HC Deb 17 November 1964 vol 702 cc398-408

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

1.5 a.m.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

Despite the lateness of the hour, I am glad to have this opportunity to raise the question of new industrial development in the Linwood area. Since other hon. Members may wish to have an opportunity to speak I will be brief and to the point in my remarks.

I warned in the House two weeks ago of the dangers involved in the Linwood area, depending as the industry there does on the success of one model of car, and since I issued that warning events have moved very quickly indeed. We are now in the middle of a real industrial crisis and both management and shop stewards have been discussing the position almost daily. A further, perhaps decisive, meeting will be taking place this afternoon. I am sure that no hon. Member will wish to say anything tonight which might make the situation more difficult.

Having said that, I would like it clearly on the record that the workers and shop stewards at both Rootes and Pressed Steel have behaved responsibly, patiently and, above all, with considerable restraint in the last month or so, in a period which has been full of strain and anxiety for them and their families.

I wish to emphasise that this is not a small local matter. It is one of vital importance not only to the future of the area as a potential growth point, but to the whole future industrial development within Scotland. This can be clearly seen from Scottish newspaper front pages and the way the Press has handled the subject. It is the first time to my knowledge that for three days running such a story has made the full front pages of the popular Scottish daily newspapers.

The situation at present is that the management of Rootes is offering a return to a five-day week in place of the four-day week the men have been working for the past few months, if the men will accept the redundancy of between 300 and 400 men. The alternative, it is said, might be a three-day week for some sections of the factory, but that that would be economically impossible. The men are saying, in the words of one popular newspaper, "Don't sack our mates" and have made some suggestions about an adjustment within the factory. In the meantime, the associated factory of Pressed Steel, producing the car bodies for Rootes, is operating four-day working for about 1, 800 of its men. I do not, for obvious reasons, want to go into the whole background and reasons for this situation, except to say that the project on which the whole complex was geared has reached nothing near the original target on which the existing labour force was based.

Hon. Members should remember that this is a very different position from the Midlands, where the car industry has often had to assimilate a four day, five clay changing situation. In the area about which I am speaking, on the other hand, we have a background of unemployment. The Midlands can absorb that sort of changing employment situation. This area cannot.

I have the local Ministry of Labour figures with me and, while I do not wish to weary the House at this late hour, the Minister will be interested to know that, for example, at the Paisley employment exchange there are 730 registered unemployed men, 212 at Johnstone, 418 at Barrhead and 1, 411 at Greenock and the neighbouring employment exchange at Port Glasgow is similar. The running down of our traditional industries in Scotland—figures of which I will not detail now—has made the situation even more serious.

We must keep in mind the point that between 1959 and 1963, at a period when employment for male workers in the southern and eastern regions of England rose by 120, 000, in Scotland it fell by 6, 000. We must keep in mind, too, the vacancy position. For example, for every 100 unemployed boys in the Midlands, there are 1, 359 jobs, but for every 100 unemployed boys in Scotland there are only 60 jobs. That is the background.

Here are men trained in the car business whom we are likely to need if the necessary expansion takes place. My fear—I expressed it yesterday during discussion with Mr. Geoffrey Rootes—is that these workers will become a permanent loss in the sense that they will move south to look for work. Therefore, when we try to bring in our plans to redevelop the Scottish area, we will not have this skilled labour force available.

The other part of the background is that because of our hopes with the coming of Rootes, the virtually new town of Linwood of between, eventually. 10, 000 and 15, 000 people was planned around the enterprise, with overspill coming in mainly from Glasgow. People who had come from single-room housing got decent three- or four-apartment houses for the first time, with all the commitments that this entails. These, however, are the very group of people who face the position which I have outlined. The situation is, therefore, a serious one.

My appeal tonight, therefore, is twofold. I should like to take this opportunity to appeal, first to Rootes, even at this late hour, when we arc, perhaps, 12 hours away from the meeting, to do everything that is humanly possible to hold on to their existing labour force, even on a four-day week basis, and even while recognising their genuine economic difficulties in this situation. Because if these men go, it may mean contraction and not merely temporary redundancy.

Secondly, I ask the Department as a matter of urgency that a meeting should be called between the Board of Trade, the Minister responsible for regional planning and the Secretary of State for Scotland, perhaps under his chairmanship, urgently to review the position of Linwood and to institute Government action.

In urging the need for planning priority, I shall not necessarily argue the case for Linwood as being the obvious growth point with planning priority. Like Everest, however. it is there, and, therefore, we cannot afford to ignore the situation. In the Pressed Steel factory there is a large basis for what is called diversification within the industry, and in Rootes we have a very large productive unit of the kind of which there are far too few in Scotland. Along with this, we should be considering the situation in the context of the planning of the Clyde Valley as a whole.

I welcomed last week's statement by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade concerning advance factories, but the Board of Trade will realise that to us in Scotland this is not yet sufficient. We realise the difficulties facing the new Administration, and the problems that we face are not of our creating. We must, however, keep in mind that in the last few years, in tackling the problem of growth and development in Scotland, we have failed to understand—I hope that the new Government do understand—that it is not sufficient merely to move production units to Scotland. Along with them we must move research and development centres to ensure a process of self-generating growth, otherwise there cannot he proper growth. The rapid utilisation of technology is necessary to ensure the self-generating process without which development will not take place.

In such a situation, Governments have a much greater rôle to play than often they realise. Much of the expenditure in this field is direct Government contractual expenditure. I should, therefore, like to see the establishment of Government projects based upon and utilising the technological resources of the area—for example, of Strathclyde University and of Glasgow University, along the lines of the M.I.T. developments in the Boston Valley of America. I should like to see such projects fulfilling direct Government contracts, drawing, if need be, upon the scientific research of these places.

I have spoken to many of the staff and I can say they all are keen on this type of industrial development; no one has rejected the idea. Now that we have, therefore, the opportunity of diversification, but it should come within the industrial structure, not outwith the structure, of the area, and associated with the existing industrial complex there. Diversification, if it is not to come to a dead end, must be based on existing potential, and should be based on the Rootes Pressed Steel complex itself. We must remember that failure often can occur with developing industry. Ferranti has been keen on developing its factory in Scotland using Scottish components. But about £4 million a year is spent by them south of the Border on buying components and we should like such development north of it.

I know that the hon. Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) wants to get into the debate, so I shall conclude by making three quick points. I have been speaking quickly to get as much as possible in in the short time available to me. Under-developed areas are obvious places for Government contracts to be placed to meet the needs of such areas. We should use existing factories to institute the production of a really light tractor, much lighter than we use in this country, to work on the soils of, say, West Africa. There should be a mobile irrigation engine for pumping purposes in the same kind of area, with an engine of the order of say, 1 or 2 horse power, to provide both mobility and pumping, and, thirdly, a light brake van with a winch on top, to spark off contractual work in this area.

These would help to keep the factories going. The situation is serious, but I think that a solution lies to hand, and I urge quick action upon the Government, because I believe that if the Government were to make a statement of their intentions it would help to prevnt the contraction which appears to be about to happen.

1.17 a.m.

Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)

As a Member who has the honour to represent the constituency where the two great factories are situated, I am glad to have this opportunity in rather unusual circumstances to take part in this debate. I shall confine myself, because of the shortness of time, to one or two points which I believe to be important.

We must remember that Rootes and Pressed Steel comprised together are perhaps the most important single stake in the expansionist policy which we all want Scotland to follow. As the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) has said, there is a great potential here for component industries. I want to emphasise what he has said with regard to the rate of production, which is a matter which has been perturbing many for reasons which I do not propose to enter into now and which, I hope, we shall not go into in any detail this evening. But this great enterprise must succeed, because it is in the interests of every single person in Scotland that it does so.

There are three points I want to make particularly. The first is that I believe that if we were to accept the proposition which has been put forward that there should be a three-day or even a four-day working week, the factory would thereby lose many of the skilled men whom it has been extremely difficult to get, and it is because we wish to keep these men who are skilled in this particular industry and location that there is a considerable body of opinion in favour of maintaining the five-day week. So there is this point to be made, as opposed to the point which the hon. Member put forward, about losing these skills to the South.

The second point in that connection I wish to make is that there has been already considerable progress in component parts, and that whereas there were only six firms which were contributing components to this industry before the exhibition Rootes held a year ago, now there are about 60 firms. An example I would suggest quickly is that Triplex bring up to Scotland a factory for yet another component in the very near future. This is precisely the development which we most want to see in this part of Scotland. It is also right to put on record that the Hillman Imp car is already, in terms of value, a 76 per cent. Scottish product.

There are two points which ought to be recorded under the heading of diversification. First, it is unrealistic to discuss the employment position as the hon. Gentleman did, because these are highly skilled jobs and we are now dealing with building up in Scotland the technologists whom we need. It is not as easy as the hon. Gentleman suggested to diversify in this field, and diversification, to be effective in terms of employment, must be in this field.

Secondly, while I accept the figures which the hon. Gentleman has no doubt checked of the unemployed available, it is no use giving these figures unless they are matched against the skills and capability of persons concerned, and this imposes limitations on how best to use this labour.

Most important of all is that this is highly specialised plant designed to a production rate which we must see is achieved. It is not really very practical to suggest that it can be altered substantially within itself, and the intention has been to produce to the maximum along the lines which this highly specialised plant is designed to cover.

I hope that everybody will join in doing their utmost to see that this enterprise prospers. I think that we should leave to the good offices of those whose primary concern this is such negotiation as is going on at the present time.

1.22 a.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. George Darling)

My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) and the hon. Lady the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) have rightly drawn attention to a serious employment situation in the Linwood area, with which they are both concerned. They pointed to the risks of an area being too dependent for jobs on one industry. I think that this is really at the root of the problem which we have immediately to consider.

It is not a new problem. Successive Governments have had to face it over many years, but in a very different context, because the one industry here is not a declining industry, as was the case with the distressed areas before the war, which were too dependent on certain industries. This is, or should be, an expanding area with new industries going in.

We are fully aware of the risks and dangers of the sort of concentration which the situation at Linwood has exposed, this dependence on a single industry or group of industries working together. I assure both hon. Members that the Board of Trade, the Scottish Office, and everybody concerned with industrial development are concerned to get diversity of industries in their development projects.

The Linwood area presents us with special problems, not only because of this high degree of dependence on one firm and the enterprises which serve that firm. This is very much a new industrial area which has attracted workers from Glasgow, Paisley, and elsewhere. There are new housing estates, and the whole success both of the social projects and of the industrial developments depends on a continuing expansion of employment. We cannot have these social and industrial developments unless we can plan for the continuous expansion of employment. Even short-time working will upset the steady expansion that we all wish to see in development districts.

The hon. Lady pointed out that in going to the Linwood area Rootes have done more than create employment in their own factories. I am glad that she gave the figures that I intended to give anyhow. She referred to the fact that 76 per cent. of the value of Rootes products at Linwood is now Scottish in content, and that a lot has been done to assist and stimulate local industry. More components are now being bought and produced in Scotland. But, good as this expansion of component manufacturing may be, it is only a beginning, because for a truly balanced economy these Scottish component factories ought to be producing for the United Kingdom area, not just for a part of Scotland, and not just for the two or three Scottish car and commercial vehicle plants.

These are matters which we shall obviously have to bear in mind, but I stress that the jobs which have been created—or most of them—are new jobs. The Rootes factory has provided diversity by introducing new industry. But this in itself is part of the problem. Workers have come in from elsewhere and have to be trained for the new jobs, and if they cannot be fully employed in car production we are under an obligation to see that their skills are not wasted and that they make a full contribution to the general industrial expansion which we all want to see.

Both hon. Members who have spoken have mentioned this, and we must try to keep these people in Scotland, to help to stop the drift to the English Midlands and to the congested South-East region. A difficulty which we face in car production is that output and employment depend very much on the success of one, or just a few, models. If a model does not have the expected demand, then there has to be some retooling and new designing and perhaps new arrangements for the production schedule. These changes do mean technical changes in the industry itself and this takes some time. It also upsets production and, of course, engineering workers fully understand this. I must here say that they are usually co-operative in helping management through the necessary technical changes of this kind.

This is what has happened at Rootes now. There are good grounds for believing that output and employment will pick up, but we cannot sit back and just wait for this anticipated improvement. Linwood is a new industrial area in several senses and has become a most important reception area for Glasgow overspill, apart from the new towns designed for that purpose. The county council has approved schemes for community development. We must deal with Linwood as part of the wider regional area of Glasgow and Clydeside and remember that there are projects coming along. For example, the new Glasgow Airport is not far away, and this, we hope, will improve communications. There is the new Erskine Bridge, over the Clyde, and all this will add to Linwood's importance as an industrial centre.

I mention these projects so that we can be seen to be fully alive to Linwood's future; and when I say "we" I mean all the Government departments that may be concerned. I can tell hon. Members that they are all working together in regional planning, the regional planning to which my hon. Friend has referred tonight, and accepting it as a job which has to be done. We shall take full note of the views expressed on the technical aspects of what we have come to know as growth planning; I think that my hon. Friend and I understand each other on those terms.

We are doing all that we can to introduce new industry to this area, in common with other areas of Scotland where industrial expansion is needed, and we shall not relax our efforts. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will shortly be announcing some new measures which we hope will help us to attract new industries to Scotland. But these measures and projects, even if they develop in Scotland, will not ease the present redundancy problem and the short-time working at Rootes. This is the difficulty that we are up against at present. The House will not wish me to comment on the negotiations to which my hon. Friend and the hon. Lady referred, which are now going on between the unions and the management for some appropriate working arrangements to deal with the present situation. We will see how they go. We hope that satisfactory arrangements will emerge.

I assure both my hon. Friend and the hon. Lady there will be no relaxing of our efforts to introduce new industry into the area, in common with other areas in Scotland where similar problems obtain. So far as Linwood is concerned, we will bear in mind that a number of workers and their families have gone to live there as a result of the Rootes development and that we have a special responsibility in that regard.

There is not much more that I can add in detail. We have the situation before us. It has been thoroughly examined. We will do everything we can to meet the wishes of both my hon. Friend and the hon. Lady and make sure that Linwood plays its part, as it should play its part as a developing area in Scotland, in finding employment and also in making a real contribution to development not only in Scottish industry but in industry in Great Britain generally, and in the expansion we require.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes to Two o'clock.