HC Deb 18 December 1968 vol 775 cc1492-532

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

8.35 p.m.

Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)

By one of the accidents of procedure in the House we have much more than the half hour I expected for the debate in which I intend in just 15 minutes to make an unanswerable case for the retention of the Inverurie Locomotive Works as an industrial unit. I had intended to leave the Minister 15 minutes to reply, but it looks as though he will have well over an hour, although I understand that other hon. Members wish to speak.

I have the greatest respect for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and I am also grateful that the Minister of State is present, so I mean nothing personal when I say that the Secretary of State for Scotland should be here to reply. Is he afraid, or does not he regard this as a matter of sufficient importance to merit his personal attention?

I have already given the Ministry of Transport and the Board of Trade full facts and figures on the capabilities of the Inverurie Locomotive Works, which, somewhat surprisingly, they had not had from the Board of British Railways. I shall stress only a few important facts now.

The works employs about 580 men, one in four of the insured population of the Royal Burgh of Inverurie. Of those men, 224 are skilled and 204 are semi-skilled. There are 100 salaried staff, and the rest are unskilled, including 40 apprentices There are slight variations from month to month, so those figures may be marginally out of date. When it is appreciated that the population of Inverurie is only 5,267, it may be seen that it is a real railway town. The only other manufacturing is a small paper mill, and without the locomotive works Inverurie would be a town without a heart, unless there were a successful transplant from somewhere else.

At present, the carriage shop is working at full capacity, with occasional pockets of overtime. The wagon shop is in the same position. Although there is a lack of locomotives for repair—the works went over to diesel some time ago—steel wagons are being repaired in the loco shop, by amicable agreement between management and staff. The blacksmith's shop, too, is very busy and working overtime. However, it has been the policy of headquarters management not to recruit men to replace natural wastage and retirement. Consequently, there is currently a certain imbalance of staff. Nevertheless, the quality of the work is probably higher than in any other of the 14 British Rail workshops in the United Kingdom.

New equipment was installed in 1964. The works has an unsurpassed record of good labour relations. If there has ever been a stoppage, I do not know when it was. There is a rapid throughput of all types of work, and a very broad, adaptable and flexible capability. There are good training facilities for apprentices in a wide variety of trades. Work study is in effective use throughout the whole factory and as a consequence all the costs are very low. It is claimed that the labour costs are 11d. per standard hour lower than in any other railway workshop, though I do not know whether that is something to be proud of, because it implies a low wage structure. In addition, the factory is situated only 16 miles from the freightliner terminal at Aberdeen, on the fast line from Aberdeen to Inverness, and only 12 miles from Aberdeen (Dyce) Airport.

In those circumstances, one may well wonder why the Board of British Rail is even considering the closure of this highly efficient and vital unit. The answer, I am told, is rationalisation. It is not the fault of Inverurie; it just happens that there is surplus capacity in the big railway workshops in the smoking southern centres of urban population and industry. Apparently, it costs too much to bring rolling stock up to Inverurie for repair, in spite of our lower costs. In America, Russia or Australia, 500 miles is nothing, but it seems that it is an insurmountable obstacle in this congested little island. For the second or third time, I challenge the British Railways Board to publish the full costs before any final decision is taken. I have been assured twice in the last week by a member of the Board and by a member of the Government that a decision has not been taken yet.

The Inverurie Works claims that, for certain types of work, its costs are less than half those of other works. Surely it must be a very expensive journey north to wipe out that advantage. If some of the works' overheads seem relatively high, it is only because they are not given all the work they can handle. How is it that a certain motor car manufacturer can operate economically at Lin-wood to build car bodies for assembly in Coventry?

What is rationalisation? What is rational? It is highly irrational to allow an efficient major unit of a nationalised industry, employing 580 people and capable of expansion, to close on the very eve of publication of the Gaskin Report—the Report commissioned by the Government on the economy of the North-East of Scotland. It would seem equally irrational to close the works just as the massive Transport Act comes into force, giving such units the right to tender for outside engineering contract work, but before there is an opportunity for the works to assert that right.

The works is capable of producing any British Railways components at low cost. It can take on virtually anything in engineering—machining, smithy work, cyanide hardening, welding, plate work and general fitting, not to mention carpentry, upholstery and electrical work of all types, including battery charging and repair.

Is it rational to condemn the work force to live and labour in congested, smoke-polluted industrial areas of the South or more rational to encourage the survival of an efficient unit in a place where the amenities are second to none. where there is air and space and one of the finest senior secondary schools in Britain, with an enviable record for preparing students for university and higher education, and where one does not have to be an executive in order to fish, ski or play golf?

I have it from the Lord Provost that the council would welcome expansion in the burgh. It would welcome newcomers from the South of Scotland or elsewhere. Already, as the Minister knows, a £250,000 housing scheme has had to be put under the table because of the black cloud hanging over the locomotive works. It is irrational to build new advance factories on the outskirts of Aberdeen and at the same time even to contemplate the closure of an existing factory which is efficient, adaptable and has a first-class labour force.

Closure of the works would have a devastating effect not only on Inverurie but throughout the North-East of Scotland. There is no other work for the men in the area. The Prime Minister may claim—as he did in a letter—that 26 new projects were approved in the North-East of Scotland in 1967, but where are they? How many people do they employ? None is near Inverurie. The right hon. Gentleman said in his letter that Inverurie is within travel-to-work distance of Aberdeen. He does not know the North-East winter.

In any case, where is the work in Aberdeen for about 450 skilled and semiskilled men in the engineering trade? The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that, if the works close, unless there are jobs immediately available in the area the men will emigrate south or overseas. That is exporting unemployment. Their homes and children's education will be disrupted. Their houses, if they have them, will be devalued because they will be selling in a buyers' market. An integrated community, the kind of community which is far too rare, will be split in half. The men and their families will inevitably find themselves living in one or other of the great conurbations, which may be all right for some but for others will be a minor and unnecessary tragedy.

If the Minister will give one assurance—that the Government will intervene to prevent any closure unless alternative employment is available in the area for the work force and an alternative function for the factory itself—then he will have gone a long way to restore the confidence and sense of security which have been wrecked by rumour. This rumour started with a newspaper article when I was at the United Nations in New York in November.

I am not alone in making this plea. Tomorrow I shall be presenting a formal Petition on behalf of the North-East of Scotland Development Committee, the City of Aberdeen, the County of Aberdeen, the Royal Burghs of Kintore and Inverurie, the Burgh of Old Medrum and the Presbytery of Garioch. This will be presented in the House tomorrow.

I ask the Minister to make the Government's policy clear. Does he agree that a closure would be in direct contradiction of the Government's development area policy? Does he recall that in the Report presented by the Secretary of State for Scotland in January, 1966—Cmnd. 2864—"The Scottish Economy 1965 to 1970—a Plan for Expansion", it was stated in paragraph 65 on page 128: There is also a notably efficient railway workshop at Inverurie with 600 workers, for which a long-term future is planned by British Railways Board. Does he, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the British Railways Board intend to stand by that undertaking, or is it just another scrap of paper?

More recently, on 4th October, 1966, the Under-Secretary of State, Lord Hughes, told me in a letter that the works would continue for as long as the rail system in the North of Scotland justified it. Some of us may detect a flavour of ambiguity in that gob-stopper. Let us have more figures from the British Railways Beard.

On the basis of the utilisation of rolling stock, linked with time and distance on the railways in that part of Scotland north of the Forth-Clyde Valley, how does the capacity of the Inverurie Locomotive Works compare with the total maintenance and repair requirements over a given period of, say, one year? In other words, do these works have a capacity exceeding the requirements of the rail system in the North of Scotland? This is a fair question in the light of Lord Hughes' letter to me. Or is Inverurie to go so that voracious mouths may be filled in the South? Cannot something be done to spread British Rail's maintenance work to a number of efficient, decentralised smaller units in preference to concentrating it in a few big workshops where a strike, fire, accident or sabotage could bring the railway system to a grinding halt?

I have a few practical suggestions to make. First, the manager of the works should be committed to keeping the work force and factory intact as an efficient unit, or he should go now and be replaced. Secondly, a senior man should be appointed to go out for engineering contract work, like components, prefabrication for shipyards or the construction industry, containers, vehicle bodies and agricultural machinery. There must be something.

Thirdly, any final decision on the future of the works should be delayed for at least two 3'ears to give an opportunity for the terms of the new Transport Act to operate. The situation is bound to change. Already the works have made considerable success in taking on outside work.

Fourthly, will the Board at least give consideration to my proposal that a policy of decentralisation and expansion of workshops like Inverurie might be more economic in the long run? Land is relatively cheap in Inverurie whereas land for redevelopment in the big cities in the South is extremely costly. Would not the sale of British Rail's property in some of the big cities more than compensate for the cost of expanding some of the smaller and more widely distributed workshops? With the establish- ment of growth points at Invergordon and elsewhere in the North of Scotland, could not the retention of the Inverurie Locomotive Works be justified?

Either rail traffic to and from the North of Scotland will have to be built up, or the Government will be faced with a colossal programme of road expansion between Inverness, Aberdeen and the South—unless it is the Government's intention to allow the North-East to wither and decay.

Fifth, may I ask the Board of Trade to reconsider carefully the Answer given to me on Monday, 16th December, that it does not consider that the circumstances of West Aberdeenshire justify its designation as a special development area? This is not the view of the Government-appointed North-East of Scotland Development Committee—at least not in the event of the closure of the locomotive works.

Finally, I plead with the Minister not to say in his reply, once again, that a final decision rests with the Board of British Railways. It does not, the final decision is in the hands of the Government, and he knows it.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Aberdeen, South)

When I arrived at the House tonight I thought that I would get two minutes to say a very brief word in this debate. I find now that I have the luxury of a fair number of minutes over that limit. I congratulate the hon. Member for Abershire, West (Mr. James Davidson) on getting this Adjournment, on the able case he has put, on behalf of the Royal Burgh of Inverurie, and on the very energetic campaign that he has been conducting on this very important issue in the Northeast of Scotland.

I make no apology for intervening, because everyone connected with the North-East realises what a tremendously homogeneous area it is. If I have one quarrel with what the hon. Member said it was when he threw doubt on the fact that Inverurie was within travelling distance of Aberdeen. About 80 of my constituents who live within the city of Aberdeen commute daily to Inverurie and work in the threatened locomotive works.

I recognise that the Ministry of Transport and my hon. Friend on the Front Bench take no pleasure in facing up to the kind of dilemma about which we are talking. Closures are never popular, and the decisions to make them are never easy. There is obviously a certain freedom on the back-bench, a certain willingness to ignore the kind of pressures that will be brought to bear upon the Ministers, pressures which really ought not to be ignored. It is important however that the gravity of the decisions which are to be taken on Inverurie should be stressed again.

The hon. Member has given some of the bare statistics, and I support him in what he has said. This is a town of just over 5,000 people. I do not dispute his figure of something like one in four of the insured population being employed in these works. If one considers the effect of the closure, the dispersal of labour, the effect upon the shops, the local traders and so on, then the cumulative effect on the economy of the burgh will be very considerable. It is only 16 miles from Aberdeen, but the whole area is, in employment terms, an isolated one.

The only other major industry is a small paper mill. With the removal of the E.F.T.A. tariffs, the build-up of Scandinavian competition, everyone knows that it would be a super-optimist who would describe the British paper industry as a growing employer of labour, certainly in the next year or two. It is also fair to say that if one did make up one's mind to commute to Aberdeen there would be considerable problems over finding a job.

If one looks superficially at the figures and takes the simple criteria of unemployment one finds that in Aberdeen there is a figure of 1.9 per cent. Anyone who looks at this situation with anything more than a cursory glance realises that this masks the extremely heavy emigration rate.

I would remind the House of what was said in Command 2864, "The Scottish Economy, 1965 to 1970". On page 119 is the statement: Outside Central Scotland, much the greatest volume of net migration overseas and to England is from the North-East region. Its total net loss—over 7,000 a year, amounted to 25 per cent. of the total from Scotland. It goes on to say that the main weight of the migration is from the Aberdeen area. Everyone connected with Aberdeen is familiar with the pattern. The city's population has been stable for many years, but only at the expense of drawing constantly from the surrounding agricultural areas. We have become a staging post on the road to the South. This situation has worried the Scottish Office and Ministers for a long time, and the worry was very frankly expressed in the White Paper.

At a time when we are approaching what we hope will be major decisions about the industrial structure of the North-East of Scotland and the Government's attitude to it, with the publication of the Gaskin Report, it would be extremely worrying if such a major prop of the employment structure in the Inverurie area were removed. At best—and this is putting it at its kindest—it would give an air of uncertainty about the future which would be extremely difficult to defend. We are here dealing with a skilled labour force. If it is dispersed, it will not easily be replaced. In fact, it probably cannot be replaced. I am not saying that this is the be-all and end-all of the argument, but it is something which bears the most serious consideration.

One of my main pleas is that this decision, although obviously the Ministry of Transport will have a major say in it, should be seen, not purely in terms of railway economics, but in the context of regional development. I speak from the Labour benches with pride because I genuinely believe that the Government are committed to the revival and development of the Scottish economy as probably no other Administration has been. This has been a continuing trend under a number of Governments, but it has been intensified over the last few years. There is no doubt that there is a great deal about which we can talk with pride.

The emigration figure this year has decreased to 33,000. That is a dramatic drop compared with previous years. I know from many conversations and exchanges in the House what satisfaction this has given to Ministers. I hope that they will bear that in mind before doing anything to increase, as I fear the closure of this locomotive works would, the emigration rate from the North-East of Scotland. As I say, this decision must not be taken purely in terms of railway economics. We must consider the possibilities and the difficulties, which must be realistically faced, of bringing alternative employment to the area.

I could weary the House by talking about the 37s. 6d. a week paid to employers as a result of the R.E.P.-S.E.T. complex in development areas. We could talk about building grants, training grants, the 45 per cent. cash investment grants, and so on. We all know about the enormous explosion of Government aid and public expenditure in Scotland. But we also know that the North-East has been one of the difficult static areas of the last few years. This perhaps is not difficult to understand.

At the end of the day, the decision as to where new industrial development will be located must rest with the individual firms and industrialists concerned. I accept that. Given the choice of Central Scotland or North of England competing on level terms with the North-East of Scotland, there has been, for all sorts of often fallacious reasons, a tendency to stay out of the area. There are a number of vacant advance factories in my constituency and scattered round the North-East. I make no great complaint about that, because I recognise that the strategy of advance factories is that they should be ready and waiting should the opportunity to attract industry arise.

But we must have no illusions about the difficulty of closing the locomotive works and expecting easily to fill the gap. If the worst comes to the worst and it is decided that the locomotive works should go, the period of the rundown becomes of great importance. I understand that under various union agreements a period of at least six months must be given, but I should have thought that it would have to be very much longer if it were to be a significant concession. Six months might well be a messy compromise, an unpleasant period of uncertainty and deflation while the labour force was run down, but not long enough to allow other arrangements to be made to attract industry and get it established to take up the slack. So let us please be realistic, if the argument does go, as I hope it will not, against the locomotive works.

I recognise, of course, that from the railway point of view, in terms of logic of development, this is no doubt neat, and that the Inverurie works should be dispensed with. I recognise that my hon. Friend may well say that between 1962 and 1967 the rundown in railway workshops network in England was about 30 per cent. and in Scotland only 9 per cent. I think we would all accept that with the large modern works at St. Rollox and their capacity, this problem does exist. But I wonder at the social cost of closing works like those of Inverurie.

I should like the Minister's comment on this. Look at the cost in social terms, in terms of disruption, of the social chaos caused to the families concerned. I have had some very recent evidence in my own constituency, although on a smaller scale, of similar circumstances when the repair shops were run down in Aberdeen. One family took a job in Cambridge on the promise or certainly understanding that housing would be available within a year, and now, eighteen months later, there is still no word whatsoever of when council accommodation will be available. There are inevitably enormous tensions on a family in such circumstances, and have been for up to eighteen months or longer.

When we try to quantify all this I wonder how long we can fund the deficit involved in keeping the Inverurie locomotive workshops, considering what it would cost to close them and in the attempt to attract alternative employment.

I do not want to delay the House and I will only repeat that this is a decision of paramount importance to the northeast of Scotland. It comes at an extraordinarily awkward time when the Gaskin Report is on the very verge of publication—and, I imagine, based on the assumption that the Inverurie loco works would be continuing as at least part of the industrial scene in the northeast of Scotland. The decision about these works must have very wide-ranging repercussions for the future of what in industrial terms is a very difficult area. The range of job opportunity has always been very limited there, and the economy has lacked buoyancy for so long, despite the very best efforts of the Government. I hope that very great care will be taken over this decision and that it will not be taken purely and simply on economic arguments of the Railways Board.

I repeat what the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West quoted from the Scottish Plan, 1965–70: There is also a notably efficient railway workshop in Inverurie with 600 workpeople and for which a long-term future is planned by the British Railways Board. That was written in the basic Government Plan for Scotland, in 1966. I do not know of any great revolution since then in railway planning or railway decision-making which would have caused that forecast to be obliterated or the situation to have abruptly changed. We are constantly told that the railways have saved some 3,000 miles of line originally to have fallen under the Beeching axe. There has been no great cutback in lines which was not known in 1966, and there has not been, so far as I know, an unforeseeable expansion in the speed-up of modernisation which would have justified a complete reversal of what, presumably, was a considered judgment in 1966. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will say a word or two about that specific statement which appeared in this document, presumably with the permission—putting it no more strongly—and with the knowledge of the Ministry of Transport.

I hope that the Ministry will think very long and very hard about the implications before a final decision is reached. I cannot help warning my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that if the decision goes against the Inverurie railway works and if they are closed that statement will haunt the Government and their representatives in the north-east of Scotland for a very long time.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)

May I express my profound sympathy with the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) who, in opening the debate, put forward an extremely able and forceful case. I know how I would feel if such a closure were threatened in my constituency. I imagine that Members of the Government would feel the same about the welfare of their constituents, and I hope for this reason they will consider sympathetically the arguments being put forward tonight.

The closure, if it goes through, will be a tragedy in Inverurie unless an effective alternative is devised in time. I am grate- ful to the Railways Board that on 12th November this year they opened discussions with the trade unions about the future of these works, thereby giving us a chance to engage ourselves in this debate. It is right that a nationalised industry should do this but, if the debate is to be effective, the industry should go further and make plain to us all the facts.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West spoke of the costs involved, the performance of the works and so on. but there are other matters with which I wish to deal. In my experience, dealing with British Railways has sometimes been like a game of blind man's buff. I would like to know who will do the work now done at Inverurie, and where it will be done. What is the level of employment in the area where the work will be done, and what is its efficiency factor? What are the alternatives for the carrying out of the work at present being done in Inverurie? The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West made it plain that it is a highly efficient work force.

It is far easier to effect a closure than to build a works up again. It is far easier to say that there must be rationalisation, and everybody must be in London or in the Midlands to facilitate administration. That is an administratively straightforward measure if one does not care about the people who are involved. It is far harder, especially in my part of the country, to evolve and build up once again an engineering works employing some 600 people. There is such a firm in my constituency employing 900 people which has been going for 50 years, but it takes much time, work and effort to develop an engineering works on this scale.

I differ from the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West on only one point, his pleasure that British Railways would be able to take on other engineering work. I am not sufficiently convinced of the efficiency of nationalised industries to welcome their work force being used in this way, with the advantages they have in competition with other industries, for example in my constituency, thus seriously affecting employment in my constituency. My belief is that the private sector should be more involved in work of this kind.

I hope that the debate tonight will attract publicity which may alert anyone responding to the Government's call for exports, for example, to the realisation that in Inverurie there is a ready-made factory, a highly efficient work force and an opportunity to get going immediately. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has in his diary a list of people who wish to consult him about the future of these works and how they may help by taking them on and keeping them going. I also hope that the hon. Gentleman will involve himself in negotiations all over the country and, if necessary, outside, because Inverurie is an asset of which any industry could be proud.

9.12 p.m.

Mr. Tom McMillan (Glasgow, Central)

I must congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) for raising this question tonight and also my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar). I support them, because the fight is reminiscent of the one I went through in 1963 when given the job by my union of combating the Beeching cuts. We organised Scotland, and at one time we had 7,000 people marching through the streets to take part in a mass demonstration in St. Andrew's Halls. On the platform we had a Shadow Cabinet Minister and two other Members of the Labour Party. The case put up then was that the social consequences of these cuts were such that Scotland would be placed in a terrible position. The answer that we got from Dr. Beeching was that he would send Sir Stewart Mitchell to Scotland to look into the position and find out what the workshops could do, and do well. In fact Inverurie was saved because it was concluded that it could continue to do things well for the railways.

I can understand the concern of hon. Members on this side concerned with this matter, but I cannot understand the concern of hon. Members opposite. The hon. Gentleman who led the team on the Transport Bill declared from the Despatch Box that Clause 48 would be repealed whenever they were returned to office. Clause 48 is the key—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not refer to legislation in an Adjournment debate.

Mr. McMillan

The key to keeping Inverurie on is the right to manufacture for export or anywhere in the country. I am sure that the key to the problem is for the Government to recognise that Inverurie must keep manufacturing for the railways until it can take up the slack with work outside. I am sure that Inverurie has a future in British Railways and in the Highlands for those who want to use the capacity in the workshops. If the Government will take cognisance of the attitude taken when the Beeching Report came out about the social consequences in Scotland, I am sure that some favour will be shown in this matter.

9.14 p.m.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

This is a matter which transcends party lines and constituency boundaries, in that it is a matter which affects the whole of the North-East of Scotland, and this has been demonstrated in the able speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), and by other hon. Members. It is an issue for the whole of the North-East of Scotland, because if, in a pretty sparsely populated part of the world, at one stroke one knocks out 600 jobs, the effects are like dropping a stone into a pool of water. The ripples are bound to go out to the circumference of that pool, and other areas such as my constituency will suffer as well. Apart from any other considerations, the question of morale is involved. The country, the workers, and in fact all concerned, are looking to the Government tonight, and in the immediate future, to provide a concrete answer to this problem.

As has been said, the greatest problem which we have to face in the North-East of Scotland is depopulation. If these works are wiped out, the problem will be that much intensified. It is not only a matter of the workers themselves. This is a simple point, but one that is often overlooked. We must remember that the families of the workers are also involved. Not only would we lose 600 men, but their families as well, to the detriment of the whole of the surrounding community. I suggest that at the least there should be mounted a holding operation until the Gaskin Report comes out. The White Paper on the Economy of Scotland singles out Inverurie loco works as one of great efficiency, and the Government surely must take the opportunity of assessing the position in the light of that Report and the White Paper.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West said that in a letter to him the Prime Minister had told him that 27 new projects were opened up in the North-East in 1967. I question whether those 27 projects employ anything like 600 men. After all, a project can be a very small one, and employ only one or two workers.

But what is nationalisation all about if it is not to take note of such factors as social ones? Here we have a social issue, and it must be looked at in the wider context of depopulation. If it is uneconomic to retain these works, then there is something to commend their closure, but the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West, certainly convinced me, if he did not convince anybody else in the House, that the Inverurie works are an economic entity.

I gather that the works and their workings will be transferred to Glasgow if they are closed. What can be the point of such a move if the present railway network in the North and North-East of Scotland is to be maintained? We are told that we want rationalisation. We are told also that the Glasgow loco works are not working to capacity. I gather that in England the loco works to cope with the whole of the South of England are centred at Eastleigh. I may be wrong, but that is my information. I suggest that the Minister might take cognisance of that. Is it further, for instance, from Deal, Dover or Plymouth to Eastleigh than it is from Perth and Dundee to Inverurie? Surely we must consider the full context, and geography plays a part. Therefore, why not concentrate the repairs in Scotland at Inverurie rather than bolstering the St. Rollox works in Glasgow? They are reputed to be under-employed—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that we are discussing the closure of the Inverurie works; he must link his remarks to that.

Mr. Baker

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I wish to retain the Inverurie works and suggest that, to this end, it would be advantageous to concentrate the repair works there from Glasgow.

Therefore, I suggest that the Government hold their decision—the final sanction when the jobs of 600 men are involved must be theirs—at least until the publication of the Gaskin Report and that they consider it in that light, meanwhile retaining the works in the interests of the North-East, which we all hope and pray will become a very viable area in the near future.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. Richard Buchanan (Glasgow, Springburn)

First of all, I apologise to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) for not being present to hear his speech. He knows my sympathies in this matter.

After what the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) has said, I want to make it clear that there is no pressure in St. Rollox or by the Government to close Inverurie. The decision which is being taken is one which we have had to suffer before in Scotland. A final decision on Inverurie has not yet been taken but will be announced early next year. It is supposed that Inverurie will be closed, but we have gone through this before, because of decisions of the British Railways Board and not those of the Government, although a previous Government gave the then Minister of Transport a remit to emasculate the railways.

I sympathise considerably with the dilemma of the Parliamentary Secretary, because I face the same problem in my constituency vis-à-vis Inverurie. The only other railway works is in my constituency and is working considerably below capacity. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) asked what has happened since the Report was issued. It is easy to understand, as it is to understand why the railway workshops are working under capacity.

The reason is that diesel and electric locomotives are running for much longer. The steam locomotives which used to be repaired at Inverurie and St. Rollox were brought in for repair after 80,000 miles, but the new diesels and electric locomotives go 120,000, 125,000 or 130,000 miles before being brought in. The work is just not there.

My constituency was the cradle of the railway industry in Glasgow, with the ancient locomotive works of the old North British Locomotive Company, the London and North Eastern. When the steam locomotive died, my constituency died, except for the St. Rollox works, and the British Railways Board has spent well over £1 million modernising that factory. It is working considerably under capacity. The workers in my constituency are urging that they should be given more and more work.

While this is a decision for the British Railway Board, whichever way it goes, it is nevertheless the responsibility of the Government to see that there is alternative work in this area. My constituents in Glasgow, I am sure, would go as far as to say, "Keep Inverurie going until there is alternative work". My hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Board of Trade is present, and I remind her that the responsibility must rest with the Board of Trade and the Government to see that alternative work is taken to the north-east of Scotland. It is clear to us that all the repairs which are necessary in Scotland can be undertaken in the modern works at St. Rollox, and if a rational decision has to be taken—as was the case with the Upper Clyde shipbuilders—it is obvious what the decision will be. But it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that that part of the country is not left as desolate as was my constituency when the steam locomotive died.

9.27 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)

There have been disturbing rumours in recent weeks about the possible closure of the railway workshops in Inverurie, which are still known as the locomotive workshops, although, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), they have ceased to repair locomotives.

Mr. James Davidson

Not entirely.

Mr. Campbell

With the disappearance of the steam locomotives there is much less of that work.

The jobs of over 580 men are at stake. My hon. Friends and I, representing the north of Scotland, understand very well the anxiety of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire. West and also the activities which he has energetically pursued in recent weeks to forestall an unfortunate decision. The effects would be serious in Inverurie, but they would also be felt in a much wider area over the north of Scotland. Indeed the effects would be wide. There was an article in the Economist a short time ago drawing attention to the possibility of the closure of these works. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary observed that article, because it is a reflection of the importance of the works.

Mr. James Davidson

There was also an article in the Financial Times.

Mr. Campbell

This subject has been taken up by organs of the Press which specialise in economic and financial matters on a national basis.

As the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West asked, in a very able speech, why should it be necessary for these works to be closed, bearing in mind what the Government said in their White Paper on the Scottish economy in 1966? There must be a need for work in repairing railway stock used in the north and east of Scotland. We shall wish to hear from the Minister why this possibility has arisen at all. Although I sympathise with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan), I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West that it would be a retrograde step to close these works simply to fill some empty space in the South. We want to hear what the reasons are if this decision is indeed impending.

One thing which has worried me is cases where British Railways have to take the preliminary decision. I recognise that they must take the preliminary decision on some of these matters, but it is for the Government to take the final decision. It is very difficult for us outside British Railways to know whether a particular works or a particular line is economical or not. If British Railways wish to close something they can so arrange affairs as to show that for a period of two or three years something is operating uneconomically. I have had suspicions in a number of cases of this kind.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must leave his suspicions for the moment. This is an Adjournment debate on the Inverurie Locomotive Works.

Mr. Campbell

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was returning immediately going from the general to arrive at the particular. We from the outside cannot have all the facts and figures to show whether the works can in future be run economically, but from what has been said it appears that they can be. It was said in 1966. The danger is that British Railways may make an arbitrary decision because they want to sell a works and so arrange affairs to produce figures to show that the works are not economic. This is always the difficulty when we are dealing with a nationalised industry which has a monopoly.

Mr. James Davidson

I apologise for asking the hon. Member to give way a second time, but it would be appropriate to mention that when I went to see a member of the Board of British Railways, a member responsible for locomotive works, he confirmed that there is no locomotive works in Britain with lower costs.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) started this debate earlier. He has exhausted his right to speak. He may, however, intervene briefly. Mr. Davidson.

Mr. Campbell

I think the hon. Member has made the point. I am glad that he was able to make the intervention because it was a point of substance in the argument I was making. It is extremely difficult for anyone outside British Railways over a period of three or four years to make a judgment, but the Government are in a position to make that judgment. This is a matter where the Government can look at all the facts and figures, economic as well as social. This is an important duty for the Government.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

Will the hon. Member expand a little further on his assertion about the railways having a monopoly power? The railways cannot compel people to travel by rail. Will the hon. Member explain the point more fully?

Mr. Campbell

I do not think I can go far on that in view of what you said, Mr. Speaker. The difficulty is that only one concern is running the railways, the British Railways Board. If it decided for an administrative reason to close something it would be difficult for those outside to get at the facts and figures to show whether a concern or a railway line could not be run economically. That is where the Government should come in to make sure that all the facts and figures and all the possibilities are investigated.

If it is found that this closure is unavoidable—which I hope is not the case—after looking at all the facts and figures, if the Government were to sanction this closure what would replace the locomotive works at Inverurie? I hope that the Government will watch very closely the whole situation and that such a closure will not take place unnecessarily. If it does we have to look to development assistance to bring some alternative industry to the area. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) mentioned this. The investment grant and the Regional Employment Premium apply only to manufacturing industry. "Manufacturing" is defined. Only certain industries can qualify for those grants. If a similar establishment were to move in and engage in repairing vehicles—let us say motor vehicles—it would no doubt be regarded as a service industry and would not be eligible for the grants.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that, as the Government are prepared to spend so much money on incentives to encourage people to go to an area like Inverurie, they obviously would be looking for the type of firm which would employ skilled engineers. This must be our concern. We are rather given to believe that this would not be the attitude if the Conservatives were returned to power.

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Lady indicates that she has misunderstood the issues. She has anticipated some of the points to which I was coming. The Labour Government abolished the system of investment allowances under which all kinds of industry were able to benefit. Further, equipment, including motor vehicles—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am listening with patience. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the threatened closure of Inverurie locomotive works.

Mr. Campbell

Yes, Mr. Speaker. It is the question of what might replace the works if it were to be closed that caused me to raise this point. The hon. Lady has raised the question of the types of development assistance which would bring various kinds of industry there. I was replying to that point.

The relevant point is that it is repair of railway vehicles which the present works engage in. If an industry of the same kind were to come in—repairing motor vehicles, say—it would not be eligible: or the grants which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South mentioned, Sir, when Mr. Deputy Speaker was in the Chair—investment grants; nor would it be eligible for the R.E.P. Such equipment, which cannot be described as manufacturing, would not be eligible for investment grant, whereas such equipment, including motor vehicles, was eligible far investment allowances. Motor transport in the north of Scotland is essential to any industry which comes in to replace the Inverurie works if it has to be replaced. It is a vital matter where such great distances are involved.

If any question of closing the Works arises, the Government must first investigate and ensure that the decision to close or not to close is taken in the light of all the facts and prospects. From what we have learned about this Works and from what the Government said only two years ago, it is difficult to believe that a closure should be necessary now.

9.38 p.m.

Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, West (Mr. James Davidson) made, as is his custom, a very eloquent speech. The House always listens attentively to everything the hon. Gentleman says. We sympathise with him in the matter of this threatened closure. As 580 men would lose their jobs, it becomes a social problem.

We are all conversant with the problem. Not long ago, the same situation arose week after week, month after month, in Lanarkshire. Consequent upon the Labour Government's policy, all the advance factories which have been built under this Government in my constituency now have tenants and are working to full capacity. It is a fallacy to suppose that, with nationalisation, we should have rationalisation. If the nationalised industries are to run effi- ciently in the interests of the community as a whole, they must, like private enterprise, trim their sails and work on an economic basis. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan), who spoke in the same eloquent fashion as did the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West, strongly urged the retention of the locomotive works in his constituency, and it was obvious from all the information which he gave the House that rationalisation must take place in this industry.

I have implicit faith in what the Government are doing. In the development areas, we did not have skilled craftsmen for a long time, but now we have those skilled craftsmen because of the training which is being done in various parts of the country. Bearing in mind that there is depopulation in the hon. Gentleman's constituency—

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, the hon. Gentleman must not widen the debate. We are talking about the threatened closure of the Inverurie Locomotive Works.

Mr. Hamilton

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I was carried away by my own eloquence. So inspired was I by the record of my Government that I went too far. [Laughter.] The House is a little amused at that, but the question of closing the Inverurie works is not something about which we should be facetious. I am speaking with deep sincerity. I am myself very much concerned now about a factory closure, also in a nationalised industry, as a result of which 283 of my trade union members will become redundant.

I recognise that the Closure of the Inverurie works would present a social problem. Only a few months ago, in the area for which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) speaks, I was concerned about the possibility of a closure. Fortunately, we managed to keep the factory in production, and there is now the chance that there will be a big expansion.

I sincerely hope that the points which have been made will be carefully noted by the Government and, in particular, by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. If she applies her mind to this problem as she has applied her mind to similar problems in Lanarkshire, I am sure that the Inverurie works will, so to speak, find an industrialist to come in. We have the labour force at our disposal. If my hon. Friend does that, this Adjournment debate will have served a useful purpose.

9.43 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) both on the speech which he made in opening the debate and on his good fortune not only in securing an Adjournment debate but on securing so generous an amount of time. Those of us who have applied, regretfully without success, for Adjournment debates will envy him and congratulate him on his success.

First, I take up a point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) in his excellent speech. The number of Members of all parties representing Scottish constituencies who are here tonight is itself noteworthy. Usually, we are accustomed to seeing only the Member raising the subject and the Minister who is to reply. The attendance here tonight is significant, and the reason that so many Members are present is that we are concerned not just about the closure of the Inverurie Locomotive Works but about the implications this question has for the way the Government are pursuing their policy in Scotland as a whole.

The subject my hon. Friend raised is one of concern for other Government Departments besides the Ministry of Transport. That concern is shown by the presence here—I am glad to see the hon. Lady—of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. I saw in the Press the forceful comments of the chairman of the North-East of Scotland Consultative Group, a body appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland to advise him on economic development in that region of Scotland.

What I criticise is the fact that possibilities—and here, fortunately, we are still dealing only with a possibility and not a fait accompli—of action being taken by a public industry under one Government Department, in this case responsible to the Ministry of Transport, can cut right across the policy being pursued by both the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for Scotland for the well-being of Scotland as a whole. That is a serious criticism, applicable not only to Inverurie, of the way in which the Government are going about regional planning in Scotland. Presumably the question of the closure of Inverurie has not arisen overnight. Presumably it has been known within Government circles that it was at least being entertained as a possibility by British Rail. In that case, we are entitled to ask what steps have been taken by the Board of Trade in conjunction with the Scottish Office to look ahead to see what the future would be for this town and part of Scotland if the locomotive works were closed.

I have faced precisely the same situation in my constituency, where a matter subject to the control of the Minister of Transport and British Rail cuts right across what the local consultative group advising the Secretary of State for Scotland has to say about the closure of the railway line through the Borders between Edinburgh and Carlisle. In the case of both Inverurie and the Borders railway line there are the common features of an appointed body designed by the Government—and I give them credit for this—to reflect the wishes of the local people and advise on how economic development should proceed in parts of Scotland which were sadly negelected for far too long, giving that advice and then having it over-ruled. The economic group in the North-East of Scotland has expressed concern about what may happen to the locomotive works in Inverurie. In my case, the consultative group has had to express indignation and anger at what has actually happened. The two cases are in distinction, but the policy is the same.

Therefore, I hope that the Scottish Office, which I am sorry is not represented on the Front Bench, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport will act together for the welfare of Scotland as a whole, and that we shall not have a situation where the Secretary of State and the Scottish Office can be overruled by another Department. I address my remarks particularly to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, who happens, fortunately, to be a Scottish Member. He should be very sensitive on this point, and I hope that he will convey the views of the House and members of all parties from different parts of Scotland about our anxiety about this—

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Neil Carmichael)


Mr. Steel

The hon. Gentleman will have his chance to reply, so I do not think that I need give way now. I want to finish very quickly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West said that tomorrow he and some civic leaders would present a petition to the House and a separate petition in Downing Street to the Prime Minister. This afternoon I and a dozen of my constituents presented a petition in Downing Street against the decision of the Ministry of Transport. Something that a housewife who organised the petition said when we got inside No. 10 struck me as very significant. When we handed over the petition to the Prime Minister's private secretary, she said, "It is just from the ordinary people." And it is just the ordinary people of Inverurie and Scotland as a whole who are outraged a: decisions which can over-ride the Scottish Office and the plans it has rightly made for the regeneration of parts of Scotland.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

I did not hear the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), although I would like to have heard him. But I would not repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) said—that we always listen to the hon. Gentleman with acute attention. Sometimes he has useful things to say but sometimes not.

I, too, like all my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House, have always been concerned with jobs. Indeed, a very large part of the movement of which I am part based itself on the demand for jobs. The right to work was an early argument of our movement, and we are concerned with jobs anywhere, in any part of Scotland, including Inverurie. Certainly, the situation at Inverurie clearly concerns us.

But it makes me more than a wee bit disturbed when I listen to the hypocritical statements made by right hon. and hon. Members opposite. When did the Conservative and Liberal Parties base themselves on the contention that the State has a duty to ensure that jobs be provided irrespective of the social cost of the jobs?

Mr. James Davidson

The hon. Gentleman did not hear my speech. I say with the utmost conviction that it is precisely that sort of issue that brought me into politics. I regard this as the crunch in my constituency, and if your Government—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have no Government.

Mr. Davidson

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. If the Government are not prepared to intervene in this case, following the facts and figures given and the case made by myself and others, I do not know where they consider the watershed actually lies.

Mr. Lawson

My Government and my movement from the start have accepted this kind of responsibility. It is my Government and my movement which established the public enterprises which are so consistently attacked by right hon. and hon. Members of both parties opposite. They deride those enterprises when they do not make profits. They are regular in their attacks. Then they demand that these very enterprises provide services which will not make money.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, we will now come to the Inverurie Locomotive Works.

Mr. Lawson

I understood that we were debating the Adjournment of the House, Mr. Speaker. I have always understood that on that Motion there is considerable latitude in what one can discuss.

Mr. Speaker

On the point of order, the hon. Gentleman is right. Anything is in order not involving legislation on the Adjournment debate. But it is the usual custom that we debate the subject which an hon. Member has raised, and this debate is on the threatened closure of the Inverurie Locomotive Works.

Mr. Lawson

I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and keep myself to that subject, but the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) has spoken of the Border railway and has talked of the great good of that railway to the people of the area. I am sure that you agree that the actions of the Government are very inter-related.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I let hon. Members stray occasionally for a short time, and the hon. Gentleman has himself strayed for a bit. I hope that he will come now to the Inverurie Works.

Mr. Lawson

I repeat, with great respect, Mr. Speaker, that I have taken part in Adjournment debates for many years and have seen subject after subject raised and that my understanding is that one can raise anything on the Adjournment. We are discussing the Adjournment of the House, properly speaking, and not Inverurie, and my understanding is that anything can be raised except legislation, to which I am not referring. I am talking about the practice of right hon. and hon. Members opposite in constantly deriding what they call the incompetence and failure of nationalised industries while calling upon those industries to come to their assistance whenever they have some little local difficulty.

The Government have various means by which to assist areas like Inverurie. Factories are built in advance of demand in the hope that industry will follow. However, hon. Gentlemen opposite regularly ask how many such factories are standing empty, how long they have been empty, how much they have cost and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has ruled accurately for himself that he is in order in raising anything he likes on the Adjournment as long as it does not involve legislation. I ask him, however, to come to the subject which we are supposed to be debating.

Mr. Lawson

The subject concerns Inverurie and the threatened loss of jobs there. An appeal has been made to the Government to do what they can, and presumably the Government might intervene with the railways and say, "We hope that you will not close these works". Alternatively, they might say, "You shall not close them," or "If you do not close them we will subsidise them to a larger extent, as we have the Border railways." In the event of the Government not saying these things, a variety of actions can be taken, including the establishment of advanced factories. Thus, my remarks are relevant to the subject.

Large parts of Scotland are development areas. It is, therefore, permissible for me to plead with the Minister to take action to assist in this matter, despite the fact that the Leader of the Opposition would like to scrap this policy and base himself on the so-called growth point concept. I am speaking of the means available to the Government to help areas such as the one we are discussing. In many cases these means have sprung from the nature of the Government and the people they represent.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

Is it not a fact that Inverurie could be a potential growth point?

Mr. Lawson

I am not aware that Inverurie was intended to be a growth point. When the growth point programme was introduced my constituency was split because of being a joint burgh, with one half becoming a growth point and the other half being left out. Remote areas like Inverurie and Invergordon did not enter into the growth point concept.

A transformation is being wrought in the North of Scotland. This part of the country is being reborn and a renaissance is taking place in Scotland because of the involvement of the Government and the multiplicity of methods which they are adopting. I would be the last to urge the Government to compel a nationalised industry, come what may, to run a line or continue a yard or workshop that is losing money. The nationalised industries are always being held up to criticism by hon. Gentlemen opposite for not making money.

Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, which has only 31 minutes still to run.

Mr. Hamilton

My hon. Friend will be aware that because we are concerned with a nationalised industry in this case we are able to discuss the matter before closure decisions are taken.

Mr. Lawson

My hon. Friend, who has great experience of these matters has made an excellent point. If we were concerned with private enterprise, nobody would have had a chance to say a word before a decision was taken. It would be excellent if our proceedings could be televised so that people had a chance to see how differently hon. Gentlemen opposite speak on these subjects in the House and in the country. Outside Parliament they clamour for public expenditure to be cut. "Cut down expenditure3" they cry. and at the same time they ask for extra public expenditure because it happens to suit them. Under these circumstances, Mr. Speaker, I am sure you will agree that my hon. Friends and I have reason to be annoyed.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I have listened to every word of the debate, which is more than can be said of a lot of hon. Members opposite who have been filling in time, while those who genuinely want to speak on behalf of the small town of Inverurie which is facing a very serious problem have been waiting. I am certain from my own experience that rumours always precede closures. It is very rare that the closure is prevented. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) for raising this matter in such a forthright way. I am sure that all of us hope that he will be successful.

We must be concerned that the Economic Planning Consultative Committee and, presumably, the Scottish Economic Planning Council have not been able to get definite assurances from the Railways Board about this most important works. This is a sad indication that these bodies set up by the Government are not being as effective as they ought to be. Because I have had a parallel situation in my constituency I want to press upon the Government the importance of time and make a very strong plea for delay over this decision.

It is absolutely essential, unless the Government will immediately say that the works will be kept open for a reasonable period of time. In my constituency a coal mine employing 400 miners was closed recently and there were the same effects as there may be in Inverurie, with a large number of men unemployed in a relatively small community. I know the subsequent effects. This is where we need time. While we are in the fortunate position of having advance factories available it takes time to provide new tenants. I wish to pay a generous tribute to the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade for the very strong efforts that she is making to finalise plans to bring new industry to these factories, and I hope that we shall soon have some news.

But if I was to say to the Board of Trade that I would open a new works in Inverurie today it would inevitably take some months, perhaps even a year before anything could happen on the ground and I could employ a substantial number of men. This is why it is important, that every day counts and why delay is essential. I make one plea, which will probably send the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) through the roof, and that is for a flexibility in designating special development areas. I have no doubt that in the mining areas which have been designated in this way the extra incentive available is a big help in attracting industry.

It is important to keep a differential between areas which need special help such as Inverurie may need, and the general run of the development areas, in the same way as there used to be a differential between the development districts and the rest of Scotland. This is why I hope that the Board of Trade will consider greater flexibility in applying the special development grants for an area such as Inverurie, although there may be no coal mines anywhere near it. I make this plea for time in the hope that the Government will consider these two points in relation to bringing industry to the area.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

I apologise to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) for not being present at the beginning of this debate. I wish that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) had not spoken with a sneer when he drew attention to that fact. The previous business of the House came to a quick conclusion, and for the hon. Gentleman's information, may I say that many of us were at a meeting discussing precisely this point and other Scottish affairs. I know that the hon. Gentleman is not listening at the moment, but I wish that he would have a sense of responsibility.

I take strong exception to the extreme language of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel). To use language which presumably was used in 10 Downing Street and to say that someone was outraged by the overriding of the Scottish Office and to relate that to this matter is typical of the irresponsibility of the hon. Gentleman. His arrogance is matched only by his opportunism. He has no responsibility for anything other than being reelected.

Mr. James Hamilton

Very true.

Mr. Brown

It is amazing for the hon. Gentleman to use language like that when we are trying to draw attention to something which affects many of us.

Mr. David Steel

To what language is the hon. Gentleman objecting? I referred to the fact that a petition was handed over and the words used by the petitioner that it came from ordinary folk. I do not see anything outrageous in that. I am sorry to see that the Labour Party has come to this pass.

Mr. Brown

I leave hon. Members to judge for themselves.

I presume that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will reply to the debate. I dare not take too long or my mother-in-law will give me hell. That is a private joke.

It has been said that there was a long-term use for the locomotive works. I hope that my hon. Friend will make it clear that that was the intention of British Railways. We can overdo the propaganda. We want to ascertain the basis for the assumption that there would be continuing employment in this area and what circumstances have arisen which have made it a wrong assumption. I have no doubt that it was made with the best of intentions.

Apart from the natural concern of a local Member, we are all concerned about this matter. The political implications of it far outweigh the social tragedy of the people of Inverurie. Part of the irresponsibility to which I have referred lies in using a local situation to highlight the transformation which is taking place in a basic industry, namely, the railways. The railways are the largest employer of labour in North-East Scotland with the exception of agriculture. Together with the Post Office, they form about all the employment that there is for people in this area.

What are the possibilities of employment and not just in Inverurie? Is there any chance of encouraging industry to go to Aberdeen, which is only 16 miles away? Let us consider the practical possibilities. In the meantime, if the locomotive works have to be closed, what steps can be taken to postpone the closure? At the moment, I am serving on the Committee which is considering the Post Office Bill and there is constant pleading from hon. Members opposite that publicly-owned bodies should exercise commercial judgment. They cannot have it both ways. The hon. Member for Dumfries says that extra money and grants are needed when his leader is going round the country saying that they should all be eliminated.

Mr. Monro


Mr. Brown

All right. We will argue this some other time, but to the best of my knowledge Inverurie was never included in any Toothill Report.

Mr. James Davidson

May I make just two points? First, I am well aware of the very real concern of hon. Members opposite, and I particularly refer to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) who all along has shown very great interest in this threatened closure. The second point I would make, because it was missed by the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) when he spoke, is that that I have stressed and was stressing the extreme efficiency of this works and the viability of the works. That is my main reason for pleading that they should be allowed to stay open.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West is making the point I was just coming to. Is there any opportunity within British Rail's programme, any short-term way, to ensure continued employment at Inverurie—even on a short-term basis? I know this affects St. Rollox in which I have a constituency interest; although it is in Springburn, nevertheless the majority of the workers there live in my constituency. However, even if there is an inevitability about the closure at Inverurie, though I know a decision has not yet been made, I ask, is there any other additional work, signalling contracts, or anything to do with electrification, any work, that can be given to Inverurie on a short-term basis to minimise the impact of the closure, if the works are to be closed?

Of course, railway workshops cannot just be adapted to any purpose, and one would not want to spend a lot of money on works which are to be closed, but I hope that there is some possibility, even on social grounds, for action, by a Government sympathetic to such aims and objects, for it is only by a Government who are, that we will get any action in this area. I hope very much to get from my hon. Friend tonight, if not good news, some news to give us some encouragement.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

I am very glad, as representing a constituency neighbouring that of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) to have the opportunity to intervene, very briefly, in this debate. The whole standard of the debate, with one or two exceptions, has reflected the great concern which is felt in all parts of the House, regardless of political party, about this threatened closure at Inverurie.

I would say one thing to the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson), whose speech was not worthy of his usual standard of speaking in this House. If we had television in this House, that would have been one way of making sure that the Labour Party would get very few votes in Aberdeenshire at the next election.

I would answer some hon. Members opposite who come from central Scotland, that it is all very well for them to speak in terms of advance factories being filled, but in the north-east, in Aberdeenshire, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) said, those factories have not been filled, and that is why we are so anxious to hold on to what we have got. It is simply not the fact, as the hon. Member for Motherwell put it, that this is a little local difficulty. On the contrary, it is much greater and it is far more worrying than that, because in the north-east of Scotland industry is extremely narrowly based, and the loss of a number of jobs of this sort would be absolutely disastrous and catastrophic for us in the north-east. More than that, these works are an extremely important section of the engineering industry, and by losing these works we should lose trades of a kind we in the north-east need so much.

It is these reasons, the narrowness of the base of our industry in the north-east, and the difficulty of atttracting new industry there, which make it absolutely imperative that the Government consider the matter sympathetically. I hope that tonight the Government will not hide behind the fact that the Gaskin Plan is about to be published early in the new year. There have already been leaks about the Gaskin Plan that Inverurie is to be a growth point in the north-east of Scotland, and it would be absolutely tragic if this were threatened by the closing of these works.

Finally, if the Government, by failing to take action, create unemployment in North-East Scotland those who come to and live in the north east will regard as most insincere the Government's professions of wanting to develop industry in this part of Scotland.

10.15 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Neil Carmichael)

We have had an exceptionally good and an exceptionally long Adjournment debate, and I fully recognise the importance of the matter we have been discussing. The fact that my hon. and right hon. Friends who are sitting on the Front Bench represent the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of State for Scotland, shows how seriously the Government take this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) was completely in order, politically speaking, in what he said about hon. Members opposite. I do not feel that some of their speeches have been helpful for Inverurie or for the North-East. This cannot be said about the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), whose speech was most feeling and showed great concern. We all know how he feels on this matter, and in our meetings we have tried to convey that we have much the same feelings as he has.

We are discussing the future of an establishment which provides one-fifth of the total jobs in the town and one half of the total employment in manufacturing industries. The hon. Member has done his constituency a great service by bringing the situation so forcefully to the attention of Parliament and of British Railways, who will ultimately have to take the decision affecting the future of the Inverurie workshops or others in their organisation.

Hon. Members opposite will remember the long days and nights we spent not long ago on the Transport Bill, and they are being nothing less than hypocritical if they imagine that anyone but British Railways have the right to make this decision. I was especially concerned about the speech of the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Gordon Campbell) who, more than anyone present on the other side, knows full well the great fight which he and his party put up against the possibility of British Railways being able to expand or hold the situation in their workshops because of Clause 48 which was introduced by the Government.

I emphasise that we are not discussing a situation in which British Railways have already taken a decision. They have made it clear to the men's representatives that before any decision is taken British Railways will discuss with the unions in the New Year the future of the whole workshops organisation.

We must look at how Inverurie fits into the railway workshop organisation. The railway industry is now, and has been for many years, in a state of flux. Unless it succeeds in adapting itself to the world of today it will be an industry without a secure future. This has been clear for a long time, and the industry has been making tremendous efforts to adapt itself. The Transport Act has given British Railways the opportunity to make good, yet it was opposed tooth and nail as a railwaymen's charter by the party opposite. We now find that it is a working charter in which the railways, if they are efficient, if they can do the job properly, will make good. It is merely a possibility that they can do this and, as has been said from the Box opposite, it is possibly the last chance that British Railways will have.

This involves a tough financial remit which removes the prop of general deficit grant which they previously had and puts British Railways from the beginning of 1969 in the position of having to sink or swim by their own efforts. The railways' fight to adapt to change has inevitably meant upheaval for railwaymen on a scale unknown to workers in many other industries. In the period since 1963 the total railway labour force has fallen by about a quarter.

This is important in regard to the points made by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), because only in British Railways and the National Coal Board has there been anything like this scale of redundancies with this smoothness. The nationalised industries have made a special job of this, and, I think, have won a special case in British industrial history by their treatment of workers.

The railway workshops have taken a full share of the burden of streamlining the industry. The reorganisation scheme prepared in 1962 involved a reduction in the number of main workshops from 36 to 16 and a reduction in the labour force from 68,000 to 39,000. This plan was implemented from 1962 to 1967 and it is worth recalling that the impact of this run-down in Scotland was relatively small. One small workshop was closed in Scotland, one in Wales and 14 in England. The Scottish workshop labour force was reduced by 9 per cent., while the reduction in the organisation as a whole was about 32 per cent.

We should not forget, also, that, in recent years, the impact of changing demand has affected those private firms and their employees concerned with manufacture, repair and supply for the railway industry. Nevertheless, the 1962 plan for the railway workshops did not involve merely wielding the axe. About £16 million was spent on the modernisation and re-equipment of the remaining workshops.

But that plan was prepared six years ago. Much has happened since then, and British Railways would be failing in its duty if it did not keep the workshops' organisation under constant review. It could not in 1962, nor could it now, give any absolute undertaking that any particular workshop would escape the consequences of whatever reviews proved necessary.

Mr. Dewar

Perhaps it would be convenient in this context if my hon. Friend could say something about the statement referred to in the White Paper with regard to 1965–70.

Mr. Carmichael

The same applies there. Even in that period, there will be a great change in the railway pattern. Something which is apparent to us, particularly in this Ministry, is the problem of controlling the number of motor cars—a proposal which the House and most people would oppose. But that is part of the problem. We cannot have 10½ million cars on the road, with all the buses and the charabancs, with the same railway system of 30 years ago. The increase in the number of personal means of transport has been alarming in the last few years. Therefore, even in a short time, in transport terms, great changes can take place.

Many things have happened to alter the tasks placed on the workshops. The route pattern and the nature of train operations are not static. Modern locomotives and rolling stock require less maintenance, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan), a railway workshop engineer himself, has pointed out. Changes in techniques have changed the workload on the railway workshops and less maintenance is required than was required by the predecessors of the present diesel and electric engines.

Changes such as this are bound to affect not only the volume and nature of the load on the workshop organisation but also the geographical distribution of the load, the pattern of the workshops and the facilities which can most economically meet the demands on the whole organisation. The Railways Board must keep abreast of developments—

Mr. lames Davidson

Surely, in the two years since January 1966, there could not have been such a major change as to alter completely the long-term future of the Inverurie works.

Mr. Carmichael

What I was trying to say to the hon. Gentleman was that one of the things which has given impetus to the necessity for the railways to look very closely at their financing was the Transport Act. Some hon. Members in the Liberal Party supported that Act in part, but they did not support those parts of it which will, perhaps, help Inverurie. I am thinking of Section 48—

Mr. James Davidson

The hon. Member is wrong.

Mr. Carmichael

I would be surprised if I were wrong in this, and if the Liberal Party did not oppose the possibility of the railway workshops doing this work.

British Railways are the first to acknowledge the valuable contribution which Inverurie makes. I understand that the labour force there have a fine tradition of service and are second to none in their skill and their willingness to meet any demands based upon them.

It has been argued that there are two strong reasons why, whatever happens to other workshops, Inverurie should continue. It has been claimed that Inverurie is more efficient than other workshops, and that hourly earnings are 11d. per hour less than at certain other railway workshops. I cannot go into this kind of comparison today, because one has to be sure that like is being compared with like. One has to consider different bonus schemes, different amounts of overtime working, and so on. Moreover, one has to consider total costs, not merely labour costs. These are matters for British Railways, and I understand that they are taking them into account in their consideration of the possible closure of Inverurie workshops. They must also, however, take into account such other factors as the geographical position of Inverurie, and of all the other workshops in relation to the main centres of railway activity. They have to consider the geographical centres of the railways, and where the bulk of the railways are, obviously that is where it will be most economical to do the repairs.

The primary question which British Railways have to consider is whether the whole organisation could be made more efficient by altering the allocation of work, and perhaps by reducing the capacity at some points and enlarging it at others. In considering all these factors, however, British Railways must, like any other responsible employers, have regard not only to their own interests, including those of their own employees throughout the organisation, but also to the wider social and economic consequences of whatever changes they might have in mind, and I have tried to show that the nationalised industries have a better record in this respect than private industry has.

I can assure the House that British Railways are taking all those considerations very carefully into account before putting any proposals to the unions in the New Year. It is right, of course, that the whole Inverurie community should do whatever it feels necessary to bring its side of the case to the notice of British Railways, but I am sure that nobody with the interest of the town at heart would want to give the impression that theirs is a battle which has already been fought and lost. Nor would they, I am sure, want to give the impression that theirs is a town so wedded to the railway workshops that they could not contemplate a future in which their activities became more diversified.

Inverurie is within the Aberdeen travel to work area, and I understand that some scores of people travel from Aberdeen to Inverurie every day. The unemployment rate is better, but I appreciate the problem of migration. In statistical terms unemployment is considerably lower than the national average, and the position there is certainly better than it is in areas such as my own.

If a decision about the future of the Board's workshop facilities in a particular area is not a matter of management for British Railways, at what point are we prepared to draw the line around management's responsibility? When we are discussing other matters hon. Gentlemen opposite always say that we should let managers and businessmen get on with the job. Here is a point at which we drew the line, and the House decided on this line. We decided that the day-today responsibility should be the management's, and I cannot see how we can avoid leaving a fundamental decision such as this to the managers of British Railways who have a responsibility to balance their books at the end of the day.

We really would be moving outside the field of practicalities if we tried on the one hand to place on the Board a statutory duty of the very demanding kind Parliament has placed upon it, while on the other reserving to the Government the right to dictate how they should deploy their own resources. But this is not to say that the Government have no concern with the situation, and I think that my hon. Friends who have been here all night have in some way signified that.

Our first priority is to ensure that British Railways are taking all factors into account in reviewing their workshops organisation. It is, of course, of crucial importance that they pay full regard to the Government's regional policies, and in particular to the need to maintain unemployment in the development areas. We are satisfied that the Board is giving full weight to all these considerations.

Secondly, we have made it our concern to ensure that in its planning the Board is not inhibited by unreasonable restrictions on its ability to make use of its skills and resources. This we have done in Section 48 of the 1968 Act, and this is a help to British Railways. This was denied to them in 1962 Act, and was bitterly opposed by the Opposition during the passage of this year's Bill through Parliament. Section 48 requires the Board to satisfy itself that it can use its new powers without detriment to its main duties, and Section 134 requires it to act as if it were a company engaged in a commercial enterprise. The Board could not rush into new activities in circumstances which conflicted with those basic obligations.

Another point of direct concern to us is that in circumstances where redundancies seem possible British Railways should act on the lines recommended to all employers by the First Secretary last summer, after detailed discussions with the C.B.I, the T.U.C. the nationalised industries. The practice up to now has been rather better than that. Managements are advised that while the official decision to close a factory must be taken by managements—

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

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.