§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
I am delighted to have this chance of raising in the House an issue in respect which many London Members have had approaches from their constituents, and which I cannot help feeling must be of some concern to Treasury Ministers.
The House will be aware that on 25th April, 1967, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer—the present Home Secretary—announced that the Royal Mint would be rebuilt at Llantrisant, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Arthur Pearson), whom I am glad to see in his place.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the move would take place in two stages—stage 1 consisting of the building of a factory to manufacture coins from blanks, and stage 2, to be completed in 1973, to provide for the complete process of the manufacture of coins from virgin metal. That decision to move could not be and was not challenged at the time by anyone in the House, although arguments arose about location. The decision was fully in line with the policy pursued by both parties in respect of decentralising Government establishments wherever feasible.
Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that at the time substantial additional capacity would be required. He said:It is 12 years since the rebuilding of the Mint was announced. Since then output has trebled mainly for export, and capacity for minting the decimal coinage is now also required. The existing site cannot be developed economically for these purposes…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1967; Vol. 745, c. 1330.]The decision to move was accepted by the Estimates Committee; indeed, in its Fifth Report, in July, 1968, it gave added reasons for moving. In paragraph 26, it said:The move to South Wales presents a great challenge and opportunity for the Royal Mint. It gives them, for instance, the hope of restoring good inter-union relations and re-establishing the Joint Industrial Council which, regrettably, has not functioned at Tower Hill since 1958. It will also give them the chance greatly to increase their productivity by the introduction of technological 1658 improvements, notably modern line production.I want to make it abundantly clear that I accept—and the various deputations of operatives whom I have had the pleasure of meeting equally accept—that in the light of the then existing facts the decision to move was quite a reasonable one.
Further, it is not part of my case to argue that South Wales was not a proper location if, as was confidently expected, a cadre of skilled and experienced craftsmen could be persuaded to move, with their jobs, to Llantrisant. The new Mint could then be expected to maintain the high reputation that has been enjoyed for many years by the existing Mint at Tower Hill.
Crucial to the whole question, however, is the expected demand for new coinage. The Select Committee recognised that this must determine the capacity of the new Mint. In his evidence the Deputy Master of the Mint estimated that over the next 10 to 15 years the demand would average about 1,400 million coins a year. The Select Committee felt that that estimate was "a modest one". Output in 1968 was 1,357 million coins—almost exactly the same as in 1967. But, significantly, the coinage produced for export was only half the 1967 figure—456 million coins as against 925 million, while in 1966, the Mint at Tower Hill had produced between 75 and 80 per cent. of the world's available orders.
Since 1968 the minting of decimal coinage has kept the Mint very busy. The Llantrisant factory has produced over 1,400 million bronze coins since the start of production and the Mint at Tower Hill has produced the cupro-nickel coinage and done all the other work required of the Mint. It is fair to say that there has been some evidence of production difficulties at Llantrisant, with a considerable wastage. I shall return to that point later.
As the minting of decimal coinage is now approaching completion, it seems that a very serious situation is looming, for export orders now seem to have fallen away to a mere trickle, in place of the flood that we had in earlier years. I am given to understand that as a result, in a matter of three or four months there will be little work for the men at Llantrisant, while the Mint at Tower Hill is already 1659 running at less than one-third of its capacity—at current output, a little over 10½ million coins a week.
My first question to the Minister of State, who, I understand, is to reply—a question of which I have given him notice—is: what is the future estimate of demand for coinage? Are the figures that I have been given anything like correct? Will he tell the House what the position is? Earlier this year I took the matter up with the Chancellor in correspondence and he admitted that there was a "lull in foreign orders". But he went on to say:There is every reason to suppose that world coinage demand will grow and with it export earning opportunities for the Royal Mint.I accept at once, as was stated in the 1968 Report on the Royal Mint, that there can be no predictable pattern in overseas demand for coinages. The Select Committee admitted thedifficulty of estimating the extent to which past export successes are likely to be maintained in the future".My second question, therefore, is: what systematic market research is carried out by the Mint? Has the Royal Mint a marketing policy or does it simply wait for orders to come in from overseas? My hon. Friends and I find it very difficult to accept the Chancellor's optimism, and certainly the chairman and members of the joint trade union committees, with whom I have had a number of meetings, believe that the true seriousness of the situation is being concealed from him.
Since the war there have been only three periods in which the Mint has enjoyed boom conditions. In 1946 we went over from silver to cupro-nickel coinage. When this minting finished it was followed by redundancy. In the middle 1960s the United States Mint was closed for rebuilding and there was at the same time an upsurge of demand for new coinage from former colonies which had achieved independence or were decimalising their coinage. In 1966, the Royal Mint achieved the proud distinction of the Queen's Award for Industry. During the last couple of years the demands of United Kingdom decimalisation have provided a full order book. In the interim periods there have been varying levels of spare capacity.
1660 What is it that the Chancellor believes he can see over the horizon to parallel surges of demand of that nature? Is it foreign revolutionary Governments demanding a new coinage? Are there any new independent territories likely to want coinage? It would seem that that sort of thing is a dangerously flimsy foundation on which to base the whole policy of the Mint.
Further, is it not a fact that many of the newly independent countries are building or have built their own Mints as a matter of national pride? Does this not represent a permanent loss of potential customers which we have hitherto enjoyed? Are there not whole areas of the world where we do not now exercise the sort of influence which automatically brought orders to London in earlier years?
Finally, is there not a trend towards the increasing use of paper money and, in the long run, towards the cashless society, of which we hear talk even now? In short, is the condition that we are now facing not, as the Chancellor said, a temporary lull in foreign orders, but a long-term cyclical trend, likely to continue for many years?
I do not know the answer to that. Only a full inquiry could be expected to produce the answer and throw any light on the position as it is likely to be over the next few years. If the inquiry concludes that this is just a temporary lull, I fully concede that a case for further delay falls down. Supposing that these fears are justified, however, supposing that this is a long-term cyclical trend and that after decimalisation is completed there will be a substantially lower level of output year by year, what would be the consequences?
If stage 2 were to be completed according to plan there would he massive overcapacity in the factory. Substantial sums would have been spent on new buildings and machinery with very little prospect of their ever being fully used. On 17th March, my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) asked the Chancellor what was the most recent estimate of the cost of moving the Royal Mint to Llantrisant. The Financial Secretary said that he estimated the cost of the land, buildings and plant for the new Mint to 1661 be £8 million. I presume that he was referring only to stage 2.
I wonder whether that is the full story. Presumably it does not include the sum for housing. We have recently had a supplementary estimate for £180,000 for the provision of 35 houses for Army Department constabulary at the Royal Mint at Llantrisant. That is about £5,000 a time.
All the while that this is going on there is ample capacity at the Mint in London to cope with the reduced flow of orders. I am told, and here again I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm this, that since 1967 over £800,000 has been spent on modernisation of the Tower Hill Mint, including, and this was in a Parliamentary Answer to the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), £120,000 in 1969 alone. New machines have been installed which have more than doubled the capacity of the old machines and which can now mint up to 280 coins a minute. This means that the same output can be achieved within a much smaller space.
If it is right that there is a long-term cyclical trend expenditure on the new Mint will be largely wasted and unnecessary.
There is another less quantifiable but more damaging consequence. I have already said that the viability of the new Mint must depend upon the transfer to Llantrisant of the key craftsmen willing to go. This morning I have seen a list of 367 men who are prepared to go if they can be given the necessary assurances. It would be quite wrong to regard the existing factory at South Wales as a Mint in the true sense. It undertakes only the final processes of stamping coins from blanks. It undertakes no fine art work, no shaped coins, none of the commemorative coins, and it so far has dealt only in bronze coinage. Even so, there has been a disturbingly high level of wastage. The Treasury admits to 1½ per cent. over a representative period.
The workers at Tower Hill put the figure significantly higher, at 3.69 per cent. wastage. In one week earlier this month 25 tons of coinage was returned from Llantrisant to Tower Hill for melting down comprising 20 pallets each containing 60 bags with £20 face value coinage in each bag. That was not an 1662 isolated event, but has been happening with disturbing regularity. Therefore, costs at Llantrisant must be running somewhat ahead of estimates.
It is hardly surprising that only two weeks ago we had a further Supplementary Estimate for £11½ million for the Mint. Part of this was for higher wages, part for higher copper prices, but £670,000 is for additional expenses, including refining of scrap. I have emphasised this, because it demonstrates clearly that this is highly skilled work, requiring minute tolerances. Full operation, if the whole of the Mint were to go to South Wales, would be utterly dependent on the services of these 300 to 400 key craftsmen who would take to South Wales decades, and in some cases generations, of minting experience.
One of the things that comes out clearly in the talks that I and other hon. Members have had with these men is that if there is not likely to be a decent flow of orders to the new Mint in Llantrisant they simply will not risk going to South Wales. Who wants to risk the possibility of being laid off after a few months or a year or two in an area where the unemployment rate is now over 5½ per cent? If these key men will not go it will be a very brave Minister who will be prepared to forecast that the new Mint can hope to retain the reputation which Tower Hill has enjoyed for many years as the leading Mint in the world.
Already, there is some evidence of a lack of confidence. A recent Swiss order went to London at the insistence of the Swiss authorities. If the move were persisted in without the advantage of these skilled craftsmen going down to South Wales there would be a real danger that this long tradition would end and Llantrisant would become "just another Mint" rather than the world's leading Mint. This would be bound to make it more difficult to attract the dwindling share of world orders. We would end up with the worst of all worlds. The nation would have dissipated a vital reservoir of skill, built up over centuries; the new Mint starting from scratch without the advantage of the skilled men, would face a very difficult task indeed in building anew a comparable reputation. And if I may say so to the hon. Member for Pontypridd, it would be no kindness to the people of Wales if they were to find 1663 themselves with another ailing industry on their hands, offering little security of employment and the last sort of establishment that ought to find its way to a development area with a high unemployment rate.
I do not in any way decry the ability and determination of the Welsh people, among whom I name my own forebears, to do their utmost to make a success of the venture. We know of the trading state at Treforest where redundant miners and others have been retrained and produce work of the highest quality. It will, however, take a very long time before the men at Llantrisant would be able to rebuild the world famous reputation of the Mint if they did not have the assistance of the skilled men, over 350 of them, from London in the first instance.
With so much at stake, therefore, with conditions now so starkly changed from the peak period in 1966–67, the case for an inquiry has become overwhelming. I am told that no contracts have been let for stage 2, and that even after a contract is let it will be 12 months before a single brick is laid. There would, accordingly, be little lost by a delay of two or three months while an inquiry is carried out. If, as a result of the inquiry, the fears were shown to be unfounded, this would inevitably give renewed confidence to the key workers, and it should prove possible to persuade them to take up new employment with a bright future in South Wales. On the other hand, if, unhappily, the anxieties which have been expressed turned out to be justified, there would still be time for second thoughts, still an opportunity to review the policy to take account of these vastly changed circumstances.
I beg the Government not to be obstinate and to refuse even to reconsider the matter. We on this side of the House want this venture to be a success, the success story of a move from congested London to a development area. But, before irrevocable steps are taken, we want to make sure that it will be a success. We need to know that the move will go forward in circumstances which will ensure the confidence of the management and of the workers both in London and, perhaps even more important in the long term, in Wales.
§ 12.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Pearson (Pontypridd)
I have a constituency interest in the subject raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), who has just made a closely reasoned speech, since the Royal Mint, Llantrisant, is in the heart of my constituency. We have heard a call for an inquiry into the future of the Royal Mint, and the reasons for that demand have been given by the hon. Gentleman. All hon. Members realise that demands for the holding of inquiries are a periodic phenomenon. The hon. Gentleman's effort appears to be aimed at changing through the technique of an inquiry the firm decision to locate the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, and its propulsion comes, I think, from the protests of the workers at the Royal Mint, Tower Hill, through their trade union joint committee.
I readily accept that there is no anti-Welsh consideration animating the call for an inquiry. In the mustering of resistance to any transfer from Tower Hill to Llantrisant, attempts are being made to build up a case that the demand for coinage has significantly changed and that hopes of additional foreign orders have dwindled. The hon. Gentleman has himself made that point. Consequently, it is argued, the Tower Hill Mint could well carry on as it is, and there will be no need to close it down in 1973.
From my reading of the Annual Reports of the Royal Mint, I see the evidence as showing that over the years the demand for coinage has grown. In 1968, the production was 1,357 million coins, of which 299 million were made in Llantrisant. In 1965, production was only 1,000 million coins. Going further back, in 1920 it was only 260 million coins. So the trend is clear, although, as has been said, there is no firm predictable pattern of overseas demand. There is an ebb and flow, as there is for any foreign orders in the commercial world as a whole.
My researches lead me totally to refute any charge that there was confusion of mind in the considerations leading to the Government's decision that a new Royal Mint was necessary. For decades, the Royal Mint at Tower Hill had been short of space, confined within an area of 4½ acres and with no possibility of expansion.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
I made no case about confusion. Indeed, I have made clear that both I and the workers with whom I have had several discussions fully concede that, if the conditions of 1967 still existed today, the move would be right and should go ahead. Our fear is that that is not so.
§ Mr. Pearson
I am gathering up the ends from news reports and so on which have sought to substantiate the general case being made.
I was pointing out that the area at Tower Hill is cramped, with no possibility of expansion. The new Llantrisant site, on the other hand, comprises 30 acres, and it ends a long period of uncertainty and speculation. Of course, it involves a break with tradition which has brought some misgivings in its train. No one can deny that a choice had to be made, but the many varying factors were carefully considered and weighed.
The records show that plans to meet the problems of the restricted and congested Tower Hill site had been thoroughly considered under three heads. The first was the partial rebuilding of Tower Hill. The second was the opening of a branch mint to handle decimalisation. Third, there was the question of moving the whole mint elsewhere. The 1967 Report of the Royal Mint stated that there were arguments on these questions, but it was increasingly plain that the balance of advantage lay in the third. Also it would be in keeping with the Government's dispersal policy.
Before Llantrisant was finally chosen, over 20 sites in all were considered. The conclusion was that it was the best. Phase 1 of the scheme has been completed. For several months, it has been operating successfully, after Her Majesty the Queen had struck the first coin on 17th December, 1969, accompanied by His Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales.
I go along with the claim that for the Tower Hill employees it is hard to lose one's long-standing locale of employment. It is disturbing to have to move across country to another place of work. They have my sympathy and understanding in that, but their jobs will be there if they move. All about us we see a breakdown of the former concept of a lifetime's stay at the same place of employ- 1666 ment just across the road. There is now a greater need for mobility. In the United States on average, people move once every five years. Mobility is occupational as well. I seek not to imitate it here but only to illustrate that there is no need for any feeling that the Tower Hill workers are a pawn caught in someone else's chess game.
Among those who have already made the move from Tower Hill to Llantrisant, sure signs exist that good will and contentment are live elements in their own and their families' lives. In the context of the call for an inquiry into the Royal Mint, the House should be mindful of the past heavy drain of men and families who had to transfer from Wales to industry in and around London. The drift had been one way for far too long. This modest reversal of the trend the other way from Tower Hill to Llantrisant is poetic justice and needs no inquiry as to its rightness.
The Tower of London and Tower Hill between them have contained the Royal Mint for upwards of 750 years. That is not a bad bite of the cherry. Let Llantrisant operate the Royal Mint for the next 750 years and Wales will do the United Kingdom proud.
I urge the Tower Hill workers—fine craftsmen that they are—to call it a day and come and enjoy for the rest of their working days a modern and a first-class centre of employment with surroundings of natural beauty. Round about there is much farmland and hill and vale, and in spring, when the country greens are replacing winter's browns, there is a cleanness and a lightness that will surprise most people who consider South Wales an industrial desert of coal and steel.
I hope that the Government will stand their ground firmly in face of today's intriguing demand for an inquiry. I trust that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is to reply, will again reaffirm that there has been no change in the Government's intention to transfer the Royal Mint to Llantrisant and that plans for the construction of phase 2 will proceed unimpeded.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I want briefly to support the argument 1667 put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) for an inquiry into this problem. My hon. Friend has made out an unanswerable case. Some of my constituents are very anxious about this matter and do not want to move to South Wales because of fear of redundancy in a year or two. There is nothing anti-Welsh in my attitude. I was born in South Wales and my mother was Welsh. I should like to see prosperity return to that part of the world and to all parts of Wales.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wan-stead and Woodford has made out a very strong case for an inquiry into this in view of the changed circumstances which seem to have arisen since 1967. Therefore, I hope the Minister of State will be able to announce that he will concede this inquiry which can only delay the matter for a few months and will set at ease the minds of those employees who will be affected.
A point which has not been raised so far is what will happen to the building in which the Royal Mint is at present situated. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Arthur Pearson) said that the Mint had been at the Tower Hill site for 750 years. The building has been there for 200 years; it is a lovely building and I hope there is no question of its being pulled down or destroyed, but that it will be preserved, whatever may happen to the Mint itself. I should like to ensure that the future of the employees at the Mint is preserved, even if it means keeping the Mint where it is.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Treasury (Mr. William Rodgers)
It was very helpful of the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) to seek to raise the question of the Royal Mint before we rose for the Easter Recess, because matters which he has touched on today—and which have been mentioned by other hon. Members—have been brought to the attention of hon. Members generally during the last two or three months. They, in turn, have made representations to the Treasury and we have been giving very careful thought to these points. It is probably unnecessary for me to say that my right hon. Friend the 1668 Minister without Portfolio, who is sitting beside me now, and in whose constituency Tower Hill lies, has been assiduous in ensuring that the concern felt by the trade unions about the future was fully understood. He has taken a close personal interest in events since 1967 and I know that he has made a special effort to be with us today.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
I hope that the Minister of State, on behalf of his right hon. Friend, will acknowledge that we on this side of the House have been equally assiduous and that the slur which the right hon. Gentleman hurled in my direction at Question Time the other day was totally unwarranted.
§ Mr. Rodgers
I do not think it is necessary for me to say what I am sure the House would generally understand. As I say, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised the matter today. It is not a party issue in any respect, but it is equally right to draw attention to the fact that my right hon. Friend is in a special position and has direct and personal responsibility which, at all times, he has carried out in his constituency rôle.
I also welcome the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Arthur Pearson). He has served with distinction in the House now for more than 30 years and we shall greatly miss him when he retires, as I understand he will, at the next election. He spoke with proper pride of the new Mint at Llantrisant and what it means to the Welsh valleys and those who work there. He referred to the drift back which anybody with a sense of history will find meaningful. I was also glad that he said that all who have moved there from London have settled down. I am sure that the Minister of State for Wales, who is also present, would endorse this. Things have been going very well, and certainly the arrival of the Mint in Llantrisant has been welcomed and is a symbol of a great deal more.
The fact is that the question of the Mint and its location is an emotional matter, which should not surprise any of us. It is natural that the movement out of London of so long-established and historic an institution should arouse feelings of regret. My right hon. Friend the 1669 Chancellor of the Exchequer is also, as Master of the Mint, very conscious of the problems of those of the staff on Tower Hill who face either uprooting their families to go to Wales, or breaking links with the Royal Mint which for some—a few—have lasted all their working lives. I noted what the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) said about the future of the site not yet being determined, but I share entirely with him the feeling that there is a need to consider this as a historic monument and that we should seek to find a proper way to preserve it.
On the other hand, as I have said—and as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd said—the new Mint is a symbol of new life and new techniques in an area where redevelopment and renewal are a first priority. The Government's decision to build a new Mint at Llantrisant and to close the Mint at Tower Hill by about the end of 1973 was announced in the House in April 1967. For nearly a quarter of a century, it has been recognised that the existing premises on Tower Hill were overcrowded and badly laid out by modern standards and rebuilding of the Tower Hill site had been shown to be impracticable, except at exhorbitant cost and unacceptable interference with production.
Hon. Members in the House at the time of the announcement—as I think the hon. Gentleman conceded—warmly approved the intention of bringing employment to one of the development areas. As I remember it, there was fierce competition amongst representatives of other development areas who would have liked to have had the industry in their own constituencies. The decision was important not only because of the employment that the Royal Mint would bring directly to the area; it was also a measure of the Government's overall determination to pursue an active policy in the development areas; the Mint would form part of the nucleus around which new industry could grow, and would be encouraged to grow, in South Wales. The Estimates Committee—as the hon. Gentleman has also said—following its examination of the Royal Mint in 1968, welcomed the expectation of increased productivity promised by technological improvement and modern layout.
1670 The plan announced in 1967 was to build a new Mint in two stages. The first stage was to consist of the buildings and plant required for converting blanks into decimal coins. The second, and less urgent, stage was the addition of the buildings and plant which would make up a complete Mint. The first part of the factory was completed about 15 months ago and has since been continuously employed in the production of the stockpile of decimal coins that will be needed on D Day. Meanwhile, the Mint on Tower Hill has remained fully occupied producing domestic coins for current use and coins for export.
The completion by about the end of this year of the decimal stockpile means a substantial reduction in the output required from the Royal Mint as a whole, and therefore necessitates the transfer of export and current domestic coinage from Tower Hill to Llantrisant, with consequent redundancy on Tower Hill. This is what has triggered off recent concern about the Mint. I must emphasise, however, because this is crucial, that the completion of the decimalisation programme by about the end of this year was foreseen from the outset. In other words, progress so far has been according to plan. There have been no surprises.
I therefore come to the argument which was put forward by the hon. Gentleman that circumstances have changed since 1967 and that a decision, which I understood the hon. Gentleman accepted as having been right at that time, was for this reason no longer right. There are two principal aspects of this issue. First is the argument—though the hon. Gentleman did not put it as a major point today—that the employment prospects in the London area have in some way changed. The second point, on which he rested and on which he asked for detailed information, is that there has been a deterioriation in export prospects. He referred to a long time trend—a cycle. He referred to cyclical fluctuations the end of which we could not foresee. The second argument will be found on examination not to be the case.
May I say this briefly about the employment position. Employment prospects in London are as good as anywhere in the United Kingdom and are likely to remain so. We should have that firmly on the record. If anything, they are 1671 better now than they were in 1967 and considerably better than in the development areas. The important comparative figures are surely the unemployment percentage in London which is 1.4 per cent. and that in the Pontypridd travel-to-work group of employment exchanges, which includes Llantrisant, which is about 5.5 per cent.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin indicated assent.
§ Mr. Rodgers
There are no two ways about this—and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman nods his head—that on employment grounds, Llantrisant has a clear claim for priority. None of the arguments in 1967 have been invalidated since.
With regard to the future coinage demand, on the most careful examination, the view is taken that there is no reason to suppose that the present lull is more than temporary. The hon. Gentleman referred to fluctuations in the past, and he gave us some figures. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd used the words "ebb and flow". Demand has always been subject to wide fluctuation, but there has been an eightfold increase in the average export demand satisfied by the Royal Mint over the last 50 years, and careful investigations clearly suggest that this broad trend is likely to be maintained.
A study of past statistics shows that the present trough is by no means unprecedented. For example, from a peak in 1952, demand fell to less than half by 1955, to rise again to a higher peak in 1961. All the evidence based on international economic and demographic trends suggests that in spite of fluctuations, peak demand and average demand will continue to rise. I am satisfied that we should accept the accumulated wisdom of the Mint in this respect.
The Mint has considered the factors which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and they are real ones. Obviously, it must look at the marketing prospect in making its decision, but I think there is no one more experienced than the Mint in the world's coinage export market, and this is its considered view.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
But the point is this. The Mint has got to persuade these 367 men to go down to South Wales.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mrs. Eirene White) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Lady shakes her head, but the fact remains that they have got to be persuaded to go. If what the Minister of State, Treasury says is right, surely it would be better to establish the facts by means of a full inquiry when all the arguments and the background could be made known. That is the way to persuade the people to go. At the moment the hon. Gentleman is simply asking them to take it on trust, and this they are not prepared to do.
§ Mr. Rodgers
The hon. Gentleman should be a little patient. He provokes me into dealing with some other matters earlier than I had expected to deal with them. He has referred to the need to persuade the 367 men to go to South Wales. There is no need for the persuasion to be as successful as that. The important point is that the matter has been carefully examined, and the greatest expertise lies with those who have been exceedingly successful over the years in ensuring that the Royal Mint should have an outstanding international reputation and that it should get the orders. They have reconsidered it. I hope that as a result, the men will be persuaded. There are, however, occasions when persuasion does not carry the day, however powerful the argument. The hon. Gentleman may argue till the cows come home on economic grounds. The argument would be powerful, but if it were a political argument it would not be very convincing to me.
Even if continuing growth in the demand for coins were unlikely—supposing that the fears were justified, as the hon. Gentleman said—it would still be right to concentrate the Royal Mint at Llantrisant where there is new machinery and room for an efficient layout of all processes. It has been suggested that the introduction of high-speed coining presses eases the problem of space on Tower Hill, but the amount of material to be handled and stored is unaffected and there is a tendency for other modern coining equipment to take up more room rather than less. Although some improvements have been carried out on Tower Hill since 1967, complete rebuilding would still be necessary. Concentration on Llantrisant would thus be the 1673 right course, judged purely from a Mint point of view. To continue a division of work between Tower Hill and Llantrisant longer than necessary would be uneconomic and could be damaging to the Royal Mint's export effort.
Even if the Mint's export expectations turned out to be optimistic, the case would remain for concentrating production at Llantrisant where it can be most efficiently undertaken. To abandon Llantrisant would mean not only writing off much of the £3½ million which has already been invested there, but in all probability greater expenditure on Tower Hill than would be involved in completing the Llantrisant Mint.
It has been said—the hon. Gentleman mentioned it today—that there is an exceptionally high rate of rejects among coins struck at the new Mint and a need to sub-contract work because of a lack of skill. I am sure that it was not the hon. Gentleman's intention, by praising the high skill of those who work at Tower Hill, to reflect on the skill of those in Wales who are undertaking the task, although by implication he seemed to do so. We all praise those who have done the job in the traditional location, but without suggesting that their colleagues are less competent in Llantrisant. There is no evidence at all to substantiate such an allegation.
I must refute the allegations which have been made—though not by the hon. Gentleman—that the new Mint will lack the ability to maintain the high tradition of skill for which Tower Hill is rightly famous. Indeed, the quality and keenness of the locally-recruited staff, which we knew would be forthcoming, has surpassed expectations. I am sure hon. Members will be glad to know that. For sensible operational reasons, production at the new Mint has until now been confined to the decimal coinage, but there is no reason to doubt that, given the necessary tools, the new organisation will be able to cope with a more varied programme, including special coins and medals.
It has been suggested that a large influx of skilled labour from Tower Hill will be necessary, but this is not so. The success of Llantrisant does not depend upon a large transfer from Tower Hill. The necessary skills either exist in South Wales or can be developed. This 1674 is already clear from our experience to date. On the other hand, no difficulty is expected in employing at the new Mint those Tower Hill employees who are eligible to transfer and choose to do so. The indications are, however, that this number will not be large.
The locally recruited staff and their colleagues transferred from Town Hill have, as my hon. Friend mentioned, made splendid progress towards the completion of the decimal stockpile, and again I take the opportunity to congratulate them and to express thanks to all the local people in the Llantrisant area and to the local authorities who in various ways have contributed to the success.
A question not raised in today's debate, but mentioned at earlier stages in discussion of this matter, is that of subcontracting. The Estimates Committee, as the hon. Gentleman knows, looked most carefully into this question in 1968 and I think in paragraph 25 of its Report recognised that the co-operation of these two private Mints had been of considerable benefit to the Royal Mint and particularly to the country's export trade. I am sure that it will continue to be so and we can see no case for disturbing a very long-standing relationship.
I appreciate—and I say this at every stage because all of us have the greatest sympathy for those who are now working at Tower Hill—that it may seem difficult to those working there to accept that sub-contracting should go on when they are likely to become redundant. But, quite apart from this over all export question which I think is vital, as the Estimates Committee did, the discontinuance of sub-contracting would not in practice significantly affect either the numbers or the timing of the impending redundancies on Tower Hill. At the most it might delay events by a few weeks.
The number of industrial staff at Tower Hill is 924 and 330 of them have been appointed since April 1967. These were informed at the time of appointment that the employment offered was strictly temporary. Most of the men who may become compulsorily redundant this year will be from this short service group. For the remainder, which, taking account 1675 of retirements and other natural wastage, is unlikely to number more than 400 by the end of 1973, the plan to keep some operations going on at Tower Hill until then will introduce an element of choice in the timing of those who wish to leave the Mint and will give the management the maximum opportunity, which I am sure it will take, of placing men in other jobs in the public service in the London area. If these men choose to leave the Government service, they will be able to draw benefits either under the National Superannuation Act or by analogy with the Redundancy Payments Act, whichever is the more favourable. These benefits vary according to age, length of service and status, but men with between 10 and 20 years' service might expect to get anything between £350 and £1,000.
As I have said, in the last few months we have been fully alive to the issues which have been aired today. We have considered very carefully all aspects of the problem, including feelings which are strongly and sincerely held. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was right to bring this matter to the Floor of the House but, having listened carefully to him and to the hon. Member for Wembley, South, I must say frankly that no new considerations have emerged. In these circumstances, I must confirm the Government's decision to move the Mint to Wales and make the position quite clear, in everyone's best interest.
I have the greatest sympathy with all those involved, as I have already made clear. This has not been an easy matter and no one wishes to take an unnecessarily harsh course. But an inquiry could not add further to our knowledge. It would only create uncertainty where none should now exist.
In view of representations against the move to Wales, culminating in this debate, action on plans to transfer work from Tower Hill has, since the beginning of this year, largely been suspended. The management and the Government felt that this was the right course to pursue. But further delay would make a smooth transfer impossible and the time has come when the management of the Mint can no longer put off the implementation of these plans. In the interests of all the staff of the Royal Mint in London and in Wales, I hope 1676 very much that the management will be given full co-operation in putting the plans into immediate effect.
The Royal Mint has been on or very near its present site for over 600 years. As I have said, it would be surprising if the impending severance of this long connection was painless and without problems. But the name will live on in the new location and I am sure that Llantrisant will be worthy of the tradition that Tower Hill will bequeath to it.