HC Deb 23 February 1965 vol 707 cc228-30
Q6. Mr. Farr

asked the Prime Minister the total number of aircraft workers and those of ancillary trades whose jobs are threatened by Her Majesty's Government's decision to cancel HS681; and what provision he is making to provide alternative employment in the Coventry and Lutterworth areas together with utilisation of the Bitteswell assembly establishment.

The Prime Minister

The workers whose jobs are most likely to be threatened by the cancellation of HS681 are those employed by Hawker Siddeley Aviation Limited. I understand that 1,500 of these were employed, directly or indirectly, on this project at the time of cancellation, and this total would have risen to about 4,500 by the end of this year had the project not been cancelled.

I understand that there is a high demand for labour in the areas round both factories and the prospects of placing any redundant workers in other jobs which will make use of their qualifications are, generally speaking, good.

Mr. Farr

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that these are highly-skilled aircraft makers and that their employment in any other capacity would be largely wasted? Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman recall his pre-election promise that he would continue to maintain British aircraft production and, moreover, would place Britain in the forefront of technological advance?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, and that is what we are doing. It is not done by continuing with projects, which, owing to the time scale adopted by the previous Government and the delays, cannot be delivered by the time they are needed. As to these two factories, the hon. Member will be aware that no decision has been taken in respect of the second one mentioned by him and that since the debate in the House, some quite sizeable orders have been announced for the Hawker Siddeley Company in the matter of aircraft required by the Services. Obviously, we cannot instruct the company which factories, if any, need to be closed, but we certainly insist that its closure policy should have relation not only to economic but to social considerations and to the availability of alternative employment.

Mr. Edelman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the severance pay which was yesterday offered by Hawker Siddeley is totally inadequate? In these circumstances, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to use his good offices to ensure that severance pay is equitable?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I have seen reports of the severance pay which has been offered. It is not for me to comment upon its adequacy. In the case of another industry which in the past few years has been run down very much more rapidly than has been the case, or looks like being the case, with aircraft, very generous severance terms were worked out by agreement with both sides of industry. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour would be prepared to offer his help, advice and guidance to see that similar conditions apply.