HC Deb 31 July 1958 vol 592 cc1701-6

8.44 p.m.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

I have listened very patiently to my colleagues telling of the plight of the various districts of Wales. I am very glad to have caught your eye, Sir, because I think that the plight of my constituency is very much more grim and formidable than anything that we have heard of this afternoon. It is not merely a question of a constituency which has been deprived of some Government work, or where work has temporarily stopped; it is an iron and steel constituency which is faced with decay, which fears that "temporarily stopped" will mean "permanently stopped," because of the decayed and obsolete nature of a great deal of its industry.

Unemployment in Coatbridge is 8 per cent., but it was officially given to me by the Minister of Labour as 6½ per cent., and since then there has been a striking increase. In 1957, a year ago, there were 1,413 unemployed, and today there are 2,731. That takes no account of what we are constantly saying now about the married woman who pays the 5d. for Industrial Injuries benefit.

My constituency is very upset about it. A meeting was called of town councillors and trade union officials, who held an open conference on the subject in Coatbridge. Even in comparison with the public meetings held about increased rents, there has never been a meeting since the last Election which was so well attended as this meeting about the state of industry in Coatbridge.

One of the speakers, an organiser of the British Iron and Steel and Kindred Trades Federation, pointed out that of all the areas he had visited Coatbridge was the worst hit. He said that there was a rate of 8 per cent. unemployment in the district, and that this was the same figure as in Greenock and Dundee, where the unemployment position had received far greater publicity. That is one reason why I was so glad to get in a word on this subject before the Summer Recess, because my constituents feel that others have been getting much greater publicity while they are being overlooked.

This organiser went on to reveal a very intimate knowledge of the conditions inside the "Iron Burgh", as it has often been called. He stressed the fact that the machinery in local industry would be rendered obsolete, and that eventually Coatbridge would be completely out of the picture so far as iron and steel is concerned. He suggested that the obsolete mills operated by many local firms must be replaced, and he went on to tell us that the Clyde Works, which are now temporarily stopped, would ultimately go out of commission if immediate remedial steps were not taken. The future of the other big industry, the Imperial Works, he said, was also very doubtful.

Indeed, when he told the conference of the state of these industries, it was almost like a dose of castor oil, for he said that similar industries in Germany had been reinforced by being built anew. Having won the war, he suggested, we had proceeded to put Germany on her feet, and she was now proving a formidable competitor to my constituency, which is still labouring with obsolete machinery.

I am very glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade here, because I am certain that he will pay attention to what I am saying. The conference to which I have referred passed a three-part resolution. It called for new industries for the area. The provost of the burgh pointed out the problem caused by our derelict sites, which are not attractive to industrialists who come to the area looking for sites although we want new industries. The conference asked for a further reduction in the Bank Rate and also for a slackening of the embargo on trade between East and West.

I am very glad that there has been a reduction in the Bank Rate and that this week a slackening of the embargo was announced. Moreover, I am extremely pleased with the announcement that North Lanarkshire is to be one of the areas singled out for the increased attention which certain areas are to have. In that connection, can the Parliamentary Secretary say exactly what areas in North Lanarkshire are included and how it is proposed to proceed?

The conference made one demand which outstripped the three which I have just mentioned. That was that a telegram should be sent to the Prime Minister, President of the Board of Trade, and Minister of Labour asking for the steel strip mill. The divisional organiser of the British Iron and Steel and Kindred Trades Federation emphasised the importance of the steel strip mill, even although it would be as far away as Grangemouth. He said that its importance to Coatbridge and to the whole area of North Lanarkshire could not be overstressed.

We have heard some argument for the strip mill going to Wales. I am sorry that my hon. Friends who come from Wales have now left the Chamber, because I would have liked them to have heard some of the arguments against the mill going to Wales. We have been told by hon. Members from the Principality that Sir Stafford Cripps and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) thought that industry should be sited on a sociological basis. On such a basis, Scotland, and not Wales, should have the mill. We have also been told that due attention will be paid to the economics of the situation—which may even be the principal factor—in the decision about the siting of the mill.

I can understand that, but I cannot understand an argument which was put to me today, that the mill might go to Wales because Wales had very great influence in the House of Commons.

Mr. John Mackie (Galloway)


Mrs. Mann

As a Scot, I could not accept that.

With one outstanding exception all our Prime Ministers of late years have been Scots, including the present one. In addition, the right hon. Member who shows very great ability, the Minister of Labour, is also a Scot, and we must not forget that the two highest position in the House are occupied by Scotsmen, namely, Mr. Speaker and Mr. Deputy-Speaker. In those circumstances, I cannot accept the argument that on grounds of influence in high places the steel strip mill should go to Wales.

There is another argument, and that is strategic dispersal. I would ask those responsible to bear in mind that Wales already has three steel strip mills, and we have such regard for our friends from the Principality that we would not want them to endanger themselves with a fourth. We are quite willing to share the risk and to accept it on behalf of Scotland.

My hon. Friend will speak more to the point of this matter than I can, but my constituents have re-echoed the summing-up of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) when it spoke of the need for a new major industry and said: We believe that there is great need for a new major project in Scotland which from its nature would generate ancillary industries around it. The manufacture of strip steel would create such conditions, and the Council has taken a very active part in the campaign to have such manufacture established in Scotland. Before I sit down I want to mention the electrical industry, which is an equally important one. Scotland has been very much neglected in this respect. In an appendix the Scottish Council shows that of industries in which unemployment is below the rate for England and Wales electrical engineering comes into the picture. The rate is 7.3 per cent. for England and 2.3 per cent. for Scotland.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

My hon. Friend referred to the unemployment rate; she means the employment rate.

Mrs. Mann

Yes—this is the employment percentage. It shows that Scotland's figure is below that of England and Wales in relation to the electrical industry.

My constituency has been promised a great development at Airdrie—by Pye Ltd., which, about eighteen months ago, obtained land there with the ultimate object of employing 3,000 people. What has happened about that is anybody's guess. At present, the whole scheme has been delayed. I can only refer to newspaper reports, especially that of the Daily Telegraph, in which it was alleged that Pye had lost orders to America, and that dollars were being paid for something which Pye could make equally well. In fact, it was asserted in the Daily Telegraph that Pye could make stripways for aircraft better than any other industry in Europe, and that the firm had secured orders from Switzerland. In spite of that, the Government had apparently placed a very large order, costing I do not know how many dollars, in the United States. I would like to get to the bottom of this, because it is causing a good deal of concern in Airdrie.

A steel strip mill, bringing with it new factories and electrical engineering, would certainly help North Lanarkshire, and I trust that the Government will bear this fact very closely in mind and help us to regain our prosperity.

9.1 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. F. J. Erroll)

I am sure that we are all very grateful to the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) for introducing the subject of this debate in such a lucid way. I can assure her that we have very much in mind at present the difficulties in Coatbridge and Airdrie. I am sorry that I shall not be able to answer her in detail about the contract to which she referred, but I undertake to have the matter investigated and to get in touch with her as soon as possible.

I share the hon. Lady's disappointment in regard to the Pye factory, because we were very hopeful that that development would be on a big scale. As she knows, we have erected on the firm's behalf a new factory, into which it is just about to move. Our regional controller for Scotland is working very hard with the firm to see what can be done to find other work.

It seems that a number of things have hit the district at the same time. For example, Robert Craigie and Sons, paper manufacturers, have turned over to pulp as their raw material instead of rag. That has resulted in the standing off of 120 rag sorters, for whom it will be difficult to obtain other employment. Those are the sort of technical changes which we have to accept from time to time.

I appreciate that several Coatbridge iron and steel companies have workers on short time or temporarily stopped. One must, however, be careful not to assume that "temporarily" means "permanently". It certainly does not. While it is too early to be certain that prospects will improve, the really important thing is that industry, in particular Colvilles, are sufficiently confident to be continuing with long-term development plans and improvements in the domestic market resulting from the continued relaxation of the credit squeeze to which the hon. Lady referred.

Mrs. Mann

Coatbridge is more concerned with Stewarts and Lloyds than with Colvilles.

Mr. Erroll

I mentioned Colville's from the point of view that they were continuing with their long-term development plans unabated, and I quoted that as an example of the confidence of the industry in their own productive future.

Apart from the iron and steel industry, whose revival would obviously make the greatest contribution, there are in prospect about 1,000 other additional jobs which will become available in factories in the Airdrie area and in Uddington, which will be of considerable benefit as they become available.

I would also remind the hon. Lady of the new factory work which has just begun, including a new factory of 30,000 square feet at Coatbridge. It is announced by a firm of hosiery manufacturers that there will be employment for a substantial number of workers, mainly women, after the factory is completed early next year. We have figures which show that it will be quite a considerable contribution.

Mrs. Mann

I understood the figure to include 70 women.

Mr. Erroll

I think that the figure is planned to be much higher, but, unfortunately, it is still confidential, though I should very much like to reveal what it is.

As was mentioned, North Lanarkshire is included in the list of those places eligible for assistance under the Distribution of Industry (Industrial Finance) Act. The hon. Lady asked whether the places in North Lanarkshire could be shown in the form of constituencies. The places shown in the list are either local employment exchange areas, or groups of areas as defined by the Ministry of Labour. They are not arranged on the basis of constituencies, though I agree that that would be of help to hon. Members on both sides of the House. However, I will obtain information for the hon. Lady, showing exactly which constituencies are covered by the North Lanarkshire area.

The fact that we have included North Lanarkshire in the list is proof of our determination to do everything we can to bring the right sort of industry to this area, which, we recognise, is in need of assistance and encouragement.