§ 16. Sir A. Meyer
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what consultations he has had regarding the announced closures of Courtaulds plants in North Wales and North-West England; and what action he proposes to take in order to ensure employment for the workers who will be made redundant by these closures.
§ Mr. Booth
My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Industry and for Wales, my hon. Friend, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office and I met Sir Arthur Knight, the Chairman of Courtaulds, on Tuesday, 2nd November to try to persuade him to rescind or at least postpone the proposed redundancies. We are hoping to meet the trade unions' Courtaulds Co-ordinating Committee at the earliest opportunity. As regards the second part of the Question, I am in close and constant touch with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Industry and for Wales, who, I know, will continue to give a high priority to the steering of new projects to the areas affected. In addition the Manpower Services Commission will, of course, do everything in its power to help those made redundant find or train for alternative employment.
§ Sir A. Meyer
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that measures such as the Employment Protection Act, temporary employment subsidies and all the talk of planning agreements have led the workers at Courtaulds to asume that, despite appearances, their jobs would be safe right up to the last moment because the Government would step in and save them? Is he further aware that the Government have no such power? Does he agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) that 1101 the best future for these people is that new jobs should come into this area, and that this entails new Government policies?
§ Mr. Booth
I am not aware of that. I am aware that there is grave concern among many of those employed at Courtaulds about the proposed redundancies, which they take extremely seriously. A number of jobs at Courtaulds is already supported by temporary employment subsity, and I believe that a number of the measures that are operated by my right hon. Friends and myself have made a considerable contribution to the expanding of employment opportunities and the expanding of Courtaulds' operation in this country. While we are dealing with a particular and difficult problem in the areas where redundancies are proposed, it will help to keep some sense of perspective if we still recognise that great employment opportunities have been created in this firm as a result of direct Government aid.
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
Does my right hon. Friend realise that the closure of the Skelmersdale factory would be a terrible blow to that town and, indeed, to the whole of Merseyside? What possible projects can he bring to that area if the closure takes place, given the already intolerably high level of unemployment in the town now?
§ Mr. Booth
I accept that the closure of the Courtaulds factory at Skelmersdale to which my hon. Friend refers would be a terrible blow to the town. I cannot yet say whether we could ensure that an alternative job opportunity of similar size could be brought about. That is why we must redouble our efforts to try to avert such a closure.
§ Mrs. Chalker
What study has the Department made of training possibilities for the North-West and North Wales in particular to take up much of the unemployment that is now being suffered as a result of industries going out of fashion and out of business?
§ Mr. Booth
The particular problems of the North-West led the Manpower Services Commission, through the Training Services Agency, to expand greatly the training opportunities scheme. I believe that within this year we shall see an expansion 1102 of about 50 per cent. in training opportunities in that area.
§ Mr. Heffer
Does my right hon. Friend agree that over the years Courtaulds has received a considerable amount of money by way of Government assistance, that there has been modernisation of the plants and that the trade unions in particular have worked well with the company and have made all sorts of manning level agreements which have been satisfactory? Despite that, these workers are faced with redundancies. Is it not time that the Government began to act in another direction—namely, through the NEB—to create alternative employment in areas such as Merseyside which can take up work through Government agencies?
§ Mr. Booth
It is true that in all but one of the plants concerned in the redundancies the firm has indicated to us that there is no question of difficulties with trade unions in obtaining suitable manning agreements. It is the contention of Sir Arthur Knight and his managers that all but one of the redundancies stem directly from commercial and trading considerations. It is part of the Government's intention that we should continue to explore the extent to which the role of the NEB might be expanded in order to provide alternative work.