§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Nairn
After that traditional break in our proceedings, I feel that I must try to be even more brief than I had intended.
Work in connection with the breakdown of ammunition is running out and I understand that in the future a certain amount of the work which has been done in Scotland is to be transferred to Wales. If it can be done more cheaply in Wales at a factory which is doing a lot of other things as well, we cannot justify keeping the work in Scotland. But the Minister must make that clear, and give us figures, so that we can convince the people who are being put out of work that this move is essential. If that can be done, it will help considerably.
We appreciate the fact that two years' notice has been given to the people concerned, but that by itself is not enough. Something more must be done. Unless the Minister can tell people a year from now what will happen to them in 1959 the fact that two years' notice has been given does not amount to much. These people want to know whether all of the establishment men will be re-employed. Those that cannot be given employment want to be told at least a year in advance that there will be no work for them when the factory closes.
Those who will not be employed want to know the terms of the compensation they will get. Naturally, they have looked at the White Paper announcing the terms for personnel in the Army, Navy and Air Force, and these established people expect to be given compensation at least on somewhat similar terms; although I admit that people working in an industrial ordnance factory would find it easier to obtain work than would a soldier. Nevertheless, the terms of compensation which have been published set a pattern.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
May we absolutely rely on the support of 1309 the hon. Member in our campaign to obtain for these redudant workers the same compensation as for colonels?
§ Mr. Nairn
I could never guarantee to give my support to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), because he is so irrational that I should never know what he might say next.
The people who will be moved to employment elsewhere at the end of the two years want to be sure that they will not be moved without any prospect of having a house for their wives and families. It may be reasonable for established people to be moved round, but it is not reasonable to move them unless houses are available for them within a reasonable space of time.
I cannot altogether agree with the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), who opened the debate, when he said that these factories should be kept in Government ownership on a care-and-maintenance basis. I would agree if the factories can be kept in production, but there are factories, like the one in my constituency——
§ Mr. Robens
I did not use the phrase "care-and-maintenance" basis. I said that they should be put to some productive economic purpose.
§ Mr. Nairn
It is no use letting a factory like the T.N.T. factory in my constituency stand idle. It would need to be completely pulled down and rebuilt.
People in my constituency want to know what the Government are doing to find alternative employment for them. I know that it is difficult when negotiations are going on, or are perhaps not yet started, for the Ministry to say what are the prospects of selling a factory to a new expanding industry, but people must be told something about what is going on. It is not enough to say that the Minister of Supply, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the President of the Board of Trade are doing their best to look for a buyer; they must be clearly seen to be doing their best.
1310 I hope that the Ministers will do their best, and will try to advise the hon. Members concerned in this matter what the prospects are, not necessarily week by week but every month or two. We should like to know whether a factory is likely to be sold and what the position is likely to be at the end of the two years.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
We have had discussions for a very long time with the Ministry of Supply on the disposal of the Royal Ordnance factory at Dalmuir and with the Parliamentary Secretary. I was shocked today at some of the statements made by the Minister, especially when he referred to Dalmuir.
We have been informed from time to time that the purpose of turning the Dalmuir factory over to Messrs. Babcock and Wilcox was that it should be used by them for the machining of atomic energy equipment. It is not true to say, as the Minister suggested, that the plant is unsuited to the machining of atomic energy equipment; that is exactly what it has been doing for the last few years. Messrs. Weir, of Cathcart, have accepted orders from the Atomic Energy Authority for heavy machined steel castings. Messrs. Babcock and Wilcox have accepted contracts from the Atomic Energy Authority, but have not had facilities or space. By "facilities" I mean heavy-capacity machine tools. They have sub-contracted the work to the Royal Ordnance factory at Dalmuir. That fact is known to the Minister and to the Parliamentary Secretary. I was therefore surprised when the Minister suggested that the factory was not suited and that Messrs. Babcock and Wilcox were not going to use it for this purpose, but for the purpose of constructing cranes and steel structures.
We have been assured time and time again that if Messrs. Babcock and Wilcox took over the factory at Dalmuir the existing personnel would be employed by that firm, but if what the Minister says is true then the previous statement is absolute nonsense. The nature of the work at present carried on in the Royal Ordnance factory at Dalmuir is engineering. It is machining, as many of my hon. Friends know. Crane work is 80 per cent. structural engineering. It is work for structural engineers, boiler-makers and 1311 platers, whereas the work being done in the Royal Ordnance factory is for highly skilled machine operators.
If Messrs. Babcock and Wilcox took over the factory for the purpose suggested by the Minister, 95 per cent. of the men now on the floor of the factory in Dalmuir would not be acceptable to that firm because their skills are in different directions. Make no mistake about it; if the factory is to be used for the assembling and building of cranes, the men wanted will not be machine operators but structural operators, what we used to call "iron fighters." My hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith)and Newton (Mr. Lee)will know that what I am saying is true. If the nature of the work in this factory is to be changed, more than 90 per cent. of the men in Dalmuir will be redundant.
In England and Wales, established men who are made redundant in one factory are informed by the Ministry of Supply that they can be transferred to another part of England and Wales with their families, that is, if housing accommodation can be found for them. Must we talk about transferring from Scotland to England men of fifty years of age with families after they have been working in a Scottish Royal Ordnance factory for the last eighteen years? Where else in Scotland can established engineering workers, members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, find alternative occupation? Nowhere. They must come South, perhaps to Woolwich Arsenal, or Leeds. It must be down here, because the Dalmuir factory is the only Ministry of Supply engineering establishment in Scotland.
What a stupid thing, in the present conditions of the United Kingdom, to transfer skilled men of fifty years of age from Scotland to England, There are already too many people down here. The place is getting congested. Scotland is losing too many skilled men. Why keep on bringing them down here and overcrowding this area? If we travel in the City of London, for example, we can see that the place is chock-a-block. This is happening in the Midlands. We talk about road development and the high cost of congested traffic. It is because of the foolish, ad hoc method of building factories anywhere and everywhere in congested areas 1312 because there is presumed to be a market there and a pool of labour. This is becoming an overcrowded corner of the island, while Scotland is losing its skilled population. The Minister of Supply is helping this process.
Men in Dalmuir have already received a circular telling them that within fourteen days they have the option of submitting to the Ministry of Supply to what part of England they would like to be transferred. They are being given that choice. The circular goes on to say that the Ministry will do its best to find them an occupation similar to that which they were performing in Dalmuir, but if they refuse to accept the transfer they will be subject to discharge. By that they will lose everything they have built up over the years in which they have served the Ministry. That is the rule.
Some of these men in the R.O.F. are highly skilled, specialised machine tool operators who operate heavy machine tools working to very fine limits. If they were transferred to other sections of the Ministry of Supply they would be likely to suffer a decrease in remuneration of anything up to 60 per cent. It is true that the Ministry says it will pay for moving their furniture and will give them an allowance because they have to maintain two homes, but that will not compensate them for the fact that they have to change from using one skilled technique to another in a field in which they are not experienced.
I know many of these men. Some of them live in Glasgow and many in the Burgh of Clydebank. Many of them have children between the ages of 12 and 18 attending schools in Clydebank and Glasgow. It is a different matter to move a child out of the Scottish educational system into the English system from transferring a child from Cardiff to London. The educational structure and the general curriculum is similar all over England and Wales, but it is entirely different in Scotland. A child would be taken out of its environment and plunged into another environment at a very difficult period of its school life. That could have serious consequences on the child's education.
The problem of bringing the men here with their children at those ages is a very difficult one for the men concerned. Men have come to see me privately from the 1313 R.O.F. and said they are worried to death. They have shown me school reports of their children who hope to go to Glasgow University within a few years, but, if the families are transferred to the different conditions here those children might be denied opportunities of entry to a university because of the difficulty in fitting into the new educational curriculum.
These things are important to these men as individuals. If something frightening happens to one person, that is not considered to be a tragedy. It has to happen to millions before it is considered a tragedy. I have always felt that for the individual concerned it is as great a tragedy as if it happened to a million people. In Clydebank we are shocked that these men should have to submit to this circular, which almost gives them the alternative of transferring to England or losing their job. If they have not the type of skilled labour which Babcock and Wilcox want, the Ministry suggests in its circular that within fourteen days they should submit to the director of the R.O.F. whether they would like to be transferred.
I see my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele)present. No doubt he has received the same communication as I have. We are faced with the prospect of 300 men being made redundant at the Blackburn Aircraft factory in Dumbarton and there are also the 400 at Dalmuir who will be redundant because Babcock and Wilcox will not want them. If the Ministry are to take 400 men down South, what is the use of all the pronouncements of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who says that he is doing all he can to maintain full employment in Scotland and to keep skilled labour there?
I cannot allow the Minister to get away with the statement which he makes repeatedly. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that it is an over-simplification which does not hold water. He says that certain things cannot be done in the Royal Ordnance factories because the men there have not the experience, the knowledge and the techniques. It is absolute nonsense. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith)is, I believe, a pattern maker. I am a tool maker. My hon. Friend has made patterns and I have worked from 1314 his patterns and made tools, but I have not known what they were for. He can read the drawing and I can read it, but we do not know what part of the machine the tool is to go into. When people talk about engineers not being able to produce certain things because they do not understand what they are for, those people do not know what they are talking about.
I get annoyed when I hear those statements because, in 1939, I worked in a factory where there were 7,000 people turning out bicycles. The war started and within twelve months 14,000 people were in that factory turning out Bren guns, shells and parts of aeroplanes. The pattern makers were making the patterns and we in the tool rooms were making the tools while girls were operating the machines. We are told that we cannot do these things in the R.O.F. because engineers and technicians in the R.O.F. in peacetime are not so adaptable as they are when we change from peace to war. No one will accept that; we know it is nonsense. A British engineer will produce anything that is wanted if he is given the drawing. As the Atomic Energy Authority and the Ministry of Supply can supply Babcock and Wilcox, Vickers, or anyone else, with appropriate drawings, so they can supply the Ministry of Supply.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew)has spoken about the technicians and engineers in R.O.Fs. who can do the job if it is submitted to them. If designs come to the Atomic Energy Authority, the engineers and production planners in the Ministry of Supply can do the job as well as any private firm in the country. I hope the Minister will think again before he allows the highly skilled works in Dalmuir to be closed down and handed over to crane production, which must drive these men out of the factory.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)made reference to Army colonels. I can assure him that the skilled engineers in Dalmuir have done as much in the defence of this county in eighteen years as has been done in eighteen years' service by some of the colonels. Therefore, they are entitled to compensation on as good a scale as the colonels.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I understand that I have to be brief. I shall therefore try to condense my remarks into a few minutes. We have had quite a useful debate. I hope that where the future welfare of 7,000 of our people is concerned we shall, so far as possible, approach this problem not in a party political way. After all, their whole future and livelihood depends on what happens in these discussions.
I thought that the hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen)was unnecessarily rough when he turned on me when I asked the question to elicit information. My only interest in this debate is concerned with Radway Green, which is in the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency and is where a number of workers go from my constituency, particularly from Congleton and its neighbourhood. The area around Congleton was nearly a distressed area before the war, but it was not classified. It is certainly better today, but it has not got great industries which can sustain recession. I am particularly concerned that the people in the area should have continuity of employment.
In correspondence with the Parliamentary Secretary, I have been given an assurance that no fresh orders will be placed elsewhere for the time being—that is something at least—but my hon. Friend cannot exclude the possibility that that might have to be done at a future date. I can understand that my hon. Friend had to cover himself, but Radway Green is a specialised, very modern factory and I think there is scope in it for industrial work.
My criticism in respect of the Ministry of Supply and the Royal Ordnance factories is that the public relations side is deplorable. In connection with my business interests, I have found that one of the major factors is to keep one's executives and workers informed of what is going on and what will go on in the future. There is nothing like it. The troubles in the aircraft industry have been mainly because of ups and downs—cancellations of orders and then big orders being thrust on the industry. The result of this is that men eventually lose heart and look for jobs in industries where they can have more assured prospects. It is very important that my right hon. 1316 Friend and my hon. Friend should keep in close touch with the factories and pay as many visits to them as they can. Bosses ought to go round their factories and be seen.
I understand that Radway Green can undertake nuclear power work. Strange to say, I believe that the brief of the hon. and learned Member for Crewe is the same as mine. I would emphasise that the proposed Hunterston power station in Ayrshire will consist of two reactors each containing 3,288 fuel channels, and these could be made very satisfactorily at Radway Green. I hope the Minister will look into the matter to see what can be done. The work should be spread out. No doubt some of it could be done in Ayrshire.
Reference has also been made to the modernisation of the railways. Radway Green and other Royal Ordnance factories should be allowed to undertake some of this work. I am convinced that free enterprise and the Royal Ordnance factories can work if they are brought together. Certainly the nationalised industries can work with the Royal Ordnance factories. There is a lot of work to be done on the railways, and £1,000 million to be spent.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, North)
It might be helpful to the hon. Gentleman if I told him that the Royal Ordnance factory at Nottingham has done a lot of railway work—re-equipment, tunnelling, wagoning, and so on.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
That is also my information.
I want also to refer to the disadvantages of the Royal Ordnance factories. Undoubtedly, in skill and ingenuity they are comparable with any other organisation in the country, but when it comes to taking a broader view and perhaps going to the United States or Germany to find an end-product needed in this country to secure future production, they are at a real disadvantage compared with ordinary industrial firms. The Ministry of Supply itself has some excellent technical people, but my experience has been that when they become very good they are taken away by free enterprise. It is not a bad thing for these men to circulate, but the Ministry is at a disadvantage in giving the assistance to the Royal Ordnance factories which they might expect.
1317 In Britain today we need every ounce of production that we can obtain. The inflation problem is due to lack of increase in production, though in the last month, fortunately, there has been a sudden turn in the right direction. We must move heaven and earth to use these factories for whatever production is available, provided it is economical. We cannot sustain any factory, civil or Government, if it will lose taxpayers' money. Provided that the factories can compete economically, we must use them to boost our production, particularly of exports. I ask my right hon. Friend to take a very broad view and to go ahead, and, if necessary, to call upon hon. Members on both sides of the House to help if they can be of any use to him in ascertaining what can be done and getting on with the job.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
The more I listen to the debate and realise the great interest taken in the matter by hon. Members in all parts of the House, the more I wonder why the Government did not provide a full day for the debate. After all, the issue has been brought about by Government policy. We can, of course, argue whether the policy is right or wrong as we go along, but it is rather disgraceful that the House should go into recess for three months and leave an issue of this sort unresolved, without the Government having attempted to find a minute for the House to discuss it.
Naturally, the discussion has centred upon the Royal Ordnance factories. We know that in the last twelve months the numbers in these factories have run down from 46,500 to 40,000. We also know from the Minister's statement that as a result of the operation that we are now discussing a further 7,000 persons will be rendered redundant. The total at the end of the next two years, including the past year, will be between 13,500 and 14,000.
That is not the whole story. I have figures to show that Admiralty depôts, R.A.F. stations and R.E.M.E. institutions of all types and descriptions are being run down. I should not be very surprised if, at the end of the day, there was a decrease in personnel of nearer 50,000 than 13,000. If the Parliamentary Secretary can give an indication of the global figure, as distinct from the figure in respect of Royal Ordnance factories, we 1318 should be most grateful. We ought to review the present policy in the light of the fact that some 50,000 people may be displaced because of the Government's policy.
I have a number of interests in this matter. I have an R.A.F. establishment at Padgate, in my division, and an Admiralty station, at Risley, which are being closed, and I also speak as Chairman of the Engineering Group in the House. Needless to say, the A.E.U. is very disturbed at the manner in which the Government are proceeding. We are not arguing that every factory which has become obsolete should be maintained merely to provide employment. We believe that in the Royal Ordnance factories we have teams of skilled men whose worth to the nation has been amply proved. We believe that these men possess the required skill. We also believe that the Royal Ordnance factories either possess the necessary plant, or could have installed in them the necessary plant, to cope with either conventional weapons or the new types of weapons that we are to have.
As I said at Question Time the other day, we believe that, despite what the Minister says, there is about this matter more of an ideoligical complex than a defence complex. We know that there would be a need in the Royal Ordnance factories for some drastic alterations of plant layout, and so on, to cope with the new types of weapons. Private enterprise has to adapt its factories to ever-changing designs and ever-new types of products. Why should it be supposed that it is impossible for Government institutions to do likewise?
The right hon. Gentleman has to face that, and I do not think he has done so this afternoon. We know that his Department now employs a great many extremely able theorists, specialists, people with great knowledge, scientific capacity and the rest who could undertake—who, indeed, are now undertaking—a great deal of research, and we think that there is point in the argument that whereas public money can be spent on the theoretical research, once the product is developed to the point where there will be a profit from it, it will go to private enterprise.
Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman has not answered the case put by my right 1319 hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens)and others of my hon. Friends. We argue that the change in the type of product is a challenge to the Minister to modernise the Royal Ordnance factories and not an excuse to emasculate them. That is the real difference between us.
In his statement the other day, the Minister talked about the Royal Ordnance factories as preferred sources for the production of conventional weapons. I do not know whether my colleagues in those factories are expected to get much solace from that, because that statement, read in conjunction with the White Paper on Defence, means that a constantly-decreasing supply of the conventional weapons will be needed, and if they are merely to be a preferred source for the supply of things which will shortly be almost redundant, and what sort of guarantee is that? As a matter of fact, it is almost a threat.
I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, instead of merely talking in terms of preferred sources, could now say to the Royal Ordnance factories that wherever there is a possibility of weapons being produced for the production of which they are now equipped, those factories will have a monopoly. Some of my hon. Friends have mentioned specific weapons, tanks, for instance. Let us take the factory at Leyland. Why did the Government decide to sell to Leyland's—I understand at something like a knockdown price—one of the most modern tank factories in Britain almost at the same time as the receipt of the order for Centurion tanks?
At Barnbow, near Leeds, we have a modern tank factory which was built for the production of Centurions and which is now sub-contracting to Vickers for the order that Vickers received, despite the fact that it is able at least to compete on terms with the parent factory of Vickers. But the right hon. Gentleman goes on saying that it had to be handed back to private enterprise and, therefore, had to be closed by the Government. If the Minister says that private enterprise can make profits by sub-contracting to Royal Ordnance factories, that is the greatest compliment he can pay to them, but, at the same time, he prefers to deal them a death blow.
1320 As I have said, we cannot hope to keep factories open merely against a background of products which have now gone. We know the Minister's knowledge of industry. How many of the great firms which he and I can think of are now producing the same sort of components by the methods of ten years ago? The whole history of British industry is its capacity to change rapidly, the secret being that we have a greater reservoir of skilled manpower per head of population than has any other nation in the world. As a result, as one of my hon. Friends has said, we have the power to base our products not merely on line production in the robot way used in the United States, but on the great skill of our people. Really, the right hon. Gentleman has not answered this type of argument at all.
I agree that the right hon. Gentleman is right in one thing. He said that if we are now to go into public production of the new weapons it will mean the spending of a great deal of money. I accept that at once, and, in any case, if we do not do it, private enterprise will. I know that he can argue that private enterprise is setting up the research teams. He himself has told us that in theoretical, as against fundamental, research he now holds all the cards. But the House will see the danger if private enterprise is allowed a monopoly of fundamental research of the whole development of these new weapons. If that type of semi-monopoly—and it must be a semi-monopoly, because the day has gone when small engineering firms could contract—obtains a complete monopoly of arms production because private enterprise has the background of development, and the blueprints for the production of hydrogen and atomic weapons.
It can be said that Socialist theory demands that where arms are produced they should be produced by public enterprise and under public control. That is a fundamental issue. But millions of people today, some of whom have never accepted Socialist theory, would never agree, in this day of hydrogen and atomic weapons, that private enterprise should have the monopoly of production in order to make profits from those weapons. That is more especially so at a time when we are hoping—though that is an awful word to use in this context—to 1321 export these armaments to other countries in a rather big way.
The nub of this argument is that the Government must get control of the production of the new types of weapons. Unless they can do that, then we are, without doubt, putting ourselves completely in the hands of those private monopolies to whom we will be giving control.
I turn to compensation. On 6th June I asked the Parliamentary Secretary how the Government proposed to deal with redundancies, especially where people were being asked to travel long distances from their homes to their work. He replied:Those long-serving employees at Royal Ordnance factories who are established have accepted the obligation to transfer as a condition of their establishment. If their work at any particular factory comes to an end, the Government will honour its obligation to provide alternative employment for them elsewhere in the Government service. Employment locally will be the first aim, but failing this, they will be required to transfer.He went on to say:If an offer of employment at a new station is refused by an established industrial employee, he will have to be discharged unless he elects to resign. Either course would involve, in accordance with the provisions of the Superannuation Acts, forfeiture of all superannuation rights except as stated below."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th June, 1957; Vol. 571, c. 150–1.]Here we have a Government which, by their own policies and not by something which has been thrust upon them, deliberately bring about the redundancy of, as I believe, some 50,000 people but, while doing that, refuse to budge one inch from the basis on which men accepted establishment, believing that the normal processes would obtain.
I turn now to the position in the R.E.M.E. establishments. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter)is concerned at the position of many of his constituents. He has been discussing with the War Office the question of pension rates for people in R.E.M.E. establishments. Established people have to serve seven years before qualifying in any shape or form. Imagine a man with a family, who may have served the Government well for six years and ten months and who, because he has not served the requisite seven year period, is thrown out on his ear without any sort of compensation. Can 1322 this sort of thing be permitted by the same Government who were so tender towards our military brethren a few days ago?
I do not want the House to get me wrong. I am very glad indeed when men of any type who have served the country well are treated generously. I do not sneer at them. It is right and proper that the nation should do its very best for these public servants, but I object most strongly when a person with a military career which has been terminated by Government action is recompensed at a terrifically high rate, while a good ordnance worker, who has served his apprenticeship, has given of his skill and has done his best for the nation, receives a pittance from the Government. Indeed, we understand that if such a man refuses to go to another place, some miles away, he will be sacked, or will be given the "privilege" of resigning.
This is the sort of thing which is detrimental not only to those who are now having to lose their jobs, but to those who remain. Those of us who have worked for many years in the engineering industry, and know the background of the development of engineering technique, can tell harrowing stories of the feelings of those who remain after their colleagues have been dismissed. At a time when there is a run-down in the factory, men are uncomfortable. They look for opportunities to get work elsewhere. They cannot possibly give undivided loyalty to their employers, no matter what type of employers they may be. At a time when we are thinking in terms of new weapons, the right hon. Gentleman ought to try to understand the damage that he is doing to the morale 9f those who remain, quite apart from their colleagues who are to be dismissed.
Several hon. Members have mentioned civil work in the Royal Ordnance factories. There was a time, when we on this side of the House were in office, when one-third of the products of these factories was civil work. I am not going to argue that they were all completely economic in contrast to private enterprise, but when we get a situation in which this nation is losing a percentage of its world markets every year and when this has gone on for five consecutive years, when it is so essential that every wheel which can turn to produce goods which we can 1323 export should turn, how wrong it is that factories, some of them very modern, should be allowed to close or go on a half cock basis, when they are capable of helping the nation by producing articles which we know them to be capable of producing.
Let me mention some of the articles which were once produced in the Royal Ordnance factories. There were concrete railway sleepers, locomotive convertions for China—that is an export to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies)has referred—steel railway wagons, laundry machinery, wood cutting machinery, the overhaul of Bedford lorries for U.N.R.R.A., the overhaul of Matador lorries, oil well drilling equipment, stocking looms and clock mechanisms. One could go on for a long time reciting other items.
I want to put a specific point to the Minister. What is the method by which the R.O.F.s are managed? Who decides whether civil work is undertaken or not? My information is that the scope for R.O.F.s to handle alternative work to armaments is completely limited. I am told that superintendents of factories are permitted to engage in small orders for alternative work locally, but that large orders must go through the contracts branch of the Ministry of Supply. Here, such work becomes subject to Government policy itself.
I am told that a significant feature of the board which controls the R.O.F.s is that 50 per cent. of the seats are held by representatives of private industry. Is this true or not? If we now have a situation in which those who determine whether civil orders go to R.O.F.s or not are those who want to push them into their own factories, we come up against a very dangerous problem. I can understand that engineering technicians at the R.O.F.s will be very willing to undertake orders suitable for manufacture in the R.O.F.s, whether they be armaments or civil work, but I believe that the secretarial and administrative side of the Ministry of Supply headquarters have had far too much to say on general policy and matters outside their legislative purview. I ask the Minister to give the House all the information he can on who, in fact, determines the R.O.F. capacity to take civil orders.
1324 I have said that I feel that the Government are not really attempting either to utilise the R.O.F.s to the full or so to alter the capital equipment of the R.O.F.s so that they may be made capable of competing with other types of work. Primarily, I do not want to see R.O.F.s compelled to run on a civil production basis, but in this day and age, when we see fearful new weapons being developed, and when we know that now more than ever in our history is it essential that public control of those weapons should be the order of the day, it is so vital to the welfare of the nation that we should have the products of that type under Government ownership and public control.
For my part, because I do not feel that the Government are imbued with any concern for that matter, but feel rather that this is a field for private enterprise, I condemn their policies. I know that on a day such as this, when we are subject to other rules, we cannot divide the House on this issue, but I hope from what has been said that the Government will be under no delusion that we believe that their policies are bad and wrong for the nation and for the future of the R.O.F.s. We believe that they are merely trying to ensure that this profitable field should be left to private enterprise which has their sympathies.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. W. J. Taylor) rose——
§ Captain Richard Pilkington (Poole)
Before my hon. Friend replies, may I ask whether he realises that there are many other hon. Members who have sat here throughout the debate and have hoped to intervene? Will he give an undertaking that he and the Minister will give full consideration to the points which hon. Members will send to them, in my case the point relating to the small arms factory at Poole?
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
May I raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker, based upon the Standing Orders and linked with Parliamentary practice? I am making no reflection upon the Chair. I understand that we are now discussing the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation)Bill. If I correctly understand the Standing Orders, before 1325 Parliament votes Supply grievances should at least be ventilated or remedied. I have a grievance affecting 2,500 men and women, as good as any in the land, who are now to be discharged.
Mr. Speaker has been good enough on several occasions when we sought to raise matters on the Adjournment to ask us not to pursue them unless the Minister could be present. The logic of that advice by Mr. Speaker is that the Minister should not now reply until our grievances—in my case, that of the 2,500 workers—have been stated. I should be pleased to have your advice, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is true that the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation)Bill, with which the House is now dealing, is an opportunity for raising points of grievance and difficulty in the constituencies, and I should not feel disposed to stop an hon. Member from doing so. At the same time, I have to remember the general convenience of the House. Besides the subject which we have been discussing, there is a large number of other subjects which hon. Members wish to discuss, all equally in order on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation)Bill.
My endeavour will be to try to help both sides of the House to such an apportionment of the time at our disposal and for Ministers' replies as suits everyone best. That is all I am trying to do. If, however, the Minister rises, it is my duty to call him. He is the next speaker on the Government side. But it is entirely a question for him and for the House if he cares to delay his reply at this time and if hon. Members wish to make short interventions. I should not feel it my duty to the rest of the House to delay the debate too long, because the general subject has been covered fairly well, but if hon. Members can draw attention to their constituency points I should have no objection to the Minister deferring his reply until after that has been done.
§ Dr. Stross
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I have your advice on this point? If by chance the Minister were to rise now and you called him to reply, surely that would not merely deprive us of opportunities of speaking, but would mean that the Minister would not be able to speak again without the leave of the House—or he might even have gone—and you might then rule that 1326 other Members should have the opportunity to speak?
Would it not therefore be correct to say that if a number of us limit ourselves to short speeches and the Minister does not intervene now, we could, perhaps, within an hour or so, get some representation of our grievances without denying anyone else?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith)referred to my frequent deprecation of subjects being raised on the Adjournment without the presence of a Minister to reply. My point was that the Member who raises such debates gets no satisfaction and neither does the House. That was the basis of my Ruling on these occasions.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I very much appreciate the advice you have given, Mr. Speaker, but too much is at stake, because this can be taken as a precedent to allow the matter to go in this way. There is an important constitutional right that before we vote Supply, grievances must be remedied. I was here in the days when there were two or three million unemployed and I know what this means. Now we have 2,500 who can be unemployed. My point is that it is Parliamentary practice based upon generations of understanding that on an issue like this we should have an opportunity of ventilating our grievances before the Minister replies.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. W. J. Taylor)
I join with hon. Members opposite in the disappointment that this debate has been so short as to preclude hon. Gentlemen from raising matters which are vital to them and which affect factories in their constituencies, but I feel that it might be for the convenience of the House and of those Members who have already spoken if I were to make a brief reply and attempt to cover some of the points that have been raised.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is perfectly in order. It does not put an end to the debate by any rule of which I am aware.
§ Mr. Taylor
First, may I reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Poole (Captain Pilkington)by saying that my right hon. Friend and I will be 1327 very glad to consider any representations that my hon. and gallant Friend makes concerning the Poole Royal Ordnance factory, or from any hon. Lady or Gentleman in any part of the House who seeks to make such representations to us.
We are, indeed, very concerned about this matter. I sympathise with the feelings of hon. Members, which have been expressed from all sides, about the closure of the seven Royal Ordnance factories. I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the splendid services of those who are threatened by these closures. It is, as I have said, a matter of the greatest regret to my right hon. Friend and myself that we have to take this step, but it was inevitable in view of the change in the Government's defence policy and all the consequences that ensue.
In making our decisions and drawing up our plan, it has been the constant aim of my right hon. Friend and myself to reduce hardship to the absolute minimum. The House will know that these closures of factories are to be spread over a period of two and a half years. This will do much to ease the absorption of redundant workers into other jobs. As my right hon. Friend said, we are hopeful that the example set in the case of the disposal of the Dalmuir factory may, in spite of what was said by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence), provide a useful precedent and example of what may happen elsewhere, although there are individual factories, particularly the filling factories, which have their special difficulties which will not be easy of solution.
I think that, in the limited time available, the House would wish me to refer to the terms of discharge of redundant workers. It has been clear from the course of the debate that the main concern of hon. Members is not so much with what is to happen to the factories, although that has been discussed at length, as what is to happen to the people who have worked in the factories. That is the most important aspect of the whole matter. There are many of these people who have given long and valuable service to the country. In the Royal Ordnance factories, most of them are established Government servants, and 1328 they will be offered work in other Government establishments.
In view of the criticisms which have been made from the benches opposite of the establishment scheme, perhaps I might be permitted to remind the House that in return for the security of guaranteed employment which a worker receives when he becomes established he accepts the obligation to be transferred if the needs of the public service so require. Each worker is free to accept or reject establishment as he wishes, and his attention is drawn at the time to the obligation to transfer. If we were to allow this obligation to transfer to lapse, the scheme would be inoperable; we really could not guarantee security without retaining flexibility in this matter. We shall, however—I give the House this most serious and sincere assurance—do our very best to avoid any unnecessary disturbance. We are prepared to look as closely as possible at individual cases where special hardship may occur.
§ Dr. Stross
On the point of special hardship, does the Minister not agree that there is no definition of such a term? He can, therefore, give no guarantee as to how it may be interpreted, and nobody in his Department can possibly define what is meant by it.
§ Mr. Taylor
I agree in general terms with what the hon. Member has said. Those of us who have had experience of local government and social work will know how difficult it is to define the word "hardship." Many of us have sat for thousands of hours trying to deal with cases which were marginal, when the word "hardship" could not be clearly defined. All I say to the hon. Gentleman is that this is really a matter of common sense and good faith on the part of the Department concerned. I hope that this Department of mine may, in spite of what has been said, have a reputation for good sense and sympathy in a matter like this.
There always is a great deal of movement going on in the Civil Service as a whole. One must admit that the financial arrangements for transfer are not ungenerous. The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee)mentioned a Question to which I gave a Written Answer on 6th June, in which I stated fairly fully the terms of the financial arrangements.
1329 Workpeople who are not established and who will have to be discharged when their work comes to an end will be given—I repeat now what my right hon. Friend and I have said many times at this Box—as long notice as possible of the actual date of discharge. My right hon. Friend went out of his way on 15th July to give very long notice indeed of these closures of Royal Ordnance factories. After all, two and a half years is a very long time within which both the Department and all those concerned can be thinking about what the future holds and what arrangements can be made. At any rate, my right hon. Friend deserves the thanks and appreciation of the House for the very long notice which he has given.
The unestablished people, if they have put in five years service or more, will leave with the improved gratuities provided by the Superannuation Act of 1957.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
What is to be the position of anyone having done four and a half years?
§ Mr. Taylor
I am afraid that anyone who has done only four and a half years is not eligible for payment under this scheme. If the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter)will raise a particular case as an example to put to me, I will give him a detailed reply and see whether there is any arrangement by which such a person can benefit by a payment. But I have not that information here now. My information starts at the minimum period of qualification, namely, five years service. I feel that the provisions in the Superannuation Act of 1957 are fair and reasonably good.
During the debate, an attempt has been made to draw a parallel between these redundancies and the contraction in the Armed Forces which arises from the same change of circumstances. It has been argued that the terms of compensation for enforced premature retirement from the Armed Forces should be matched by similar arrangements for those who become redundant in the Royal Ordnance factories. But, surely, there is no parallel between these two things. In the one case, a specialised and chosen career is being ended, and, as it were, a contract of service has had to be terminated. In the other case, no such thing is happening. The "regulars" in the Royal Ordnance factories, that is, the established 1330 people, are not being retired at all; they will be transferred to other work, or, at any rate, they will be offered transfer to other work in the way that I have just described.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is the Minister not turning down the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Nairn)?
§ Mr. Taylor
I should hesitate to comment on any suggestion made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire without notice; he makes so many suggestions and so many comments that I am not sure which one he is referring to.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is the Minister not aware that what I was drawing his attention to was the remark made by his hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire, who made the comparison between the colonels and the ordinary people in the factories?
§ Mr. Taylor
I do not want to pursue that at this particular moment.
I should like to make a short reference to the disposal of surplus factories. My right hon. Friend and I regard the problem of finding new occupants for the factories no longer required for defence production as one of the greatest urgency and importance. I will, in close collaboration with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, take an active interest in the disposal of each of those factories, and my Department will do all in its power to meet the wishes of prospective buyers and ensure that no time or opportunity is lost. I shall be present tomorrow at a meeting between the President of the Board of Trade and Members representing north Staffordshire constituencies at which the future of the Royal Ordnance factory at Swynnerton is to be discussed.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
Would the Minister add this one word? We are grateful to him for that answer, as it affects north Staffordshire, but in a Written Question, not for Oral Answer, I put to him some time ago I asked whether he would be prepared, in respect of these factories in north Staffordshire, to come with his advisers and discuss the matter with the local authorities in the area, with the City of Stoke-on-Trent, with the county council and the local chambers of commerce. 1331 That would be worth while in this case, and we should like him to give an answer about that.
§ Sir Roland Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
Will my hon. Friend consider this position as it affects every place, wherever it may be? I am sure that that would be the general wish.
§ Mr. Taylor
I will certainly consider representations from any quarter which can be of help in this matter. In reply to the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), I should like to say that I have already seen representatives of local authorities, and we are quite prepared at any time to see anyone who feels that he can help us about it.
I felt that many of the speeches in the debate struck a gloomy and despondent note, unnecessarily so, I believe. We are passing through a time of transition in our defence policy. The fundamental decisions have been taken and the effects are gradually working their way through the economy. This is bound to cause some temporary dislocation, and the effect is, perhaps, greatest at present on the Royal Ordnance factories. But I think that it is generally recognised that the requirements of defence have placed too great a burden on our nation in recent years, and that, when the period of transition is over, we shall be able to progress more rapidly and more surely as a result of the change.
For our part, we are determined that such Royal Ordnance factories as remain must be live, progressive and fully up to date. It is our intention that, within their own fields, they shall be leaders in technology, enterprise and good management. We shall keep these factories equipped with the most modern plant. I assure the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens)and his hon. Friends that we
§ mean to ensure that their staffs are assured of worthwhile careers and that the splendid spirit of loyal service which has characterised those factories for very many years shall be maintained and strengthened in the future.
§ In conclusion, may I say that I shall, in reply to questions from hon. Members, draft answers for them and write to them, since I obviously have not had time to reply to every point raised today.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Tent, Central)
You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that a little while ago we obtained, at any rate, your tacit consent to prolong this debate for a short time. I shall be very brief, as I suggested that I——
§ It being Seven o'clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business), further Proceeding stood postponed.