HC Deb 01 February 1961 vol 633 cc1145-56

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now Adjourn.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

11.32 p.m.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

The industrial history of my constituency goes back at least 2,000 years. Tin and copper were exported then to Europe and the Middle East. In the Civil War in the 17th Century, King Charles I relied on revenues from the export of Cornish tin to keep his armies in the field. A century later, Cornwall was the copperbelt of Europe.

In the latter part of the 18th Century and the beginning of the 19th Century, Cornwall was the cradle of Britain's great mechanical engineering industry which was to make us the workshop of the world before the century was out. Richard Trevithick, one of our greatest engineers, was born close to where the Camborne-Redruth industrial site is now being developed.

Sir Humphrey Davy, the great chemist and inventor of the miners' safety lamp, was born just beyond the edge of my constituency. The first house ever lit by gas is in the centre of Redruth, where I live. The safety fuse, which increased safety in mining and quarrying, was invented by William Bickford 125 years ago, and the factory at Tuckingmill, where it was first produced, is about to be abandoned by I.C.I.

For centuries the mining of tin and copper was our principal industry. Copper mining collapsed a century ago. For 70 years after that, tin mining was our staple industry, but in 1920 that collapsed and reduced Camborne-Redruth to a depressed area for 20 years—a bitter object lesson of an area dependent upon a single industry.

Falmouth was an important port of call for the packet ships of the first half of the 19th century, but the industry suffered a severe reverse at about the same time as copper mining collapsed. Through the foresight of Falmouth's leaders at that time, a small dockyard was established, which has developed into the great ship repairing yards of Messrs. Silley Cox today.

Penryn has been a borough for seven centuries and a small coastwise port of some consequence. Cornish mining pumps built at Hayle more than a century ago were used in Holland until quite recently as part of that country's sea defences. All this story testifies to the virility and capacity of generations of Cornishmen and the enormous industrial and technical experience which they have acquired through the centuries.

In the 1930s, my constituency was devastated by unemployment, with an average of 24.3 per cent. over the ten years. In Falmouth it was 14.1 per cent.; in Camborne, 22.1 per cent.; in Hayle, 28.4 per cent.; in Redruth, 32.9 per cent. Until the world trade recession, following the Wall Street collapse of 1929, Cornwall's principal export for a century 'had been its young men to mining camps all over the world. Between the two world wars, work in Cornwall had been fiftful and intermittent and wages deplorably law. The increase in trade union strength in the last 20 years has at least ensured better wage standards, better hours of work and better working conditions.

I am sorry to inflict a set of statistics on the House, but I fear that it is necessary if I am to give a proper illustration of the position of my constituency in relation to the country, to Plymouth and to Cornwall as a whole. The figures are taken from Answers given to me by the Minister of Labour on 25th and 27th January, 1961. For 1958, the percentage unemployment figure for England and Wales was 1.9. It was 1.9 in 1959 and 1.4 in 1960. For the same years the corresponding figures are South-Western Region 2.2, 2.1 and 1.7; Plymouth, with Devonport and Saltash and Torpoint, 3.9, 3.9, 3v0; for Cornwall, excluding Saltash and Torpoint, 5.2, 4.8, 4.2; Falmouth, 6.9, 6.1, 6.5; the Camborne—Redruth area, 6.0, 5.8, 4.7. Those figures show conclusively how much my constituency is in need of new industries and B.O.T.A.C. aid.

There were 1,761 persons registered as unemployed in my constituency last November and 1,583 in December. Everyone knows that unemployment in the ship-repairing docks at Falmouth can fluctuate rapidly and violently. How many individuals have been unemployed at some time or other each year is impossible to say, but the figures would be very high.

Then there is the question of short-time working. This has been considerable among engineering workers in Camborne-Redruth and my latest information is that 400 men were then affected. Obviously, both unemployment and short-time working depress wages and living standards. Many workers have been selected for redundancy, either because they are married women, or because they have become entitled to retirement pensions. No one knows how many there are, because they are not registered as unemployed. All of them are really victims of trade recessions, additional to the numbers registered as unemployed.

On 26th June, 1959, I.C.I. gave notice of the closure of its factories at Tucking-mill and Ponsanooth; then employing 364 people, of whom 200 were women. The process was to be gradual and not completed until the latter half of 1961, now but a few months ahead. Three or four years ago, probably 500 people were employed at those factories.

I will not comment now on the political implications of the decision of I.C.I., nor on the references to them by the President of the Board of Trade in his speeches on 12th July and 21st November, 1960. However, I will venture to quote my Parliamentary Question to him on 27th October, 1960, and his reply: I asked: What steps have been taken to persuade I.C.I. to divert its factory at Tuckingmill. Camborne, one of its many industries, to replace the safety fuse industry which is to be transferred to Scotland, in view of the hundreds of redundancies which will be involved under the present plans?". The President of the Board of Trade replied: We are in close touch with the company, which is well aware of the situation. We have also tried to interest other suitable firms in the premises."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1960, Vol. 627, c. 294.] I should like to know the results of the right hon. Gentleman's negotiations with I.C.I.

It seems to me cruel and heartless for a large industrial concern like I.C.I., with its wide ramifications, not to use its redundant factories in my constituency for some of its other manufactures. I trust that even now it will do so.

The firm has issued a book entitled "This Is Our Concern". In a foreword Sir Alexander Fleck said: The … title is a happy one, because I.C.I. certainly is the concern of each one of us, whether we are stockholders or employees. Employees thrown on to the scrap-heap in my constituency by I.C.I. may be forgiven some cynicism at these high-sounding phrases, however generous the redundancy grants may be. For these I am grateful to the firm, but we want busy, active factories, not derelict tombs.

The dominant industry in Falmouth is ship repairing, an industry noted for its casual employment. At times it reaches staggering proportions here. Ship repairing is subject to the vagaries of international trade and of national and international competition. Its needs were ably put to the Parliamentary Secretary's predecessor, and to the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, by the Falmouth member of a delegation from the Cornish Group of Trades Councils when a conference took place here on 7th July, 1959. Doubtless the files at the Board of Trade contain records of that conference and are available to the Parliamentary Secretary for reference at any time. I hope that he will study them carefully. What was said then about Falmouth is apt still.

That Falmouth is a famous health and pleasure resort, with some of the finest yachting and sailing in Britain, is well known. I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will see that the tourist and resorts industry is treated fairly in every aspect.

Falmouth Technical College needs immediate expansion. I referred to the College in an Adjournment debate on 30th November, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will impress on his colleague at the Ministry of Education its importance from the point of view of the industries of Falmouth and the neighbourhood.

I have already referred to the fact that Penryn has been, and is, a small port for coastwise shipping. The corporation's accounts show that in six of the last twelve years the harbour dues have shown a profit, and in six a loss. The net loss has been £1,443. Because of falling revenue it is difficult for the borough to carry out the necessary dredging to keep the harbour open. The Parliamentary Secretary will be aware of the parlous state of coastwise shipping, and of its importance both in peace and war. I trust, therefore, that he will keep Penryn in mind when dealing with the problem nationally.

I understand that five new firms have come, or want to come, to Penryn, though none is large compared with some of those at Falmouth and at Camborne-Redruth. Some may have applied for B.O.T.A.C. aid. If they have, I plead with the Parliamentary Secretary to see that their applications are given the utmost consideration. All firms, of whatever reasonable size, are welcome here, particularly if they offer a diversification of industry. I will send the Parliamentary Secretary such information as I have in my possession about them. He can assure prospective industrialists that they will get a welcome from, and can depend on, the co-operation of the corporation and the people of Penryn.

I have already said that over the decade of the 1930s. the rate of unemployment in Camborne was 22.1 per cent. and in Redruth 32.9 per cent. Before the war ended Camborne-Redruth Urban District Council was foresighted enough to plan for new industries when peace came. I am proud of the work they did. An area near Cant Brea Station, devastated by mining operations, was bought and cleared, and on that site today stands the magnificent textile factory of Heathcoats. It has the most up-to-date machinery, exports widely, and employs hundreds of men and women. It meant a completely new type of industry for Cornwall.

Other new industries have come and are now well-established; some of them quite new to the district. The Ministry of Aviation factory at Nancekuke is another. All of them have proved the suitability of the workers, who have shown themselves to be intelligent, skilful and reliable. Despite all these efforts, however, the average rate of unemployment over the last three years is 5.5 per cent., compared with the national average of 1.7 per cent.

Camborne-Redruth Urban District Council is anxious to extend the area of its industrial estate. On 30th April last a public inquiry was held into the designation of land in the Carn Brea Station area. Up to last weekend, when I inquired, no decision had been given by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Can the Parliamentary Secretary do something to get his right hon. Friend to give a decision soon? The land in question is vital to the planning authority, the council, and prospective new industrialists. Considerable expense in levelling and clearing some of the land would be involved. I believe that substantial Government grants are available for such work. I hope I have shown that the council is worthy of such help, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to support whole-heartedly any application for grants that the council may put forward.

On 26th January I asked the President of the Board of Trade whether a firm which would eventually employ 400 people in an entirely new industry had been refused B.O.T.A.C. aid. He asked me for details, and I sent them to him that evening. Briefly, a pottery firm, of excellent record and reputation, was prepared to establish a completely new pottery industry in Camborne-Redruth, using china clay as its basic material. The finished product would be exported to a considerable degree and be competitive in the European market. Surely this is an ideal industry for Britain, Cornwall, and my constituency in particular. I beg the President of the Board of Trade not to allow this great venture to be strangled at birth with Treasury red tape. Negotiations have gone on for a considerable time between the planning authority, the council and the firm, so that it is plain that this is not an ill-considered scheme.

A fortnight ago Tecalemit Ltd., the great engineering undertaking at Plymouth, announced its desire to build a subsidiary factory at Camborne-Redruth. The firm said: At this stage we are discussing with the Board of Trade a factory of 25,000 square feet in which we could hope to build up an eventual mixed labour force of 250, with provision for further extension if this became possible or desirable. Again, I ask that the birth of this new industry be assisted and not hindered.

Other and smaller ventures are welcome. We want a diversified industry. As the nearest alternative engineering towns are up to 200 miles away a new engineering firm would be a godsend. Horticulture and agriculture are vital industries in my constituency. We have the important Ministry of Agriculture Horticulture Experimental Station at Camborne, established a few years ago. The National Farmers' Union would like an experimental farm established nearby. Will the Parliamentary Secretary look into this proposal and give it his support? I am sure that he will find the project acceptable.

An attraction to industrialists is the excellent Cornwall Technical College in Camborne-Redruth. The Cornwall Education Committee has been very generous in its provision for the College, and it is used extensively by all the important industries of the county.

The present system of mining taxation hampers the development of new mines, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will try to induce his right hon. Friend to change his previous attitude to this taxation reform.

In conclusion, I would point out that one-third of the ex-students of our Technical College leave the county for jobs—a wastage of human material which ought to be averted.

11.50 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I do not wish to delay the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary for more than a moment, especially as the Truro division which I represent does not suffer from unemployment to the same degree as does that of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman). We are indeed fortunate in having a much better record.

However, it is true that there are a number of places in Cornwall which are dependent upon one industry, and that when there is a recession in any of these industries the effect is felt throughout Cornwall. Cornishmen have for many years been used to travelling long distances to their jobs, and many of my constituents work in Camborne and Falmouth and in the docks in the Cam-borne area. After all, the motto of Cornwall is "One and all." I hope that the Minister will do his best to introduce new industries to Cornwall, because it is a matter which merits special attention.

11.51 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

I wish to mention only two brief points. First, while I understand the unemployment problem to which the hon. Member for Falmouth and Cam-borne (Mr. Hayman) has referred, I should like to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) that it is not confined only to the Camborne-Redruth district. It is to be found throughout the whole of Cornwall and particularly in the northern part of Cornwall. We suffer from exactly the same difficulties, including the problem of the drift from the land which causes great dissatisfaction in the area.

I should like my hon. Friend to consider giving fresh instructions to the committee which sits under his direction at the Board of Trade, when considering applications for B.O.T.A.C. aid for new industries coming into Cornwall. Will he consider giving instructions to the committee to give greater weight to the fact that Cornwall is unique, in that, while there are few people unemployed, the percentage is high, and the need for small industries is very great. I should like more emphasis to be given to that fact than is given when the committee considers other cases in the rest of the country.

11.52 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

I am glad that this has been an all-Cornwall occasion. It is true that what happens in one area very much affects neighbouring areas. I congratulate the hon. Member for Falmouth and Cam-borne (Mr. Hayman) on succeeding in getting such a great deal of matter into such a short time, and I thank him for the very interesting survey that he has made of Cornish industrial history.

I say straight away that, so far as the employment situation is concerned, perhaps he rather underestimated the progress that is being made at present, when one considers that in the January count in 1961, the Camborne-Redruth area showed a wholly unemployed proportion of 4.8 per cent. and Falmouth 4.2 per cent., and compares that with January, 1960. I agree with what he says about the great variation one gets, depending on what work is available in the shipyards. In January, 1960, the figures were, for Camborne and Redruth, 6.2 per cent., and for Falmouth, 13.2 per cent. But, even excluding January, 1960, the annual rate of unemployment from February, 1960, to January, 1961, was 5.7 per cent. in Falmouth as compared with 6.1 per cent. from January to December, 1959, leaving out the bad period, and for Camborne it was 4.1 per cent. compared with 5.8 per cent. I may say that these figures refer to wholly unemployed persons, whereas the figures given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to the hon. Gentleman last Friday included the temporarily stopped, but there is only a small difference.

The hon. Gentleman referred to one or two difficulties. I hope that he will join in persuading I.C.I. to go back to his constituency. I had the same experience in my own constituency and I.C.I. has now gone back to it. The decline has not been so marked, and I am not in a position yet to say whether I.C.I. will close altogether at Falmouth and Camborne.

Mr. Hayman

I understood that it had been transferred to Scotland.

Mr. Macpherson

Scotland is a big place, and the factory was transferred out of my constituency to the same place. I know that some have already been paid off. I also know that if Tuckingmill closed down some buildings would be available for other industrial users—and have, indeed, already been offered to other industrial users.

One sigificant and cheering feature is the position of school leavers. Of the 81 boys and 72 girls who left school at Christmas, only five boys and six girls were still unemployed in January, 1961. Another cheering feature is jobs in prospect, which are related, of course, either to expansions of factories—successful applications for B.O.T.A.C. loans and that sort of thing—or to additional building. My information, therefore, does not cover the whole field of the extension of jobs that may arise, but there are 75 jobs in sight in Falmouth and 140 in prospect in Camborne.

There are possibilities of more jobs, some of which depend on the outcome of applications to B.O.T.A.C. for financial assistance. Nine such applications are at present under consideration, three of which relate to Penryn, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I can assure him that the applications will be given the utmost consideration. One company has accepted a Board of Trade offer to build it a factory, and another firm has made a similar application, together with an application for a loan, and both are under consideration. The hon. Gentleman referred to Tecalemit. Once again, I can assure him that the firm's application—which has been announced, although I am not certain that it has yet been made—will receive the closest consideration.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to a prospect that did not materialise—not all of them do. Sometimes an application is rejected by B.O.T.A.C. and, as he knows, it is not the practice for B.O.T.A.C. to reveal its reasons for rejection; but that was not the case in this instance. A counter-offer was made by the Board of Trade and it was the firm that rejected that counter-offer as not being up to what it wanted. These are matters of commercial judgment, and I am afraid that we cannot 20 past that—

Mr. Hayman

If the application were renewed, would it, in the light of tonight's debate, be given favourable consideration?

Mr. Macpherson

If it were renewed in exactly the terms that B.O.T.A.C. previously offered, I am quite certain that it would receive consideration. As a general observation, I would say that applicants ought not to expect the Government to put up an undue proportion of the capital needed. They should themselves be able and willing to invest a reasonable proportion as risk capital, whether the money is their own or that of their backers.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Camborne industrial site. I am authorised by the Minister of Housing and Local Government to say that last week he made it known that he intended to amend the county development plan by allocating about 65 acres for industrial development, and designating it as subject to compulsory acquisition by the Camborne-Redruth Urban District Council. That is not as much as that authority asked for, but it goes a long way towards it. An additional source of temporary employment will be the Kerrier Rural District Council's dam and pumping station in the parishes of Stithians and Wendron.

In the few minutes left to me, I would say that unemployment in the hon. Member's constituency has decreased, and that despite some closures, which are always bound to take place, and some reductions in employment—which, again, are unavoidable—prospects are by no means unfavourable.

One has always to bear in mind that there are firms which are increasing their employment all the time, just as other firms are reducing employment. We know of some firms, one of which was established only this year, which are aiming to increase employment by quite a great deal. I expect that the hon. Member knows the firm to which I refer. As to Government assistance, as my right hon. Friend told my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) last Thursday, since 1958 three firms new to Cornwall have received financial assistance and nine firms already in Cornwall have been offered financial help in expanding their activities through B.O.T.A.C. In addition, we are building a factory for another firm.

I ask hon. Members to realise that loans which are made to firms, or grants towards the building of factories, seldom get publicity. They are very much more likely to hear of loans not made or applications which are refused, but I assure the hon. Member and my hon. Friends that the Board of Trade will continue to do its best to steer industry to the development districts. The very fact that the constituency of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne has been recognised as a development district is itself a recognition of the high unemployment and the unfavourable comparison he made with neighbouring districts. It is, of course, to the development districts that the Board of Trade seeks to steer such industry as is available, but it is for industry itself to choose between development districts and between various places in development districts—all of which clamour among themselves for industry—and for each local authority to do its best to persuade industrialists who come its way to choose it.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes past Twelve o'clock.