HC Deb 04 December 1961 vol 650 cc905-7
5. Mr. Cordle

asked the Minister of Aviation when he was informed of the proposed closure of the de Havilland factory at Christchurch which was engaged in manufacturing the Sea Vixen airplane to Government order; and what consultations he had with the Minister of Labour and President of the Board of Trade regarding this closure, which has resulted from the ending of Government contracts.

Mr. Thorneycroft

The company has for some time made it clear publicly that it would have difficulty in maintaining employment at certain of its factories, including Christchurch. It told my Department and its workpeople as soon as its final decision was taken on 24th November. My Department has been in close touch with the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Trade throughout.

Mr. Cordle

Why did not my right hon. Friend make it a condition precedent to the withdrawal of the contract for the Sea Vixens that a new industry should first have been introduced to take over the factory?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I do not think that it would be possible to treat the aircraft industry as a unique instance in this case and to say that there could never be a rationalisation or reorganisation of the industry until another factory or another industry had been introduced. I agree, on the other hand, that one should keep in the closest contact with the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Trade to see that a smooth transition takes place.

Sir Richard Pilkington

Has my right hon. Friend heard of any other industry in the area which might be able to absorb this redundancy, if it occurs?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am informed that the effect of the redundancy is not likely to be great. I believe that there is a later Question about alternative industry in this area.

10. Mr. Diamond

asked the Minister of Aviation what steps he is taking to ensure that, where aircraft factories are to close down as a result of the Government's policy of reorganisation, before workers are declared redundant alternative work is found or the factories are relet to other employers.

Mr. Thorneycroft

My Department is in constant touch with the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Trade on these matters. I am advised that the closure of the factories recently announced is unlikely to result in any serious or persistent unemployment.

Mr. Diamond

If the right hon. Gentleman repeats his statement that he is in constant touch, and if he has known for eighteen months that these amalgamations were likely to result in redundancy, can he be more explicit and say what action he took before the present time—he keeps on referring to "the present time"—and on what authority, or according to what information, he believes that the 4,000 men who are to be thrown out of work in Gloucester are likely to find other work before redundancy occurs?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am informed that there are other vacancies in the area. We must get this matter into perspective. Employment in the aircraft industry at the moment is rising and not falling. The fact that in a reorganisation some factories are closed while work is concentrated at others is not a disaster for the industry; it may be just plain common sense.

Mr. Strachey

I recognise that it may not be a disaster for the industry, but is it not a disaster for the people concerned, in the constituencies? The Minister has made it clear that the industry is working with £200 million of Government money. In view of that fact, have not the Government an obligation, as well as the capacity, to see that the work is directed to places where it is socially necessary?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I would not agree that this is an area in which there is such a vast degree of unemployment that it is necessary to direct industry to it.

11. Mr. Diamond

asked the Minister of Aviation what change of Government policy he has recently communicated to the directors of the Hawker-Siddeley Group, or to the directors of the Whitworth-Gloucester Aviation Company, as a result of which Government orders for aircraft will no longer be sufficient to keep that company's factories at both Coventry and Gloucester fully engaged.

Mr. Thorneycroft

None, Sir.

Mr. Diamond

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I am not entirely astonished at his reply? Is he nevertheless aware that whereas the company issued a statement a mere three months ago saying that when this amalgamation took place it would strengthen the Gloucester Aviation Company and the tenure of employment by its employees, the firm's latest statement is to the effect that as a result of Government policy there is no longer sufficient work for the Gloucester factories?

Mr. Thorneycroft

We must be quite plain about this. There has been no change in Government policy as announced by my predecessor in respect of the nature of Government support and so forth. The hon. Member would do well to distinguish between the present very heavy load of work on Government orders—the millions of pounds that are still being spent in the industry and the orders which are still there—and the quite separate question of decisions on future projects, to which I attach considerable importance.

Mr. Chetwynd

Will the Minister bear in mind that this help is extremely patchy, and that, whereas in some areas there is redundancy, in other areas similar firms making similar aircraft are asking for labour?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I think that is so. It is a commercial decision for Hawkers to see how best it can distribute the load of work within this newly re-organised industry. There would be no point in the House approving a re-organisation of this kind unless something of that nature happened.

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