HC Deb 23 May 1962 vol 660 cc631-42

Motion made, and Question proposed,That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. G. Campbell.]

12.54 a.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I have listened with growing interest for several hours, but, I must confess, with diminishing sympathy, to the pleas of hon. Members opposite for tax concessions in the sphere of Estate Duty which, had the Amendments been accepted, would have involved as much as £10 million in a year. Therefore, even though it is just before one o'clock, I make no apology for entering a more modest claim for Government help in respect of the needs of the ordinary men and women of Scotland.

I am seeking to persuade the Board of Trade to take an active interest in the industry, property, and well-being of the Valley towns, three proud and historic small burghs that flank the River Irvine, Daniel, Newmilns and Galston. I say historic: if anyone is deluded by the ring of modernity in the name Newmilns, I would remind them that it became a burgh 470 years ago.

Each of the three small burghs has an individuality, character and attraction of its own. They are proud of their past and they have a healthy and an almost legendary rivalry in municipal, cultural and social progress. They share more than geography and the River Irvine. Here in this valley is a survivor of Scotland's once great interest in cotton—of the days when Glasgow rivalled Manchester, before coal and iron conquered the West. It survived because it specialised and made its own lace industry. The Irvine Valley, with some help from Nottingham, curtained the world. But we have to face the fact that today this industry is contracting. I will not say that it is declining. I hope that it is only contracting.

Changes have come about. Man-made fibres, tariff walls in the United States. and quotas in the Commonwealth, have led to the difficulties and it seems that the contraction is likely to continue. Firm after firm has gone out of business, and men and women who gave a lifetime to one industry, often to one firm, are today jobless. Once again we learn the hard way in Scotland of the need to diversify, and firms which once resisted the local desire for such diversification are now themselves out of business. In the Irvine Valley today there is urgent need for new industry to maintain locally the level of employment and the opportunity of employment for young people.

I know that the Minister will rest his case for refusing to put the Irvine Valley on the Schedule of the Local Employment Act on the basis of the figure of unemployed. I would remind him that his powers in respect of that Act are not related entirely to existing unemployment, but refer also to the prospect of unemployment. I remind him also of what has been urged by the Toothill Committee and others that he should have some creative interpretation of that Act in areas of possible industrial growth. To my mind that is what the Irvine Valley could be.

Let us look at the figures for unemployment. We must remember that these are small towns. In April the figure was 186, of which 96 were women. I know that that figure had dropped to 155 on 14th May but I wonder whether the Minister can give the figure for the week starting 21st May, because when I was last in the Valley a short time ago there were at least 100 people working week about. In other words, men worked for one week and were unemployed the next, and if one takes the figure for a particular week an entirely different picture is presented. The registered unemployment figure does not give the full picture. The ratio of women to men in the textile industry is two to one. There are more women in the industry than men. But the industry in the Irvine Valley is traditionally one in which a great number of married women are employed. If they are not paying full insurance, and most of them are not, there is no record of them at the employment exchange. They are not entitled to benefit. The same is true of the widows who draw the full pension. There is considerable concealed unemployment.

Thirdly, many people, and especially young people—and we know this is true from the records of union membership—have disappeared; have been forced to leave the district. Most of them come south to get employment—an unhealthy feature of the Scottish position. The outlook for young people is another aspect that must be considered. In Scotland today there are only 66 jobs for every 100 boys while, in the Midlands, there are 762 jobs on offer to every 100 boys. When we realise that within four weeks there will be the greatest flood of new entrants to industry leaving the classrooms of Scotland, we appreciate just why there is so much cause for concern about this position, not only in the Irvine Valley but elsewhere.

Never in the post-war period has the position in the Irvine Valley been more difficult. We have the languishing lace industry. Jobs once available on the railway—not only most of them gone but the rest of them going. The slackened general trade in the town reflects the lower spending power in the community. The Scottish position is apt to illustrate the Valley's position in respect of young people.

Those young people are not living wonderfully affluent lives, as a noble Lord suggested the other day, on the princely sum of 32s. 6d. a week unemployment benefit—and they get that 32s. 6d. only if they have worked for a year, and then there is another five months before they qualify for drawing anything at all. That remark indicates that the "birkie" type of lord is just about as out of touch with things in Scotland today as he was in the days of Burns.

Judging by the Answer given to me a fortnight ago, the Government are either ignorant of, complacent about or indifferent to the fate of places like the Irvine Valley. They say that one manufacturer has changed to Terylene. Does not the Board of Trade realise that that is one of the causes of decline in employment and, by its very nature, cannot be the cure? It may solve a manufacturer's problem, but not the problem of unemployment, because of the number of people employed and because of the durability of the material as compared with the cotton formerly used.

Secondly, the Government say that Kilmarnock has been absorbing, and will continue to absorb, the unemployed, but Kilmarnock has its own problem. It has 1,000 unemployed, with more to come, although the figures may have improved a little as a result of short-time people coming back to the job in the last month. Shortly after that Answer from the Minister of Labour, we find that we shall pay the second instalment of Saxone becoming an outpost of Mr. Clore's footwear empire; between 100 and 150 people will be redundant in Kilmarnock on the retail side of that business. As a railway centre, we see little to hearten us in the bitter pills provided by Dr. Beeching.

I would not have minded, if the Board of Trade had seen fit to schedule Kilmarnock for assistance—but no. As soon as the Bill was introduced we were taken off the schedule, so no help is available there. What we really want is for the problems of the Irvine Valley to be solved in the Irvine Valley. These historic towns should be allowed to retain their industrial independence and their lively community spirit. The people do not mind going to Kilmarnock to see a good football match, but they want to exercise their industrial skills in their own factories in their own towns. They are determined not to become dormitory suburbs of a larger unit.

The town councils and the trade union, the Scottish Lace and Textile Workers' Union, have formed an active committee—the meetings of which I have attended with the Provosts of Newmilns, Darvel and Galston—and they hope to interest prospective employers and manufacturers and to promote interest in the Valley as an industrial location. We can offer unique advantages. It is a pleasant place with pleasant surroundings and the factory buildings are almost unnoticed. It is one of the loveliest of all the Scottish valleys and there is plenty of skilled labour with centuries of tradition behind it. There were weavers here before cotton and before Alexander Morton introduced the industry.

We have schools. We have roads providing easy access to Glasgow. We are near Glasgow and there is the London Road to Kilmarnock. We also have factories, but they are lying empty. We are not asking for advance factories to be built. We have them already. One factory after another has gone out of production. At the William Morton factory at Newmilns there is 36,000 sq. ft. of factory space, offices, showrooms and designing rooms. There is also room for expanding over another 1,350 sq. yds. At the factory of Dobson and Brown, in Darvel, there is 26,719 sq. ft. of offices, two weaving sheds and so on. At Henry Gebbie's factory in Darvel there are weaving and winding sheds, offices, stores and garages covering 11,651 sq. ft. At Galston, in the Lade-side factories of C. W. Robertson, there is the lace factory covering 20,208 sq. ft. and the lino factory covering 23,351 sq. ft.—the two making a total of 43,559 sq. ft. Thus there is a total of 118,000 sq. ft. of factory space in this area lying idle.

The advantages to the purposes of the Board of Trade, the needs of Scotland and the demands of the Toothill Report are outstanding. I am not uttering a demand or pleading despairingly tonight. I am, in fact, offering the Government an opportunity to show that they mean business about Scotland's problems and that they are prepared to promote areas of industrial growth. I am offering the Government an opportunity. The labour is there. The factories are standing. It would not require very much in help from the Board of Trade to interest people in this area which could easily become a new area of growth, just as it did a century ago.

At one o'clock in the morning I am not sure whether it is today or yesterday, but even now Newmilns is carrying out a certain amount of publicity. Today or yesterday interviews were taking place with a team of Americans who are here. Our links with America are close. On one occasion these weavers, despite heavy unemployment as a result of cotton supplies being interrupted by the Civil War, were moved by their broad humanitarian instincts and sent a message of encouragement to Abraham Lincoln. He replied by sending something back to them—the American flag—which for many years flew proudly in the area. At a ceremony not many years ago that flag was replaced. Need I mention that we produced Alexander Fleming? I hope that we shall have new American capital coming into the area.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

Has the French industry been approached about going to the area?

Mr. Ross

Not so far, to my knowledge, but I hope that someone in France reads what has been said in this debate and will appreciate the advantages and will be encouraged by the Board of Trade to come to this valley. I am offering the Government the opportunity to show that it means business about Scotland's problems by promoting areas of industrial growth and by getting away from the patchworth operation of the Local Employment Act. After all, the figures which we had last Monday show that the Government must do more. In the last four or five years atone we have lost 84,000 jobs in Scotland, and there is no guarantee that we shall get all the jobs, amounting to 42,000, which are said to be in the pipeline.

I ask the Government to make a real start with the Irvine Valley, and to act on a much wider interpretation than has been done under the Local Employment Act.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

I will say only a few words in support of the admirable case which has just been presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). We expect the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us, first, whether he is going to carry out not only what was recommended in the Toothill Report, but what was recommended before. We should use these areas as growing areas. Here, as my hon. Friend has said, are the factories and the people and what we want to attract are industries based in Scotland itself.

What must be understood by the Parliamentary Secretary is that we cannot go on denuding Scotland of its workers. The exportation of workers from Scotland is no answer at all. The case cited tonight might be repeated throughout the whole of Scotland. The lives of these people are centred in Scotland and if we allow them to go derelict, then a large part of Scotland will go derelict, too. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us the help which we so much need.

1.12 a.m.

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

I will reply first with a general point—that is, jobs in prospect. It must be the case that figures for jobs in prospect do not account for all jobs that are to be expected. Those jobs in prospect should give rise to other jobs; for example, in ancillary industries to those Which are expanding, and there should be additional jobs in distribution. It must be made clear that jobs in prospect arise only from building projects Which are notified to us. They do not take any account of the natural growth of industries which do not require industrial development certificates and which do not have to come to the Board of Trade.

So, it is perhaps not a true picture to compare jobs which have been lost to Scotland with jobs in prospect. Those which have been lost are known and are definite. Those in prospect, on the other hand, are going to give rise to other jobs which will be connected with them. Also, we have the regular growth of industries which are expanding side by side with those which are contracting. With the industries which we now have in Scotland, there is good hope that the jobs arising from expanding industries will exceed the total of jobs lost arising from the contraction of industries.

I do not dispute that the Irvine Valley has been contracting. It has been renowned for generations in the lace industry, but fashions have changed in clothing, and in furnishing; and I think that this area was mainly concerned with furnishing. Fashions have changed and there has been a considerable contraction. To make matters worse, many countries including some Commonwealth countries, have placed difficulties in the way of our traditional exports of lace. All this has meant a contraction in cotton lace production which is estimated to have amounted in 1961 to less than half its value in 1954—a considerable contraction. Yet there still is a demand, and I think there will be a continuing demand for lace, and I was glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to a "contraction" rather than a "decline". We must assume that there will be a continuing lace industry in this valley and that it is not going to disappear altogether.

I was sorry that the hon. Gentleman made light of the idea that some of the lace manufacturers are trying to introduce new processes and of what my right hon. Friend told him, that knitting machines for the production of Terylene lace have been introduced. That must be a good element. It is making use of new materials and keeping the industry alive.

Mr. Ross

Yes, but it is not a cure for unemployment.

Mr. Macpherson

There are still a couple of dozen firms of lace fabric manufacturers concentrated in this small area with a labour force of about 1,600. It is true that half of them employ fewer than fifty people each, and that may be one of the causes of the weakness, but the fact remains that no industry, apart from agriculture, employs nearly as many people in the area as the lace industry.

Mr. Ross

One of the advantages of the small unit is that there is more specialisation. One of the weaknesses is that there is less scope for specialisation.

Mr. Macpherson

At any rate, it represents a diversification and the use of new fibres. I am afraid that it is true that the number of firms is constantly diminishing, despite the efforts to find new lines. Another example is that some firms are producing cellular blankets on their cotton lace machinery.

The hon. Gentleman is anxious that new industry should be brought into the area to replace the changing lace industry and he wants my right hon. Friend to accord the Valley the privileges of a development district. I was sorry that he suggested that the Government were ignorant, complacent or indifferent. The Government are well informed of the position of the lace industry. They are by no means complacent about it or indifferent to it. It is extremely sad to see a traditional industry of such high repute contracting. I think nothing but a change in taste and fashion can arrest the decline of the lace industry. But the fact is that fortunately the decline has not resulted in serious unemployment. Indeed, there were fewer wholly unemployed at the April count than there were a year before.

The hon. Gentleman said that there is a special problem of female unemployment. It is a fact that the number was almost equally divided between men and women. I recognise that that means a higher proportionate unemployment of women. I also appreciate that some women, particularly married women, might have difficulty in finding other work locally once they lost their jobs in the lace industry, and might cease to register for employment altogether. While one does not want to see anybody out of a job, one cannot describe unemployment in the Valley as serious. I cannot say exactly what the rate of unemployment is, but it must be rather less than 4 per cent. There is no record of the insured population, but the Irvine Valley belongs to the Kilmarnock group in which the insured population numbers nearly 35,000. The total unemployment there last month amounted to 2.6 per cent. of the insured population. In the Kilmarnock group of areas as a whole the rate of unemployment for women was about the same as for men.

The reason why there is no serious unemployment in the Irvine Valley is that it forms a single closely-knit pattern of travel to work with the rest of the Kilmarnock group, and Kilmarnock is within daily travelling distance, and I understand that there are adequate transport services.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned difficulties in Kilmarnock. I would not for a moment deny that at present there has been a recession there, but it is the main shopping centre and market town of North Ayrshire and its industrial expansion since the war has been most marked. It is true that new jobs arising from new building or expansion there are comparatively small—about 150—but firms like Massey-Ferguson and Glacier Metals have built up considerable labour forces.

Mr. Ross

Thanks to the Labour Government.

Mr. Macpherson

It is thanks to the firms themselves.

I think it only right to say that, while there are a certain number of people on short time there, Kilmarnock is a thriving and prosperous centre and brings in workers from all around.

The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted us to show that we mean business about Scotland's problems as a whole. But if we are to deal with Scotland's problems we must have a due sense of priorities. The facilities of the Local Employment Act must be reserved for areas of high and persistent unemployment; and this is a question of priorities. I must tell him that there is no case for listing the Kilmarnock group of employment areas with 2.6 per cent. unemployment as a development district. Nor would it be appropriate to put the Irvine Valley on the list. My right hon. Friend does not consider that high unemployment which is likely to last either exists or is to be expected there because experience shows that labour displaced because of redundancy and so forth is being absorbed into employment elsewhere in the group as a whole. There is no serious unemployment at the present time in the area, and the experience is that redundant workers are absorbed elsewhere.

Mr. Hoy

The hon. Gentleman has been telling us all what he cannot or will not do. Will he finish by telling us what he proposes to do to give some help, because he admits that there is a problem?

Mr. Macpherson

What I am prepared to say is that we would most willingly grant industrial development certificates to any suitable industry that wanted to set up in the area and could not be influenced by the inducements of the Local Employment Act to go to a development district. As the hon. Gentleman said, there are attractions there in the form of factories which are available. That is undoubtedly some attraction to the area. Also, we would not refuse an industrial development certificate to any industry already in the area that wanted to expand.

But I am afraid that we could not agree to put the Irvine Valley on the list of development districts at present simply because it does not comply, in my right hon. Friend's view, with the requirements of the Local Employment Act. We do not believe that there is high and persistent unemployment there at present or that there is likely to be, simply because the experience is that, being within easy travelling distance of Kilmarnock, the people are readily absorbed in jobs there.

Mr. Ross

Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that there is a pool of labour there which cannot be used because it is not mobile—the married women and other older women? Will he look at this again? I believe that his right hon. Friend's view has been obscured by outdated dogmas in relation to the Local Employment Act, and he had better get rid of them quickly.

Mr. Macpherson

I am afraid that as we see the position at present—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Wednesday evening and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-five minutes past One o'clock.