HC Deb 21 July 1958 vol 592 cc182-92

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]

11.8 p.m.

Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

I rise to draw attention to the position of draughtsmen in the aircraft industry in the Bournemouth area, and in doing so I would emphasise that in this matter I am speaking for my hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Captain Pilkington) and for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson), who wish to add a few words before my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary replies.

At a recent meeting of the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen of the Bournemouth Branch in Bournemouth, they brought to our notice the degree of unemployment of these draughtsmen in the aircraft industry, notably those employed by such big firms as Vickers and de Havilland, and in the Bournemouth design office of the Bristol Aircraft Company. In an answer which he gave me, as reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 11th July, 1958, Vol. 591, c. 57, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour told me that about 55 of these men had been told that they were redundant; but the A.E.S.D.'s figures differ from this. As recently as 13th July they informed me that no less than 53 of these men were on their books as registered unemployed, and since they can claim about 70 per cent. of the membership of draughtsmen in the area, they estimate that about 15 non-members were also unemployed, making a total therefore of 68 unemployed, which differs somewhat from my right hon. Friend's figure of 55. If he could clear up this matter or give some point to the evidence of his figure, I should be grateful.

I do not think anyone doubts that change in an industry is inevitable. It must come about in the aircraft industry as well as in any other form of industry, and it is certainly no Government's responsibility to guarantee a man a certain job in a certain area ad infinitum. But with this development of new techniques in industry, undoubtedly the emphasis is bound to change, bringing with it redundancy notices. It was in the debate on unemployment on 24th February that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour drew attention to the remarkable achievements in 1957, when a large number of men formerly engaged in defence production and in the Armed Forces were absorbed into industry.

It is not true to say, therefore, as was recently stated in one of my local newspapers in the report of a speech made by a representative of the National Council of Labour Colleges, that a very gloomy future was in store for all these men. It does not necessarily follow that redundancy notices mean widespread unemployment, especially as the Minister said, if long notice is given. It is on this question of notice that I wish to to lay particular emphasis tonight.

In his answer to a Question of mine, on 11th July, my right hon. Friend told me that three or four weeks' warning was given to these men but that they received only one week's actual notice. This is surely nothing like enough for men who have to move their homes and find other forms of employment. For men who are highly skilled and technologically qualified, it is nothing like enough notice to enable them to change from one job to another, let alone from one area to another. I would ask my hon. Friend to arrange for a copy of the Minister's own booklet, "Positive Employment Policies", to be sent to employers. I know that my right hon. Friend has strong views on this subject, and I agree that, as he said, long and loyal service should be recognised as far as it can be in the terms of service and in the contract of service of the individual.

It is particularly difficult for men who for most of their lives have been resident in one area, in this case Bournemouth. They have their families and friends, and all their contacts are there. No doubt these considerations apply to people rendered redundant in any area, but it is very expensive for them to move. It is specially difficult for men of this standing to find alternative employment at a comparable salary or wage rate. Some people who have been rendered redundant have recently had to find alternative employment as Post Office workers, painters and decorators, and even as driving instructors. It is tragic that at this time, when the emphasis is so much on our need for technology and highly skilled trained men, people who fit into that category should have to throw over all their years of training and experience in order to remain in a particular area and take employment in something as totally unskilled and unqualified as these occupations.

I have a number of considerations to press upon my hon. Friend dealing with the question of redundancy of these draughtsmen employed in the aircraft industry in the Bournemouth area. First, I suggest that he and his Department should do everything possible to encourage firms to give longer and proper warning notices to the men concerned; secondly, that wherever possible suitable vacancies should be notified to the individuals registered as unemployed; and thirdly—and this is very important—that he should make the provisions of the resettlement grant scheme, as opposed to the provisions of the temporary transfer scheme, available to these men.

This resettlement grant scheme should apply not only to an area or the degree of unemployment in a particular area, but even to an industry or a classification or group of men within an industry. The emphasis here is not so much on the degree of unemployment in an area but to the fact that suddenly a group or classification of men has been rendered redundant. If my hon. Friend could make the provisions of the scheme available to them, it would help considerably. In this connection, the Department could save a considerable amount of money by making at the outset of a man's unemployment a grant towards his removal expenses under the scheme as opposed to the lodging allowance of the temporary transfer scheme.

I ask my hon. Friend to urge the President of the Board of Trade to invite firms to contract in the Bournemouth area for draughtsmen to carry on research development. These men are there ready, skilled and qualified for this work. I understand that to some extent buildings are available. I hope he will encourage firms to take their work to that area to prevent men from having to move to other areas or, worse still, to other forms of employment less suited to their technological skill, training and experience. His assistance in this direction will be welcomed.

11.17 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

This is a combined operation by Bournemouth, East and Bournemouth, West to bring to the attention of the Government the apprehensions of a very important group of constituents. It may seem a little strange that an area of the country which is regarded as well-favoured by climate and employment should seek to bring before the House fears about the future. The particular reason is that this strip along the central south coast of England has no hinterland of alternative employment such as one finds almost anywhere in the Midlands. There is no alternative occupation in the same grade and carrying the same sort of wage or salary.

The engineering industry in that part of the world is almost wholly in the aircraft industry, and naturally, when it is Government policy—for reasons which the men well understand—that the whole of the aircraft industry should be gradually cut down from a labour force of 250,000 to one of 150,000, these men cannot expect to be employed indefinitely in the trade to which they have been trained. But they ask that the Government should make every effort to ease their passage between this trade and an allied trade and between the part of the country where they now live and other parts of the country where they may more easily find alternative and similar employment.

I have three points to add to what my hon. Friend has said. The first is that the Government should take account of the peculiar situation of this area of the country on the south coast and the particular hardship to which the aircraft workers will be exposed there, for the reasons I have indicated, when the Government come to allot their contracts for civil and the remaining military aircraft. I can quite understand that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary may say that this is no business of his. I am simply using him as a telephone exchange to pass on to the Ministry of Supply the suggestion that this should be one factor to be borne in mind when considering the competing claims of the aircraft firms throughout the country.

Secondly, I should like him also to have discussions with the Board of Trade to see whether the Government might use what influence they have—and they have a great deal—in directing alternative engineering industries to the area. I am not, of course, thinking of heavy engineering. I am thinking of small factories employing in some cases women and in other cases highly trained technicians and engineers, who will be available because of the present redundancy in the aircraft industry, and so help to keep men in the area where they live and have brought up their families.

The third point, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden) has drawn attention, is that the Ministry of Labour might make it easier for the men to move to other parts of the country where jobs are already waiting for them. It seems to me slightly illogical that under the present Regulations a man should be required to prove that he has been unemployed for a month before he becomes entitled to the resettlement allowance. That would be fairly logical if it were an area where there was a possibility of vacancies falling due and where men could take up similar employment to that which they have just lost; but for the reasons I have explained, this is not possible in the Bournemouth area. There is no chance whatever, with all the aircraft factories in the area having to lay off men simultaneously, that any man declared redundant will be able to find a similar job in another factory in the area. It just will not happen, and we all know it will not. At the same time as the men are hanging about for that month the rest of the country is crying out for the skill they have to offer. It strikes me as a great waste of time and experience that this financial assistance which the Ministry of Labour is prepared to make available at the end of a month should not be made available at once.

Finally, I should like to take my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West up on a single point. I hope he will forgive me if I say that I do not quite agree with him in his suggestion that the aircraft firms in the locality have been a little harsh in the methods by which they have laid off these men. I have had the advantage which I do not think he has had of having had frequent discussions, particularly with the management of de Havilland's, and I know full well the great care which they go to in giving as long notice as they can of their general intention and also to make the most suitable the fairest choice among their employees in deciding which will have to go.

Apart from that minor qualification, I wholly endorse everything my hon. Friend has said, and I commend our combined appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary.

11.23 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Richard Wood)

Many of the problems which have been mentioned by my two hon. Friends in their combined operation are naturally familiar to anyone who represents a seaside town, but the problems of the aircraft industry to which they have particularly drawn my attention are not so general over the country. These problems do cause anxiety, and I will do my best in the short time available to try to say something about them.

I understand that the draughtsmen who so far are reported to have lost jobs in aircraft firms near Bournemouth come from only one of the firms in Christchurch. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden) said, since April last just over 50 of those men have been discharged. As he said, they were given a certain warning of impending discharge and given a week's notice when they were discharged.

I was glad to hear what my hon. Friend said about the enthusiasm of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour for long notices and fair warning if such discharges become necessary. I think I am right in saying that there is no subject which has warmer support from my right hon. Friend than this. He is naturally anxious to bring to the notice of all employers the booklet my hon. Friend mentioned, "Positive Employment Policies." When that was issued it was sent to all employers of more than 200 employees. I can give an undertaking that my right hon. Friend will take every opportunity of making the precepts and examples in that booklet as widely known as possible.

Of the 53 men who were discharged since last April, I understand that 28 are at present in employment and of the other 25, 14 are registered as unemployed at employment exchanges. There is a residue of 11 who are not so registered and whom we cannot otherwise account for. In a moment, I shall come to the discrepancies my hon. Friend mentioned between these figures and those given to him by the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen. As he knows very much better than I do, there are several other firms in the area, and I understand that they have not been compelled to discharge any workers at all.

I turn for a moment from the local position in the Bournemouth area to that over the whole country. I understand there are more unfilled vacancies for draughtsmen over the whole country, even at present, than there are draughtsmen unemployed, although it is certainly true that there is less demand for them than 18 months ago. The figures are rather interesting. In September, 1956, nearly two years ago, over the whole country there were 5,000 vacancies and 280 draughtsmen and draughtswomen unemployed; in the Southern and South-Western Regions at the same date there were 729 vacancies and 65 unemployed, and in the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch area, which we are discussing tonight, there were 64 vacancies and five unemployed.

Compared with that, a month ago, in June, 1958, in the country as a whole there were 2,000 vacancies and 760 unemployed, very considerably more vacancies than unemployed. In the Southern and South-Western Regions the two were almost in balance, and in the area we are discussing there were four vacancies and 45 registered as unemployed. I have the later figure of two or three days ago of 31 registered unemployed in the area of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch.

My hon. Friend rightly pointed out that these figures do not seem to balance. I have been wondering what the reason is. Excluding the very remote possibility that either the association or the Ministry of Labour has made a mistake in its arithmetic—and I hope that my hon. Friend will believe that we have done our sums right—a possible explanation is that the area covered by the association's survey may be different from that relating to the figures I have given. There may also be, I suppose, some men who have lost their jobs but have not for some reason or other registered at one of the Ministry's employment exchanges.

There is one other matter to which I should like to refer whilst I am on the subject of these lost jobs. It is naturally rather difficult to say how many of these vacancies for draughtsmen are for the aircraft industry alone, but special analyses were made of draughtsmen vacancies in the years between September, 1956,—of which I have been talking—and September, 1957. Over the whole of the country, between those two dates, the demand for draughtsmen in the aircraft industry fell by almost one-third, and in the Southern and South-Western Regions by rather more than a half.

Perhaps I may now say just a word about the local employment position generally. In the area that we are discussing, industrial employment has expanded over the past few years, as my hon. Friends will, I hope, corroborate. Between 1952 and 1957, the locally insured working population rose from about 83,000 to about 93,000. Of this increase, 4,000 was due to the growth of the aircraft industry and about 2,000 to the growth of the engineering industries, mainly in Poole.

Although these two industries in the area are unlikely to expand further, there do not seem to be any grounds for expecting any sudden or immediate large-scale contraction. Naturally, any place with a significant aircraft industry is doubtful about the future, but this area is not so heavily dependent as are others on this one industry. Only 7 per cent. of the insured population there is working in the industry.

In the area, a month ago, there was about 2 per cent. unemployment. For men and boys this figure was rather higher. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) said that he would use me as a telephone exchange to pass on a message to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take notice of the points that my hon. Friend has made about Government contracts.

Both my hon. Friends have mentioned the desirability of impressing on my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade the need for bringing light industry into this area. I am sure that my right hon. Friend gets a number of such requests, but he will not pay the less notice to this one for that reason. I certainly find from my own experience that nearly every seaside town in the country seems anxious to have light industry in order to deal with its seasonal employment problem, but I shall certainly see that my right hon. Friend is told of the views expressed by my hon. Friends tonight.

The temporary transfer scheme has been mentioned, and I would like to take the chance of saying something about it. It was introduced, as my hon. Friends know, about 13 months ago. Its purpose is to try to make it easier for unemployed men with domestic responsibilities to move temporarily to where work is available. As my hon. Friends know, various requirements are placed upon men in order to secure the benefits provided, but the special feature of the scheme which has been mentioned tonight is the waiting period of four weeks unemployment before the benefits become available.

My right hon. Friend was asked about this about three weeks ago and he stated that he would not promise to abolish the waiting period. Indeed, it is very difficult to find any evidence to show that the waiting period makes workers less ready than they would be otherwise to seek jobs away from home. I have heard it expressed to me that the waiting period has certain effects of that kind, but, from our experience, we have come to the conclusion that the main reason for people being unwilling to avail themselves of the temporary transfer scheme is a very understandable reluctance to leave home. However, my right hon. Friend's mind is not closed on the matter. He promised on that occasion to keep this waiting period under review, and, if he were convinced of the need to do so, he would no doubt be able to reduce it still further.

One further matter that I would like to mention, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West, was the application of the resettlement scheme not to areas but to industries or even parts of industries. My own initial reaction to that suggestion is that it would create considerable administrative difficulties, and I cannot help feeling that if full use were made of the present arrangements they would be seen to be adequate. But I will certainly consider my hon. Friend's point as I will, indeed, consider all the matters mentioned by both my hon. Friends, although I do not think that I can promise to make the extension which has been suggested.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes to Twelve o'clock.