and Electrical and Musical Instruments in Hayes and, indeed, for the town itself.

On 28th March the Chairman of Electrical and Musical Instruments at Hayes announced that the departments for the manufacture of domestic radios and television receiving sets were to be merged into a new general company under the leadership of Mr. Julian Thorn and the production concentrated at the Thorn factories at Enfield and Spenny-moor. This sudden announcement came as a considerable shock both to the workers and to the town. It was indeed the first announcement, the first hint of any disaster, which either those working at the factory or people in the town had received.

The E.M.I, factories, both in the physical sense—for they are large tall buildings in the town—and certainly in the financial sense, have dominated the district for many years. E.M.I. is still the largest single employer, and certainly in the past to a very considerable extent the prosperity of the town has been closely linked with the activities at the E.M.I. factories. This announcement, which means that over 3,000 men and women will be out of work, is a very serious thing for workers and for the district.

Perhaps I should mention here that many of those who will be sacked have given a lifetime of service to the firms concerned and it is a tragic thing for them that they should be placed in this position. I have always heard from all sides the highest praise for their loyalty to the firms and for their good workmanship. It is a monstrous thing to find that at the end of their life's work, without any warning and without any consultations, they should be put on the street. Had I been in their position I should have felt a great deal more bitter than most of them. They have taken this matter with great fortitude but they have expressed some indignation.

I am surprised that in the twentieth century it is still possible for conscientious and skilled men to lose their work in this way purely as a result of a city financial amalgamation. That they should lose their jobs is a deplorable thing, but if it had to happen, that it should happen without any consultation, is even worse. I realise that I cannot develop the argument very far because it is beyond the responsibilities of the Minister of Labour, but I felt bound to express my own feeling of indignation about the matter. It is an indignation shared not only by workers but by many in the town.

I now hear that, in addition to the general shut down to which I have referred, the whole of what is known as the cabinet works is also to close. This, again, seems quite a crazy thing. There is a first-class carpenters' shop with men who are known to be among the most skilled in the furniture industry, and yet it has suddenly been decided that, although they are doing excellent work, there is no future for them.

That is one of the serious developments in Hayes. The other is that, almost simultaneously, we had the announcement that the Kraft Food Company is to transfer the whole of its production to Liverpool, certainly by the end of the year. That will result in another 1,500 workers being out of work. They cannot go with the firm, though it would like to take many of its old and experienced employees, because there would be nowhere for them to live in Liverpool if they did go.

With these two unfortunate incidents together we are likely to face in this small community an unemployment problem of about 5,000. The town of Hayes and Harlington has about 45,000 adults and a working population of some 35,000, and to have the equivalent of one-seventh of that population out of work is indeed very serious. It is serious for the men and women concerned. It is also serious for the town, so much so that the local authority, the Hayes and Harlington Urban District Council, whose initiative in this matter should be praised, called a representative meeting of townspeople to discuss what could be done. It passed a resolution which concluded by saying: … the people of this town view with the deepest concern the effect of the closing down and transfer of industry in and from Hayes on the trade and well being of the district, and they urge the Minister of Labour and the President of the Board of Trade to take immediate and effective steps to provide suitable alternative employment for those directly affected. Both my hon. Friends the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter), and Southall (Mr. Pargiter) have been most effective in the help they have given me on this problem. In Questions which we put to the Minister of Labour at the beginning of April I thought I detected a certain amount of complacency about the position. Without detailing the Questions and Answers, I do not think I am being unfair, if I may telescope what the Minister of Labour said, when I say that. The impression given was that, because in West Middlesex the average number out of work was less than the national average, there was little for us to worry about.

The first comment I would make on that is that it completely ignores the fact that many of those who will be out of work from both these factories are the older and more skilled men and women, I can see no likelihood of their getting jobs of comparable status and pay. Therefore, their difficulties cannot be written off like this, even if the statistical averages show that unemployment is lower in this part of the country. On 4th April, when we had these Questions and Answers, I urged that the Minister of Labour should use his influence to ensure that no man is in fact declared redundant until there is an alternative job for him. I am sure that the firm, with its resources, could carry this liability, and it seems to me to be the only fair and just thing to do.

However, I doubt whether in fact the labour position is so good as has been suggested. This morning, I received the latest figures for the West London area to mid-April. There are now 6,440 persons registered as unemployed, increase of 2,300 on last year. That is a big increase. One sees from the individual figures for some of the surrounding exchanges that there are quite a number without work. They include: Acton, 218; Brentford, 184; Ealing, 378; Feltham, 138; Hayes, 155; Hounslow, 321; Slough, 193; Staines, 218; Uxbridge, 146; and West Drayton, 74. If on top of that in the next few months we get another 5,000 out of work, the position will be very serious indeed, even though the average unemployment is below that of the rest of the country.

There is one other matter to which I want to refer. It is that at the E.M.I, factory there will be available about 200,000 square feet of excellent factory space. With my colleagues I approached the President of the Board of Trade to see whether, in conjunction with the Minister of Labour and any other authority which could help, some use might be made of this area. I thought that we got a somewhat unsympathetic reply, and I mention it now because I hope that in trying to solve the general problem the Minister will consult his colleagues in the Board of Trade, for they have a joint responsibility. On 28th May, the Parliamentary Secretary said: For us to take special steps to encourage new industrial development in this area, an integral part of Greater London, would not in our view be justified in the circumstances. To do so, indeed, would be to reverse one of the principal aims of the distribution of industry policy. There seems to be a complete misunderstanding. I am not asking the Minister to sponsor a new development in the sense that it would be an additional activity, but merely to try to get some work for the men who have been working there. There are men and excellent workshops available, and all the services that they require—power, water, light, etc. We have a number of skilled craftsmen. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will put these points to the President of the Board of Trade in an effort to solve the difficulties that will affect my constituency of Hayes and Harlington.

To sum up. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make efforts to see that nobody from E.M.I, and Krafts is declared redundant until there is a prospect of work. I hope that he will use all the influence to obtain compensation for the older, skilled men for whom there is no guarantee that they will be re-employed and certainly not in comparable work. I hope further that he will consult his colleagues in the Board of Trade to see that work is brought into the excellent factory space at E.M.I. It cannot be in the national interest that this space is left vacant any more than it is in the interest of people in the locality. If these three things can be done, they will mitigate the blow to our community.

3.22 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I support the plea which has been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) that the Minister of Labour should give serious consideration to the pending redundancies at E.M.I, and Kraft Food Products, at Hayes. Though the factories are in my hon. Friend's constituency, quite a number of my constituents in Feltham and Hounslow work in those two factories. Unless prompt action is taken, there may be unemployment in South-West Middlesex.

For seventeen years we have had a record of almost full employment in that area and we are most anxious to keep it. We know what full employment means; it means regular wages, with all that means to the wives and children. Therefore, we are as anxious to keep full employment in South-West Middlesex as we are in the whole of Great Britain.

The pending redundancy of nearly 3,000 people at E.M.I., Hayes, is caused by a financial merger between E.M.I, and Ferguson's Radio Company. All the television and radio production of E.M.I., will be transferred to Enfield. That merger is going through and it is only a matter of time before the redundancy notices operate in the Hayes factories of E.M.I.

The second redundancy to which my hon. Friend referred is the transfer of Kraft Food Products, makers of margarine and cheese. This firm is having a new factory built at Kirkdale, Liverpool. This will mean over 1,000 people being declared redundant. I would also mention that the cabinet-making factory at E.M.I, is going out of operation. It will mean, in all, nearly 5,000 redundancies. That will be a very serious blow to Feltham, Hayes, Southall and Hounslow.

I know that the Minister of Labour is giving consideration to this problem. Replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), and myself, he pointed out that there had been only 1 per cent. of unemployment in our area. More than 12 months ago there was a redundancy of 2,000 E.M.I. workers. They were absorbed in the general employment in the district. I do not think that the position is quite so good today. The changed circumstances in South-West Middlesex have made London Airport, B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. the biggest employers in the district, with more than 27,000 people, and they have taken on surplus labour for many years. At present, they are almost at their peak of employment and I do not think we can look with much hope in that direction.

Some of our constituents have been employed in these firms for many years. Some have worked at E.M.I. and Kraft Food Products ever since they left school. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, like myself, has constituents who have worked at E.M.I. for forty years. Their job there has been the only one they have had since leaving school. Hon. Members will appreciate the great blow that these employees are suffering in their middle-age. There are quite a number of part-time workers in these companies. It has been in the national interest to encourage part-time work. Women in the district often do three or four hours' work a day. That has helped the national effort and has meant for their families a rise in their standard of living. Hours have been arranged conveniently by those firms for part-time workers and their families have been able to afford some of the extra comforts of life.

There is a further point I want to draw to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary. Today, I received a letter from a constituent who is secretary of a shop stewards' committee. The Minister may not be in a position to reply to this now, but it affects my constituency and the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington and Southall. The War Office has announced that in September it is time to close the R.E.M.E. workshops at Ashford. That will mean that another 500 will be redundant in the engineering industry in that area. I feel sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will warn his right hon. Friend that this third blow is coming to South-West Middlesex. I trust that measures will be taken to keep the R.E.M.E. factory open.

These factories may become vacant. When Kraft Food Products goes to Liverpool valuable factory space will become vacant. When E.M.I. transfers its television and radio work to Enfield nearly ¼ million sq. ft. of factory space will become empty. There is also the question, if the R.E.M.E. factory is closed, of additional empty factory space becoming available there. The working lives of our constituents depend on their having full employment and it is in the national interest that these factories should be used. I support the strong plea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington that the Minister of Labour should deal firmly and energetically with this problem in case we have unemployment spreading in South-West Middlesex. We must have full employment to ensure for our people rising standards of living, with all that that means to them.

3.28 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Robert Carr)

Once again, I must ask the leave of the House to reply to the points which have been raised. I have already inflicted two speeches on the House today, but I have not done so on my own initiative. I feel that I shall have earned my Whitsun Adjournment, although those who have listened to me may also feel that way.

Before dealing with the points which have been raised, I should like to express my sympathy with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) in the accident, or whatever was the cause of his having four stitches put in his face. I am very glad that in spite of that he came here today. I must say that had he not said so, I would not have realised that he was speaking under such a great handicap.

I am glad the hon. Member raised this matter. I agree with him and with the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) that changes such as those they have outlined must inevitably cause dislocation and anxiety, which goes even further than the actual dislocation. It is particularly unfortunate when changes of this kind cause people who have done long service in a particular employment to lose their old jobs and have to seek new ones.

I do not want to belittle or be complacent about any of the difficulties involved. Nevertheless, I think I must say to the House that we have to face the fact that changes of this kind are, from time to time, absolutely inevitable in a progressive economy, and if we were to try to resist and prevent them, to freeze them or even unduly to retard the speed at which they happen, I am convinced that it would in the end lead to disaster for full employment throughout the country as a whole.

I realise that a broader outlook and the philosophy of the maintenance of full employment do not bring immediate comfort to those who are affected by the changes which are taking place. I do not wish to try to pretend that they do. But I think that these changes are something which we must face, while concentrating our efforts to make them as smooth and as painless as possible. That I hope we shall do.

I thought the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington made some rather harsh remarks about the management of E.M.I. Ltd. in relation to the notice which it has given about this matter. It is not for me to comment on that, and I do not pretend to know the details of how it was done, but, as I understand the position, no redundancies from the planned changes have yet occurred. Therefore, what is to happen is at least well known considerably in advance of any redundancies taking place.

As far as I know, the facts of the situation are broadly as stated by the hon. Member. I understand that at E.M.I. Ltd., while the production of radio and television receivers in this area will be entirely discontinued, production of electronic equipment will probably be increased. However, the firm has not made any pretence that the result will not be that many fewer workers will be required. In fact, as a result the firm will eventually have to discharge about 3,000 workers from Hayes and Feltham.

No date has yet been fixed for the commencement of the discharges, with the exception of those from the cabinet factory, which will cease to make polished cabinets in August or September. This will probably mean loss of employment at that time for about half, perhaps slightly more than half, of the 400 or 500 workers employed in it.

In the case of the Kraft factory, there is a different cause for the change. The firm originally opened its first English factory in Liverpool and later moved to Hayes. It has now decided once again to concentrate its production at Liverpool, and it will begin that process as soon as the new factory there is ready.

The result of the closure of the Kraft factory at Hayes will mean that altogether some 900 full-time workers, including about 500 men, and another 400 part-time women workers will be discharged. This redundancy will start in the second week of July and will continue up to or beyond the end of this year.

To summarise the facts, as the result of the changes at these two firms we appear to be facing a total redundancy of between 4,000 and 4,500 people, about half of them men and half of them women. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington mentioned a figure of 5,000. I will not argue whether my estimate is more accurate than his; whatever the figure is, it is a very substantial number indeed.

I should like now to turn to the prospects. As I have already said, I realise that a redundancy of this size is a most serious matter, and it must naturally give rise to great concern in the district. I do not want to belittle this anxiety, nor do I want to deny these changes will cause temporary difficulties for many people. However, I want to assure hon. Members that in the Ministry's considered view, the changes ought not to cause unemployment of any long duration, and I believe that the record of full employment in this area, about which the hon. Member for Feltham spoke, should be maintained.

Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)

The hon. Gentleman is, of course, aware that there is a reluctance on the part of the planning authorities to bring new industry into Middlesex and particularly into the Great London area. Will the hon. Gentleman deal with that point while he is concerned with the question of prospects of employment?

Mr. Carr

I shall come on to that point. It is part and parcel of the employment rate in the area. If I may anticipate a little the order with which I was going to deal with the matter, I would say that we believe, and I think we have great reason for beIieving—my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade holds these views as a result of what the Board of Trade knows of the area—that there are a number of firms in the area which are likely to expand their activities when they are satisfied that they will be able to get the labour necessary.

It is, of course, rather like the chicken and the egg. It is very difficult to get firms to expand, let alone to get new firms to come in, as long as an acute labour shortage exists. It is sometimes difficult to time these two processes with complete exactitude. We believe that there are already in the area firms which will be likely to expand when it is known that it will be possible to get the labour that they need.

Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)

The difficulty here is that some of the firms which would like to expand have been unable to get the necessary building licences. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the appreciation of the situation by the Board of Trade. Does this mean that the Board of Trade is going to take a different attitude towards the granting of licences?

Mr. Carr

It is not for me to answer on the location of industry policy, and I should not like to try to do so. I would assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friends the Minister of Labour and the President of the Board of Trade jointly will watch this and other similar situations carefully. It is the general policy that new industry should not be attracted into the London area when there are other parts of the country to which we ought to endeavour to attract industry. If we were to try to attract industry everywhere at once the whole policy would become nonsense. I hardly think that this area can be one in which there would be a positive attempt to attract industry.

Nevertheless, just as we believe that there are firms already there which would like to expand their activities if the; could have the assurance of getting adequate labour, so we believe that the freeing of factory space is an advantageous aspect of the changes which we are discussing. The situation would be far more serious if it were merely a case of reducing employment without freeing the factor space. Half a million square feet o private factory space will be freed for new employers, and the general experience of the demand for premises it the London area is that the demand is so great that it will be extremely surprising if this space is allowed to lit idle for any length of time.

If I may come back to the labour figures for the area, there are few part of the country where less difficulty would be expected in absorbing redundancies This is still true today. Workers in the factories concerned are recruited mainly from the areas of our Hayes, Feltham, Ealing, Southall, Hounslow, West Drayton, Uxbridge and Ruislip offices.

Our experience in these areas is that the labour shortage is more acute ever than in most other parts of London. The latest figures show that in May in the areas of those offices there were just over 1,000 unemployed men and just under 600 unemployed women, whereas out standing vacancies in that same area numbered something like 1,700 men and almost the same figure for women—it other words, 3,400 vacancies compare with 1,600 unemployed, a ratio in favour of vacancies of more than two to one

Mr. Pargiter

These figures are very important, but the ratio has been altering appreciably. I happen to be chairman of the employment committee in the area, and the figures have changed so rapidly that there is considerable alarm about the ratio of vacancies. Also it is doubtful whether many of them are genuine vacancies. In other words, while there is a shortage of labour, everybody is putting in a demand. When labour becomes available the vacancies do not appear to be anything like that number I hope the hon. Gentleman will use those figures with some caution.

Mr. Carr

I certainly agree that all these figures need using with caution. I think that our vacancy figures are more realistic since the revocation of the Notification of Vacancies Order, but I agree that these vacancy figures are always questionable, not on account of their genuineness or the accuracy with which they are collected but because, in areas where labour is short, there is sometimes a tendency to notify vacancies for more workers than are actually required. In periods of change, these are problems which we must take into account.

Whilst I agree that there are difficulties in travelling to different areas, we ought to realise that, even at the moment, an appreciable number of workers employed in these factories, who will be among those losing their jobs or their present employment when these changes occur, do come from much farther afield. We know of people who come from Hendon, Dagenham and Slough to work there. I do not want to over-estimate the numbers, but we can reasonably expect that not all the workers who will become redundant will in fact need, or even want, new employment in the same area.

Transport in the Greater London area is reasonably good, unless one has to make rather awkward cross-country journeys, and it is fair to look at the employment prospects of a wider area. Throughout Greater London as a whole, unemployment has been for many years, and still is, consistently and substantially below the national average. Last month, the number of unfilled vacancies—again. I agree that we must make all the necessary qualifications in these figures—was over 64,000 in the Greater London area. compared with an unemployment figure of only about 38,500.

On the basis of a consideration of these general employment figures, we feel confident that the unemployment caused by these changes should not be prolonged or very serious. This confidence is not just a matter of supposition. It is backed by actual experience over the last fifteen months. The House ought to realise that E.M.I. has already reduced its labour force considerably. Since 1955, the number employed at Hayes and Feltham has already fallen by some thousands, while unemployment in the area during this period has risen by less than 600. A hon. Members will know, this was a period when economic circumstances were not as easy as they have been in some recent years, and it was certainly not a time when there was a booming expansion in the opportunities for employment to absorb redundancies easily. Thus, during the last fifteen months, very considerable redundancy from E.M.I. has in fact been absorbed, with comparatively little trouble.

I have already said that my right hon. Friend will, of course, consult with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I have also told the House that no redundancy notice has yet been issued. Both firms are in touch with the Ministry of Labour about their plans and will, as soon as possible, let us have particulars of the numbers selected for discharge and the dates from which the notices will become effective. We then propose to ask for facilities to register and interview the people affected while they are still at work. In last year's redundancies these facilities were readily granted by E.M.I., and we believe that they will be again. Similarly, we have always found Kraft Food Products to be co-operative. We value these facilities because they make our work in getting workers into other jobs smoothly and as quickly as possible very much easier.

Our experience of past redundancies in London has been that about half the workers affected do not come to us for help in obtaining a new job. Of the half who do come to us, we have usually been able to submit by far the greater number to other vacancies almost immediately. I believe that, in view of the employment position, and if we are granted the facilities at the firms that I have mentioned. we shall be able to ease over this change without too much dislocation; but some dislocation there must be. Moreover, we must look at the national as well as the local significance of changes of this kind.

In the case of E.M.I., the change is brought about by a reorganisation within the radio and television section of their business, which, in their opinion, should lead to greater overall efficiency. If their opinion is proved to be right, the change will eventually benefit not only the company but the country as a whole.

Kraft Food Products is moving from an area of labour shortage to the Mersey-side Development Area, where unemployment has been over 3 per cent. for every month of this year. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that, in spite of the difficulties it may cause them and their constituents at the moment, the decision of a firm like Kraft's to set up its factory in a Development Area, when there is higher unemployment, is a step which we welcome and for which the firm is to be commended.

I hope that I have said enough to give some reassurance to hon. Members and to their constituents that these changes will not bring too much dislocation and hardship in their train. I can assure them that the Minister of Labour and I, and our officials, will do our best to keep on top of the position.